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Champ gets Queer makeover

John Zimmerman had one worry before going on Bravo's popular TV show: Don't shave the hair!

Associated Press
Published March 8, 2004

John Zimmerman faced a new set of judges, a group that wanted nothing more than to break him down. And then build him back up.

The three-time U.S. pairs champion who turned pro after the 2002 Olympics was the first athlete to appear on the Bravo network's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

The weekly program features a high-spirited gay makeover team of five guys who give their subject a lesson in fashion, food and wine, interior design, grooming and culture. Zimmerman compared it with "being in a hurricane."

"As far as what really goes on behind the scenes, it is pretty much what you see on TV," said Zimmerman, whose episode airs at 10 p.m. Tuesday. "The cameras are on all the time, and they just want to take the best moments and reactions and shock. The shock value is what we are all looking at."

In previous shows, the makeover subject has not been a celebrity.

Zimmerman not only is a figure skating champion, but his lengthy hair has been a fixture in the sport for a decade. Those flowing locks were his main concern when his wife, Silvia Fontana, a former skater from Italy, his agent and a publicist for the Stars on Ice tour on which Zimmerman and partner Kyoko Ina perform suggested he appear on the show.

"The first issue was the hair," Zimmerman said with a laugh. "I've worn it long in figure skating, and it's bothered some people. And now my hair has been a little more out of control from when I was competing.

"I told the producers I absolutely didn't want it shaved off. But it is up to their discretion, and I knew I kind of had to roll with it. So I was a little nervous, quite apprehensive."

Zimmerman wouldn't reveal how the hair situation was resolved before the episode airs. But he made it clear he was not in charge.

"There were five of them and one of me," he said, laughing. "You can't control the situation at all."

Not to worry, Fontana said. It turned out just fine.

"John is so happy with his hair he is going to the same hair salon as they use on the show," she said. "We were worried at first. It's so funny because at our wedding I said his main strength comes from his hair, like Samson. But they were very good with it."

In addition to his hair, Zimmerman knew his wardrobe would come under close scrutiny. He never has been a clothes horse.

When Zimmerman was training in California, his daily outfit usually consisted of sweats or jeans and an undershirt.

"I was buying nothing but your basic undershirt to be my uniform," he says. "They are cheap, and you go through them all the time. I was taking it down a notch from casual.

"So these guys had their work cut out."

That's what the show is all about. Queer Eye's stars are on a mission: to make significant changes in their subject's lifestyle, be it their home, look or clothing.

"John had all the right pieces for us," said Lynn Sadofsky, the show's coordinating producer. "His approach to grooming was, let's say, different. His home, he and Silvia were both on the road often and didn't have a chance to decorate. This was simply an emergency that had to be corrected."

Zimmerman clearly has learned something about fashion - and about himself - from his appearance on Queer Eye. He even has done some modeling for a New York clothier.

"Clothes I never dreamed of putting on, like Armani and Gucci, amazing clothes," he said. "You look like a completely different person, and you do feel differently when you throw on clothes that accentuate your athletic body. It's nice to be able to present yourself that way."

Fontana, however, found a drawback. It seems he takes too long to get ready.

"The clothing thing is getting on my nerves a little bit," she said, joking.

Will his experience on the show carry over to the ice? Will Zimmerman have more say about the costumes he and Ina wear on tour?

"The ice is your stage," he said. "When we go out there in a costume, we have a reason to wear it. We perform to what the costume represents. We're behind a mask, so to speak. It's not always you, but what you're trying to portray."

And in reality television?

"That's you," Zimmerman says. "All you."

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