Most reality TV stars don’t juggle press tours with creating lesson plans — but most television personalities aren’t elementary school teachers. Meet Michelle Young: the new star of ABC’s “The Bachelorette,” who teaches fifth grade and has no plans to leave her life as an educator to chase fame.
While Young — a contestant from Matt James’ season of “The Bachelor” — was in Los Angeles to fulfill her promotional duties for Season 18 of “The Bachelorette,” which premieres Oct. 19 at 8 p.m., she was remotely working on lesson plans for her students, who she says get a kick out of her new gig as a TV star.
“They think it’s cool. They want to know the details and they’re like, ‘We won’t tell anybody!’ I’m like, ‘You sound like reporters!'” Young tells Variety with a laugh. “Maybe there are some future reporters that I’m seeing in my classroom. But I absolutely love them and would not want to be anywhere else right now.”
Young is a unique “Bachelorette” because she’s a teacher, but she also brings more welcome diversity to the series, becoming only the third woman of color to lead the ABC show. And, her season was led by the first-ever Black executive producer in “The Bachelor” franchise’s history, Jodi Baskerville. The producer’s promotion highlights the significance of representation behind the scenes, and Young says her boss resulted in more authentic storytelling.
“Jodi is my girl. Any minute that I get to spend with Jodi is wonderful,” Young raves. “It was nice to have a woman of color by my side as we’re navigating the days and the cocktail parties and the dates because this was the first time in my life that I’m starring as ‘The Bachelorette.'”
“The show has worked in specific ways for very long,” Young continues. “There were definitely ways where we felt like we could change the story a little bit to make sure that it was accurate to my love story. I really felt like having Jodi there was this reinforcement, but also this person that I could bang my ideas off of and talk about my feelings and emotions with, and in certain situations, I felt like I had a certain level of understanding with her. It definitely added comfort and was just this symbol that we were going to continue to check in and make sure that we were on the right direction, and if we were not, we would re-focus.”
Here, Young talks to Variety about the impact of her role as “The Bachelorette,” juggling her job as a teacher and what happens in her season.
When you were first asked to be “The Bachelorette,” what was your reaction?
I had reservations. I think anybody in that position has reservations because it’s a lot. My family and I are private people, and obviously continuing to be in the spotlight, that goes away. It definitely wasn’t an immediate yes. I wanted to talk to the people close to me to make sure that this is what I wanted to do.
Are you happy that you decided to sign on as “The Bachelorette”?
I am. I’m happy that I decided to do this.
Was being a role model for young girls of color part of the reason why you took on this role, or did you feel pressure taking on the title of being the third “Bachelorette” star of color?
I’m excited that brown girls and other women of color and people of color are going to get to see all of these diverse love stories. Is there pressure to act a certain way? Absolutely not because I’m going to be myself and that’s all I know how to do and that’s what I will always do.
What can you tease about your journey this season?
Walking in as “The Bachelorette,” you know that there are going to be highs and lows. The times where I felt really really good with these wonderful feelings, I embraced it. But I also embraced those times where I didn’t feel well. I think people will see someone who is genuinely allowing others in to see how she’s truly feeling. Something that wasn’t always easy for me was wearing my heart on my sleeve and showing relationships and intimacy, but with this season, I think that everyone will see that I just really allowed myself to feel what I was feeling.
Were you concerned with whether you’d be able to find love on a TV show?
I was confident enough in myself to know that if I had these men here who were looking for love, I knew that I’d be able to build multiple relationships by setting that standard of being vulnerable right off the bat. It’s kind of this pressure-cooker situation, but that’s honestly what I love the most about it. There is drama and there are a lot of distractions — it’s nice to see which men bite onto those distractions, or which ones stay away from that stuff, which is what I like to do.
The promo for your season teases that some men are not there for the right reasons. Was that a challenge for you, having to sift through contestants who were maybe looking for fame or had other motives?
You are aware that there are probably going to be one or two people who are not there for the right reasons. For me, I just wanted to make sure that I was able to find those people and made the right decision for me. On that first night, you’ll see that I encounter a situation where I start to get the feel that someone is not solely there for me.
Now that you’ve filmed your entire season, would you say you believe that you can find love on reality TV?
I could have told you after Matt James’ season that yes, it’s possible to find love after a reality television show and I was a little surprised myself that I was able to get my feelings where I needed them to be. But with where I’m at right now in my life in general, I love where I’m at. I love the opportunities that I was able to take and I love that I was able to stay true to myself and I love what the future looks like.
Former “Bachelorette” stars Tayshia Adams and Kaitlyn Bristowe are co-hosting again this season. Did they act as mentors to you, having been through this experience themselves?
I’m so grateful for them. I got to get advice from two women who have been in the same scenario that I’m in. There are so many different feelings that you experience because it’s not normal to date 30 men at the same time, and a lot of different emotions come along with that. It was nice to have people who understood that, but to also help validate my feelings. We found such a good balance and they really learned what I needed in this situation.
Given that you are a private person, was it difficult for you to balance life as a teacher and reality TV star?
When I’m at school, I do a really good job with that student/teacher relationship. A lot of the students know that I was on a TV show. Some don’t. They don’t watch it, but their families do, and their parents have been really supportive of it When you are a teacher, you are a role model. Coming into this, I was evaluating if I could do both. But what it came down to is that I know I can be a good person and handle myself in difficult situations and I know that I can stick to who I am. It’s a little uncomfortable at times, but at the same time, I’m embracing the fact that I can be Ms. Young and I can also be Michelle Young.
It’s like you are living a double life, huh?
It is like a double life. At 7 a.m. during the week I’m Ms. Young. And then when I step out of the classroom, I’m back to Michelle Young — and Michelle Young’s life looks a little different these days, but I think it gives me balance. Fifth graders will keep you humble, I’ll tell you that!
Many Bachelor Nation alumni move to L.A. after the show and pursue a career in entertainment. Will you stick with teaching, or do you want to get into the entertainment industry?
I am the happiest when I’m doing something that I’m passionate about. I can’t necessarily say exactly where I’ll be after this. I’ll definitely be in a classroom the rest of the school year. I’m working towards getting my masters in administration. I always have wanted to be an elementary school principal. That’s something that I am incredibly passionate about, and that’s where fulfillment comes from for me. So, are there pieces where I can pop in and out of the entertainment industry in the future? Absolutely, but my heart is working with students and working with youth and molding their future. In the future, it might be doing that some other way, but I definitely still plan to make sure that I am making a difference and doing what I set out to do.
Variety reported that one of your contestants, Clayton Echard, is the next star of “The Bachelor.” Without giving too much away about his storyline on your season, what do you think about that?
Clayton is a wonderful guy. I’m excited for people to learn more about him, and also learn more about the other guys in my season.