Karamo's Role In 'Queer Eye' Was Supposed To Very Different, According To His Memoir

by Kerri Jarema
Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Attention Queer Eye fans: You're definitely going to want to pick up Karamo Brown's new book, titled Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing, and Hope, out on March 5. The first of several books from the show's stars to be released (Tan France's memoir, Naturally Tan; Antoni Porowski's cookbook, Antoni in the Kitchen; and Jonathan Van Ness's memoir, Over The Top will all be released in the coming months), Karamo is a deep dive into the author's complicated family history, his historic role as the first openly gay Black man on reality television, and his journey to becoming Queer Eye's culture expert.

According to his book, Brown was watching an episode of Watch What Happens Live featuring Carson Kressley, an original Queer Eye cast member, when he learned that Netflix planned to reboot the show. Energized by the idea of auditioning, he spent the rest of the night watching episodes of the original program; he writes that he was struck by the fact that the show seemed to be focused primarily on the external makeovers, but it never delved into mental or emotional issues. Brown was ready to change that.

"Late that night, I figured out what my role on the show was going to be before even finding out how I could audition," Brown writes. "I was going to try to be the show's psychotherapist/life coach/emotional mentor: what you want to call the person who fixes the inside, that's who I wanted to be."

For more on Brown's surprisingly difficult journey to become Queer Eye's emotional core, keep reading below:

Karamo Almost Wasn't Allowed To Audition For The Show

After his late-night realization that he wanted to be a part of the new Queer Eye, Karamo immediately contacted his agent, Taylor Kroos. A few days later, Kroos called back with bad news: Brown had decided to audition too late. The production company had already finalized the top 40 contenders.

"I was devastated when I received the news," Brown writes. "Then Tyler said something that changed the trajectory of my life forever."

Kroos agreed to hard-pitch Brown to the show's senior vice president of casting, Gretchen Palek. Palek gave Brown one shot, over a telephone interview, to convince her.

"I wanted to make sure the process felt authentic to me — the same thing I wanted for the show," Brown writes. "Then came the question 'What does culture mean to you?' Without hesitation, I answered proudly, 'I am culture.'"

And the rest was history.

Karamo, Tan, Bobby, Jonathan, And Antoni Made An Immediate Connection

During the first day of the three-day chemistry tests in Burbank, California, Brown formed an immediate connection with Bobby Berk and Tan France.

"We were drawn to each other," Brown writes. "There was a warm, kind, and friendly energy immediately present among all three of us. I could tell we would become friends quickly."

The trio was soon joined by Jonathan Van Ness and Antoni Porowski. Brown writes that the group "connected on a human level" and "immediately and genuinely wanted to support one another throughout the process."

The five helped one another during the chemistry tests, and all made it through the initial round of cuts.

"Before the day ended," Brown writes, "the five of us decided to exchange telephone numbers. Bobby started a group text chat that he titled 'The Fab 5.' It was either completely delusional of him of completely clairvoyant. Either way, we knew we would be lifelong friends."

No, I'm not crying, you're crying.

Antoni Was The Final Member Of The Fab 5 To Be Cast

In another case of what might have been, Porowski had to go through an additional round of tests before he became a member of The Fab 5.

When Brown got the call that he had made it into the cast, "they told me not to say anything to anyone, because it was confidential... Of course I agreed I wouldn't tell anyone — while simultaneously texting the other guys in the Fab Five group chat."

Over the next half hour, every one of them chimed in that they had been cast, except Porowski.

"This was rough for us," Brown writes. "Four of us had made it, but we were determined to make sure that Antoni's confidence never wavered."

After three additional auditions with five different food and wine experts, Porowski was cast and The Fab 5 as we know and love them was officially complete.

Jonathan Once Insisted On Waxing Karamo's Ears... And It Didn't End Well

It just wouldn't be a complete behind-the-scenes moment without a little JVN hilarity, and Brown serves that up in an anecdote about an impromptu waxing gone wrong.

"When we were taping season 1 of Queer Eye in Atlanta," Brown writes, "Jonathan Van Ness looked at my ears and said, 'Oh you have hair growing in there.' The hairs were so friggin' tiny you could not even see them."

Although Brown did not want to be waxed, he writes, "once Jonathan gets something in his head, he just keeps pressuring you and pressuring you, in a very funny but relentless way, until you give in."

So Brown went to Van Ness' apartment to get his ears waxed and, he writes, "it took him an hour and fifteen minutes to get the wax off my ear because I was sobbing. And afterward, let me point out that there was no hair on the wax."

Does anyone else wish this had been captured on film?

Karamo Tried To Get Tan To Go By His Full Given Name For A Very Personal Reason

In the first chapter of his book, "What's in a Name?" Brown writes about his emotional journey to embrace his unique name, Karamo Karega, which means "educated rebel" in Swahili.

He recalls the moment in kindergarten when his teacher asked him, "What kind of a name is that?" and writes that for years after, he used the nickname K.K. — until his freshman year of college at a HBCU (historically Black colleges and universities), when he found the confidence to embrace his given name.

Interestingly, Brown is not the only Queer Eye cast member who doesn't use his full name: Tan France's given name is Tanveer Safdar (France is his married surname).

Brown writes, "When we were preparing to shoot season 1, a curious crew member asked Tan why he didn't go by his birth name. Tan replied, 'Because when you Google 'Tanveer' only terrorists come up. It's easier.'"

Knowing that France is proud of his Muslim and Pakistani heritage, Brown tried to encourage France to join him is using his full given name, saying that France could help change the perception of the name Tanveer with his positive image. Brown writes, "Tan is a very secure man who knows what he wants, and he quickly told me, 'Nope, I prefer to go by Tan.'"

But the two bonded over their shared experience, and Brown has allowed France to be the only one to call him by his old nickname, K.K. He writes, "By allowing him to call me this nickname, it's my way of saying, 'I understand our shared struggle.'"

Is it any wonder Brown has become the show's resident expert in self-acceptance?

Karamo Single-Handedly Changed The Show's Definition Of Culture, But Not Without Some Serious Pushback

It's now impossible to imagine Queer Eye without Brown's emotional breakthroughs. But that doesn't mean the producers were always on board with his role.

Brown recalls a moment when one of the show's creators told him to "cut all the therapy stuff from now on and talk more about the arts." But he was determined to listen to his heart and he proceeded to work with the makeover subjects on everything from building self-esteem to overcoming trauma, earning him the nickname "Kar-Oprah" because his heart-to-hearts made everyone cry. However, Brown writes that much of his role was edited from Season 1.

"As we began to watch the first episode, 'You Can't Fix Ugly,' my heart sank," Brown writes. "All the emotional and mental work I had done with Tom had been cut. For the most part, I wasn't even in the first episode... To be honest, I was embarrassed."

It took positive feedback from the show's first eight "heroes" and media reviews of the show that likened Brown to "the world's therapist" that finally encouraged him to officially redefine his culture role with the show's higher-ups. And, thankfully, we'll see more of Brown's efforts in Queer Eye Season 3.

He writes: "I'm not making any photo albums or planning any random events. Ninety percent of what I'm doing during this season is clearly about helping people reach an emotional breakthrough so that the changes that my brothers — Bobby, Jonathan, Antoni, and Tan — make on the outside will stick around long after we are gone."

All I have to say to that is, Yes, Henny!