If you didn’t know any better, you’d think Oprah had just walked into the room.
The shrieks of excitement and joy, however, aren’t for the five guys occupying it, even though they have become stars themselves over the past few months.
Instead, the overjoyed responses are coming from Bobby Berk, Karamo Brown, Tan France, Antoni Porowski, and Jonathan Van Ness — a.k.a. Queer Eye‘s Fab 5. The quintet are expressing their overwhelming delight at the delivery of certain giant, gooey, icing-covered confections.
“It’s Cinnabon!” they exclaim in near harmony.
“Oh my God, I’ve been talking about it all day,” Van Ness, 31, admits, perking up on the sofa where he’s sitting next to Porowski to hand out forks so they can all dive in.
While Porowski, 34, the Netflix series’ Montreal-born food and wine expert, has been reflecting on the group’s experience thus far — and looking ahead to the series’ season 2 premiere on June 15 — his grooming-expert counterpart intermittently pokes him in the ear or gives an affectionately aggravating pinch.
“It took a couple of days” for Van Ness to feel comfortable enough with his new co-workers to pester them, he says. He’s quickly corrected by interior-design expert and fellow Midwesterner Berk, 36, who assures him, “No, no, you did that the first day.” Van Ness concedes: “Yeah, I did that the first day.”
That day on set last spring in Georgia, where the feel-good, “make-better” docuseries filmed, was spent with one of the first season’s most-talked-about subjects. Little did the Fab 5 know, something special was in store—in that initial episode and well beyond.
When the Netflix update of the early-’00s Bravo series premiered in February, viewers binged in the days that followed.
“We spoke to something that was important and current. And it caught hold,” explains series creator David Collins, who witnessed the original incarnation become a pop culture phenomenon in 2003. “I don’t know if I thought it was going to happen again the same way, but I felt like we had really cast an amazing team.”
One that almost didn’t include 35-year-old Brit and fashion expert France, who admits he had trepidation about taking the job. “I felt a lot of pressure,” says France, a Muslim who now lives in Salt Lake City with his husband. “I hadn’t seen any people like me on TV before, and I definitely didn’t want to be the first one. I didn’t want that responsibility on my head.” The fears eventually subsided, and, he says, “I couldn’t be more grateful.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by the others, who say they almost instantly felt the positive impact of the show. “Reality television has an undertone of negativity. And we are only positive with each other,” says the 37-year-old Brown, a Texas native and Real World: Philadelphia alum. When the Fab 5 sat down with EW, they spoke candidly about overnight changes in their lives, what we didn’t see in season 1, the tears still to come in season 2, and more.
“Ugly cry” was used to describe the flood of emotions wrung from the first eight episodes.
BERK: On our social media, people were telling us in such an emotional way what it meant to them, about how literally it was changing their lives. I think that’s when I realized it was going to be big.
VAN NESS: It came out on a Wednesday, and by that Monday, all of us had more than 100,000 followers on Instagram.
BROWN: When I go out, and this has happened at least 30 times, people sit at the bar and start crying and telling me their stories of how they didn’t feel confident and they felt suicidal. This is impactful.
FRANCE: I expected it to be a very American-centric response, but to see that even in the Middle East…people emailed me to say, “I’ve never seen a version of you on my screen before, and you’re finally representing us.” That was when I thought, This isn’t just a TV show; this is so much more than that for so many people.
POROWSKI: I was definitely very naive to how much it would affect my personal life. In New York, I would be overwhelmed by this outpouring of people coming up and thanking all of us. I would keep all of it bundled up in my heart, and I would just come home and wail-cry into my pillow because it’s… [pauses as his voices quivers and he tears up] it’s been really beautiful. It’s just so much bigger than all of us.
The Fab 5 faced one of their biggest challenges in the first episode: Tom Jackson. The man who kept saying “you can’t fix ugly” and made margaritas with Mountain Dew took everyone by surprise — the guys, the audience, even himself. And one little moment that Porowski wouldn’t let Tom brush past changed the course of the episode — and Tom’s life — forever.
BERK: We didn’t really know what we were getting into, and it really set the tone for us to not judge a book by its cover. We all went into it going, “He doesn’t look like somebody that’s gonna be very receptive to us.” And he turned out to be the sweetest, jolliest, most loving guy.
POROWSKI: It just goes to show that both sides have something to learn. And that’s humility. That’s hope.
BROWN: I took him on dates to meet different women and taught him how to sign up for dating apps. We redid his photo. And Antoni catching that one piece [where Tom mentioned his ex-wife, Abby] literally cut my scene out, which I’m happy about. All of a sudden we are on a bench and I’m like, “Call your ex-wife!” [to invite her to the car show]. We’ve never [publicly] talked about that.
LET’S GIVE ‘EM SOMETHIN’ TO TALK ABOUT
Several of the season 1 subjects made lasting impressions on the audience. In some cases, it’s all fans talk about, especially to the Fab 5.
BERK: For me, it’s usually [father of six] Bobby Camp, because of the religious aspect. I’ve had multiple Christians, even pastors, reach out to me on social media saying that hearing me talk about how as a child and an adolescent I used to pray and cry and beg God every day not to make me gay, changed their entire view of homosexuality. I’ve literally had a pastor say, “You have completely changed the way that I preach in my church now.”
BROWN: People talk about AJ Brown, because that guttural cry [he unleashed when he came out to his stepmother] was heard round the world, literally. And people felt his pain and his release and his growth. They felt it.
FRANCE: The thing that people quote to me more than anything is, “I let myself go.” It’s in the closet when I’m talking to Bobby Camp. I’m saying, “Make an effort to be a part of [your relationship].”
BROWN: People are constantly talking about the cop episode. We were all surprised. I was scared to death. I never get emotional about this episode…. But when [Jonathan] said to me, “Don’t get out of the car,” he was so afraid for me.
FRANCE: Production staff did come over to our car.
POROWSKI: The officer told them to back away.
VAN NESS: He was really committed.
BERK: I was supposed to drive. [Brown insisted that he take the wheel instead.] I knew it was gonna happen. It was never supposed to be that serious of a situation. It was supposed to be comedic.
BROWN: But it turned into something great, because we allowed ourselves to be open.
In season 2, which filmed during the same production frame as season 1, audiences will meet Skyler, the first trans man to appear on the series. Just weeks after receiving a life- and body-altering surgery, he undergoes physical, mental, and emotional changes thanks to his visitors.
VAN NESS: One of my closest friends is a trans man who is incredible. And a lot of my clients are trans women. So I am really hoping that we can do right by our trans brothers and sisters. [Skyler] is going through so much, so [it was important to be] gentle and respectful and not to be a queenie know-it-all dum-dum when you’re trying to be a loving person.
FRANCE: Skyler, for me, was my favorite episode we’ve ever done. I love the others, I truly do. But I wasn’t as informed for Skyler. I lived a very, very Middle Eastern life until I was in my early 20s. It was very sheltered. Watching [it], I felt like we did it respectfully, where we could ask the questions that probably so many people have wanted to. I’m really proud of that episode.
BROWN: I think as a culture, people need to get away from the bathroom stuff and realize that these are just human beings trying to live their lives, and it’s something that we all take for granted. Hearing Skyler, the first time I got to talk to him, say, “I tried to get my license several times.” Think about if you were just trying to go to the airport, and you could not get on [the plane] because your license said something different. It’s just about people living a comfortable, protected, respected life.
CAN WE GET AN AMEN UP IN HERE?
There’s a reason “for the Straight Guy” was dropped from the revival’s title; as audiences saw in season 1, the Fab 5 also gave a make-better to a gay man, and season 2 kicks off with the series’ first female subject, Tammye. Fair warning: The episode delivers an emotional gut-punch.
BERK: That episode was very, very hard for me, honestly. When I came out, religion completely turned on me. And I’ve never really gotten over that. Then I met Tammye, and she was just so loving and accepting and open.
POROWSKI: She gave each of us a journal, and she wrote us a beautiful little note. To have somebody who really didn’t know us very well…and to speak to and treat all of us like we were her sons, I have a lot of respect.
BROWN: To know that there’s a divine and bigger purpose for all of us in our lives is a scary thing to think about. But there’s something that you’re going to do tomorrow, there’s something that someone who’s going to read this tomorrow is going to do, that is going to impact this world.
LIFE AFTER QUEER EYE
Catching up with a few season 1 fan favorites
Episode 1 “YOU CAN’T FIX UGLY”
Tom Jackson remarried Abby after the Fab 5 helped the two rekindle their old flame.
Episode 3 “DEGA DON’T”
Cory Waldrop has been keeping up with his fashion and started a business: “Every day I ask myself if Tan would approve of my outfit, what would Karamo advise me to do romantically for my wife, what kind of moisturizer would Jonathan say ‘yasssss’ to, what kind of meal would Antoni recommend, and how does Bobby decorate a house like he does.”
Episode 4 “TO GAY OR NOT TOO GAY”
AJ Brown married his fiancé Andrey and is living out and proud in front of his family. He’s also committed to his new wardrobe of stylish, fitted clothes.
Episode 7 “BELOW AVERAGE JOE”
Joe Gallois continues to write and perform stand-up comedy in Atlanta and has even ventured out into other major cities when the opportunity arises. He also still lives in his parents’ basement!
HOW THEY “QUEER EYE’D” QUEER EYE
David Collins wasn’t planning a revival. But in nearly every meeting the series creator had, he was asked for one. Serendipitously, the rights came back to him just as he met with Netflix, which, Collins says, wanted “a recognizable brand that had global appeal and was beloved.”
He was challenged to consider the diversity of the streamer’s worldwide audience and to ditch the frenetic pace of the original show to “allow the good old-fashioned storytelling to rise to the surface.”
That meant the Fab 5 being just as open as their subjects. “They talk about being married, having kids, being single,” Collins says, noting they could only do this now because of the “original Fab 5 being trailblazers.”
Season 2 of Queer Eye premieres June 15 on Netflix.