Bling Empire star Kevin Kreider can't wait to prove people wrong for calling the show 'tone deaf'
The star of Netflix's latest reality series dishes to EW about how he met his rich friends, the castmate he "hated," and the most extravagant thing that didn't make the show.
Model and Bling Empire star Kevin Kreider is more than just a handsome face. On the new Netflix series, he serves as a voice for the viewer who isn't used to being around the extremely affluent Beverly Hills crowd.
While others bring out the bling, the vulnerable Kreider brings out the best of many of his castmates, whether it's through spontaneous road trips with billionaire Kane Lim, heart-to-hearts with popular DJ Kim Lee over parental problems, or helping entrepreneur Kelly Mi Li forget about her relationship woes.
"People are going to see a lot of layers that you don't see normally in reality — even non-Asian shows, white people's shows, or whatever," Kreider tells EW. "And I think that's going to blow people away. Letting people be vulnerable."
Read on to hear how Kreider met the wealthy cast upon arriving in Los Angeles, and whether or not he had romantic feelings for more than one castmate.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How exactly did you become friends with this group? I moved to L.A. three years ago and I certainly didn't fall into meeting a bunch of billionaires.
KEVIN KREIDER: No, I got lucky. Back in Philadelphia I was thinking about moving, to go somewhere else and start my career up again. I've been doing videos about Asian masculinity and my life as a model, and Kelly actually discovered one of those videos, DMed me, and said, "Hey, look, if you're ever in L.A., I'd love to meet up sometime." I was like, "I'm moving to L.A. actually at the end of the month!" Then, when I moved there, I met her right away. She introduced me to Kane next, and I looked at Kane's shoes and was like I am not going to get along with this group. They were these ruby red extravagant shoes. And I'm like, is this what I signed up for?
Me and Kane clicked immediately [though]. We hang out all the time and we share the same interests, which is amazing. I never thought I'd share the same interests as him. He introduced me to everybody else that Kelly knew, and they were telling me, "Oh yeah, we want to do this reality show too. We have this other producer, who's going to do it. He helped produce the Kardashians. He's on his own and Kelly knows him." And I was like, "You know I'm not rich. Are you sure you want me to be in this? That might ruin you guys' vibe because I don't know that world very well." And they're like, "No, you'd be perfect. Let's just do it. Let's try it." So that's kind of how I got involved with the show, and how I met the friends that I have.
So when you started shooting the show, did you fall right into being a voice for the viewer at home?
I don't think that was what it was meant to be. It's just that I was so... like when I hang out with Kane and Kelly, they know I don't come from money, so they're not trying to shove it in my face like "Let's go to a thousand dollar five-course dinner," right? But then, when they introduced me to this group, Kelly and Kane didn't make me feel awkward about it, but yet, I was just so blown away with everything that I just couldn't hold it in. I just kept being shocked, appalled, amazed or whatever, and everything just kind of came out. I had so many viewpoints and opinions coming from a middle-class family. I was like, "What is this? How much does that cost? Do you ever think about this?" It just came out because I was genuinely curious about this world.
That's interesting. Having experienced it, how would you describe the show to people?
I would tell people, yes, there's bling. There's people with lots of money, but it's really about me finding my own comfort with a new group of friends that I live in this world with now. Finding my place in L.A., and trying to find my place here with a new group of Asian friends that I've never met before. Discovering my identity as an Asian American, I think that was huge for me. So it's really about identity and finding your place in the world. I think that's very relatable, not just with Asians, but anybody. I know a lot of people are claiming that it's like going to be tone deaf and "we don't want to see people spending money," but it's actually really not about that at all. That's what I hope people see when they watch this.
Did doing the show help you feel like less of an outsider with the group?
Oh yeah. Trust me, it was a little awkward in the beginning. There's a lot to get used to [Laughs]. Not just even with the houses or the food you eat — I'm not even a caviar person, I never was — you gotta get used to that kind of stuff.
I do feel less of an outsider now. I realized how accepting they are of my differences and where I come from, my background and being Korean with a white family, being more Americanized than Asian. They totally have open arms with me and they didn't have to, so they totally made me feel comfortable doing it. Like I said, Kane — and Anna [Shay] — really helped me with that a lot.
Speaking of castmates like Anna, what's the most ridiculously extravagant thing that you've seen them do that wasn't on the show.
I would say Anna buying three Mercedes Benz cars in one day. It was almost a million dollars worth of Mercedes Benz cars and she's like, "Oh yeah, my son just needs one. Oh, I need one. Oh, one for Kane too." And I was like "What?!" It just blew my mind. I'm just like, "Well... I need a car. I didn't know we were in a giveaway, three car special." And, I drove in the same car with her on the way home. She really bought it.
What were you surprised ended up on the show? Whether it be like the penis pump moment or how deep it goes into Kelly and Drew's drama.
Well, the therapy sessions were so raw [and] the show was supposed to be light, right? Make people forget about their problems. But this was so deep and emotional that they were hesitant to show that part. And you know, they were questioning me, like "Was that real?" And it was. I didn't expect any of that to happen. I thought I'd have to fake this or something. I didn't think regression therapy did anything. I didn't even really know what it was. I'm in a relaxed state on my back, and all of that stuff came out. They just were questioning me a lot about it, where I just was like, Uh it's probably not gonna make it. At least I'll know what happened. I was really happy to know that that part of my adoption was in the show.
What'd you learn from doing the show? There's deeper parts like that therapy session, but also lighter parts, like, do you still think Anna was trying to test you, or buy your affection with those clothes?
I think Kane's intentions were right, he was really watching out after me, but it just turns out she wasn't testing me. I think it's more to trust myself. I didn't think Anna was testing me, [so] just trusting myself. Because I also wanted to go to South Carolina to go find Kim's dad with or without her permission and Kane was really hesitant and said, "No, we don't want to step on her toes," and I'm like, "F--- it. Let's just do it." Everything in my body and my soul told me to do it, and trust that everything was going to work out. We went there not knowing anything. It was literally just get a flight, get an Airbnb, and go, and we'll figure everything out from there. And everything just worked out the way it was supposed to.
In terms of the trip to Charleston that you just mentioned, is that a bigger version of something that you would do for a friend, because it's one thing to, like, make a call, and another thing to fly all the way to Charleston to find her dad.
I mean, probably not. That's probably normal. I've flown to go see a girl that I haven't even met before, so it's like, nah, that's not like a big gesture. What's a big gesture actually is the effort of just finding one closed door [after] another. That's something I'm sure I did for Kim. We could've easily given up, like "Oh, he's not here."
We see you pursue Kelly during the season and how that plays out, but another question seeing how the season ends, did you ever express any romantic interests in Kim? Was that ever addressed while filming the show?
Totally. I really felt a spark at that party with her, and I saw a gentle side there that I never saw before. And we talked a lot afterwards like, "Was that real? Was it not?" I don't know. "Hypothetically, say I made a move, would you have accepted?" "Maybe," she said, so that wasn't very promising. But yeah, we talked about it. It's weird. "I like you, but I'm going to pick on you. I think you wear too much makeup, and you're just annoying to me sometimes, your narcissism, but I still like you." All that stuff. It's this weird dynamic that I think we're still trying to figure out ourselves even. There's definitely a physical attraction, but there are some things that don't attract me about her, and we're really just, oddly, figuring that out because we do talk.
That's something that built throughout the season because in the beginning, it didn't seem like—
I hated her in the beginning. I hated her. I just couldn't stand her. I mean, I tolerated her because she was Kane's friend, and she's a DJ. Cool, I get it, it's fun. But nah, I couldn't stand her in the beginning. I just thought she was some rich Malibu wannabe gangster DJ, but she's not. She's a lot more than that.
Is there anything else you're excited for people to see in terms of the show?
I'm excited for people to see a different side of Asians that aren't stereotypical, and aren't like the meek, the quiet, afraid to share from the heart, be vulnerable, share parts of their life that are real, because I think reality has this persona of making people real to people. Whereas in movies and TV, they're not so real. They still represent you, but they don't.
I think it's a really important representation that we're even doing this reality show. You see all types of Asians. People who are middle-class, people who are working for their careers and goals. Some people who married into money, some people who always had it, some people who lost it and are trying to make it again, all of these things where it's not just tone deaf with [only] rich Asians. That's what I'm excited for people to see. And I'm excited to prove those people wrong that say it's tone deaf, or that it's just about people spending money, and we've seen it before. I can't wait for them to know that they were wrong.
Bling Empire is streaming on Netflix now.