WWE NXT's Candice LeRae Talks Fan Impact on New Heel Persona

This Sunday is NXT TakeOver: In Your House, but before we kick off the big event there's still some business to get sorted out on tonight's new episode of NXT. One of the biggest matches in tonight's lineup is the showdown between Candice LeRae and Mia Yim, who have been going back and forth for the past few weeks. Tonight will settle some things between the two stars, and for LeRae, it's just the latest opportunity to showcase how far she's come from her Pixie days. Fans have recently been introduced to a whole new LeRae, one with a new look, new finisher, and a new attitude, and she's already making her presence felt on the black and gold brand. ComicBook.com recently had the chance to speak to LeRae about her new persona and when things really turned for her, and why she decided to join forces with her husband Johnny Gargano.

"Well, I kind of feel like for the longest time when I started with NXT, I know obviously at first I was with my husband a lot, but I'm a very stubborn person and I was like, 'I want to do my own thing. I want to earn everything.' I've been here, what, two, two and a half years now, and I'm going, 'Man, I'm being stubborn and I'm trying my best to do everything on my own and earn everything' but I just kept getting passed up by people that were not here as long or not doing the same things I do," LeRae said. "I couldn't understand, so I feel like it was just a lot of stuff getting bottled up inside of me and now it has overflowed and I feel rejuvenated, like a new person. Who would have thought that joining forces with my husband was going to be so special? He's just kind of taken me to the next level. I should've assumed. He's pretty next-level himself, I must say."

LeRae debuted a new finisher called the Wicked Stepsister as well, and the brutal-looking move is the perfect representation of her new outlook.

(Photo: WWE)

"I just felt like I wanted everybody to feel how I felt inside all this time physically," LeRae said. "I could fly and do my little pixie things, but every time I'm going in there with somebody that I'm like, 'Oh, this undeserving person,' I want them to physically feel the pain that I've been feeling internally, trying to be this supportive play by the rules, everybody's best friend, everybody's big sister. That's just how I felt inside, so they're just really getting a taste of their own medicine is all it is."

Fans who have tuned into NXT have seen the Gargano's delightful dinner vignettes, which start off quite pleasant but take unexpected dark turns with closeups and an evil-sounding voiceover effect. They are definitely effective, and LeRae revealed how that got added to the mix.

"So we kind of felt like after Tommaso was defeated that we should have a celebration and we should invite the fans into our celebration dinner," LeRae said. "I will give the shout-out to the person who actually kind of was, the person who was filming the dinner scenes with us, our poor cameraman, who had to endure all of this, he just felt this change in us. He felt this switching in us at certain moments. Those changes alone wouldn't do it justice, so while he was editing it, he put what he felt into that moment. So, I will say that my husband and I cannot take credit for Dustin's great work, but that was just something that we were giving off in those moments. I don't think it could've been done better. Those moments are like this other side of us. It's like the American Psycho, like this other side of us that's just been locked away."

(Photo: WWE)

Fans have been quite receptive to LeRae and Gargano's new personas, and in fact, the fans had quite. a bit to do with the changes, though not in the way you might expect.

"Well, I honestly, the fans had a lot to do with this, because ... I think it was the first time that Johnny and Adam Cole faced each other, and Johnny has given so much to the fans and I admire how he is and how he handles fans," LeRae said. "We love meeting fans out in public, and if we're somewhere he's one of those people that is going to stop by and see every single fan he possibly can, and we just wanted to pay it forward. Then when we were at the venue and I'm watching this match from backstage, and once his music started fans are booing him. I'm going, 'He's doing so much for all of you and you're booing him?' And then they were just all about Adam Cole and it was just such an eye-opening experience where I was like, 'Wow. They just kind of want the new kid on the block, like this new shiny toy.'"

"I was so sad for my husband because I was looking, every so often there was a camera shot on him, and I was like, 'This is eating him away a little bit, and I hope he can get his focus back.' Because I can sense when something's wrong," LeRae said. "Maybe nobody else noticed, but I was like, 'Damn, he's going to wrestle this match with so much rage. He's just going to wrestle angry.' So maybe it was good because it fueled him through the match, but I'm just going, 'This kid is giving you like five-star matches and you all just turned on him like that. What is happening?'"

For both LeRae and Gargano, this is a new lease on life, and one they are living for them, not the fans.

"It blew my mind, especially since, for me, I'm not as big on social media as Johnny is, and Johnny does see a lot on social media," LeRae said. "I feel like social media is his newspaper. He gets up and he reads the newspaper every day. But I mean, there's so much going on and he can see and experience what people are saying, how they feel. And of course, it gets back to me because he just read the paper and he has to tell me what's going on in the world. It's just, I think at this point we are, I will admit, being a little selfish, and we're just kind of doing things for ourselves, and we're doing things how we want to do them and for us."

(Photo: WWE)

For LeRae, Mia Yim represents everything she's grown frustrated with. LeRae feels Yim not only seeks to please the fans on a regular basis, but at several points has received opportunities that LeRae would've killed for, and yet has nothing to show for them.

"I just feel like she's always pandering to the fans, right? Which we've tried and it's not the way to do it," LeRae said. "It's just not. For instance, Mae Young Classic her second time around, mind you, how many people got two chances to do the Mae Young Classic? Not many. She got two chances, and the second time around, because everybody was saying, 'let's sign Mia, sign Mia,' she gets a contract the first time around for Mae Young Classic. I think people must've assumed I was already signed by the company, because I didn't get 'sign Candice, sign Candice' chants, but I was told, 'Oh, they're so happy with your performance. You'll hear from us soon. You'll hear from us soon.' And then like I still had to wait and I still had to work, and for Mia to go in and get a second opportunity, and then they just give her contracts because that's what the fans want. She's just constantly, I don't know, she's gotten so many opportunities in these big matches that she's just kind of blown. I just don't understand. I just think she could do better if she focused on wrestling and not trying to please the fans, because if you're trying to please the fans instead of seizing opportunities, then what are you doing? What are you doing? You're wasting everybody's time. Come on."

LeRae also feels that Tegan Nox falls into the same trap as Yim, though in Nox's case, she also feels a bit betrayed, and that's why she decided to address her former best friend face to face when Nox tried to help Shotzi Blackheart.

"Well, I'm not one to do things, attack from behind or just go after somebody and do things behind their back," LeRae said. "I mean, she may think it's okay to go and do things behind my back and goof around with the wrong people, whatever. But if I have a problem with somebody, I'm going to let them know I have problems with them. Unfortunately, it was just circumstantial that it happened to be a moment where I knew where she was. I couldn't find her backstage, but in that moment I knew exactly where she was, so it's just a weird timing in that match. I would have preferred to do it backstage, but she was too busy with her new friends, so what am I to do? I'm not about to stoop to things that, I'm not Io or Tommaso. I'm not going to do something behind somebody's back, and I wasn't going to wait backstage for her to come back from helping her friend. I'm going to confront her then and there, as soon as I found her."


Perhaps we'll see LeRae take on Nox after she's done with Yim, but we'll just have to wait and see what the future holds

You can see LeRae in action when she takes on Yim on tonight's NXT on USA Network, which you can check out at 8 PM EST. Stayed tuned for ComicBook.com for live coverage, and you can always hit me up on Twitter @MattAguilarCB for all things NXT!