“Never be afraid of growing slowly, only of standing still.”
“Failure isn’t the opposite of success, it’s part of it.”
Motivational phrases like these are aplenty in “Queer Eye,” courtesy of Karamo Brown . . . and his late grandmother.
The culture expert who can turn a five-minute Georgia car ride into a teary-eyed therapy session with ease says he finds his words of wisdom courtesy of his granny, who passed away more than a decade before he landed his Netflix gig.
“All of my advice usually comes from my grandma because she was a mentor to me,” Karamo says, smiling at her memory. “I think I always took to her advice because she was someone that I knew I could trust, that was full of love and light and only wanted me to be the best person I could be.”
Raised in a Christian household in Florida, Brown says he was surrounded by “homophobic tendencies” rooted in his family’s Caribbean background at an early age. Anti-LGBTQ music, like the words of Buju Banton’s ‘90s song “Boom Bye Bye,” would ring through speakers as his family sang and danced along.
“It was hard for me growing up in a house where music was about killing the homosexuals,” Brown, 37, recalls. “My granny, I remember when the songs were on, she’d be giving me a look like it’s OK, don’t worry about that.”
Brown was inspired by his granny — the first person he told that he was gay — to pursue a career in social work.
“She passed when I was in my first year of college, so it’s been quite some time,” he says, “but her legacy lives on through me because I bring granny up all the time.”
Brown spent 12 years as a psychotherapist before pursuing another dream: becoming a television personality.
After appearing on “The Real World” (2004) and landing hosting gigs on MTV shows like “Are You The One Second Chances” (2017), he thought his days of offering advice professionally were behind him.
Until Netflix offered up a job posting that combined his passions.
“I called my agent and I was like, ‘I have to be on this show,’” Brown recalls. “They told me that they were done casting, and asked them to beg that if they brought me in, I would bring something new and dynamic . . . obviously, I did the best I could because I’m sitting here today.”
The “Queer Eye” expert was the final piece of the Fab 5, comprised of Jonathan Van Ness (grooming), Antoni Porowski (food and wine), Tan France (fashion) and Bobby Berk (interior design).
Together, they’ve created a dynamic beloved by millions of Netflix viewers. Two seasons of the rebooted makeover show are now available on the streaming site, with a third season not yet announced.
“We really are best friends. We are goofy, we’re laughing, we’re having fun and our mindset forgets that we’re on a television show together,” Brown says.
Following the release of the second Georgia-set season, Brown visited the amNewYork offices to dish on if the Fab 5 is as close-knit as they appear, how much they really know about their contestants (dubbed “heroes”) and more.
You guys spend a lot of time together in the Fab 5 Loft. Tell us what a typical night off looks like?
We lived together for five months in Atlanta, which was probably the best time because after shooting we didn’t know anyone really in the city. We were so close we would have dinner on a rooftop every night. We watch “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and we just have a good time together. There was an ice cream shop behind our home and we would go eat Jenny’s ice cream all the time and it was just, it was like summer camp. Hopefully, we get a season three. We can do it again.
How much does the Fab 5 know about the heroes before you raid their homes?
Before we makeover any of our heroes, we know little to nothing about them. We have a sheet of paper that we read at the beginning of this show and that’s all we get. Once we do the discovery of the first day, that’s what we’re finding all of our information. This show is shaped on that day because we then get together as Fab 5 and say, “OK, where do you want to go? What do you want to do, what do we want to see happen?” And sometimes what we record before we arrive has to be re-recorded if we change the direction of the show based on what we learn.
In that case, is any of the series scripted?
When it comes to “Queer Eye,” it is 100 percent nonscripted. Not one moment is ever told to us beforehand. There are never lines. Our dynamic is about five guys and also how we interact with our heroes.
You’re able to get those who appear close-minded to open up easily. What’s the secret to your approach?
A lot of people talk about the fact that I get people to open up very quickly and a lot of that is because first I’m just an empathetic person. I tell people that if you listen better, you’ll live better. I’m always listening to people. I like to ask a lot more questions than I like talking.
There are people who are going to be a little bit reluctant. I mean, you’re meeting with five strangers. People are apprehensive — will you judge me if I tell you something about myself? Will you take me in a direction I’m scared to go? For me, it’s always about never, ever, ever stopping saying that we want to help. I think when you set the intention from the beginning, it helps people feel a little bit more comfortable in the relationship. . . . People like knowing exactly what your intentions are.
“Queer Eye” comes with no shortage of emotional moments. Which heroes did you find yourself connecting the most to?
There are a few heroes for me that stood out the most. The first one would be, Cory, a police officer in season one, because he was someone who on the surface is extremely different than me. He’s white, he’s southern.
He’s a cop, a Trump supporter. I was very skeptical of how we were really going to help this man and see past his privilege so that he could actually grow as a person and he has now left the police force, he is now working with inner-city communities, helping them to see that marginalizing women and people of color or LGBTQ people is wrong.
I would also say in season two, Skylar was pretty amazing. He was our first trans man . . . when I heard that he had been denied getting his gender marker changed on his license, something we all take for granted, I knew this could shift the conversation regarding the trans community and help people to realize that the community is just looking for safety and security, just like all of us.