“I hope you don’t mind seeing my mess!” Kelly Mi Li got worried.
The producer, investor and new reality TV star was hiding in the bare guest bedroom of her new Los Angeles home. She wore a plain white sweater – no makeup, no jewelry. “I needed quiet,” she explained.
Snuggled up in this spare bedroom, Mi Li seemed a far cry from the high-octane drama and chaotic opulence of ‘Bling Empire’, the Netflix series which, after its January 2021 debut, made her famous. .
The first episode showed the 36-year-old celebrating her birthday aboard a friend’s private jet, then spending the day in Paris shopping at Boucheron for jewelry, and indulging in a tiff with her boyfriend.” Power Rangers,” actor Andrew Gray.
“We haven’t really spoken in almost a year,” Mi Li said of her ex. In fact, a lot has happened since 2019, when “Bling Empire” wrapped filming its first season, featuring a bunch of real Crazy Rich Asians jet-setting, partying, arguing and spending extravagant sums of money.
For one thing, a global pandemic delayed the show’s premiere and put a damper on the cast members’ globe-trotting lifestyle. But also, for Mi Li, there was a difficult breakup, a move, therapy, and a lot of healing.
This first season, “I was in a darker place,” said Mi Li, who serves as the show’s executive producer. “I didn’t feel free to be myself because I was walking on eggshells, because I didn’t want to upset [Gray]“, who showed a fiery temper on the show.
Now she’s ready to reveal a new Kelly in Season 2, which premieres May 13.
“Audiences will get to see the fun, lighthearted side of me,” she promised. “And they will see me finding my voice and my own power.”
(On April 28, Mi Li filed a lawsuit against “Bling Empire” producer Jeff Jenkins, claiming he took and “exploited” his concept for the reality series without properly compensating him. was unable to comment on the lawsuit of The Jenkins representative did not respond to a request for comment.)
Mi Li has a lavish life, but unlike her “Bling” co-stars, she doesn’t come from the money. ‘
Born in Kunming, China, she and her family immigrated to the United States when she was 10, after her mother got a job as a cancer researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Life in America was an adjustment for the whole family: Mi Li barely spoke English and her father, a doctor in China, had to work as a carpet cleaner. He returned to their homeland a year later, and Mi Li’s mother had to do odd jobs at night to raise the young girl on her own.
“My mom sacrificed so much,” Mi Li said, adding that she felt guilty even asking her mom for a candy bar at the discount supermarket where they shopped in Chicago. “I learned the value of a dollar at a very young age.”
Mi Li started babysitting at age 12, then worked in a restaurant, as well as at Victoria’s Secret and Pottery Barn. When she was 18, she got her life and health insurance license and started working for New York Life. Her mother expected her to be a doctor, but at 21, Mi Li dropped out of school and moved to Los Angeles. While working in the restaurant industry there, she met her first husband, Lin Miao, the founder of a texting company who introduced Mi Li to a world of unfathomable luxury.
The couple regularly racked up $400,000 on their Black AmEx card, flying privately to Tokyo and buying Birkins and Tiffany jewelry. They had seven cars and four houses. And then, one day in 2015, the government showed up and arrested him. Miao ran “one of the biggest cyber scams in American history”.
“It was very shocking to me,” Mi Li told the Post, who added that she and her husband were going through a divorce when she found out there were “other issues” with the marriage. , she said.
“The good part was that it didn’t happen when we were still together. But it was hard, because I didn’t really know what was going on, and my mom and I were loaning him our personal money for the help pay his legal fees.Eventually, all his money was also gone.
Mi Li cut her expenses and sold quite a few Birkins. But she ended up back on her feet – even married, she never stopped working; it wasn’t in his nature to give up.
“For me, as an entrepreneur, there are always ups and downs,” she said. “Money comes and goes. I’m always going to be able to make money, it’s just sometimes there’s an adjustment period.
Living in Los Angeles, Mi Li found her way into the entertainment industry and was working in production when a few years ago she read Kevin Kwan’s 2013 bestseller “Crazy Rich Asians” on a fabulously wealthy Singaporean family.
“I was like that [people] are real,” she said. “They’re fictional characters, but they’re pretty much my friends. So I started putting on a show.
Originally, Mi Li was only supposed to be an executive producer on “Bling Empire,” working behind the camera. But it was a bit strange to be in the background of a show featuring all her friends – who she met largely while traveling and hanging out at exclusive hotels and nightclubs. Also, it was hard to find people from “this crazy rich world” willing to risk their lives.
“With Asian culture, especially if they come from family money, a lot of them don’t want to be so public,” Mi Li explained. So she stepped out of her comfort zone and found herself in front of the camera.
“It would be a lie if I told you it was easy,” Mi Li said. ‘being so vulnerable in front of the camera and letting people know my secrets.”
Those secrets involved his divorce, going to couples therapy with Gray, breaking up and getting back together with Gray, flirting with one of his other co-stars and more. Yet the messy complexities of her life have helped make the show more than just bubbly candy. “Bling” deals with toxic relationships, infertility issues, adoption, family dysfunction, and other “meatier” topics that make its star cast breathtakingly empathetic and relatable.
“The number of women who contacted me [after seeing the show] was overwhelming,” Mi Li said. “I didn’t realize my story was connected to so many of them.”
After filming the first season, she began undergoing individual therapy, moved out of the elegant modernist West Hollywood home she shared with Gray for five years, and purchased a more comfortable 2,000 square foot home than is in the process of renovating. The pandemic cut short his international travels, but it allowed him to discover his state of California.
“I’m exploring nature, which I’ve never done before,” she added with a laugh. And she allows herself to let go.
The show “really kickstarted my journey of self-discovery, and it was a really big shift for me,” she said. “It was a little awkward at times, but it was really rewarding in the end. When I think about how many people I connected with and what that did for Asian representation in mass media, it is bigger than me.
Photos: John Chapple; Stylist: Horacio Aguilar/Celestine Agency; Hair/Makeup: Cat Sherwin
New York Post