Empowered 'Bachelorette' on Kelly Ripa Flap: "Agree to Disagree"

Heading into the new season of The Bachelorette, the team behind the latest cycle of ABC's juggernaut of a reality TV franchise had promised that their star, Hannah Brown, would be the most relatable female lead yet.

The Bachelorette has certainly seen its share of fearless female stars in the last 14 seasons. The women of the hit franchise have had to battle systemically sexist responses to their televised choices about relationships and intimacy in a way that the men of The Bachelor do not. (Andi Dorfman and Kaitlyn Bristowe, particularly, come to mind.) But now, with season 15's Brown — a former Miss Alabama and current interior decorator — the network's "dark horse" choice has said her experiences on Colton Underwood's recent season of The Bachelor and now The Bachelorette have emboldened her to become an empowering lead for viewers in 2019.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter as a larger conversation about the franchise's impact on women was brewing, Brown, 24, said, "I don’t think there’s any other experience in life that I could have ever had that would allow me to grow the way that I did. Even through heartbreak."

Brown spoke to THR on Thursday, shortly after making an appearance on ABC's Live With Kelly and Ryan. Earlier this week, co-host Kelly Ripa — who has long put tough questions about the concept of the dating show to the leads when they visit — made her feelings about the franchise clear when she told her audience, "You guys, you know how I feel about the show — it disgusts me. I can’t stand the idea of 25 exceptional women fighting over one ordinary fella, in my opinion. You know how I feel, ladies; we are too special to be arguing over a guy."

Her opinion sparked a larger Twitter dust-up when franchise creator Mike Fleiss and host Chris Harrison weighed in (with Fleiss commenting on Ripa's salary), which prompted Grey's Anatomy star and ABC fixture Ellen Pompeo to shut down the conversation with her staunch defense of Ripa.

As this off-screen drama was unfolding, Brown made her planned appearance on Live With Kelly and Ryan, where she had a dialogue with the co-host about her experience with the show. "It was one of the most empowering things that I ever did because I had to grow as an individual. That is why I decided that I wanted to be the Bachelorette," Brown told Ripa.

In the chat with THR below, Brown expands on her journey of empowerment, defends the show against the criticism that it's a step backwards for women and explains how she handled her issues with anxiety during filming. (Note: Brown, at the direction of ABC, would not comment on the passing of Alabama's anti-abortion bill when asked by THR.)

You had an interesting TV experience this morning with Kelly Ripa where you went on live TV to defend this long-running franchise. How do you feel your conversation went? Do you feel she understood what you were saying?

I don’t know if she understood what I’m saying, but not many people can relate to what this is actually like unless you’ve actually been on this show and I think if you talk to anybody who has been on the show they would say the same that I did, for the most part. I was really glad that I was able to go on her and Ryan [Seacrest]’s show to express my viewpoints and my opinions. Even though we disagree — agree to disagree — I was thankful for the opportunity to talk about how it’s been such a blessing in my life and how it has empowered me. I’m excited for everybody to see that and how I grow throughout my season.

I spoke to ABC reality chief Rob Mills and host Chris Harrison before your season premiered, and they each billed you as the right choice for 2019. How do you feel about the criticism that the show sets women back? In what ways has this been an empowering experience for you?

First of all, I don’t view it as a competition when I was on Colton’s season. It’s hard to stay in your own lane, but that was never how I looked at it. It was to see if there was a connection. And we all form connections differently. When there’s 30 men or women in the house, people aren’t going to like each other. Just like if there were 30 people in this room, there’s bound to be somebody who would be irritated by somebody else. Taking that aside, I feel that this show really pushes you to your limits. Yes, in hard ways that sometimes we always don’t show our best sides, but in ways that allow you to learn and grow. Regardless of whether that means you are the last person standing, it’s been official for every single person that’s on this show to figure more about themselves and tap into: Who am I? What do I want? What has hurt me in the past that I’m still holding onto that I would bring into a relationship, and how do I recover from that? And, what do I want from my partner? What type of love am I looking for?

And then being able to be the Bachelorette and not only coming into my own but continuing to grow, and then to have the chance of love at the end? I don’t think there’s anything in life that I’ve ever experienced that would give me those opportunities to grow. To go through battles and figure out how I’m going to deal with that, and then to be able to love somebody and have connections. It’s been a blessing for me and I felt so empowered to deal with all the drama that I had to deal with — because yes, there’s drama — and do it in my way and be able to stand on my own two feet. So, it’s been the best for me.

During the premiere episode and in the full season trailer, you shut down drama. In this era of female empowerment, how did being in a position of influence — being the lead and not one contestant out of 30 — allow you to set that tone?

I did feel empowered but I knew that this was my opportunity. This was my time. And it was important for me to express what I want, what I’m looking for and what I’m not going to settle for ever again. It was really cool to be able to take charge in all this.

Harrison said the difference with your season is that the drama doesn’t come from men who leave early. He said it permeates throughout the season. How did that impact your relationships all the way to the end?

The drama definitely impacted a lot of the season and how I felt in my emotions, because I want this to be about me. And about the individual relationships. Because if I’m compartmentalizing then I need the guys to compartmentalize whatever is going on in the house and focus on me, and that wasn’t always the case. And so it did really affect me and how I felt like the end was going to turnout. It did shake things up a bit for me and you’ll see that. But ultimately, I’m here and I’m happy and I’m excited for everybody to see how I’ve gotten to where I am.

You used your Miss USA platform to advocate for depression and anxiety. You opened up about your vulnerabilities on the Women Tell All special and being on The Bachelorette seems like a challenging environment. How did you handle your anxiety throughout filming and do you hope to spark a dialogue around these issues?

I would say that I’m bringing it back to the process and how I think that it’s really good. Yes, there are moments that bring on anxiety and emotion, absolutely. But it’s being able to talk through that and take a second to breathe. And yes, do you see me when I don’t take a second to breathe? Absolutely. But it’s working through that each and every day about how I’m feeling and why I feel the way that I do. That’s how I really was able to combat my emotions and some of my struggles with my emotions.

How do you feel now that you are on the other end of this experience?

I feel that is something I don’t struggle as much with. But everybody has moments of sadness and anxiety, and you’ll see me deal with sadness and anxiety, and also being excited and happy and over the moon. I have all emotions and I’m not afraid to show those. Because I think the reason that I did suffer with anxiety and depression like I did is because I didn’t want people to see the parts of me that weren’t good and beautiful. The parts that you think people don’t want to be around for. That’s how you get in those ruts and that’s how I got into the rut that I did. Now that I’m able to really be aware of all my emotions and show those and handle those, I didn’t have that problem.

The Bachelorette has had casting problems in the past, where old social media and other behavior has come up during the show. For the first time, ABC released your contestant names early and Bachelor Nation was able to help weed out any bad seeds. Social media also played a part in your premiere when two of your friends informed you that one contestant had some sort of relationship back home. How do you feel this impacted your season?

I’m really excited that I had [fellow Bachelor contestants] Demi and Katie, not only tell me about Scott, but to just be there for me in this new position where I did find friendships that are long-lasting on Colton’s season. But I think even though that drama was not something I ever wanted to have to deal with, it allowed me to show the other men that were there what I expect and what I will not take from any man. And what I’m here for and what they better be here for, too. And if not, what they saw from Scott (laughs) it will probably be worse if they continue on this journey! So I think they were able to really see how I was going to handle business in my journey with them all.

And are you happy with how it all ended up?

I am happy right now to be with you!

The Bachelorette, which premiered May 13, airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on ABC.