Clinton Kelly wanted to write the great American novel. The star of the daytime talk show “The Chew” on ABC who spent 10 years as the co-host of “What Not to Wear” on TLC also dreamed of writing a collection of personal essays.
After graduating from Boston College he realized that he was “scared to death” to become a writer. “I didn’t want to be broke,” he says.
Instead he got his master’s degree in journalism at Northwestern University and began writing for magazines like Marie Claire until he eventually landed the show “What Not to Wear.”
Now he’s written that collection of personal essays. His new book, “I Hate Everyone, Except You” (Gallery Books, $24.99), is out Tuesday. Kelly will be at BookPeople on Wednesday.
“I finally, after all these years of being on television, feel comfortable about myself to share myself with the world,” says Kelly, 47. When he first started “What Not to Wear” in 2003, he says he was an intensely private person for as long as he could be. Then he started to know his fans and developed a trusting relationship with them, especially on Facebook.
Originally he thought the book might be a series of embarrassing stories, but that was hard to do without having those stories make someone the butt of his joke. He also realized he wasn’t embarrassed by those stories. Instead, he chose one story to represent each phase of his life. “I tell one story that encapsulated all of my angst and all of my feelings of that time,” he says.
So he tells the story of going to a water park as a kid and going on a death-defying ride that left him with an unusual sensation in his swim trunks. And he tells about him and his best friends (who were girls) carefully picking out porn together as teenagers.
He does tell stories of “What Not to Wear” and the grueling 16-hour days, six to seven days a week, he spent filming the show. He describes his relationship with co-host Stacy London as being like a brother and sister who have been trapped in the backseat of a car.
When we talked last week, he had not talked to her about the book. He says he hasn’t talked to her in years, and not because anyone held a grudge. “We spent so much time together for 10 years,” he says. “It was funny in the beginning when we completed each other’s sentences,” he says. But then they knew all of each other’s stories. “It got to be like, ‘OK, we need a break from each other.’”
“What Not to Wear” was also emotionally difficult. “We’re dealing with people who didn’t want to be made over,” he says. They had to start the show telling people how bad they looked and try to build them back up again. “I never felt good about that,” he says. “I wanted to help people that wanted to be helped.”
The reason why he was able to do it as long as he did was that there were success stories. He still keeps in touch with 100 women by email or on Facebook that were part of “What Not to Wear,” including Statesman food editor Addie Broyles, who was part of the sixth season.
“We had contributors, as we called them, like Addie, who really took our advice, absorbed it and realized the power of (their) appearance,” he says.
Some were able to get the job they always wanted. Some found love. Some ditched the person who wasn’t good for them because they felt better about themselves.
“It makes me feel good to see these little children of ours do well,” he says.
“The Chew” is a very different show, Kelly says. He has four co-hosts: chefs Mario Batali, Carla Hall and Michael Symon, and health and wellness expert Daphne Oz. Kelly thinks of “The Chew” as a restaurant. He takes care of the front of the house — the look of the place, the entertaining — and the chefs take care of the back of the house.
And he gets to taste what they are cooking. Hall, he says, made an amazing coconut cake. “It was mind-blowing.” But there are other favorites he’s tasted, like the shrimp that Batali made last week.
Kelly got chosen for “The Chew” after meeting a producer who had read his 2008 book, “Freakin’ Fabulous: How to Dress, Speak, Behave, Eat, Drink, Entertain, Decorate, and Generally Be Better Than Everyone Else.”
He did chemistry screen tests with his co-stars (“We all really hit it off”) and started the show in 2011. “On ‘The Chew,’ we’re just having fun,” he says.
And it helps that they all have separate dressing rooms, which wasn’t true for many years on “What Not to Wear.”
While Kelly was very careful not to throw anyone under the bus in his book, he does tell the story of the time Paula Deen made fun of him for the way he ate a chicken wing. “I could have named dropped all over the book,” he says. “I’m not going to do that.” But he included the Paula Deen story “because it did affect the rest of my day.”
When he comes to BookPeople, he’ll do a question-and-answer session. The No. 1 question he gets asked is “How do I look?” And he knows that his audience dresses for the occasion to impress him. “It’s so cute,” he says. “I feel so good about it, but it’s such pressure for me to compliment everyone’s outfit. I honestly believe you don’t dress to impress me. … You should love what you’re wearing.”
He does feel bad that he can’t answer all the email and Facebook questions he gets about what to wear, but there’s not enough time in the day.
His only other nit: “When I’m out to dinner, please don’t interrupt my dinner or my family function. I’m having a life moment.”
Meeting people, interacting with fans, that’s what he’s really looking forward to about coming to Austin. … That, and the queso and margarita he’s going to make sure to enjoy.
Clinton Kelly at BookPeople
7 p.m. Wednesday
BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd.