7:00pm PT by Jackie Strause
'Bachelor' Standout Caelynn Miller-Keyes Says She Isn't Vying for 'Bachelorette' Gig
Caelynn Miller-Keyes found herself embroiled in Bachelor drama when contestants accused her of breaking the cardinal show rule. After hinting to Bachelor Colton Underwood that some of his finalists "weren't there for the right reasons," several contestants named Miller-Keyes (along with the newly exited Cassie Randolph) as those women.
Miller-Keyes was accused of secretly vying to be the next Bachelorette while competing for Underwood's heart and the beauty queen, who was an early frontrunner but who ultimately finished fourth on the season, was forced to defend herself during Tuesday's Women Tell All reunion show.
"What [contestant] Katie said affected my relationship very deeply," she told host Chris Harrison about the accusation — one that she denies — prompting her elimination. She said she was blindsided and heartbroken over the breakup after feeling that she and Underwood were "truly falling for each other." To her critics onstage, she added, "I was in love. I was absolutely in love and the thing that's most disgusting to me is that you can never tell another woman whether they're ready for marriage or not."
Given all the drama that ensued both behind the scenes and for ABC's cameras, Miller-Keyes has strong hesitations about taking on the starring role on the upcoming Bachelorette season, should she get the offer. The Bachelorette goes into production just as The Bachelor signs off the air and typically the new star is announced during The Bachelor finale, which is airing live and across two nights next week.
"Honestly, I don't know if I'm interested in being the Bachelorette," Miller-Keyes told The Hollywood Reporter after the Women Tell All taping about the possibility. "This process has been hell for me. It’s been incredibly difficult and tonight brought up really raw emotions and reopened raw wounds for me, so I’m still trying to process that."
Miller-Keyes, 24, emerged as a standout on Underwood's season. After successfully navigating beauty-queen drama with ex-friend and fellow Miss USA competitor Hannah Brown, Miller-Keyes became the first contestant to speak out about past sexual abuse while appearing on the Bachelor franchise. The 2018 Miss North Carolina shared her story about being a survivor of a sexual assault during her college years on the Jan. 28 episode in a powerful and nearly unedited one-on-one conversation with Underwood.
The moment was referred to as being bigger than the show itself, as it opened a dialogue about sexual assault on a franchise that has been accused of letting women down in the #MeToo era. She told Harrison that the conversation she prompted is a larger one to be had. "It's not one episode on The Bachelor, it's not a hashtag. It truly is a movement," she said from the reunion show's hot seat.
When speaking to THR about coming forward on television, she said the reaction has been "very, very positive," compared to when she reported her assault years prior. “And I’m really happy about that because when I came forward in school, it was the complete opposite. I was completely ostracized from my university and had to basically live in hiding, and I was terrified," she said.
"I was sitting in my car sobbing the night of the episode before it aired saying, 'I think I made a huge mistake,'" she recalled. "And that’s how most survivors feel. It’s heartbreaking that we all feel like we need to hide and we need to keep our voices quiet and just stay small, and I’ve just been greatly overwhelmed by the response of people sharing their stories and just sharing their support."
In recent years, the franchise has experienced problematic casting issues when it comes to the men who appear on The Bachelorette. Rachel Lindsay, the 2017 Bachelorette and first black lead, was subjected to a contestant who had a history of making racist public statements; and Becca Kufrin, the 2018 Bachelorette, endured several contestants apologizing for past offensive behavior throughout her season, eventually discovering that one of the men had been convicted of indecent assault and battery.
The Bachelorette's casting department would have to rise to the occasion if Miller-Keyes were to lead the show, but they might not get a chance to accept that challenge. Miller-Keyes says she opened up to Underwood because she "instantly had this connection and our relationship just grew so deep so fast." Though she believes that the process can work, she also has seen the ugly side that comes with the reality show platform.
"It’s been harder than I thought, just because the internet sucks and trolls are terrible," she adds to THR. "I’ve had trolls say horrible things about my sexual assault and horrible things about me, I’ve had DMs say, 'go kill yourself,' it’s absolutely horrible. And, like Chris said, we signed up for this show but we didn’t sign up for that, specifically. So it’s hard, but there is a fun part and a good part to it, too."
Miller-Keyes even has Underwood's pick to lead the next cycle — should she come around.
"I think Caelynn would make a great Bachelorette," the Bachelor told THR at the taping. "I heard the reunion taping was emotional and she was very vulnerable, and I think she’s someone, like a lot of these women, who is so deserving of love and so deserving of an opportunity that I know was so great for me."
Heading into next week's two-night finale, Underwood has two remaining finalists in the competition — Tayshia Adams and Hannah Godwin — after the abrupt exit of his frontrunner, Randolph. The breakup sent Underwood into a tailspin and the episode ended with the star going missing after hopping a fence and disappearing into the woods in Portugal. "I was gone for a while and, in that moment, I quit. I didn’t want to be the Bachelor anymore," he told THR of his headspace before deciding to ultimately return to the show.
The Bachelor finale airs live on March 11 and 12 at 8 p.m. on ABC.