Carson Kressley is a stylist, author, fashion designer, star of TV's Queer Eye for the straight guy and, now, tour leader and groupie. Carson is going on the road with Cyndi Lauper and a gaggle of gays and gay allies for the second annual True Colors Tour, presented by Logo, and produced in partnership with the Human Rights Campaign.
Windy City Times: Hey Carson, how are you?
Carson Kressley: I'm good; I'm actually on my voyage right now. I'm in my car, driving to Boston for our first rehearsal.
WCT: How exciting. This is like going to summer camp for gay rock stars, and you're invited.
CK: It totally is. Maybe we'll do a lot more fun things than making crafts out of macaroni.
WCT: Although gays can even make that fun, come on. A little glitter.
CK: Totally. A little glitter, a little glue and a dream—that's all it takes.
WCT: Exactly. How did Cyndi invite you to be a part of these summer festivities?
CK: I was lucky enough to go to the show last summer in Atlantic City. I wanted to go see Cyndi, and Debbie Harry and the whole group that they had last year and, during the break—kind of during intermission—I got to go backstage and meet everybody, which was super-fun, and the organizer said 'Hey, do you want to go introduce the next half of the show?' And I said 'OK,' and it was kind of like an American Idol moment, where you just go up and do your thing, and I was like, 'OK, I'll try it.' And I did, and it was super-fun, and I had a great time with the crowd. Then this year when they were organizing the tour, Cyndi and the [ tour ] producers came to me and said, 'Hey, would you be interested?' And I was like, 'Yeah, I'd love to see the country and have someone else pay for the gas. So bring it on.'
WCT: Especially this summer—somebody else paying for all the gas.
CK: I know; it's ridiculous.
WCT: So did you just immediately say yes because you'd had a taste of it, being on stage in Atlantic City?
CK: Yeah, basically. I just got the idea you know. First of all, any time when you collaborate with amazing, talented people like Rosie O'Donnell, Cyndi Lauper [ and ] the B-52s, you know it's going to be an amazing experience. And that's one of the great things from doing Queer Eye, and from doing How To Look Good Naked and some of the TV stuff I've done—you get asked to do these fun things you would never ever ever have an opportunity to do. So when those opportunities arise, I kind of just say 'yes' right away.
WCT: Just saying 'yes' to your life is so exciting; you have no idea where it will take you. And it's taking you from Massachusetts to New York, Toronto, Atlanta, Chicago, D.C., Florida, Texas, California. You're even going to Utah. I love that.
CK: We're even going to Utah and Vancouver.
WCT: And Vancouver. How cool is that!
CK: And Oklahoma City, where you wouldn't think there'd be that many gays, but, in fact, there are. So, you know, one of the cool things about this tour is that we're not just doing the New York, the L.A., the Chicago sort of thing. We are getting out there to those parts of the country like Oklahoma City and Utah where a lot of gay people don't have a sense of community and don't feel supported, and that's one of the messages of the tour. We still need to be active in our community, and work with our straight allies and try to ultimately get us to a point where we have the same rights as our straight counterparts.
WCT: It's also an election year, and I know that that is a really big theme of what you all want to encourage people to do is getting out the vote this year, right?
CK: Yeah, that's kind of the whole kind of 'rock the vote' kind of theme to the show, and really just to raise awareness and to let people know it is an election year. Everybody's vote counts and it doesn't matter who you're voting for—just get out there and make sure your voice is heard. I think a lot of times, especially even in the GLBT community, we kind of become complacent in our lives, settle down and we have a roof over our heads and food in our fridges, but we have to remember that we still have a long way to go in terms of equal rights, marriage equality and so many thousands of rights that our straight counterparts have that we're still lacking.
WCT: It's going to be exciting when you hit California because, by that point, there may be marriages happening on the West Coast.
CK: Exactly. I might even perform a couple. I am a licensed minister.
WCT: Are you?
CK: I am. I got licensed to do a wedding on Queer Eye in Vegas, but I think I'm only licensed in Nevada. But it's not that far of a drive.
WCT: Speaking of the election, [ which ] of the potential candidates would you like to dress, and would you be excited about dressing any of them for the inauguration ball?
CK: I am a Hillary supporter, I'm a Hill-raiser and I would actually love to dress Hillary for her inauguration. I think that would be awesome. Obviously, we have never had a woman president, so it would be a momentous occasion. I just think that she's a great candidate and someone that could really get us back on track ASAP.
WCT: Tell me, who else is going to be on tour with you this year? I know Rosie O'Donnell is coming back [ and ] , of course, Cyndi is our big headliner, but who are some of the other artists who are going to be on the entire tour, and who are some of the guest artists making appearances?
CK: We have an amazing fleet of stars—of course Cyndi, Rosie and the B-52s are going to be in every venue, I believe. They're really kind of the anchors of the tour, but then we've invited special guests in different cities. We've got Andy Bell from Erasure; we have Deborah Cox coming to join us in Miami and, I think, in some of the southwestern shows; Wanda Sykes, the amazing comedian; The Cliks; we have Regina Spektor, so many people. Basically everybody good, we have.
WCT: Yeah, it's [ so ] exciting, and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts are coming out this year.
CK: Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Put another dime in the jukebox baby. They are coming.
WCT: And then those cute little lesbian twins, the little Tegan and Sara, who are just little pocket lesbians.
CK: Oh, Tegan and Sara, yes. If you love The L Word, you're going to love Tegan and Sara. They're so cute.
WCT: I have friends in other cities who are sad that they're not getting to see Tegan and Sara. The Cliks, who just won a NewNextNow Award, and our other co-host, Colman Domingo, were there giving that award. And The White Tie Affair I don't know, but it's always fun to have a new band because Cyndi always introduces some great people every year.
WCT: And you. And fabulous you.
CK: And fabulous me, in five or six different outfits.
WCT: You're going to have quick changes, huh?
CK: Yeah, I'm going to change every time I come out. Like Ellen hosting the Oscars, I thought I would change every time. You know, bring some fashion to the people.
WCT: Exactly. [ And ] speaking of bringing some fashion to the people, this is a big week right now with Sex and the City and all of the articles about how these women changed the fashion world. How do you think they did that, or do you think they were really a catalyst for an enormous change, and a revolution in women's fashion?
CK: I really do think they were. I am friends with Pat Fields, who was the stylist on the show, and who did a really amazing job of bringing those characters to life through their clothes. I think [ that ] when you pair that up with amazingly talented actresses, it made them seem like real people. And it put their different styles out there, from Carrie to Kristin Davis [ who plays Charlotte in the movie ] , who was kind of an uptown girl. It kind of showed people a model that they could work from and—especially, Carrie's stuff—it inspired a lot of people. Young girls and young women who were watching them, it's definitely going to influence them the rest of their lives.
WCT: Do you identify with one girl more than the others?
CK: Everyone thinks I would be a Carrie, but I think I'm more of a Kim Cattrall [ who played Samantha ] .
WCT: Are you really? You're a man whore?
CK: I'm a Scorpio, so I'm always in the mood, if you know what I mean.
WCT: I'm with you. See, I would have thought you had a little bit of Charlotte—a little bit of that Upper West Side. You're an equestrian rider, for people who may not know—you're a U.S. World Cup equestrian rider. You're a Ralph Lauren classic-wearing kind of guy.
CK: Yeah, I guess I am a little bit like her, but I'm less uptight. So I guess that's why I thought I was more like Kim's character.
WCT: See, I think we all have a little bit of all of them in us, don't you?
CK: Yeah, and I think that's definitely how the show was written, with personalities that we all kind of have.
WCT: Well you are extremely driven, so that would make you kind of like Miranda. You have published so many books. Of course, you're the best-selling author of the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy Companion Book, then you did your self-help guide Off The Cuff, but you're also a children's book writer, which I did not know until I started prepping for this interview.
CK: Yeah, I wrote a children's book called You're Different and That's Super. I think it's a really sweet children's book about being different. It's about the gayest thing ever—it's about a unicorn, but he doesn't know he's a unicorn; he just doesn't fit in with all of the other ponies. Then one day he's just like, 'Oh my God, I'm a unicorn—that's so icky and gross and I'm so ashamed of it,' but then what he finds out is that being different can be an asset. It's got a great message, I think, and it's fun. I collaborated with this amazing equestrian artist named Jared Lee, who did the best illustrations ever, and it's really fun. I think you can get it on Amazon.com if you want to get one. I'll send you one.
WCT: I would love it if you would send me one. I'll do a podcast reading of your book. How would that be?
CK: Fantastic. Or maybe I'll do a podcast reading of my book. I could do a reading with you.
WCT: I would love you just to do the reading, and I'll do the little intro, like gathering the kiddies around—that would be fun. We should totally do that.
WCT: Because you don't have anything going on in your life in the the next five weeks, so we should just plan that.
CK: No, I'll have a lot of time, driving from city to city. So I'll have some time on my hands.
WCT: Well, you know my number, so you can give me a call.
Why has it always been important for you to be out, and to be such an advocate for GLBT causes? Obviously, you're connected with children's books. And you've been such a champion, you've done such extensive philanthropic work—I couldn't even list it all. Of course, I think just being one of the fabulous men on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy was so pioneering. Ted Allen is a former Chicagoan, and he used to come in my restaurant all the time when you guys were filming; my ex and I had a restaurant. I just thought it was so brave for all of you to be such pioneers. So has it always been important for you to be out, and an advocate?
CK: No, not always. I think a lot of people, or most people, struggle with that fear of coming out. Whenever I speak to college students or parents' groups or whatever, I always say it's so daunting because it's the one thing you're afraid if you tell somebody in your family, they won't love you anymore if they find out. Other things, like if you fail a test in school, you can come home and say, 'Oh, wow. I failed this test; I don't believe it.' Or, 'Mom, I'm the only Black girl in my class and everyone makes fun of me.' You go home and you have that support of your family because they're just like you, but when you grow up gay, you feel so isolated and so different that you don't know who to turn to. I experienced that—just like so many other teens—and it was really really difficult. And then by the time I was 30 and working in fashion—and that's a great community to be out it—and it wasn't an issue at all, at Ralph Lauren which is an amazing company. Then the opportunity for Queer Eye arose and I didn't even think about it; I guess everyone knows I'm gay now, including my cousins in Sweden, so bring it on.
I've been so lucky. I think Bravo, and the producers of Queer Eye, Scout productions, so were brave, too, in just putting us out there and letting us be ourselves on TV. I think that was a great step forward, just having five gay guys be who they are. There was some flack, even from the gay community, that the show was promoting stereotypes. Our answer was actually, 'No, we're just being ourselves.' That's the thing about being out and being proud is just being you and being proud of it. There is lots of diversity within our community and, of course, there are tons of gay hairdressers and florists and stylists, but there are also gay doctors and lawyers. That's just not what our show happened to be about.
WCT: I think it was an infectious phenomenon that you all were really just yourselves and I think you were kind of the ringleader, and America fell in love with you. It kind of didn't matter, and that was what was so great. It broke down any of those barriers of, I don't know a gay person, you all came right into our homes, and especially when we watched you transform these guys. The people watching were transformed, just in the whole process. Well, I know we have to wrap up, I just want to say I hope you have a fabulous summer, it sounds like it's going to be great, and I hope for all of our listeners that any city you're in, you can try to get to a True Colors stop and see a show. It'll be a little different every night, in every city so that makes it truly unique. Carson, thanks so much for being on with us, and have fun at your summer camp for gay rock stars. I love it.
CK: I will. Come and see us.
See www.TrueColorsTour.com or Ticketmaster.com .
—With assistance by Robb Olson