From Big Brother Star to Internet Influencer, Elena Davies Builds Her Brand

Elena Davies was on Big Brother, Season 19. Now she influences her fans through social media.EXPAND
Elena Davies was on Big Brother, Season 19. Now she influences her fans through social media.
Kathy Tran
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Talk to Elena Davies for five minutes and it’s clear why her career path includes stints on radio and reality TV.

Davies, the former Dallas radio personality turned reality TV babe is equal parts charming and abrasive — at least according to her Instagram profile. On a Monday afternoon in a coffee shop in Richardson, Davies is hours back from a business trip to New York. The shop is quiet, but Davies is not. She’s on low-carb, high-fat diet, so she’s not sipping anything. When a toddler begins walking toward her, Davies’ smile widens and she takes a few moments to entertain the little girl.

Davies has long blond hair and a gold hoop in her nose. She has a mole on her right cheek that she covers with makeup each day and then repaints on her face. Her lips are red. After talking for two hours, she reapplies MAC lipstick to them. She could be a pinup model.

Right now, though, Davies is a talker. Ask the soon-to-be 28-year-old about her private Christian schooling in Fort Worth, and she goes into great detail about the dress code. Bring up her fans’ dedication to her, she's soon spinning an anecdote about the Backstreet Boys serenading her in Las Vegas. A question about her transition from private school to Angelo State University brings out a story about her suite-mate’s sexcapade.

“One of my suite roommates, within the first week, came out of her dorm room and was like, ‘Oh, my God. I have to tell you. Me and my boyfriend were just having sex. We were doing it doggy-style, and I farted on him,’” Davies says after asking if a newspaper wants to hear such a story. “And she told me this story. I had never had sex before. I still don't know that at that moment, as an 18-year-old freshman in college, that I really understood the ins and outs of it — literally. And I was like, ‘What?’”

Nearly 10 years later, Davies has adjusted, as she puts it. She’s a little crude, but she regularly cites God and his timing in her life. If the creator of the universe is, in fact, a fan of reality TV, then he has blessed Davies, whose sting on CBS' Big Brother has allowed her to turn her fame into a marketable gig as an internet "influencer."

Of course, God threw a little adversity in her way before raining down the manna. Old Testament habits are hard to break.

Elena Davies sits down with Big Brother host Julie Chen after she was evicted from the house.EXPAND
Elena Davies sits down with Big Brother host Julie Chen after she was evicted from the house.
Johnny Vy/CBS

From Broken Heart to Kidd Kraddick
After graduating from college, Davies returned home to Fort Worth to begin working at her mother’s aluminum manufacturing company. When a boyfriend broke up with her, she found herself unable to concentrate on work.

“I don't know why I feel I was entitled to grieve when other people have to go through life tragedies and still show up to work with their pants on every day,” Davies says. “But for me, it was such a God thing, the timing of that. That I worked for my family's company, and they were OK with my grieving.”

Her mind was almost always on her heartache, but never when she was listening to The Kidd Kraddick Morning Show on 106.1 KISS FM.

“I've always been a fan,” Davies says. “Listened to the show in the car on the way to school for years, went to San Angelo, found out what syndication was and realized that it was there too. It was in San Angelo when I was getting used to this completely out-of-this-world lifestyle — new experience for me. It sounded like home. It felt like home. It gave me that comfort again.”

Soon she was a superfan. She didn’t miss a show. She replayed that morning’s show all day at work. She interacted with the hosts on social media. Kidd Kraddick himself took a liking to her.

“Kidd noticed me on social media,” Davies says. “I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. To the point where he followed me back on Twitter. He would interact with me all the time.”

Davies never got a chance to meet Kraddick in person; he died July 27, 2013. After his death, the hosts of The Kidd Kraddick Morning Show scrambled to fill air time, so they asked listeners to tweet them their phone numbers. Davies did, and co-host Kellie Rasberry called her. They chatted for 15 minutes, and the next day the show played Davies’ call.

“I was the last call they played, and they aired two and a half minutes of it,” Davies says, “which in the radio world is a long time. Sometimes segments on the radio aren’t two and a half minutes. From then on, Kellie was just like, ‘I like you.’ She was like, ‘I want you to do more stuff with the show.'”

Rasberry and Davies began exchanging ideas for bits to do on the radio. It was a slow process, but that’s how Davies got her foot in the door. She was hired to answer calls, and the radio hosts slowly began introducing her to the audience. Davies would talk about her dates on air and her experiences on Tinder.

Elena DaviesEXPAND
Elena Davies
Sonja Flemming/CBS

Big Brother Calls
In March 2017, the casting producers of Big Brother reached out to Davies to apply. Big Brother is a reality competition show on which strangers live in a house wired with cameras, isolated from the outside world.
A “big brother” give them challenges. Each week, a houseguest is evicted from the show until one remains and wins $500,000. Davies was hesitant, but went for it. She left KISS and CBS announced the cast for Big Brother season 19 on June 19, 2017.

“It again was God's timing,” Davies says. “God’s hand was very much in the logistics of me getting on Big Brother. The littlest timing of everything that happened was insane. It was where I was supposed to be.

“I was going to leave The Kidd Kraddick Morning Show whether I got cast on Big Brother or not,” Davies says, “just because I think it was the right timing for me. I had done the most I could do there. I just had a ceiling there. And I didn't wanna sit in the background, when I didn't wanna be in the background. Just because Kidd Kraddick is the biggest show ever, and such a huge opportunity, it doesn't serve me if I'm in the background when I didn’t wanna be.”

On Big Brother, Davies was in no one’s background. Audiences fell in love with Davies. They watched as fellow contestant Mark Jansen pursued her. They watched her strategically compete in challenges. They speculated about her on social media. And they had a field day with GIFs of her on Reddit — not all of them safe for work. She wasn’t aware of that.

“The fact that privacy is a luxury in the Big Brother house becomes problematic when showering, using the restroom and changing,” she says. “Unfortunately it’s a risk we all take entering the house.”

Davies was eliminated from Big Brother, not taking home the $500,000, but she gained thousands of new social media followers, making her the fourth most-followed cast member from her season of Big Brother.

Shay, one of Davies’ biggest fans, has dedicated nearly her entire Instagram account to Davies and her showmance with  Jansen. Shay, who wished to keep her last name private, lives in Boston but traveled to Dallas to meet other fans of "Marlena" — Davies and Jansen’s couple name, given to them by other Big Brother houseguests — and possibly meet the couple.

“I love how genuine she is,” Shay says of Davies via Instagram. “She’s hilarious and gorgeous and bright and thoughtful and so caring. She’s so confident in who she is, and is never afraid to show all of that. She is who she is, and is proud of it. She’s the best kind of role model for women, always owning and loving who she is, and somehow remaining so relatable.”

Elena Davies (center) left radio to be on Big Brother.EXPAND
Elena Davies (center) left radio to be on Big Brother.
Bill Inoshita/CBS

The Davies Brand
Relatable. If Davies has a brand, that’s it. Davies says she’s never felt like anyone’s favorite. In private Christian school, even after spending almost all of her weekdays and Sundays and summers at the school or church, she says she always felt a bit like an outsider. At KISS, she says she wasn’t used to her full potential. As far as CBS goes, she’s not quite sure where she stands.

Davies says CBS cut her and Jansen from season 31 of The Amazing Race days before they were set to leave to begin filming. The couple invested money into winning the competition show, and the last-minute cut took a financial hit on them.

“So we trained for eight weeks,” Davies says. “We put money into learning how to drive stick shift, which is, let me tell you, $300 an hour. And then to rent a car to practice on, not cheap. Had to hire someone to run Mark's business over the summer, sign a contract with them, can't get that money back. I mean, it's just things that add up that you don't even realize, like going to the doctor to get physicals.”

CBS did not respond for comment.

Davies thinks maybe she’s not everyone’s cup of tea. She is aware she’s a polarizing person. Whether it's because fans of Big Brother think she's thirsty for fame or her loud and abrasive personality, she rubs many the wrong way.

“I typically believe that when people first meet me, they usually don't like me,” Davies says. “But when they leave, they leave loving me. I can turn you off from me really quickly, but if you stick around for another minute or two, I will make you love me.”

For every Instagram fan account dedicated to loving Davies, there are multiple tweets from people expressing hatred. But Davies is a different kind of celebrity. For every recognizable movie star, there are dozens of social media influencers sharing their real or not-quite-real lives on Instagram and getting paid to promote products. Davies' brand is relatable and approachable, and that makes her a target for more criticism.

Davies tells a story about being on the same plane as actress Katherine Heigl. Davies says no one approached Heigl; instead, Davies was swamped with fans asking for pictures. She believes her role on reality TV makes people feel more connected to her.

Heigl probably isn’t interacting with her Instagram fans every day. Davies is.

Davies’ interaction with fans makes her mother, Eugenia Ludwig, proud. Ludwig, whose Instagram profile is “Mom to Big Brother’s Elena Davies BB19,” says no matter how many times Davies is interrupted during a meal, she always makes time to chat with fans.

Elena Davies and Mark Jansen met on Big Brother.EXPAND
Elena Davies and Mark Jansen met on Big Brother.
Monty Brinton/CBS

“I have gotten accustomed to it, but it takes a little adjusting,” Ludwig says. “It’s funny. You walk into some places sometimes and you see people’s eyes light up and they just kind of come at your daughter with, ‘Oh, my gosh,’ and they’re so excited to see her, and she just smiles and opens her arms and gives them hugs and asks them their name and talks to them and offers to take a picture and answers questions.”

Now one year after her stint on reality TV, Davies is working as a social media influencer, meaning her income comes from appearances, events, being a brand ambassador for Grove Collaborative, Ava Women and thredUP. Soon she’ll launch a podcast.

"thredUP works with influencers like Elena who have loyal audiences, and who also appreciate the amazing deals available when you shop secondhand on thredUP," a representative of the woman's clothing company wrote via email. "We loved working with Elena to spread the word to her community about the fashionable finds she scored."

It's a transition that's been done a number of times before. Star of the 17th season of The Bachelor, Sean Lowe seemingly went from television’s most eligible man to Instagram’s favorite husband and dad.

“The transition from reality TV to influencer has been seamless from my perspective,” Lowe tells us via email. “I never set out to be a ‘influencer’ nor did I consciously think of ways to build a brand or how to gain more followers or anything along those lines. I have an aversion to those who post nothing but air-brushed pictures of themselves jet-setting around the globe. I want people to know I’m a normal guy living a pretty normal life. I enjoy being relatable and posting things that I think are funny. I guess other people have enjoyed it too because I have inadvertently gained followers since my Bachelor days.”

For Davies, being "relatable" comes with added pressure, since part of her appeal is based on her relationship with Jansen. Fans' investment in the pair's relationship can be overwhelming, Davies says, especially considering they are far from a perfect couple. Fans who comment that they represent their  "relationship goals" aren't realistic.

"Mark and I have a roller-coaster relationship," she says. "Some moments are a fairy tale; some lean toward diabolical. Having a public relationship can feel pressured and even humiliating. We don't have the luxury of working through normal struggles without being under close surveillance. Things have been tumultuous lately, and it's not a secret.

"I have no doubt I was meant to meet Mark and I'm hopeful that our love outlasts all the ups and downs — and that my insurance kicks back in so I can get therapy."

Jansen couldn't be reached to comment for this story.

When we wrap up the interview, I thank Davies for her time and tell her — without thinking about how oblivious I am to her charm — that I feel connected to her.

She smiles.

“That’s the goal,” she says.

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