With tips for the broker and buyer alike, Bravo’s Million Dollar Lister comes out with his second book—and comes out in his second book
by Steven Foster
Photo by Isabella Vosmikova/Bravo
Bravo celebrities are famous for their table-tossing tantrums and their self-indulgent idiocy (See: Blonde-wigged bimbo Kim “Tardy for the Party” Zolciak’s “singing” career). With the exception of the Top Chefs, nearly every incestuously incubated spawn of the Bravo clan lacks the sweat equity to deserve the attention they mindbogglingly receive. Most of them either screwed or screamed their way into clout and cash. Such is the state of reality TV. Everything is edited, framed, parceled, glammed up, and glitzed out. And it’s all done for you, the envious viewer. Can’t afford that Hamptons summer share? Don’t know your sweetbreads from a sacher torte? No matter! There’s a network of shows devoted to giving you the maximum sycophantic experience to forget the fact you can’t pay the rent and struggle to fill up your car with gas!
Born with a silver—make that platinum—spoon wedged solidly in his full-lipped mouth, Flagg’s pedigreed bloodline descends from music store magnate Benjamin Platt and, most famously, his grandmother Edith Flagg. An icon in business and fashion circles, Edith was lifted to mass cultural love-status when she appeared on Listing, charming and disarming the masses. In a sea of surface vanity, Edith was a breath of honest air. She advised and coddled her grandson, using wisdom gleaned from her own history. It could have been grandmaternal BS except for the fact that Edith is the woman who brought polyester to America. In one fell shopping trip swoop, she changed the textile industry and fashion—and made millions. Her weathered regality, obvious and tender affection for her grandson, and role as sage makes her occasional presence on the show one of the Listing’s unforced highlights, of which the semi-hit has many.
Reality TV is famous for manipulative editing and increasingly obvious setups with quasi-actors and stars who manufacture surprise with the pasted-smile sincerity of a seed-green Washington press agent. Million Dollar Listing seems to excel in this loaded category, lately more so than the others. Listing was notoriously retooled after the show stumbled in the ratings when it first debuted in 2006. Its mixed-sex repertoire of face-lifted fortysomethings failed to register Bravo buzz. So the network took a break, retooled the concept, and centered the show around three metrosexual divas, one of whom had to have sold a mansion to someone on the Bravo development team, thus completing the fame-whore circle jerk. Whether that’s the case or not, the newly revamped show focused on insider real-estuds who were well-versed in L.A. property, catty, and camera-friendly.
There was Madison, the pretty boy who posed for Playgirl and eventually confessed to “being open” to both men and women, which was, of course, just a stop on the way toward out-and-out gayness. Soon, Madison was liplocking with dudes and boring ? viewers with his whining about the difficulties of gay dating while spending time with his pretty blonde Girl Friday. Chad Rogers, sporting and obsessing about a strangely adult Bieber coif, was cast in the Alexis Carrington role, the bitch you loved to hate. Rogers spent so much time on camera loving himself (literally—he looked in the mirror telling his image how much he loved himself, even expressing dismay at those who didn’t share his view) as he arranged his bangs just so, even Bravo couldn’t stand him anymore. They canned him last year and replaced him with Josh Altman, a slick real estate superstar who, despite being supposedly straight, might just well be the first gay-for-pay reality TV star. His moisturized face, benchpressed bod, very in-his-face confrontations with Madison, and top-daddy relationship with bro-slash-assistant ping the gaydar into the red zone. Madison and Josh are severely gay, even for Bravo. Which is where the curious conundrum of Josh Flagg comes in. Or rather, comes out.
By the time you read this, Flagg will have already come out, rather unceremoniously, on the show. Flagg asks his longtime boyfriend, decorator Colton Thorn, if Thorn approves of the obvious truth Flagg finally confesses in his upcoming book, Million Dollar Agent: Brokering the Dream (Polimedia Publishing). Despite Bravo’s teasing edits that infer this query causes a dramatic plot point between the two lovers, the question winds up being a non-issue. Thorn (and, subsequently, us) pretty much couldn’t care less. Thorn is more relieved that he won’t continue to be the Plus One at L.A. house parties. Flagg’s confession is a ho-hum revelation, his sexuality being a well-known duh on the West Coast and an easy assumption for any viewer with a pulse. But compared to the clothes-shedding Madison or the perpetually-coiffed other Josh, Flagg is the anti-fag.
Josh Flagg is often shown in his robe or pajamas, unshaven and unkempt—still hot, however, this being TV and all. Sure, the spa-spoiled dog lounges in the windowsill overlooking prime L.A. property, and Flagg sips tea out of a delicate cup and saucer in silk PJs, but he makes it look casually lazy-straight. Fashionable without being obsessed, Flagg puts all his flamboyance into his house showings. He’ll do anything to sell a property—from staging red-carpet galas to leaking info to several select L.A. gadflys in an effort to generate buzz, all the while claiming, “You’re the first one I’ve called.” He’s shameless but also guileless. No one actually eats on television, yet Flagg has no qualms about being shown taking more trips to the gourmet open-house buffet than any potential buyer. Cloying, goofy soundtrack aside, Flagg’s lack of ego in this valley of Hollyweirds is something of a broadcast anomaly in the polished Bravo slate. So when this 25-year-old writes a memoir—his second book, remember—it’s not hard to take notice. The publisher did. Especially when the first printing pre-sold out two months before street date.
“My grandmother encouraged me to write it,” Flagg says. His voice is hoarse from a battle with a sore throat. He’s losing that fight, one of the few times in his life he’s lost a bout. Even when he was busted for art theft, he skated the charge. Flagg was accused of stealing art from houses he was selling (charges were dropped due to lack of evidence) and the entire ordeal wreaks more of a setup or misunderstanding than Lohan-esque drama, though that didn’t stop the bottom-feeding TMZ from running a blurb on the bust. From the charmed life to the fast-track salesman, his scant quarter-century seems more than a full life, but hardly enough to warrant a memoir. In the end, however, he cranked out more pages than he anticipated.
“I thought, I’m only 25—what am I going to write about?” admits Flagg. “Turns out I had a too much to say and we wound up cutting a lot of the book out. So the book’s about 200 pages, but originally it was about 400.”
Flagg’s first book was a tender, often fascinating profile of his grandmother Edith and her remarkable rise to wealth and fame. The textile doyenne suggested Flagg flip the looking glass on himself. And, after holing himself up in a hotel room, he had a serviceable manuscript. In the book he reveals real estate tricks for budding agents as well as the final admission of his homosexuality. The read isn’t as rich as, for example, Jane Fonda’s look back, and it’s not as salacious as Jenny McCarthy’s recent entry into the biography book world. But it’s no Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino embarrassment, either.
Show-wise, there’s a narrative impetus for Flagg’s outing, no matter how voluntary it may actually be. Co-star Madison has his girl-pal, Other Josh has his bro-bud, and now Flagg has someone else to relate to besides the occasional mansion maid who barely speaks English. Undoubtedly, we’ll see staged histrionics between Flagg and his boyfriend, but, hopefully, they won’t be as painfully obvious as the poorly acted run-ins his castmates seem to continually be caught in. But this is reality TV, so don’t hold your breath. Whether or not the show continues its success (a New York sequel is in the works with—no great surprise—former porn star turned real estate agent to the stars Fredrik Eklund), Flagg doesn’t plan on leaving the mansion-pimping business any time soon.
“I’ll always do something in the real estate market. Whether speaking or writing books, or just selling high-end property.”
He does, however, admit that starring in your own Bravo hit has its appeal as well.
“It’s fun,” he confesses. “Seeing your name on the TV is a little weird, but it’s fun.”
But it’s not all fun. Being an author is no different from being a reality TV celeb or a real estate agent. It’s a business. You gotta close.
“I just wanna say the book appeals to three different demographics,” he explains as the interview draws to an end. “There’s the gay demographic, there’s the real estate demographic, and then there’s just the coming-of-age story—and it’s a how-to guide. It teaches people to do . . .” Flagg searches, faltering a little bit on the end of the pitch before recovering as quickly as he does on the show when Flagg’s buyer, well, flags.
“It teaches people to do what I did without being an instruction manual. It’s a very easy read.”
Steven Foster is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.