Bravo Television's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy is a reality makeover show that became the surprise television hit of 2003. In each episode the "Fab Five" team of five gay men make a visit to a heterosexual man's home. They redecorate it, take him shopping for a new wardrobe, provide grooming tips and date suggestions, and teach him how to cook a meal that will wow his girlfriend, wife, or party guests. The five specialists are Ted Allen, Kyan Douglas, Thom Filicia, Carson Kressley, and Jai Rodriguez. Each became an overnight celebrity after the show debuted in the summer of 2003.
1965 • Indiana
Each cast member of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy brings his own area of expertise to the show. Food and wine expert Ted Allen is the oldest of the Fab Five. Born in 1965, he grew up in Carmel, Indiana, and was known to occasionally take over his family's kitchen for cooking projects. He settled in Chicago after college, where he wrote feature stories for Chicago magazine. In 1997 he was hired by Esquire magazine to be its food critic. He learned of the Queer Eye auditions when a friend of his in New York City called to tell him about it. "It cost $200 to fly to New York," Allen recalled in an interview
1970 • Florida
Queer Eye 's grooming guru Kyan Douglas is usually described as the most handsome of the Fab Five. A native of Tallahassee, Florida, Douglas was named "Edward" when he was born in 1970, but later changed his name to Kyan. As a teenager he experimented with making his own skin care products in a food processor at home. That interest in natural ingredients led him to Aveda, a line of plant-based hair and skin care products. He worked at the Aveda Institute as a certified cosmetologist before joining the staff of Manhattan's Arrojo Studio as a colorist. One of his clients suggested that he audition for Queer Eye.
1969 • New York
Interior designer Thom Filicia grew up in the suburbs of Syracuse, New York. His father was an engineer and his mother sometimes took him along to the houses she was selling as a real estate broker. In 1976, when he was seven years old, his parents permitted Filicia to redecorate his bedroom in shades of orange and lime green. After he graduated from Syracuse University he worked at three Manhattan interior design firms before starting his own in 1998. In September of 2002 the elevator in his apartment building stalled, and he and his dog were stranded inside for a hour with another passenger. She was a talent manager, and called him the next day about auditioning for Queer Eye.
1969 • Pennsylvania
Fashion stylist Carson Kressley quickly became the breakout star of the Fab Five, thanks to his quick wit. Born in 1969, he grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and once helped his older sister pick out her prom dress. She went on to win the prom queen title. He studied finance and fine art at Gettysburg College, where he graduated magna cum laude. He was working as a freelance fashion stylist for Polo Ralph Lauren in New York City when a colleague told him about the Queer Eye auditions.
June 22, 1977 • Brentwood, New York
"There are a lot of people in the rest of the world that aren't even familiar with the word queer being a positive word for us now. And being an inclusive word."
Ted Allen, Advocate interview, September 3, 2003.
Born in 1977, Jai Rodriguez is the youngest of the cast. The "culture vulture" is sometimes described as the most underutilized Fab Five expert. A Long Island native of Italian and Puerto Rican heritage, he was a talented musical theater star in high school. After college he relocated to New York City, where he landed a role in the hit Broadway musical Rent, playing Angel, a drag queen. Rodriguez actually joined Queer Eye midway through its second episode, after the producers decided to replace the original culture expert.
The makeover event shown on each episode of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy seems to happen in one day, but actually takes three or four to finish. The show usually opens with the experts in their sport utility vehicle, with its "Fab 5" vanity plate, as they are driving to surprise their next guest star. The dossier on the man, which they discuss on-camera, is generally all they have been told about their new client. Often the living quarters are even worse than expected. "People always ask us, 'Are the places really that bad when you get in there, or is it staged?,'" Kressley told Daily Variety journalist Amy Dawes. "Listen, it really is that bad. If you could only smell it." Douglas said he once carved the resident's name in the dirt of a bathtub with a knife, and "one place was so dirty we had to get inhalers," Filicia told People writers Allison Adato and Mary Green.
The show's producers try to keep each shopping and renovation budget under $10,000. The Fab Five have noted that it is important to make changes that the man can easily adapt to, and not introduce a high-maintenance new situation. Some of the goodies are thanks to savvy product placement or sponsorship deals. Filicia said that his role on the show is more satisfying in some ways than his work as interior decorator to affluent clients in the New York City area. "In my world, I can spend millions of dollars on somebody's living room, and they'll still ask me why the light switch in the corner by the piano isn't perfectly straight," he told Entertainment Weekly 's Nicholas Fonseca. "And now, all of a sudden, these people with a living room full of Pottery Barn objects can't thank me enough."
Queer Eye 's beginnings hark back to an incident at a Boston art gallery. Television producer David Collins overheard a woman scolding her husband because of his sloppy clothes. She pointed out a group of well-dressed men and wondered why he couldn't dress more like they did. The men overheard, and came over to offer some friendly tips. After listening to the exchange, Collins dreamed up a television show along the same lines, where five openly gay men would give advice and help to a straight man in need of a makeover. Each of the five would have an area of expertise, including fashion, grooming, interior design, food and wine, and culture. Collins pitched the idea to cable's Bravo Network, who agreed to it in early 2002. It took nearly a year and a half before the first episode aired. Collins and the show's other executives auditioned several hundred men to find the right mix of experts with the perfect on-screen chemistry. They also had some trouble lining up advertisers, who seemed nervous about the title.
When the first episode of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy aired on July 15, 2003, it set a record for the most-watched debut show ever to appear on the Bravo cable channel. Its Tuesday night 10 P.M. time slot went on to set new records each week after that. The show's format is a relatively simple one. The Fab Five surprise their latest victim at his door. They go through his apartment and closet, poking fun at much of it. They come up with an improvement plan on the spot, and take their new "client" shopping. Visits to a hair salon and furniture store are usually required, too. Meanwhile, they keep him out of his home until Filicia and his team have renovated the living quarters.
The "reveal," in reality TV lingo, happens when the man is allowed back into his home to see the results. He is often overwhelmed by the changes, and is clearly thrilled. Kressley has him model some of the new clothes, Allen takes him into the kitchen for a primer on making a special meal, and Douglas sets him up with a new range of men's grooming products. Finally, Rodriguez gives suggestions on how to make a special party or date even more unique. On occasion Rodriguez has even taken his protégé to a workout studio and provided dance lessons. Near the close of the hour-long show, the Fab Five gather in a living room elsewhere and watch what happens when their "made-over" subject's girlfriend, wife, or guests arrive to see the new and improved straight guy.
Queer Eye for the Straight Guy earned rave reviews. The New Yorker 's Nancy Franklin liked the non-threatening way the experts helped each style-challenged subject. "Instead of making him feel ashamed of his bad habits, they storm his domestic prison with humor and set
There was also some criticism of Queer Eye. A few conservative commentators borrowed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (1936–)'s term "culture war" to describe what they viewed as an onslaught of gay-positive images in popular culture. Some in the gay community also disapproved of the show. They worried that the show played into stereotypes about gay men as campy interior decorator or hairdresser types. In the end, however, few had anything genuinely harsh to say about the show and its five new icons. "By playing into gay stereotypes, the Fab 5, paradoxically, lay them to rest," noted the Advocate 's Bruce C. Steele. "They're so personable and sharp and real that the cliches they embody are magically reconstructed as richly human, without the tiniest swatch of shame."
Queer Eye made it onto Bravo's parent company, NBC, for a special half-hour version that drew six million viewers. It spawned a soundtrack and book, and an order for forty new episodes. The Fab Five noted that they were stunned by the popularity of the show, and found it even more amazing that teens were tuning in. Some wrote to express thanks, or thanked them in public. Nearly all of the Fab Five recalled the painful adolescent years before they told friends and family that they were gay. "The toughest part of my life was junior high," Kressley told Daily Variety journalist Amy Dawes. "It was really stressful. I used to get threatened. I'd puke in the bathroom at school.... So I thought, I'll just be funny, because when people are laughing, they're not trying to beat you up." That humor found an ideal outlet on television, and Kressley has delivered many of the show's funniest quips. "This place screams women's correctional facility," he once commented after surveying a particularly bleak living room.
Rodriguez, who recorded an album of songs after the first Queer Eye season, had a tough time telling his parents that he was gay, partly because they were born-again Christians. It was only when they wanted to come and see his performance in Rent that he was able to tell them he was gay. "Our parents work very hard to make our lives charmed, and when there is any deviation from the plan, they worry," he explained in an interview with Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter Delma J. Francis. "But because of the show's success and people they know are so accepting of me, they're happy."
Both Kressley and Filicia had once worried that their career choices would upset their parents. Kressley recalled to Newsweek writer Marc Peyser that as a child, "I so wanted to be an interior designer or a fashion designer, and it didn't seem like an option because it was too gay, too out there.... I wasted a lot of years." Douglas pointed out that times had changed in the years since they were teenagers, and remarked that each of the Fab Five now had a number of heterosexual male friends not unlike their show's guest stars. "It's very validating to hang out with straight guys and be accepted," Douglas told Michael Giltz in the Advocate. "So many of us, we were not accepted when we were younger by straight persons in high school."
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