From the original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy to judging alongside Momma Ru herself, Carson Kressley has done, and seen, it all. we were lucky enough to catch up with him about his feelings on the old and new Queer Eye, all things drag, and life in general.
I would like to begin by taking a stroll down memory lane. Your career started as an independent stylist, but your claim to fame happened once Queer Eye for the Straight Guy premiered. How did your life change once the show aired?
It changed dramatically and very much for the positive. I was living and working in New York City in the 90s and had a fantastic job as the creative director for Ralph Lauren. I always speak extremely highly of working with Ralph Lauren and the company. I traveled all over the world styling photo shoots for their ad campaigns, and it was such a fabulous job and one that taught me so many lessons that I have used in every facet of my career since then.
After Queer Eye aired in 2003, my life very much changed because I wasn’t in the public eye before. Literally, a week or two after the show premiered, the Fab 5 and I were sitting on the couch of The Tonight Show and doing The Ellen DeGeneres Show and living a very different life. From a positive standpoint, this was the first time ever an all openly gay cast was on television and, it’s a show that wound up being a global phenomenon. It was liberating and very positive for me; something that maybe I use to be ashamed of was now being celebrated, and that was mind boggling.
That’s wonderful! Not only did the show change people’s lives, but it truly broke down barriers for onscreen representation of LGBTQ people. Did you think the show would be such a big success?
I don’t think any of us on the original cast had any expectations for the show. I think we just thought it would be a fun thing to try, and who isn’t a bit seduced by the thought of fame or being on TV? We just thought this would be fun and didn’t know where it could lead, but I don’t think any of us had any idea that it would be as popular or as well-received as it was.
During your time on the show, is there a makeover that stands out or was the most memorable?
Gosh, there are so many. I think the original version and the new version have the same DNA in that they employ this term that I coined called a make-better instead of a makeover. It’s not about steamrolling a guy into a whole new look or lifestyle. It’s about taking what’s great about them and highlighting that and making them a better version of themselves. I think we were successful in doing that in all 100 episodes that we did.
Some memories I have, we did a couple of wrestlers, and they basically dislocated my shoulder upon first meeting. Like, I don’t know why we got the idea to wrestle, but we would bust into their homes and get a taste of what their life was like. There was a guy who was a nudist. I was like, ‘Well, I don’t understand being naked all the time because I’m all about clothes, but I guess I’ll give it a whirl.’ I stripped down naked and was locked out of the house by the other Fab 5 members. It’s a funny episode where a lot of things are blurred, and probably some more things should have been blurred.
What is your opinion on the new Queer Eye?
The show is such a brilliant concept that it is strong enough to withstand the test of time. The producers did such a great job casting experts that have a great level of empathy and kindness. and I think they are doing a beautiful job with the brand and carrying on our legacy. I do think it’s quite remarkable and cool that we taped our show mostly in New York City, but these guys are going to places where often times people still don’t know any gay people or haven’t been exposed to people of the LGBTQ community, like rural Georgia and Missouri. So, I think that’s work that still needs to be done, and it is great that they are out there having conversations with people.
What was it like working with Kyan, Jai, Ted and Thom? I know you and Thom stay in touch, but do you still connect with the other three?
Often times, people in show business do not stay very close with their cast mates after shows. Our show is kind of unique because none of us on the original cast has ever done television before. Being on that first iteration of Queer Eye was a first of many experiences for all of us, so it was a bonding time.
We all share these incredible memories together, so it created a strong brotherhood between all members of the original Fab 5. We still have a five-person group text going on, and we are in contact very often. Certainly, I am more in touch with Thom because we continue to work together. I see Ted because he lives in New York; I’ve done some things with Jai over the years, and I try to connect as much as possible with Kyan. We are all still very close.
That’s great to hear. You and Thom recently did a show called Get a Room with Carson & Thom. Can we expect new episodes?
You can! We are working on switching networks because Bravo is not continuing their home-centered programming. We have interest from other networks and platforms, so I am hoping we will continue with it because I had so much fun doing it, and I am such an interior design junkie.
Is your passion for interior design as big as your passion for fashion?
I think it’s the same. I think I just have a thing for design in general. I certainly have training and experience in fashion design, and I think interior design is very similar in relation to color, pattern and texture. Having an eye for something that is beautiful and tells a story and maybe a sense of humor, I feel that is very much related.
What upcoming fashion trends should be on the lookout for?
I’m not a real trends person, whether it’s interior or fashion, but I always say build a great wardrobe of classic pieces that fit you and are the best that you can afford. Then, have fun employing trends when it comes to accessories. Tons of color for me is a huge trend. You can have even a basic, black kind of uniform, but in the winter, add beautiful, forest green boots or add a fabulous scarf or an amazing set of bangles and neon colors.
I think classics like great denim aren’t going anywhere, and I think guys being a little more dressed up will continue. There is such an array of access to amazing fashion. It’s all about an eclectic mix. I hope being very monochromatic and very kind of anonymous will go by the wayside, and we will see more color, prints, and individuality.
Is there a clothing item or accessory you will never leave home without?
I think it’s different for men and women. Guys in general don’t wear a lot of jewelry, so even though you don’t need a great watch anymore, I always have a watch and a couple metallic men’s bracelets on my left wrist. I also like to have amazing sunglasses and a great pair of shoes. That’s really all you need. You can wear jeans and T-shirts and casual things and make it look elevated.
Perfect. Now, I would like to ask you a couple of questions about RuPaul’s Drag Race. What is the best and hardest part about being a judge?
The best part is getting to work with Ru, my fellow judges, guest judges, and queens. It is a very positive atmosphere that starts from the top down, and Ru sets that tone. I get the great pleasure of going to work and seeing amazing drag performances from the best in the business. This is a pure joy. The hardest part is what you have to do as a judge. We are not there to say, like, this person is better than the other person. Our job is to judge how well they met the criteria of the challenge.
It’s hard when someone gives a fabulous performance, but it’s not what the challenge was about. It’s hard when there are some queens that you have a natural affinity for, that you’re rooting for, you know they are talented, but they just didn’t understand the challenge or weren’t necessarily suited best for that challenge. Having to judge them negatively is difficult.
Before joining the judges’ panel, were you a fan of the show?
Yes! My two best friends turned me on to the show during season one or two. By, like, season three, I worked with Ru on another project, and he said he would love to have me on the show, and I said I would be thrilled!
What were your thoughts on Drag Race UK?
I thought it was great. I met the U.K. cast in New York City, and I was so impressed by the level of their craftsmanship. It’s interesting, you could tell that drag in the U.K. has a bit of a different flair and a bit of a different flavor than drag in the U.S.
I was very excited to hear that there will be a Drag Race celebrity spin-off edition. What celebrities would you like to see participate?
We have some amazing celebrities coming up in the first season! This idea was born out of many people talking to Ru and telling him what fans they are of the show and how they would love to try drag. People I would like to see, I love Kacey Musgraves, and I think it would be fun to see Zac Efron. Maybe some famous fashion designers like Marc Jacobs.
Drag really reveals more of a person. You learn so much about these people, so to see celebrities go through this process would be intriguing for me because you will learn so much about them and see how they would navigate in heels, literally and figuratively! I had a drag makeover of my own at Drag Con L.A., and it’s amazing how it transforms you and unleashes another side of your personality.
What is your drag name?
My drag name is Lisa New Sonata!
Have you ever disagreed with one of Ru’s decisions on who should go home?
No, I don’t think so. We are almost always on the same page by the time we deliberate.
If there is ever to be a Drag Race winners edition, who do you think would win?
That is a very hard question because drag is such a unique art. The winners of Drag Race in general are the contestants that can bring the most of themselves to the art of drag and the ones that do drag in their own way. So, it’s like comparing apples and oranges. I am a super fan of Bianca Del Rio; she’s incredible. She would certainly be a top contender. I love Trinity “The Tuck” Taylor, there’s so many. I just think most of the winners have had such unique styles, which is why they stood out and won. It would be hard to compare them in a winner’s head-to-head.
Now, this may be one of my most important questions. A lot of controversy surrounded this. Should Katya have won All Stars?
No, I think that we selected the correct winner. Katya is wildly talented, but remember, we judge on how you do on those particular challenges throughout the show, and I think that we chose the correct winner. And I’m not going to disagree with Ru!
What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects we should be on the lookout for?
I have a new show airing on Freeform called Wrap Battle, and it’s a fun, holiday gift wrapping competition extravaganza. It’s about wrapping presents and presentation and holiday flair, so contestants are coming with their glue guns blazing and trying to win a lot of money. Then, we have Drag Race celebrity edition coming out I think early 2020, and we also have Drag Race season 12 and All Stars 5. You can also see me, perhaps surprisingly, on CMT’s Nashville Squares.