Attention aspiring TV personalities: listen to your parents when they implore you to get a fallback career.
The five guys from Queer Eye For The Straight Guy know that more than most — when the show finished up in 2007 after five seasons, the hosts went back to the respective careers they were plucked from, spared the indignity of appearing on Hollywood Squares or ‘Where Are They Now’ specials.
“I kept my design business going throughout the show. I never stopped working,” Thom Filicia, Queer Eye’s resident interior design guru, told Sydney Star Observer during his recent trip to Australia.
“It was the reason I never got the chance to come to Australia when the show was on. I had offers, but I was just so busy. But it was important for me to be a working designer as well as a television designer.”
Filicia has a new show, focused entirely on his design talents, which debuted on Foxtel’s Style Network this week. Each week on Tacky House, Filicia revamps the abode of some clueless DIY-er who’s been dobbed in by a long-suffering loved one.
The opening episode centres on Yvonne, aka ‘Leopard Lady’, an eccentric leopard print-obssessed Ivana Trump type who forces her poor gay assistant to work amidst the feline-featured monstrosity that is her home. Said gay is showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder by the time Thom and the team show up.
And if you think that sounds bad, there’s a whole season of design disasters in store.
“There’s a family that lives in a 1970s castle, a guy who built a gambling casino in his girlfriend’s garage, a woman who’s infatuated with fake flowers, and a woman who thinks she’s a leprechaun, and has decorated her house accordingly,” said Filicia breezily.
Is she tall?
“She’s medium-sized. She’s definitely wacky, but good wacky. I think that’s what makes it fun; you live vicariously through these people’s silly, over-the-top choices.”
There’s also a Francophile singer-songwriter, Ginger, who decides to recreate a slice of Parisian life in her home by hanging cheap plastic beads and crushed velvet from every available fixture. Because nothing says ‘Vive La France’ like a Stevie Nicks murder scene.
“It looked like a hooker exploded in her room,” Filicia laughed. “She was a lot of fun.”
Each episode opens with an inspired bit of trickery. Filicia’s bubbly co-host Kelly arrives at the house to start filming, ostensibly for a flattering TV special on ‘unique’ home designs.
When the target is suitably relaxed by her compliments, Filicia emerges to deliver the sucker-punch: “You’re on Tacky House!” Thankfully, he then gets to work on a tasteful makeover to soften the blow.
“People always ask me, is it hard to tell them they have a tacky house? It really isn’t. If your house is filled with plastic flowers or leopard print, I’m sure I’m not the first person who’s touched on that topic.
“I’ve had a couple of people who’ve looked sad and said they can’t believe I’m calling them tacky, but I tell them — tacky’s way better than boring or dull.”
It seems what unites all his unsuspecting subjects is their shared love of following a design theme through to its bitter, grisly end.
“That’s what tacky is. Tacky things in the right context can be fabulous, it’s when you go overboard it doesn’t work. Like, ‘I want to do a beach theme’, then suddenly it looks like a fisherman’s wharf, with shells and seaweed. Tacky is going too far, pushing it too hard.
“But it’s people who are willing to take a risk, which is helpful for me — at least a tacky person is willing to have a little fun. You’re not fighting fear, you’re trying to rein in excessiveness.”
Joining him in reining it all in is the hunky carpenter (every lifestyle show needs one — check with the union if you don’t believe us) Jared, who is on hand to do all the required sawing, hammering and heavy lifting. Naturally, he’s straight. He’s also a little bit gorgeous.
“Not a little bit, he’s a lot gorgeous. I always tell him he’s not allowed to stand near me because he makes me look bad,” Filicia said.
With a few years’ distance, it’s easy to forget just how much Thom’s previous TV effort, Queer Eye, transcended its position as a lifestyle show to become something of a cultural phenomenon, launching five careers, several books, DVDs, a hit soundtrack — hell, even a short-lived Australian version.
Sure, the fab five traded in stereotypes, with their respective areas of food, culture, interior design, beauty and fashion. And one could argue they were presenting a rather sexless view of gay life to the masses (being an expert in colour coordination isn’t quite as useful a skill to your average gay man as, say, knowing how to deep throat), but love ’em or hate ’em, there they were, week after week, five united, unapologetic, gay men — and for once, in a position of power over straight guys.
“It was amazing and it is amazing what we’ve done. We weren’t trying to change the world, we were just trying to represent ourselves in a good way,” Filicia said.
“We were just trying to keep our heads above water, so we were so lucky that the gay community embraced it, and that kids, families, grandparents embraced it. That cross-section of society, all responding to the show in a positive way. I think it put gay people out there in a really friendly, approachable way.
“It was interesting to see what people thought of it when it was around, but it’ll be even more interesting to see how people reflect on it in the years to come. I think it’ll be talked about again in a bigger way — it was a real moment in time.”
info: Tacky House screens Mondays at 7.35pm on Foxtel’s Style Network.