It is well documented here on Pop.Bop.Shop. that I am a Queer Eye super fan. I have said repeatedly that I think the Fab Five deserve a Nobel Peace Prize for their humanitarian work, opening the hearts and minds of people all over the world.
Karamo has always been my favorite, followed by Tan, then Bobby, then Jonathan and a distant fifth, Antoni. When one of my best friends told me she was reading Jonathan's memoir, I was intrigued. While I find him very extra, I knew from his New York Times interview that he'd endured quite a bit before ever even auditioning for the show.
His book is titled Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love. It begins in his hometown of Quincy, Illinois. If you've watched season four of the show, you have seen Quincy! In episode one, the Fab Five come to the rescue of Jonathan's high school music teacher.
Quincy would not be described as a gay-friendly community. Jonathan was bullied all his life, especially for his love of things like gymnastics, cheerleading and figure skating. He eventually found a comfortable home on the swim team, where he also developed his first real crush. In the book, names have been changed (he gives everyone Russian aliases because he loves the Romanovs), so the object of his affection has been renamed Fyodor.
Jonathan's brothers are also given aliases, Timofei and Boris. Though life outside the family home was difficult, Jonathan had a very loving relationship with his mother, and later on, a deep connection with his stepfather, Steve, who would become one of his biggest supporters.
Jonathan did one year in college at Arizona, before leaving to go to hair school in Minnesota. He tried to build a client base back in Arizona, but eventually moved to Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, he had his first real love, Sergei (also an alias). While his heart was cracked open in new ways, that was also a time in his life where he was incredibly stressed, which resulted in drug use and sex with strangers.
As the timeline moves along, Jonathan shares the hard truths about his life in the years before Queer Eye. There was a lot of drug abuse, a lot of promiscuity, and ultimately, a heartbreaking HIV diagnosis. By the time you get the portion of the book about the show, you are thinking to yourself, "It was a miracle he was well enough to audition!"
I want to share a few of my favorite passages in the book.
On his name, "Before there was JVN, there was Jack. That's what everyone called me when I was a kid. I didn't start going by Jonathan until I started hair school at age eighteen. Baby Jack had his passions, and they rotated with the seasons."
On his stepdad, Steve, "So many of my best parts are rooted in my observations of my mom, Steve, and their relationship. Steve showed me how to be confident and proud in my body no matter my size. He believed that other people's opinions are not a reflection of you, as long as your spirits is thriving. My mom and Steve had an ability to always hold their individual needs, and the needs of their relationship, in the highest stead. Their need to love each other fully always outweighed anyone's need to be right. If I hadn't seen that with my own eyes, you wouldn't be reading this book. I don't know who that person would have become."
On finding his path, " . . . I had been stung by the content creation bee. She's an elusive little creature. Her sting is highly addictive. Her symptoms include a constant need for creative expression, an incessant thirst for validation, and a sense of having something to say but not knowing quite how to say it. For the first time, I realized there might be something more for me than doing hair. I had a curiosity and desire to expand in a way that made me passionate and gave me a drive that I hadn't had since I was a teenager."
On becoming his truest self, "Through the back half of shooting, I was introduced to a new part of myself that I ad not yet known: my powerful, bad-bitch corporate lady ferosh who wasn't afraid to kick ass, take names, and get shit done. Prior to Queer Eye, I was pining for a world where I could fully realize a life in entertainment and doing hair. Now, honey, my dream had come true. I was on camera Monday through Fridays, flying to LA on Saturday, doing clients, shooting Gay of Thrones in its totality on Sunday, then back to Atlanta for Monday-to-Friday grind as soon as I was done. It was fantastic. Was I stressed? Yes. Did my insides feel a little bit like I was being electrocuted? Yes. But like I learned in hair school: fake it till you make it and make it look graceful. And that, I did."
If like me, you've found Jonathan to be, shall we say, a bit much, reading his book will give you a whole new understanding for how he came to be the on-screen grooming expert you know today. He's been through so much, overcome difficult obstacles, and still manages to pour his time and energy into improving the lives of others. As he would say, "That's gorgeous, honey!"
*Image courtesy of Apple Books.