Tan France wasn't supposed to be a TV star.

But as of publication, the fashion designer has over 183,000 Instagram followers and a number of giddy, straight husbands asking to take his photo to show their wives at his local grocery store in Utah. "I can't walk the street without somebody stopping me," he explains earnestly, still surprised that complete strangers would recognize him. (Maybe it's the hair?)‌‌‌‌

‌Photo by Paige Soviet.‌


France, who'd never held a job in the entertainment world before, says he was reluctant to audition for "Queer Eye," a Netflix reboot based off the original Bravo series, "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," that's become an overnight cultural phenomenon since premiering in early February.

But France went to the audition anyway. And now he's a member of the show's Fab Five — the stylish, sincere queer guys who bombard their "heroes'" homes and make over their closets, diets, and, really, entire existences in just a few days.

‌Photo courtesy of Netflix.‌

The reason France ended up taking the offer, he says, had nothing to do with fame or fortune. It was the series' shooting location, of all things, that sealed the deal.

Unlike the original, the new "Queer Eye" found its heroes to "make better" in deep red, rural Georgia. For France — a British-Muslim immigrant to the U.S. with Pakistani roots — the opportunity to build bridges and befriend straight, southern Republicans was an opportunity he simply couldn't pass up.

I sat down with France to chat about the first season of "Queer Eye," what it's like representing gay Muslims on the world stage, and which member of the Fab Five he secretly loves best.

I'm so happy to talk to you. I went through season one of "Queer Eye" so quickly.‌‌‌‌

The response has been out of this world!‌‌‌‌

How so? ‌‌‌‌

I don't know if you know, but I'm the only one who hasn't ever worked in the entertainment industry before. I never had any desire to do so. I had to be convinced to go audition for this show. So for me, it's been really shocking. I receive, on average, a thousand DMs a day.

Oh my gosh.

Yeah. It's insane. It's lovely, lovely, and I'm very grateful, but it's insane. And then not really being able to go out of the house as much anymore, unless I'm either really dressed up or have a hat and shades on — that's been a major adjustment.

That's wild. And for many Americans, you're either the first or one of the first gay Muslims they've ever seen on TV. What's that been like for you?

I just am unapologetically myself, so it wasn't something I was really cognizant of until people really started asking about it the past few weeks. And so I've been like, oh shit, maybe I should be paying more attention to that [laughs]. People all over the world have been reaching out and saying, "I've never seen a version of myself on TV." And that's really powerful.

How comfortable are you taking on that role?

I don't feel uncomfortable because I am who I am, and I don't make any apologies for it. That's the case for all of [the Fab Five].

But I've never seen myself as any kind of role model or trailblazer, and I still don't. I don't like that kind of responsibility because I don't expect that people should live their lives a certain way because someone else lives their life a certain way. However, I do love giving exposure to a community that really hasn't had the representation it needs.

As a Muslim, how did it feel helping Cory in episode three? He was a big Trump supporter. Was helping guys like him something you considered before heading to Georgia to shoot?

It was something I thought about a lot before accepting the offer. And actually, it was the reason I took the show.

If the show had been filmed in New York or L.A., I don't think it would have been as enticing for me. [The original "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"] was wonderful for its time. It moved the gay community forward and it gave us exposure we never had before. However, I didn't want just the original version back. I wanted it to be more [representative] of how we've progressed as a community.

So having the opportunity to work with a bunch of Republican people [in the South] was the most enticing part of this job for me. It wasn't about making them "pretty" — that's secondary. My job on the show is making sure I'm having very open, blunt conversations with people without hiding who I am.

Unfortunately, some of the conversations didn't make it [into the episodes]. Like, Cory and I had a very lengthy conversation in the car about Trump and the fact he doesn't love gays or immigrants, and I represent both of those things. [Trump's] made some derogatory comments about the Middle East, and again, I represent that.

Photo by Paige Soviet.

I read that Tom had at one point suggested you were a "terrorist"? But then he ended up giving you a yellow rose?

He sure did. You've seen the full [first] episode ... right?

Yes.

So I had a driving scene in the car with Tom that didn't make it [into the final cut], where we're shooting the shit — just talking about everything while I was driving — and then it came up in conversation that I am Middle Eastern. He hadn't realized I was Middle Eastern. So his first question was, "You're not a terrorist, are you?"

Wow.

Yeah. That was really important for me to be able to address that in a certain way where he didn't feel like he couldn't ask that question — and I told him he can't ask that question again.

There's a way of asking questions to find out what you're wanting to find out without being so offensive. There's a certain level of tact that's required [pauses, laughs] ...

Sorry, what was the rest of your question?

I asked about the yellow rose.

Oh, right, yes! Sorry, sometimes I go off on a tangent and I don't remember where I was going! So we had a really open conversation and he actually asked that question [about being a "terrorist"].

We ended up becoming really close. I love Tom. By the end of the week before I left, when the cameras weren't around, he came over and said, "I got a rose for you, which is yellow — the color of friendship. And I want you to know that I wasn't trying to be offensive by the question I asked. Now I understand you."

He said, "I want to have these conversations with other people. I love knowing that now I have a Middle Eastern friend, an immigrant friend, a liberal friend, that I never thought I would have had."

Oh my gosh.

I know!

Tom was definitely one of my favorites. I also loved A.J. too.

I loved A.J. I mean, it helped that he was really attractive [laughs]. But he was such a sweetheart.

That's awesome. Well, those scenes with Tom sound so powerful. I wish I'd gotten to see them.

You know, here's the thing: We're not trying to make a political show. I guess we make political statements by the nature of who we are. But I think [the yellow rose scene with Tom] would have been way too heavy. Baby steps.

Sometimes, subtlety can make the show accessible for a lot of people who may not have tuned in otherwise.

Exactly. And they can make their own assumptions. We don't necessarily have to ram anything down their throats.

Photo by Paige Soviet.

So how about some fun questions?

Yeah!

I know the Fab Five are all close with one another. But who do you get along with the best?

OK, I will actually be honest with you. I love them all. When we're together, we have the best time. I don't know if you follow my Instagram or if you don't —

I do.

I mentioned in a post that people seem to have really responded well to in my Instagram story: Antoni sat on my lap, and I [said], "It doesn't matter how many chairs there are in a room, my lap is always Antoni's seat." And that's true. It doesn't matter what's going on, if there are a lot of people around us, we are always so affectionate. We love each other very much.

There are differences between some of [the Fab Five] because, for example, some of the boys like to go experience the night life and go to bars and clubs. And me and Antoni, neither of us drink alcohol. So it made it so much more organic for us to build a bond quickly, because when those guys are out going to bars and clubs, Antoni and I were cooking in each other's apartments and watching "The Great British Baking Show."

I now go on vacations with his family. We basically married the same person [laughs], so they get along really well. We're all very, very close, but me and Antoni formed a bond like no other.

That's amazing. Can we talk about Antoni for a second?

Everyone wants to talk to me about Antoni! You love him, I know. [laughs]

I do! But he seems to be the most controversial Fab Five member. Is he just the talentless eye candy on the show, like some people have said?

OK, wait, Robbie, let me tell you this. Because you are now the third person in the last couple days who've asked me this.

All I get all day is DMs from people saying, "Oh my gosh, Antoni won't reply to my DMs; can you tell him that I love him?" I'm like, "OK, get a grip, everybody. He's not just a piece of meat [laughs]!"

Maybe I am jaded because we're so close, but I see him as the heart of the show. Truly. He's got a way of connecting with our heroes — that's what we call the clients we help — he has a way of connecting with heroes like none of us can. He's so truly genuine.

And look, people can have their own opinions with what he does with food. But in the first episode where he made Tom guacamole, he actually made a full meal. But we've only got time to show one thing! He's actually an amazing chef. He cooked for me almost every night because our apartments [when we were shooting on location] were right next door to each other.

For the record, I'm pro-Antoni.

Good! Honestly, no joke, he's probably the best person I've met in my entire life. Like, he's an angel sent down from heaven.

Photo by Paige Soviet.

So, I'm already craving season two. Any news?

OK, here's the thing. Netflix doesn't tell us anything [laughs]. All we can say is, we hope it's doing well. Instagram's fucking blown up, so I assume that's a good indication of how the show's doing.

It seems like it's doing great, but I don't know if I'm just being trapped in my own gay bubble.

[laughs] You know what's funny though? In Utah [where France lives], they have a very high Mormon population. And when I'm out in the grocery store, one of my favorite things in the world to do is go to the grocery store. For a British person, coming to America and seeing the ridiculous abundance in a grocery store is fascinating.

And every time I'm there now — at least three or four times — I'll get stopped by a man who I assume is straight and wants to take a picture with me to show his wife and kids. It's always straight men! It's always straight men.

That's so funny!

I know, I love it.

That about covers my questions, Tan. Is there anything you want to add?

I'd love to go back to the relationship thing with the other boys, because you're the only one who's asked who I am closest with.

Of course.

I am the closest with Antoni, but I never expected that my colleagues and I would become my best friends. Of course, every now and then there's going to [be a fight]. Actually, I like that we argue every now and then, because it's usually about the hero and what we want to do that episode — we have those kinds of arguments. And that makes for a better show.

But on the whole, [the show creators] chose five people who could be, and thankfully are, the closest of friends. And I think that's why the show works so well.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

via Pexels

If you know how to fix this tape, you grew up in the 1990s.

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There’s also a feeling that the current state of pop culture is lacking as well. Nobody listens to new music anymore and unless you’re into superheroes, it seems like creativity is seriously missing from the silver screen.

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Photo by TR on Unsplash

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Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

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Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

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