When Netflix announced in early 2017 they would be rebooting Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, we were skeptical. Though the original show was groundbreaking for starring five out and proud gay men, our culture has outgrown, let’s say, that particular brand of representation. Gay people aren’t sexless cherubs whose sole purpose in life is to make straight people more fabulous! Fortunately, the reboot has proven to be more than just skin-deep; these queer eyes are not just out to change hairstyles, they’re on a mission to change lives. The show has evolved from style-centric makeover series to the kind of inspirational, life-affirming docudrama you’d find on OWN. Turns out, we love a good cry.
Each of the five hosts (Bobby Berk, Karamo Brown, Tan France, Antoni Porowski, and Jonathan Van Ness) have shot to fame so quickly that it’s hard to remember a time when they weren’t appearing on the red carpet or the Instagram feeds of other celebrities (Justin Theroux, hello). This week, they won the Emmy for Best Structured Reality Program, further skyrocketing their personal brands.
The five leads share adorable chemistry and somehow not-annoying positive attitudes. Together, they’re a bona fide powerhouse, but as scholars of demi-fame, we also must consider them as individuals. How do they rank? Which of these men is best leveraging his newfound fame into solo success—through canny self-marketing or straight-up shameless Instagram #spon? If Queer Eye were to end today, who would audiences gravitate toward? We love them all, but who, truly, is the favorite? The clout we’re looking for extends beyond merely creating a solid foundation for a long, comfortable life; it’s about something louder, something more 2018. It’s about influencer power. Is an endorsement by Tan more powerful than one from Karamo? Does a selfie with Jonathan provide more social capital than one with Antoni?
These are the Queer Eye power rankings as of Sept. 14, 2018.
(We didn’t purposely rank them in order of number of Instagram followers, but we have to say it really works.)
No. 5: Bobby Berk
Role: Design expert
Instagram followers: 1.5 million
OK, OK. We love QE’s unbelievably productive decor dude as much as everyone else, but, as you’d imagine, Berk’s skill set keeps him busy! While his four co-hosts teach each episode’s straight guy how to cuff pant legs, trim sideburns, slice a melon, or think positively, Berk is remodeling the guy’s entire house. His role—arguably the most impressive and labor-intensive—is inherently isolating and provides him the least amount of valuable screen time. We just don’t get to know him the way we do the rest! His social feeds, which are well-followed, keep things relatively low-key. He’s rarely out and about with other celebs (largely because his own business is booming), and his #spon content is home décor–based, which means it’s focused more on aspirational interiors than on Berk himself. He seems destined for a happy post-QE life filled with morning show appearances, best-selling design books, and well-photographed but largely dull tours of his home in People magazine.
No. 4: Karamo Brown
Role: Culture expert
Instagram followers: 1.6 million
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Karamo Brown is the QE cast member who performs the least amount of physical labor. Emotional labor, plenty: What he lacks in tangible results, he makes up for by being responsible for some of the series’ most heart-wrenching moments. Though officially the show’s “culture expert,” Brown can better be described as a life coach. He gets to the bottom of a subject’s messiness, offering them a path toward greater happiness and fulfillment. And as someone who speaks largely in soundbite-ready platitudes, he’s a natural fit for social media. But Karamo contains multitudes, and scattered among the inspirational sayings are topless pics and photos of his family. Brown’s a single father—and now, with the QE boost, the kind of person who can make a living writing books and going on lecture tours. Before QE, Karamo did a slew of TV appearances and even one hosting gig (MTV’s Are You the One: Second Chances). The question is whether Karamo’s brand of life coaching can exist outside of Queer Eye. If it does, the sky’s the limit.
No. 3: Tan France
Role: Fashion expert
Instagram followers: 2.0 million
Fashionista Tan specializes in full-body selfies. That’s his job and he’s good at it: showing off impeccable suits, adorable overalls, and various other eye-catching fashion statements. You could argue Tan posts too many photos of himself, to which we’d say: Why else would you be following Tan France on Instagram? Tan trumps Karamo and Bobby in the power rankings because fashion opens so many doors: Beyond the sponsorship, publishing, and talking-head opportunities afforded to any major reality star, being known as a fashion expert immediately grants you access to the world of celebrities. They want to look good, yes, but they also want to look cool—and landing a stylist who’s en vogue is as crucial as finding one who might get you mentioned in Vogue. Tan is cool, and powerful people not only want to be styled by him, they want to be friends with him. He’s friends with Gigi! And Adam! And Cara! And Tina! And … Jon? On the flip side, he could also be relegated to a very successful yet largely off-screen role as celebrity stylist. And even if he grows bored of the profession and just transitions into Famous Friend—well, there are worse ways to live.
No. 2: Antoni Porowski
Role: Food and wine expert
Instagram followers: 2.4 million
Oh, Antoni, how we misjudged you. Antoni was the most ridiculed QE cast member after the show’s premiere, accused of being a “food expert” who didn’t actually have cooking chops. (This was largely due to his overuse of avocados.) But via his increasing thirstiness and admirable commitment to clapping back at haters, Antoni has emerged as the second most powerful of the bunch. Let’s get one thing out of the way: Everyone on the show is attractive, sure, but if any of them is “the hot one,” it’s Antoni. And not only is his Instagram one of the thirstiest places on earth, he’s managed to turn those thirst traps into a lucrative side business—partnering his abs, pecs, and biceps with brands like Hanes, Whole Foods, Excedrin, and something called Caulipower? The point is, embracing his status as model slash chef has increased his influence exponentially. Though he arguably does the least work on the show, Antoni is managing to do the most just about everywhere else.
No. 1: Jonathan Van Ness
Role: Grooming expert
Instagram followers: 2.5 million
How can this be denied? Jonathan Van Ness is the clear breakout star of QE. His web series, Gay of Thrones, was nominated for an Emmy; his podcast, Getting Curious, has been relaunched to mass acclaim—both existed before QE, but received much, much less attention. On QE, even in scenes where he’s not specifically styling hair, Van Ness manages to make his mark; his quips are cute without being annoying, his chemistry with his castmates feels authentic. He’s even turned his shine into a lucrative deal with Target—and for now his Instagram is impressively free of other more influencer-y types of #spon. He’s become the go-to representative of the show. Personality is the most powerful tool of all, and JVN has more than the rest of the QE cast combined. The Queer Eye five won’t stick together—our guess: three more seasons—and Jonathan’s such a force that it seems a little like we could already have a That Thing You Do! situation on our hands.
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