Jessica McKay on WWE Release, Cassie Lee, The IIconics Breakup, Off Her Chops

Jessica McKay (fka Billie Kay in WWE) is a professional wrestler and podcaster known for her time in WWE as part of the IIconics tag team with Cassie Lee (fka Peyton Royce). She joins Chris Van Vliet from her home in Orlando, FL to talk about being released from WWE in April, the new name of their tag team “The IInspiration”, the issues that she has run into as an Australian trying to get a US work visa, the lessons she learned from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and much more!

On the difference between Jessica McKay and Billie Kay:

“It’s so crazy. So I feel like I had this idea in my head when I was with WWE that Billie Kay had to be a certain image. I couldn’t talk about anything else, I didn’t want to, I was extremely private. I kind of let people know me, but I didn’t really, because it was just what you saw on TV, which was a couple of minutes at best. When I was Jess, my handle changes on social media and it was my name. It was so strange having people call me Jess, letting people in on who I am and what my daily life is like. For some reason I just had that wall up with WWE. I think people think you have to have a certain image to be in that company, like you can’t talk about certain things. That’s not the case, but that’s how I felt. I felt like I had to be this perfect little Superstar, and that’s not the case. But it was nice to have that relief come through.”

On being married and keeping her personal life private:

“It’s so funny. I would have people that I have worked with and saw every week have no idea that I was married. It’s something that my husband and I decided very quickly that we were going to keep private. He has his own career here, and I didn’t want to put him in the public eye. I was very private, I am private about my family too, I don’t post pictures of my family and I very rarely talk about them on social media. I feel like I am so protective of the people that I love. Let’s be honest, social media is a pain in the arse sometimes, I just want to protect them from that and be their shield. We made that decision and it was for the best, not many people knew [I was married] to be honest.”

On how they met:

“We have been together since we were 19 and we are 7 years married. We got married before I moved to America. So we literally got back from our honeymoon and I was like, OK bye, then I moved to America. He couldn’t move because he is on his separate work visa, so separate issues with immigration. We were apart for about 4 months before he came over.”

On expecting a WWE release:

“No. I was so shocked to be honest. There had been rumours. I remember someone saying ‘They are going to do releases after WrestleMania.’ I was like oh ok, I didn’t think that they would, just because the year before they did a ‘cleanout’ if that makes sense, but then I was like well maybe they will. But I never thought that I was in jeopardy so to speak. I was on WrestleMania literally 4 nights before I got released. I had been told of a possible storyline I would be going into, so that’s where the blindside came from.”

On letting Cassie know:

“The first thing I did was call Cassie [Lee] and she was in a massage. She finally called me back and she told me [that Cassie was released too]. I was shocked for both of us to be honest. I felt like I had so much more to give and Cassie had so much more to give too, they didn’t even scratch the surface with us.”

On the headshot resume gimmick:

“I really enjoyed that, and I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed it until I got released. When the breakup of The IIconics happened, I was so lost. I just felt like a piece of me was missing. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, and I was thinking what this character could be and where she could evolve. So I was really struggling, and TJ [Wilson] was the one who really helped me just embrace who I am, I would vent every week at SmackDown, and he would listen to me and would talk to me about it. When I told him about the idea of the headshot resume and what I wanted to do, he supported it. He was supportive of every idea I had and would make them 10 times better. It was a time for me to grow on my own, so I am glad that I got to do that.”

On how the resume segments started:

“So my first promo after being drafted to SmackDown, it was given to me. They said that I was going to hand a headshot resume to Adam Pearce. When we shot it I felt like there was something there. So I went to the writers and I said ‘I want to keep doing this. Because no one knows who I am on my own. I would love to keep doing this.’ They were like ‘Yeah let’s run with this.’ It took a bit of time to get caught on, but I was emailing a list of the people I could do this with. It was so neutral, it could be with a female, a male, a ring announcer, anyone. I would say ‘If you have 30 seconds to fill on a pre-show, I will be there.’ I can insert myself into any situation, and I think that’s what really helped. I was at every pay per view, I did a couple of pre-shows, then it was the Rumble and everything. It was just a lot of fun.”

On immigration issues:

“Yeah, it’s a long process. I feel like people don’t realize how tough it is for non-citizens to legally work in this country. It just takes a lot of time, especially with COVID and the pandemic. Everything is backed up by 2 years, so everything is still processing and we are still in this waiting game. But we are optimistic, we did everything the right way. Unfortunately there are so many people in our position that have been released and aren’t citizens. They have to figure it out on their own, which is what we had to do. It was very scary and very stressful, we didn’t know what that meant for our immigration, we had to figure it out on our own. But it was something that we got done straight away, and hopefully it’s kind of done soon.”

Credit: Instagram

The meaning behind their new name The IInspiration:

“We were just spit-balling one day, I’m pretty sure Cass came up with it. She was like ‘Look. Here me out…’ and she said it and I love that. When we made that decision, it’s funny because the amount of times we say the word inspire or inspiration to each other, I notice it now and it’s all the time. It’s just crazy that we have never really thought about that.”

On not wanting to face Peyton Royce:

“Personally I didn’t want us to feud. I wanted it to be left open ended. I wanted there to be a reason for the break up, but not one of us blatantly turn on the other. That’s only because we thought that we would get back together in the future. But I also feel like every tag team does that, and I wanted to be different. And what’s different? Breaking up but not hating each other. It’s been done so many times, and we were thinking what hasn’t been done. So when we found out the stipulation was the loser was no longer a tag team I was like that’s perfect. It fits what we were going for, because they could have booked anything. But I always wanted to end it mutually so we could always come back to each other easier.”

On having some input in the split:

“We were spit-balling ideas and stuff, but at the end of the day, you just hope for the best. You could just show up and it be completely different. That was a lot of us talking and just trying to figure out what we would prefer, because we didn’t know when it was happening and there were question marks around it all. When we did find out about it and found out about the stipulation, I was like OK, we can work with this.”

On splitting up The IIconics:

“I feel like, and I’m not sure of the timelines of the stories, but from what I can remember, Vince saw Cass in the ring in a singles match. He thought she is incredible and she’s a star. Well duh! Yeah! I feel like there was a ‘What do we do with The IIconics? Maybe we should just split them up.’ I feel like that kind of sparked the conversation. But again, I wasn’t there. You don’t know what is said behind closed doors, you don’t know what is said in those meetings, so I have no idea what they thought the direction was. But we still had a little time together after she had that singles match so I feel like they were still trying to figure it out. But tag teams, unless you are The bloody New Day, I would have loved to be in a tag team for that long. It’s kind of inevitable that you evolve and go separate ways. I’m glad there was a draft coming up, because I knew they needed to put us on separate brands.”

Credit: Instagram

On life after wrestling:

“I feel like when I got released I really had to look at that. That was the other confronting thing, I was like what do I do? This is insane. When I was released I was 31 and about to turn 32. I was like, hmm, this is life, I was so confused. But I quickly figured that out after the shock and grief went away. I’ve always been into acting, and I feel like all the people that get released say they want to get into acting. We are performers and we are on stage performing. But I’ve always been the biggest movie buff. My favourite memory is my brother and I growing up, obviously watching wrestling, but then him showing me movies. I would sneak into his room after school every day and watch Bring It On like 10 times. He showed me TV and films and I just fell in love with that. I’ve been doing acting classes for about a year now and I just fell in love with it. A lot of people say they would like to be an actor, as I did, but I didn’t know if I would love the process of that. Much like wrestling, you have to jump in and make it your whole life. When I started the lessons, I fell in love with it.”

On the WWE release:

“Yeah it was such a shock, and there are still good days and bad days. I just felt like I didn’t know who I was at all. My whole life I had been trying to get to WWE, and to have that ripped away from you, it was f*cking hard. People don’t realize that was my whole life. Everything I did was to be a WWE Superstar. You are in this bubble travelling, training and being on shows, and it’s amazing. But when you are out of that bubble, it’s like real life floods in. But it was tough, I didn’t leave my house for 3 weeks. I couldn’t talk to my family, I was so embarrassed and ashamed. And I had to really figure out who I was without Billie Kay. That sounds so silly but you really have to leave her. I had to say goodbye to her, she will always be a part of me but I had to let her go. I didn’t want to be defined by Billie Kay, that’s a part of me but that’s not who I am. It was so hard bringing out Jessica again, because I had been Billie for so long. I loved Billie so much, that’s why it hurt so much. The world won’t see her again, and she was f*cking cool, she was amazing. So it took a long time to get Jessica out again, and my family really helped with that.”

On advice given by Dwayne Johnson:

“Well when you look at his career you think wow! He just hustles, and I really respect that about him. When we met, he just said to me “Keep going.” I’ve never forgotten that. Amongst all the sh*t, negativity and drama, you just have to keep going. I have goals that I am going to reach, so I always have that advice in the back of my head.”

On what she is grateful for:

“My husband and family, Cassie, my life and my health.”

The Off Her Chops podcast can be found here.

Featured image: Instagram

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