As recently as last summer, Kylee Russell was perfectly content with the idea of being a Charlottean for the rest of her life.
The alumna of Lake Norman Charter School and Wingate University was settling into a new job as a nurse on the mother-baby postpartum floor at Atrium Health Cabarrus hospital in Concord; loving living in the heart of uptown; and thrilled to have been selected for the third straight season as a member of The Honey Bees, the dance team for the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.
But then one day, out of the blue, she got a call from someone informing her that she was advancing through the process of being considered as a contestant for ABC’s long-running reality-dating series “The Bachelor.”
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Which was interesting, because she had never applied.
“I was completely shocked by it. I even thought that I was being catfished for a second, ‘cause I was like, ‘Wait, what are you even talking about? I have no clue what all of this is,’” says the 25-year-old Russell, calling while taking a late lunch break on Tuesday, which marked exactly one year since her first day on the job at the hospital.
As it turns out, roughly around the time she was hired by Atrium, Russell also was being nominated for the show — by her own mother, who never said a word about it and apparently had long since forgotten about it by the time her daughter got the call. And, as it turned out, Russell was cast as one of 30 women who would wind up competing for the affection of 26-year-old tech executive Zach Shallcross.
If you watch “The Bachelor” (spoiler alert), you know:
She didn’t win, becoming one of the first women to ever be dumped virtually due to Shallcross contracting Covid while they were shooting Week 5 in London.
During her run on the show, however, she did find herself near the center of some major drama. It started while they were filming in the Bahamas during Week 4, when she interrupted a conversation between Shallcross and fellow contestant Anastasia Keramidas. Russell, who was trying to steal Shallcross away from her, made what was a painfully obvious figure of speech — “I don’t want to fight you” — that Keramidas inexplicably interpreted as a threat of bodily harm.
Later in the episode, after Russell and Shallcross discussed the incident, Russell told Shallcross that she’d heard Keramidas had made remarks suggesting Keramidas had come on to “The Bachelor” mainly to build her social-media following. Shallcross dismissed Keramidas from the show soon after.
The whole kerfuffle was revisited in a surprisingly frank “Women Tell All” episode on March 14, when contestant Genevie Mayo (who is Black) called out Keramidas (who is of Greek descent) for microaggressions toward Russell (who has a white mother and a half-Black, half-Cherokee father). Race came up again at another point in the episode, too, when host Jesse Palmer confronted contestant Greer Blitzer about old tweets in which she defended a high school classmate’s decision to wear blackface.
We spoke with Russell about all of this: her elimination, the drama, issues of race and much more — including her relationship status and her new openness to moving away from Charlotte.
The conversation has been edited to improve clarity and flow.
Q. OK, before we get to the Anastasia stuff — just because it relates to how she spoke to and about you, and to what came up during the “Women Tell All” show — how would you say people most commonly identify you, in terms of race and ethnicity, when they meet you for the first time?
Everyone has always said I have a very ambiguous look. I feel like the good thing about me is people of so many different ethnicities feel like they can identify with me because of that. Sometimes people say I look Asian; so, if a little girl who is Asian saw me and they thought I was Asian, they can kind of look up to me. So I’m never pinpointed. One of the first questions someone always asks me is, “Oh, what are you? What are you mixed with?” I think I can use that to my advantage, because I can easily relate to people by their own assumptions.
Q. Yeah, actually, I’m Asian, and I thought you were Asian when I first saw you.
See, I get all kinds of things. Today, for example, one of the Hispanic workers at my job was trying to talk to me in Spanish, and I was like, “Oh! No hablo español.” And she’s like, “I’m so sorry! I thought you were Hispanic.” I was like, “Nope!” Honestly, people think I’m all different kinds of things. I don’t care either way. I’m just like, think what you want.
Q. So in the Bahamas, when word came back around to you that Anastasia thought you were threatening her, it seemed like you kind of laughed it off and just thought she was being ridiculous. Then on the “Women Tell All,”Genevie pointed out that this is an example of a microaggression towards Black women. Did you see it as that — identify what Anastasia was insinuating as a microaggression — in the moment?
In the immediate moment, not necessarily. Just because I think I was so taken aback. I never wanted to be someone involved in the drama. Because I am very socially awkward. So the whole situation of me trying to steal him in the first place made me uncomfortable. Then her bickering back and forth — not allowing me to take him — made me even more uncomfortable. So whenever I found out that she had taken my words out of context, I was just honestly in disbelief. Then as the night progressed, she kept going to each of the women on the beach — and I obviously didn’t see this, but — saying, “Oh my gosh, I’m scared because Kylee basically said she was gonna physically harm me.”
It wasn’t till I watched it back that I realized what was happening. And what I expressed to her during the “Tell All” was, like, never in a million years did I ever make someone feel as though I would harm them, let alone physically harm them. It hurt my feelings. Like, “Why did your mind immediately go to that place?” So Genevie made a great point and simply educated Anastasia — “OK, this might not be what you meant, but it’s showing unconscious bias.”
I was thankful that I was able to speak my piece, too — and do it in a manner that was respectful, because that’s what I want to do at all times — and hopefully simply educate her on the matter. I hope she can change from it.
Q. How good a job do you feel “The Bachelor” did with handling the matter of race overall?
I feel like everything has been fair. I think it was a big, big step — especially during the “Tell All” — to take that time to focus on the situation with Greer, to have Dr. Banks (Kira Banks, the co-founder of the Institute for Healing, Justice and Equity at St. Louis University) there to speak on the training and the work she did with Greer. That was huge. Even airing the conversation of the microaggression; it just shows how ABC and The Bachelor Nation franchise has grown leaps and bounds. I’m thankful that we’re able to have — and are willing to have — those conversations.
I think for future casting, it’d be good to do a little bit more digging, especially when it comes to background checks, so we don’t have instances such as Greer’s resurface. But at the end of the day, I feel like even with the whole Greer situation, it’s all about education and wanting to do better. And I know the franchise has taken the right steps to do that. I hope they continue to do the work and continue to try to be better. That’s all we can ask for.
Q: Going back to Anastasia: You mentioned in the “Tell All” that she was your roommate in the Bahamas?
Mercedes (Northup), one of my really close friends on the show, was my actual roommate. But Anastasia’s room was adjoining to mine.
Q. Was there any friction or any tension between you and Anastasia before that?
Not at all. And that was the weirdest thing. We got along. Actually, my suitcase was lost in the Bahamas for the first day or so, and she generously offered to let me borrow some of her clothes. There was never any type of animosity. That’s why I was so shocked, ’cause it all felt like it was coming from left field.
Q. Don’t tell me you were wearing her swimsuit when you went up to her and Zach to break up their convo ...
(Laughing.) My suitcase luckily came in time for the group date. But I think the first day I was wearing one of her sweaters or something.
Q. It seemed — at least, watching from home — that Anastasia blowing your comment out of proportion is what caused you to tell Zach that she’d said what she said about Instagram followers. Was that the case?
The main point I wanted to make in my conversation with Zach was, “OK, you were sitting there awkwardly and she took my words out of context. So I just want to make sure you didn’t.” Obviously, he did not think that. We laughed that off. But when talking to some of the women in the house about the situation, they had given me this information (that Anastasia had said the 14 remaining competitors would get 50,000 followers when the show aired). I didn’t hear the exact comments that she made in the airport.
I mean, we all know that you’re gonna get some type of growth from going on the show. But when all you talk about while you’re on the show is your own marketing schemes and how you’re gonna better your career — it just is taboo, and it’s a little weird. So were some of the comments she would make about Zach in particular, and how they lacked a connection. It was confusing to a lot of us. “OK, well, then why are you even here?”
I did not want to be the person that snitched. Snitches get stitches. But Zach was there to find his wife. So, although it sucked providing him with this information, I felt like I needed to be the one to tell him. I think it really put a damper on our relationship. I’m just thankful that he didn’t end up with someone that wasn’t there for the right reasons.
Q. Alright, so let’s talk about your relationship with Zach.
Zach and I, we had a little bit of a slow burn to our relationship. I was unable to talk to him the first night. The second week, we didn’t have the best conversation, and I let my nerves get the best of me. Third week, we had a really good conversation. Our relationship was really on an upward trajectory. And then fourth week, we had the drama. I felt like the drama put a plateau in our relationship, so I was really looking forward to London — to building off that momentum we had the third week. I knew hometowns were right around the corner. I hadn’t had the opportunity for a one-on-one yet, so he didn’t really get to know who I was as a person. So I had so much buildup to what London could bring, and what it needed to bring.
Q. Then, of course, Zach got sick. What was the feeling when you found that out, and while you were on that group date without him?
To find out that he was sick, unfortunately, and not only was I not gonna be able to see him, I wasn’t really gonna be able to talk to him — I just got really frustrated. Then once I found out he had Covid, I was like, OK, I get it now. It’s completely out of your control. But I think it was, honestly, sadness, because I felt like it was coming to an end and there was nothing really I could do about it. Just like, “Oh no, I can’t believe this is happening.”
Q. But then it seemed like your one-on-one conversation with him during the virtual cocktail party went well.
Yeah, I remember being in that conversation with him over video chat, feeling really good. I came to him with the emotions of — basically what I just told you. How I was worried that I was potentially gonna be sent home, because we had not had that time together. He gave me the validation that I thought I needed, and I thought that we needed. Then you overhear girls talking about their conversations. I know in that moment, Greer was really upset with her conversation. So I just felt really good going into London ceremony. If you ask any of the women who were with me throughout my process, every rose ceremony except for that one I thought I was going home. So, I was surprised.
Now looking back at it all, and seeing some of the connections he had in London — and then as he continued throughout the process with the other women — it all makes sense. But in that moment, I was for sure blindsided.
Q. On the way out after the virtual breakup, you said, “I’m so stupid. I’m literally so stupid.” What were you blaming yourself for?
I think it’s just because I went into the rose ceremony with so much confidence and thinking that, finally, I got the validation that I needed and I wanted. I’m good. I got up there on the risers ready to hear my name — and it never got called. So I just felt like he made me look dumb, and he made me feel dumb.
I don’t like to put myself in situations for rejection. And I know, obviously, that was gonna come potentially with this opportunity. But over that video chat call when I was asking him, “How is our relationship? Are we good?,” he was telling me all of the right things. I wish he would have just sent me home then and there, rather than him have me go through a whole rose ceremony without calling my name.
Q. How do you feel about Zack now?
I have no hard feelings towards Zach. I think having the little bit of closure I did at “Women Tell All” was really nice. I am anxious to see what happens next week. (The three-hour live finale will begin airing at 8 p.m. Monday on ABC.) As crazy as it sounds, I lived through it and I don’t even know who he ends up with! And I’m anxious to see, too — since it’s been a couple months since filming — if they’re still together.
Honestly, I wish them nothing but the best. I just think at the end of the day he wasn’t my person. That’s OK. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve a happy ending.
Q. And so, according to what you said on the Bachelor Nation podcast and your recent post on Instagram, it sounds like you’re still single. You said “DMs are open.”
Yes. Unfortunately, I’m still single.
Q: What are the main things you’re looking for in a partner?
I want someone who is very ambitious. I’m constantly always wanting to grow in life, in my career. Also, I feel like I’ve sacrificed a lot of myself for my past relationships. So I want someone who’s loving and caring and truly wants me for who I am. Someone I don’t have to change for. Someone who’s family-oriented, and someone with a good personality. I love to have fun and just laugh.
So, that’s a lot of qualities. I don’t know if I’m gonna find someone who checks all the boxes, but I’m still hopeful.
Q. What would you say your ideal date in Charlotte would be?
My favorite restaurant is North Italia in Charlotte. My family and friends laugh at me, ’cause I eat there once a weekend. I literally get the chicken parm every time; it’s so good. So, probably a dinner at North Italia, and I’m a big movie-theater girl, so going to a nice movie, eating some buttery popcorn. I’d love that. Or I like going to sports events, too. I’m a big Panthers and Hornets fan still, so going to a game would be nice, as well.
I went to a Hornets game last night actually, and it really put me in my feelings. I miss it so much.
Q. Right, I understand you had to give up your spot on the Honey Bees to go on “The Bachelor”?
Yes. It was my third season. I made it back in August. But unfortunately, the filming and the (Hornets’) season starting coincided with one another, so I had to step down — which was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. The Honey Bees, before going on the show, is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. I made a newfound family. I loved being able to keep up with dancing post-college. (She cheered at Wingate.) It was a great experience that I wish I could do again. But things happen for a reason.
Q. How about going on TV again? You mentioned on the podcast that you’d be open to “Bachelor in Paradise.”
I would love that. I definitely am open to putting myself out there again. I know the beach can be a little crazy, and knowing there’s the potential of men being there that I could really like or even love — it’s scary, knowing that I could potentially get my heart broken again. But I think it’d be well worth it. I really am trying to find my person.
Q. I’m a little surprised, just because you spoke on the show about nervousness and have talked about being socially awkward. Do you feel more confident since doing the show? Are you now even more open to getting even further out of your comfort zone?
Oh, absolutely. If you would have asked me this time last year if I ever thought about moving out of Charlotte, I would say, “Absolutely not.” But I’ve grown so much as a person just by being on the show. After having been on the show, I definitely would consider moving. Like you said, it’s given me a newfound confidence. It’s allowed me to really know who Kylee is, and what I want. So even if I don’t get anything else out of the franchise, I’ll be forever grateful.
It really did change my life.