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How Queer Eye Struck Gold With Its Fab Five

Lightning very rarely strikes in the same place twice.

When Netflix announced that it was planning to revive Bravo’s beloved and groundbreaking hit Queer Eye back in 2017, fans were skeptical. The odds that a new version of the heartwarming makeover show would find a quintet capable of filling the very fabulous shoes left behind by the original Fab Five—comprised of Carson Kressley, Ted Allen, Kyan Douglas, Thom Filicia and Jai Rodriguez—felt slim. 

And then, after it premiered in early 2018, it proved everyone wrong.

Not only did the reboot, shepherded back to the small screen by original creator David Collins, manage to provide a timely update on the original formula by moving the action out of New York City and into more traditionally conservative areas of the country, it also introduced a global audience to a new crop of queer stars who were skillful and soulful enough to make fans forget all about their predecessors. And now, five seasons and nearly three years later, Antoni Porowski, Jonathan Van Ness, Karamo Brown, Tan France and Bobby Berk find themselves nominated for the first time for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Competition Program at the 2020 Emmy Awards.

Of course, before the show could earn any Emmy nominations—seven in total this year, including one for Outstanding Structured Reality Program, which it’s taken home the last two years—it had to get back on the air. And, as Collins told E! News back in 2018 after the show’s wildly successful first season, it was all because fans of the original, which aired on Bravo for five seasons from 2003 to 2007, kept bringing it up.

“Well, people had been asking, ‘Is there any chance that Queer Eye can came back?’ And we had the exciting opportunity to kind of look at the show and think, ‘Well, let’s do it,'” the executive producer said at the time. “It was probably about two years now. We thought, ‘Let’s do it somewhere cool and new and amazing,’ and we went to Netflix with it. And the stars aligned quickly and we partnered up with Netflix to bring it back.”

As Collins explained, the streaming service was home to many benefits that uniquely situated the revived Queer Eye for success. “The opportunities afforded at Netflix are endless to begin with, but one of the cool things is we don’t have commercials or teases in and out, so the depth of our story really could come to the focus of every episode,” he said. “So that part definitely excited us the most. And then being able to work creatively as partners with Netflix was also obviously a really huge thumbs up.”

Working alongside the team at the streaming service helped Collins and his crew discover a new format for the show that would enrich the storytelling and, ultimately, help viewers connect on a deeper level. “We get to know the Fab Five, we get to hear about their world and their stories and who they’re married to and their husbands and boyfriends and kids—all those things that I think originally we didn’t touch on, right? Fifteen years ago, the guys were kind of just superheroes that flew in and flew out,” he said. “And these guys, they’re the real deal. They’re bringing home their stories that are connecting and creating a real dialogue with our heroes every episode.”

Of course, before Collins could introduce his new Fab Five to the world, he and his producing partners had to find them. And so a search began not just for one expert each in the fields of food and wine, fashion, culture and lifestyle, design, and grooming—but for a group of five that had a sparkling chemistry with one another.

“It is lightning in a bottle, right? I tell you, casting is a big game, right? it’s crazy. It’s like chess, you move your pieces back and forth and everywhere. Ultimately, it’s chemistry. It really is chemistry,” Collins explained. “We brought in the top 50 guys from around the world that we had narrowed down in each of the five categories and we brought them all to L.A. We had a long weekend where we just played mix-and-match, but I think the guys will tell you…that they all kind of found each other in the room of 50 and kind of identified—and their chemistry and energy was so evident and palpable in the rooms because we did some speed dating [laughs] with 50 gay guys in a hotel.”

One by one, the guys began to catch his eye. “I remember Tan would really start to shine. You’re like, ‘OK, don’t leave the room, Tan.’ And then Jonathan, you would just be laughing your butt off. You’re like, ‘No, Jonathan, you stay,'” he recalled. “And then room kind of got smaller and smaller and there they were, all five of them lined up. Truly, timing and luck and chemistry—the casting gods really were there with us. It was amazing. Truly amazing.”

Prior to landing the gigs that changed their lives, each of the Fab Five had found nominal success in their fields. Van Ness had co-founded two salons and had begun starring in the Funny or Die web series Gay of Thrones in 2013, followed by his own podcast, Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness, in 2015. Porowski had landed some small acting roles and worked, for a time, as a personal chef for mentor (and eventual Queer Eye predecessor) Ted Allen. France worked as a designer for brands like Zara and Chanel before launching his own fashion line, Kingdom & State. Berk had launched a retail store, Bobby Berk Home, and design firm, Bobby Berk Interiors + Design. And perhaps most well-known to reality TV audience, Brown made his debut in 2004 on MTV’s The Real World Philadelphia as the genre’s first openly gay Black man. He parlayed that into contributing hosting gigs on Dr. Drew On Call, HuffPost Live and Access Hollywood Live before Queer Eye came calling.

Once season one dropped on Netflix in January 2018, their lives changed. Each has been able to use the platform given to them on the series to follow their own individual pursuits, whether that’s involved opening a restaurant (Porowski), launching their own premium personal care brand for bald or balding men (Brown), taking their one-person show on the road with a stand-up tour (Van Ness), publishing a book (nearly all of them) or appearing in a Taylor Swift music video (all of them). 

As France, the western world’s only out gay Muslim man on TV, told The Guardian in 2019, “The show has given me more than I’ll ever know, and not just financially or in terms of fame. It put me in a position to represent my community in a way that I had never seen. And, I’m not just talking about the gay community, I’m talking about the Asian community.”

Speaking with E! News last year, Brown admitted that he couldn’t quite believe all he’d been able to manifest off his vision board in the short time the show had been on the air. “It still blows my mind,” he said, noting that he only needs a Grammy win for Best Spoken Word Album, a New York Times’ best-seller, and his own talk show to check off every box. “I’ve had that vision board in, like, seven different places in my house…so to be here and to know that I’ve check off almost everything on that list, I’m blown away.”

Imagine how they’ll feel if they can add winner of the Emmy for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Competition Program to their list of accomplishments.

To find out if the Fab Five take home the trophy, be sure to tune into night five of the 2020 Creative Arts Emmy Awards at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on Saturday, Sept. 19, on FXX.

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