NEWCOMB — Rachel Bush has built a lucrative career as a social-media influencer by posting the glamorous, sun-drenched and sultry side of her life.
But this scene doesn’t fit that. It isn’t made for Instagram. It’s made for real life.
Bush is standing outside her childhood home here in Newcomb, a town of fewer than 500 people tucked in the middle of the Adirondacks. Her husband, Jordan Poyer, who plays safety for the Buffalo Bills, is standing on the porch steps holding their 2-year-old daughter, Aliyah. He’s heading off to training camp, and won’t see his family for a few weeks.
“Give Daddy a big kiss!” Bush tells her daughter.
Aliyah, whose tiny hands are draped on her dad’s tattooed shoulders, leans in.
“Mmmmuuaah!” they say in unison, stretching out the kiss.
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This is the side of Bush’s life that her 1.1 million Instagram followers rarely see, at least not in full. She’ll give them glimpses, and there’s a strategy to that: Sharing these moments helps her add female followers to her largely male fan base, and edging closer to a 50/50 gender split will allow her to charge higher rates to companies who want to promote their products through her.
But a quick Instagram Story that vanishes after a day doesn’t capture who she is. Nor do the many tabloid stories that cast out clickbait headlines about the troubled times in Bush and Poyer’s relationship.
Those things gouge the surface of the story. But they don’t show what happens next. They don’t show, for example, that after the “Mmmmuuaah!” kiss, Aliyah isn’t done. Her mom and dad are pointing out that “Daddy needs to go play football.” But Aliyah isn’t quite ready for Daddy to leave. She loves her Daddy, and her Mommy, and clinging onto both, wants another kiss.
'Everyone knows your business'
Bush, who is 21, grew up in Newcomb until age 17, which is both when she headed to college at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, and around when her social media following started to skyrocket.
The origins of her huge Instagram following are simple: She went to college in South Florida and started posting bikini photos. People noticed, people followed. She learned that a five-, six- and now seven-figure follower base could be monetized through appearances and product promotions, and she started building a business around it.
Bush, who was a hard-working, opinionated student who earned good grades, participated in debate clubs and played piano and trumpet, also discovered that when you’re an Instagram celebrity, people evaluate your character and intelligence based on your picture.
“Everybody judges off of what they see on social media,” Bush said, “and they don’t realize that ... actually like 85 percent of my life is something different.”
She says this while sitting on the porch of her late grandmother’s home, which is adjacent to both her parents’ and her aunt and uncle’s homes on the same plot of land in Newcomb.
“This,” she said, motioning to the nearby river, where her dad, Tony, was playing with Aliyah, and her husband and cousins were trying to drive golf balls straight across the water. “This is where I grew up.”
It’s a fun place, with a boat and Jet Skis and a four-wheeler, and it’s a grounded place. Newcomb is a small place, too; Bush’s graduating class had just nine students. The local school district had an international students program that was designed to both boost enrollment and add diversity. “Everyone knows your business,” Bush said. “You get away with nothing.”
Growing up in Newcomb, where the smallness of the town creates a microscopic view into your life, was good preparation for her celebrity to come.
Today, Bush’s following casts a spotlight into her life that has both magnified the moments that are fit for reality TV, and often masked the more down-to-earth ones from the public view.
Google Rachel vs. Real Rachel
Googling Rachel Bush reveals an entirely different person than actually sitting with her.
A search for Bush’s name yields a page of links with words like “cheating,” “stalking,” “steamy” and “racy.” Clicking on her Instagram reveals dozens of photos shot at angles that accentuate her figure, many of which are shot in the Miami area, where she and Poyer live during the off-season. Most of the other links direct you to stories that highlight the lowlights of her public life — chiefly, the rocky times of her relationship with Poyer.
But spend time with Bush in real life, at her childhood home in Newcomb or the Orchard Park home she shares with Poyer during football season, and you meet someone who bears little resemblance to the online influencer.
Bush is strong in her Christian faith and is staunchly pro-life, and her political views lean to the right. Her more devoted fans realize that: Bush is outspoken on Twitter about issues – just last week, she was tweeting about evolution – and unafraid to debate those who disagree. And yes, she realizes that, given her Instagram presence, some may question her conservatism. “People will say, ‘Oh, you’re posting your butt all over social media,’” Bush said. “Adam and Eve were naked, (for) one. Two, that doesn’t have anything to do with my political ideology.”
There’s Google Rachel and Real Rachel. To reconcile the two, I asked Real Rachel to Google herself with me. She did, and clicked on the first result, a wiki page on the site EarnTheNecklace.com.
“Da-da-da-da,” she murmured as she skimmed the basic facts, which pointed out she has a sister, Jordan, who is 20 and models on Instagram, but failed to mention her 12-year-old brother, Dillon. (Dillon is not pleased about this. “My brother is so upset his name isn’t there,” Bush said.)
She glanced at a paragraph that says she “turns up the heat” in her Instagram photos and has been involved in “a string of scandals.”
“‘Roller-coaster relationship,” she reads aloud passively, with no trace of frustration. She’s ho-hum about all of this, because it’s largely true: Bush met Poyer, who is six years older, during her freshman year at Florida Atlantic University. She had seen a meme likening Poyer, who then played for the Cleveland Browns, to the basketball star Stephen Curry and followed his Instagram. Poyer noticed the follow from Bush, who already had a six-figure following. He sent her a direct message, and they communicated for a couple of months.
When football was over, Poyer and a teammate flew to Florida to spend time with Bush and her friends. They bonded quickly and Poyer came back for several more weekends. Bush had been dating a guy who went on to become a star on ABC’s “The Bachelorette,” but she ultimately ended that relationship in favor of one with Poyer.
Their dynamic changed quickly at the end of Bush’s freshman year, when she learned she was pregnant. She left school to focus on her career and her impending motherhood, and Aliyah was born in late 2016. Bush and Poyer married a little over a year later. In those early years of their relationship, both had episodes of unfaithfulness which spilled over into tabloid coverage, social-media drama and public reconciliation.
That “roller coaster” was twisty — and both Bush and Poyer say they’re now off it, and in a more stable relationship. “Ups and down,” Bush said. “The media gets ahold of one thing, and it’s what people like. It’s the views. So obviously what you’re going to see on Google is the bad stuff. … But that’s part of my life.”
Uncomfortable truths don’t rattle Bush, but she is quick to clarify labels and nuances that she feels don’t fit her. She reached a section of her wiki page that referred to her as an “Instagram model.” Strictly speaking, she is one, but “I wouldn’t really call myself an ‘Instagram model,’ ” Bush said.
To her, “Instagram model” describes someone who makes a living by getting paid to promote products on their page. Again, there is truth here: Bush does some product promotions, and with those 1.1 million followers, it can be lucrative. For example, to highlight a product with a single post on her Instagram story, which disappears after 24 hours, Bush charges a minimum of $5,000. A post on her Instagram page, which is permanent unless Bush deletes it, costs considerably more.
Bush’s strong male following positions her to promote brands for men – shaving products, for example – and charge a premium for it. If she can add more female followers, which she is hoping to do by posting frequently about her life as Aliyah’s mom, her rates can go higher.
It’s easy money, but Bush does paid posts infrequently, which is why she tends to avoid the “Instagram model” label. Her husband is a professional athlete with a contract worth an average of $3.25 million a year, meaning Bush is under no pressure to make quick money. Instead, she can play the long game financially.
“I like to focus more on actually building companies,” said Bush, who recently formed her own LLC and is releasing a series of products, some on her own and some with partners. They include a line of branded shorts, curve-hugging Brazilian workout leggings, a series of three resistance bands, and a fitness guide that she is launching at a Sept. 27 event at the Buffalo Marriott HarborCenter.
Bush is also going to have equity in a company producing a line of car fresheners depicting the likenesses of Instagram stars. She will be the first social-media celebrity showcased in Insta Scents; the aroma of her car freshener is called Cinna Buns.
The solo approach
Deep into the wiki page, she stopped on a headline: “Bush Alleged LeBron James Slid into Her DMs.”
“The LeBron thing,” she said. Bush has heard this one a lot. In spring 2016, the basketball star, who was playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, initiated a dialogue with Bush through direct messaging on Instagram.
Wanting to show this was real, Bush opened the DMs on her phone and had me read them. The dialogue itself was benign – the digital equivalent of cocktail-hour small talk – but what happened around it left a deep impression on Bush. She says her then-manager, whom she says had access to her social media, posted a screenshot of James’ first direct message (“Hey what’s up!”) to her accounts. That unleashed a load of tabloid-media speculation that Bush says she didn’t want, especially in Cleveland, where James was a hometown hero and where Poyer was playing football.
“If you’ve seen any of what’s going on I’d like to apologize,” she wrote in a direct message to James. “My manager has access to all of my social media accounts and will do whatever for publicity. I’ve never put anyone on blast like that.”
To illustrate her point, Bush then pulled up screenshots on her photo of that now-former manager playing up the James-Bush pairing on his own Twitter. She has had multiple managers, some of whom she liked, and others she did not, but she is working solo now.
“I’m focused on my companies and my personal products, and I don’t really need anyone taking a percentage,” Bush said. “I need someone to scroll through my emails.” But Bush isn’t sure she’ll actually hire somebody; it’s challenging at best to find someone reliable and trustworthy.
“I’m still trying to do it by myself,” she said.
The people closest to Bush define her by the sense of independence.
“She was always a go-getter type of person, but people just assume the worst thing possible when they see girls posting how she does on Instagram,” said her sister Jordan Bush, who has a following of 100,000-plus on Instagram. “Rachel is so much more than that.”
Her father, Tony Bush, a longtime salesperson who now works in business development for an energy solutions company, uses the word “rugged” to describe his daughter’s sense of strength and resilience.
Poyer calls his wife “a very determined person” and points back to the struggles in their relationship. Their mutual sense of determination and wanting to creating a loving home for their daughter, has helped them persevere. “There have been so many ups and downs through our relationship,” he said, “but at the end of the day, we always seem to figure out a solution.”
That’s brought them here, to his more-personal-than-Instagrammable moment, with Poyer loading his suitcases into the trunk of his rental car, ready to head to training camp. “Daddy has to go to camp, baby,” Bush tells Aliyah, who clearly doesn’t want her dad to go. They get a couple more kisses before Poyer steers his rental car up the long driveway.
Before he heads out, Rachel’s mother, Mary Bush, who is watching from the porch, calls out, “Love you, J.P.!”
“Love you, Mar,” he answers.
“You’re gonna rock!” she says.
As Poyer steered onto the main road and headed west to Rochester, Rachel Bush was holding her waving daughter — and not a phone. This wouldn’t be posted. It was just happening here.