Bravo’s ‘Queer Eye’ Reunion: How the Show Influenced TV, Culture, and One Scruffy Songwriter

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Bravo
Bravo

Bravo is currently airing a ten-year reunion special celebrating Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, the groundbreaking 2003 series in which the “Fab Five” – a decorator, stylist, grooming specialist, cook, and cultural advisor – whooshed into the messy lives of clueless dudes and transformed them into sophisticated metrosexuals.

It’s hard to remember that a decade ago, Queer Eye was the first – that’s FIRST – gay show on basic cable. Yes, there had been network television series with gay characters (like Will & Grace or Ellen,) but the idea of five out gay men cavorting together in their own series seemed inconceivable at the time. The show became an instant hit, but received as much scorn for reinforcing gay stereotypes as it did praise for breaking down barriers.

I discovered the show by accident channel surfing one night during its maiden season, and within five minutes had literally fallen off my couching laughing. I was hooked, and I devoured every episode of the show’s three-year run.

Bravo’s new reunion special reminds us not only that Queer Eye broke new ground, but it also managed to inspire both tears and maniacal laughter. Carson Kressley, the fashionista, has gone on to be ubiquitous on cable, Ted Allen now hosts of Food Network’s popular Chopped, and “culture vulture” Jai Rodriguez has since starred on Broadway. But when Queer Eye debuted, they were all unknowns who instantly bonded in their mission to “zhoosh” up the style, look, and living arrangements of hapless straight men.

As the “Fab Five” discuss on the reunion show, Queer Eye’s impact has extended far beyond the world of gay men. For one thing, straight men everywhere now feel empowered to style their hair, spiff up their wardrobe, and decorate their apartments without risk of being labeled anything but straight. The Food Network began to revolutionize the world of gastronomy at around the same time Queer Eye came along; chefs weren’t considered celebrities in 2003, and instructional cooking shows pretty much began and ended with Julia Child. Now, suburban megamarts routinely carry the kind of products you used to find only in gourmet specialty shops, and cooking has become not just a respectable hobby, but a participatory sport. Queer Eye helped set all those wheels in motion.

So yes, I was addicted to the show, and when I was writing and record my second album, There Goes The Neighborhood, I even wrote a song about it. It was called “(I Need The) Queer Eye (For The Straight Guy,)” and I had hoped to somehow bring it to the show’s attention. At the time, I was the primary caregiver for my dad, who was dying of Alzheimer’s, and I thought maybe the Fab Five would throw me a pity party and hook me up with a closet full of new clothes and an apartment filled with tasteful new furniture, instead of my parents’ old hand-me-downs. Alas, unbeknownst to me, the show had already filmed and wrapped its final season, so Carson, Kyan, Thom, Ted, and Jai never zhoozed up my jive.

But at least I got to tag along for the ride.