More than 1,000 people packed the grand first floor of the Kansas City Public Library's downtown branch Wednesday night to see the cast of Netflix's "Queer Eye."
It was the biggest crowd the library has had for an event, spokeswoman Courtney Lewis said of the Fab Five's book launch.
After five months of filming the show's third season in Kansas City, the Fab Five — Antoni Porowski (food), Tan France (fashion), Jonathan Van Ness (grooming), Bobby Berk (design) and Karamo Brown (culture) — treated the adoring audience to jokes, riffs, self-improvement tips and moving testimonials about the impact of the show.
“The happiest moments I have is when I get messages from ministers who have said they have always taught in their church a message of hate against homosexuals," Berk said. "And after watching our show and hearing our stories, realizing it is not a choice, and we were born that way and they would never preach that type of hate again — that’s huge for me."
Berk's time in Kansas City particularly resonated because he grew up in Miller, Missouri, 30 miles west of Springfield. He said he was struck by how much downtown had changed.
"I came here to go to my first gay bar, which was Missie B's," he said of a visit 20 years ago, to raucous applause. "The high-rises were all boarded up." Now, he said, the art, food, and fashion scenes had made it an "internationally cultured city with such loving, caring people."
He even suggested he would love to move back.
Those sentiments marked a long journey from the repressed, religious upbringing Berk describes in the group's new book, "Queer Eye: Love Yourself, Love Your Life."
"I couldn't come out or even talk to anyone about being gay in my dusty little cow town," he wrote. "The one guy I'd ever known to come out was almost killed when some jerks ran him off the road one night. But I had to do something. I was wearing a mask every day, and the anger it was bringing me was building up. I had to get out of here."
The Kansas City Public Library's event served as the book's official launch (two weeks ahead of a similar event with New York City's Strand bookstore). Essentially a print version of their show, the book is filled with self-empowering stories, specific tips, photos of them — and recipes.
Kansas City chef Beth Barden, of Succotash, consulted on that aspect of the book, Porowski said at a news conference before the library event.
"We had a mutual shared passion in music, art, a love for dogs, and she very quickly became a close friend," Potowski said.
Bringing "Queer Eye" to Kansas City was a win for the Kansas City Film Office. When filming began over the summer, film commissioner Stephane Scupham told KCUR that Kansas City had competed against several other cities to land the show.
"They set us up in a way that we could only fall in love (with the city)," Porowski said at the news conference." Our PAs (production assistants), for example, these are young kids — for a lot of them it's their first job in television. What an amazing opportunity for them and us to collaborate and have this amazing experience together."
The men said they weren't especially surprised by Kansas City's thriving culture and amenities.
"It's a testament to what the concept of the show is when people who are, let's say, more conservative and they don't really understand what gay people are like. They realize when they meet us, they learn about our personal lives, and we're no longer a concept. We're individuals and people with stories. I think the same can be said about Kansas City as well," Porowski said.
Van Ness complimented the city's entrepreneurial spirit.
"I've met so many people who have opened amazing small businesses," he said. "The creative, hardworking people I've met have been passionate, happy and excited energetic people who are really living gorgeous lives."
Berk said Kansas City residents should be proud.
"Mayor Sly (James) always talks about how he can't wait for America to see what it's like," Berk said, "but the world is — 190 countries — are going to see how great Kansas City is."
The air dates for the Kansas City season of "Queer Eye" have not yet been released.
C.J. Janovy is KCUR 89.3's digital content editor. You can find her on Twitter, @cjjanovy.