Nearly a decade after the finale of Queer Eye, Carson Kressley is still offering style advice and serving sass on reality television — and even he can’t believe it!
We caught up with TV style maven, fashion designer and author Carson Kressley backstage in Atlantic City. He was there as host of the Miss’d America Pageant at the Borgata, but eager to discuss his new book, his adventures in reality television and this holiday season’s food poisoning prospects.
How did you get involved with Miss’d America?
My good friends Gary Hill and John Schultz run this organization called the Schultz-Hill Foundation and also used to own Studio Six, which was a fabulous gay club in Atlantic City. They started Miss’d America and raised a lot of money for different organizations. … It was focused on AIDS and HIV awareness, treatment and progressive efforts to save people’s lives. The pageant went dormant for a number of years; [then] they said, “Hey, we’re thinking about bringing it back. Will you host it?” I love a good drag queen, and here we are six years later. I think they can’t get rid of me!
When you were a kid, was this what you imagined doing when you grew up?
No. You know, I was sitting at dinner tonight thinking, “Oh my God. in an hour, I’m going to be onstage hosting a show where Tony Bennett performed and I saw Ricky Martin here. It seems unbelievable to me. But then I get out there and just have a good time. We always have a great audience. It’s a night of celebration, a fun escape and I think there’s so many terrible things going on in the world that we need fun nights to forget about everything and just get silly. We need glamour and humor and all the things that drag encapsulates.
I understand you have another book coming out. Is it your third or your fourth?
It’s my fourth! I can’t believe I’m a New York Times best seller. I can’t believe I have an Emmy. I never planned any of that. My new book is called Does This Book Make My Butt Look Big?, and it’s a women’s style guide. I’ve done a men’s style guide. I’ve done a book that looped back to Queer Eye and another for kids about diversity. But I did this one because women are always coming to me asking, “Oh my God! How do I look? Is my hair okay?” So I said, “Okay it’s time to write a book.” The whole thrust of the book is that dressing shouldn’t be scary or intimidating. Clothes should be fun. We should enjoy getting dressed in the morning. It shouldn’t be a buzzkill or stress trigger.
What can you say about the new Celebrity Apprentice?
I can’t say a word. I get yelled at every time I talk about it.
Are you sure that’s all you can say?
Well I can say it comes out January 2 on NBC and … Arnold Schwarzenegger was part of it; he was the host. And I’m my SuperGay sassy self on the show.
Are you finished filming?
Yes, it’s done except for the finale. We have to do a live finale, I believe. And we don’t know anything about the outcome.
Did you watch the old version?
Oh, yes, I did. I do like shows like that and shows like Shark Tank. I feel more like an entrepreneur than a show person sometimes.
This year you also did Celebrity Family Feud. What was that like?
The questions were very sexually charged and it was slightly embarrassing, but we had a great time. My family loved coming to LA for it; we raised money for one of my favorite charities, which is the Al D. Rodriguez Liver Foundation. Al D. was a good friend of mine who was a gay Latin actor/drag queen/show person, who didn’t have health insurance because he was in the arts. He got liver cancer from untreated hepatitis and now we try to raise money to educate people about the relationship between hepatitis and liver cancer — and what it can turn into. We screen and vaccinate people mostly in the NYC area. If you don’t develop hepatitis, your chances for liver disease are greatly reduced.
Since this is our holiday issue, do you have any holiday traditions you would like to share with us?
I have a rockin’ Christmas party at my apartment in New York. I have a one bedroom apartment that’s not very large, and I get about 85-100 people in there: all of my old friends and fun show biz people. It always feels like the party of the year. What else? I like to go home to my family in Pennsylvania. I bought a farm there and am planning to do Christmas Eve for the first time this year and have my whole family over. I’ll make a big dinner and then food poison them all. It’ll be a new tradition.
As we chat on, Kressley helps us smarten our winter wardrobes and orders a boyfriend from a passing waiter.
Are you familiar with Metrosource?
Yes, of course.
What do you know about it?
I know there are hot dentists who have ads in there. And usually famous people on the cover … and that it’s a resource for the gay community. Are there hustlers in the back or is that a different publication?
No. I always try to add them, but they don’t let me.
Have you done all six years of Miss’d America?
I missed one or two. I think there were scheduling snafus. I was filming or doing something and wasn’t on the East Coast. I’ve done almost all of them.
What keeps bringing you back every year?
It’s super fun. It’s a great cause. They support so many charities — ranging from Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS to the South Jersey AIDS Alliance. It’s a fun group of people. I love a good drag queen. And it gets better each year.
How did you get started on Queer Eye?
It’s all been happy accidents. I was always jealous of the people who were like: “I want to be a dentist!” And then you go to school, have your residency, open a practice, and — bam! — you’re a dentist. I never knew what I wanted to do. I’ve always loved being creative. I worked for Ralph Lauren for a while. I love the fashion business; I still design clothing. All these different things just prepared me for these opportunities. Queer Eye was serendipity because they were looking for someone just like me: someone that was a fashion expert but also an out gay man who had a sense of humor. It was a perfect fit: my National Velvet — I think that’s what Elizabeth Taylor was discovered in. I’m a firm believer in what I think is called “the Shatner theory” of showbiz: you say yes to everything. I almost always say yes to things that come in front of me and I get to do fun things, whether it’s reality television, Broadway stage things, or hosting.
Queer Eye was popular at a time when it didn’t seem like a show like that would take off. Why?
None of us had ever done television. Even our producers, who had a fantastic concept for a show, they had never done network television like this before. I think that was part of the magic: We didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t have expectations, and I think that’s what was subversive about it. We weren’t doing politics or demanding this right or that right.We were just going on television and doing what we did — fashion, styling, interior design — and helping these straight guys get the look or get the girl. It became very empowering in a subversive way.
A lot of the [audience] had never met a gay person before. In the first season, there was a TV station in Oklahoma that would not air our show and they were airing old episodes of Coach. After three weeks, they were finally like, “Okay, enough of Craig T. Nelson. Give us the gays.” It became a nationwide thing, where people were meeting us. Television is an intimate medium: we’re meeting them in their homes; families were watching together. It gave people who didn’t know gay people a gay friend: “Oh, I know them! They’re not scary! Why are people homophobic?” If gay rights issues came up, they started to think, “Wait, I know somebody who’s gay. That’s important to me.” It’s the power of being out.
Philanthropy is clearly something that is very important to you. I understand that for Celebrity Apprentice you’re working with the True Colors organization.
Yes. I feel like I’m so lucky and it’s just good karma to give back. I know that sounds schmaltzy but every day I hope I don’t piss anyone off in heaven because I’ve been so blessed in so many ways. I always want to gay it forward.
Moving into the winter, as a style expert, what should we add to our wardrobe?
In LA we have cars, and in New York we have coats. Invest in a great piece of outerwear: you’re going to be wearing something every day, and it should look stylish. You’ll see a guy in a great outfit, and then he goes to put on his coat, and he has some schlubby old ski jacket with lift ticket tags on it. Mmm… no! That’s not going to work. Invest in a high quality winter coat. It can be great wool or cashmere, even nylon. They make chic almost-ski-jacket coats now that look sophisticated; I think that’s great. Get an amazing pair of boots, too.
Anything else to add to our shopping lists?
Signature dark denim — we see a lot of lighter looks in the spring and summer, and fall is when we go back to darker and more sophisticated denim. I also think people don’t know what sweaters to get. They get one — maybe it’s an ugly sweater their grandmother gave them — and they have to wear it. Come on! There are so many great cashmere and knit sweaters. Even Zara has some that aren’t too expensive. There’s nothing more adorable than a handsome guy in a big chunky cuddly sweater.
Looking forward toward 2017, do you have any hopes for the new year?
I think the world is very sad and scary in a number of ways. We can learn to be a little more kind. Everyone has their own view, and they don’t understand the other person’s. We see it from all over: religion, terrorism, gay rights, human rights. We need to be more kind to each other and listen, really take the time to understand one another. I’d also like a hunky Latin boyfriend.
Is that too much to ask? [to a passing waiter] Can we get that too, please?
It’s ordered. Maybe two?
I don’t want to be greedy.
Last modified: March 16, 2018