Hollywood has a select group of famous personalities whose star wattage and advocacy work has earned them the honor of being known globally by a singular name. Visionaries like Oprah and Iyanla have shed their surnames as they have helped people successfully navigate the ups and downs of living a fulfilling life. Now, there is a new addition to this esteemed list of trailblazers – Karamo Brown.
The Emmy nominated television host became a household name as a part of the Fab Five when the hit series Queer Eye debuted on Netflix in 2018. As the culture expert, Karamo uses his big heart and background in social services to help reshape people’s outlook on life while winning the hearts of viewers around the globe. Following the success of Queer Eye, Karamo added author to his resume – writing his motivational memoir Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, and co-authoring a best-selling children’s book with his son Jason ‘Rachel’ Brown titled I Am Perfectly Designed. Additionally, Karamo has also made a splash in Hollywood as an actor – recurring on the final season of Netflix’s Dear White People, guest starring on TBS’ Miracle Workers and even appeared in Freeform’s first gay rom-com, The Thing About Harry. Most recently, he successfully launched his own line of grooming products called MANTL. However, Karamo’s journey to Hollywood stardom was not without a few bumps in the road.
Born in Houston, Texas to first generation immigrant parents, Karamo knew what fear looked like from an early age. Karamo made the brave decision to come out of the closet at the age of 15 and during the pre-internet years in the South – this was a risky step to take.
Growing up there was this constant fear that one of my identities would get me hurt or killed. Not just being gay, but would I be harassed because I was Black or be hurt by the police? Would I be harassed by someone who did not like that my parents were not from this country?
However, he also used this fear to begin his enlightenment journey with a very valuable lesson by honoring his identities and leaning on a tight knit group of friends to help him progress on his journey.
It taught me early on to not be ashamed of any part of my identity and to also honor them – they deserved to be honored and protected. My best friends Ray and Trey – these people were warriors in protecting my identities. They were doing it unconsciously because they were young and going through their own things. They knew if there were moments that I was unprotected – they would help.
With the internet readily available nowadays, Karamo encourages people looking for “warriors” of their own, to turn to groups like The Trevor Project or the LGBTQIA Center in their closest city.
After navigating a challenging upbringing, Karamo knew he was destined to live his dreams but the path to this goal was not always clear. His first foray into the world of show business proved to be a pivotal moment in defining where his journey was headed. In 2004, he joined the cast of The Real World: Philadelphia as the first openly gay Black man on a reality television show. However, the lesson he learned from this experience stays with him to this day – intention versus impact.
My intention was to go on The Real World to have fun, get drunk and have a lot of sex. The impact was it forced me to be responsible for my actions. It forced me to understand the language I use and that there are people watching. When you are doing things, your intention may be one thing but if the impact is different – it negates what your intention was. So even though my intention was to have fun – there was something greater. The impact of being one of the first openly gay Black men on reality television changed that. Once I realized the impact of me being on that show, and needed to be better as a human being and better for others, scared me.
The pressure after realizing his impact from being on The Real World brought Karamo to a dark place in his life. He turned into a “West Hollywood party boy” in an effort to manage this pressure and fear.
I was afraid to realize I had to be responsible for my actions and I had to be better for myself. I just did not want that pressure. I was scared if I could handle what was next. I was getting high, drinking, wasting money. It got bad with the tremendous amount of drug intake and everything else – I had suicidal ideations.
Fortunately, a friend and his family stepped in, and a new life changing revelation brought Karamo to the next stage of his journey – fatherhood. After returning from a Real World/Road Rules Challenge trip, Karamo was greeted with papers for back child support. Initially, he thought it was a joke but quickly realized a quick fling with a former female best friend resulted in a child. The female friend moved shortly after the encounter and prior to cell phones and the internet – staying in touch with people was challenging. His new role as a father lead him to another vital next step – healing himself from years of trauma.
This is when I was in my darkest place, and I had to get my life together and go meet “my kid.” I was healing myself and trying to reflect on what lead me there. What were the things from my past that made me not feel safe? What was killing me on the inside? But inadvertently, I was also looking at this young boy who had ten years without a father, and I had to figure out how to help him heal. If I didn’t, he would be going through these same things in ten years.
By this point, Karamo had also adopted his biological son Jason’s half-brother Chris, so fatherhood was his priority. Karamo harkened back to his childhood warrior support ideal and sought out a safe space in the form of group therapy at the Houston LGBTQIA Center.
For nine years, I fell off the face of the earth, started raising my kids, didn’t do anything in television – it was all about healing and self-discovery. I was able to get it out. I was able to talk it out. Even if you don’t have a group to talk to, look in the mirror and talk it out. The truth of the matter is, if you don’t talk these monsters out, they become bigger and bigger. The next step was writing down what I was saying to myself so I could see them. I turned to the local library for books on healing, trauma and more to continue my journey of healing.
Following this period of healing, Karamo was ready to pursue his dream of being a host in Los Angeles. He spent his time juggling fatherhood, working in social services and on the Hollywood audition circuit. His first hosting gig came by way of Oprah’s OWN Network. He continued working full-time in social services while working the OWN job and at the same time compiling his various unpaid appearances on shows like Access Hollywood, HSN and CNN. With this footage, he found an agent who saw his vision. Karamo knew this was a vital component to his next step, as well as sage advice to anyone navigating a journey.
The job at OWN Network was the catalyst I needed to feel affirmed. Find people in your life that see the vision for you. Sometimes out of desperation we get with people who don’t see the vision. People settle because of fear they will miss out. My vision, paired with a new agent “warrior,” forged the way to this next chapter.
After hearing news of a re-boot of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Karamo knew he needed to be a part of the show. However, Karamo was not a chef or a hairdresser, but he brought something very unique to the table that makes Queer Eye such a special show.
After watching past episodes, I realized that what was missing was mental health. I have a background in mental health. I thought, maybe I can shift this into talking about emotions and not art galleries.
He and his agent persevered, and Karamo went through to the final audition stages. With his almost four decades on a rollercoaster ride of life experiences, Karamo earned a spot on one of the most heartwarming and acclaimed shows of the past decade. The award-winning show, renewed for a sixth season, is known for its strong representation amongst the LGBTQ community and communities that include people of color. In addition to Karamo, Queer Eye features Antoni Porowski, food and wine expert; Tan France, fashion expert; Bobby Berk, design expert; and Jonathan Van Ness, grooming expert.
Karamo now uses his experiences to help heal people.
I tell people there is nothing you went through that I haven’t been through myself: from addiction, to abuse, to heart break, to anger, to love, to success. I have experienced it all, but I also took the time to heal and learn from it.
Karamo has picked himself up on many occasions, leading up to where he is today. He also leaned on “warriors” at times along his journey for support. Luckily, the world now has Karamo Brown – a warrior of our own and a special friend helping to navigate this thing called life.
Photo: Leigh Keily
Last modified: December 3, 2021