ABC insists the network already picked Matt James as The Bachelor's Season 25 star before Rachel Lindsay expressed outrage over the franchise's lack of diversity.

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"It wasn't a response to that," ABC reality chief Robert Mills told Variety. "We could have made this announcement earlier or later."

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Rachel starred on The Bachelorette's thirteenth season in 2017 and has been the only black lead in 18 years and 40 seasons of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, which prompted Rachel to voice dissatisfaction regarding the lack of diversity in The Bachelor franchise in an early June blog post.

Rachel has claimed there are "deep-rooted, 18-year systemic problems" with the franchise, saying the show needs to cast leads who are interested in dating outside of their race, diversify producers behind the scenes, and stop giving people of color "problematic storylines."

Rachel threatened to disassociate herself from The Bachelor franchise if changes were not made, and then Matt was announced as the next The Bachelor star on Friday, June 12.

But Robert insisted Matt's casting came about organically and wasn't a result of pressure from Rachel.

In fact, Robert claimed producers have been talking about Matt's star quality ever since casting him on Clare Crawley's upcoming sixteenth season of The Bachelorette.

ABC announced back in March that the 28-year-old real estate broker, entrepreneur and community organization founder was going to be one of Clare's potential 32 The Bachelorette suitors, but production on the show has yet to begin due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Clare's The Bachelorette season is now tentatively scheduled to film later this summer and air on ABC this fall.

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"He would have been on Clare's season if it started in March. When we realized the shutdown was going to extend through the summer, we started thinking about how we were going to choose our Bachelor," Robert told Variety.

"Matt was somebody who was on our radar and we were thinking about him. We were thinking do we announce him early, or do we put him on Clare's season and then announce him later, if it doesn't work out with Clare? We didn't make a final decision until recently, but this has been talked about for quite some time."
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Now that Matt has been officially announced as The Bachelor's next star, he will no longer compete for Clare's heart on The Bachelorette.

Matt appeared on GMA's Friday broadcast and expressed how it's "an honor" to represent people of color on The Bachelor, given he'll be the first in 25 seasons to be given the starring role.

"Certainly no one is blind to what is happening in the world, so hopefully this announcement serves as a bit of optimism during a time that we can really use this. But I don't want this to look like we're patting ourselves on the back or taking a victory lap," Robert told Variety.

"We don't want this, in any way, to seem like a cure-all and seem like, 'Hey! Look what we did here!' We know this is a few grains of sand in a very big hourglass. It's taken a while to get where we are and we will continue to go further, and I acknowledge it may not be enough."

Robert added, "In the last few years, I believe it's gotten better and with the announcement of Matt, I hope it keeps getting better. We are very excited about Matt."

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Although Matt will be the first black lead for The Bachelor, Robert insisted he wasn't chosen based on that alone.

"There is that mantle that you are the first, and it's been a long time coming, so there are additional pressures. Matt knows that he's going to be asked about this and he's ready," Robert said.

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"But what you never want is for somebody to feel like they are the Bachelor because they are checking off a box... It was the same thing with Rachel. Yes, she was the first black Bachelorette, and there has been a lot of weight that's been put on her shoulders, but she was the Bachelorette because, first and foremost, she was a great Bachelorette."

But Robert also admitted ABC should have chosen a Bachelor of color before this time.

"Everyone agrees we can be doing better and we will work to do that," Robert promised.

"I do think there have been some strides made -- small and maybe not enough, but there has been a commitment and that will continue."

When ABC announced its decision to give Matt the leading role for its 2020 season, network president Karey Burke said in a statement, "We know we have a responsibility to make sure the love stories we're seeing onscreen are representative of the world we live in, and we are proudly in service to our audience."

"This is just the beginning, and we will continue to take action with regard to diversity issues on this franchise. We feel so privileged to have Matt as our first Black Bachelor and we cannot wait to embark on this journey with him."

Karey added, "Matt has been on our radar since February, when producers first approached him to join Bachelor Nation, as part of Clare's season. When filming couldn't move forward as planned, we were given the benefit of time to get to know Matt and all agreed he would make a perfect Bachelor."

Matt shared on GMA his hope that people will watch him on Monday nights next year and discover he's "not much different" from everyone else and America will see that "diverse love stories are beautiful."

In addition to Rachel blasting ABC for its lack of diversity on The Bachelor franchise, a petition was also launched on Change.org, calling on ABC and the show's Warner Bros. production company to cast more people of color before Matt's casting was announced.

Matt initially came into the limelight last year as he's best friends with The Bachelorette alum Tyler Cameron, who was the runner-up on Hannah Brown's 2019 season of The Bachelorette, and they started a small charity, ABC Food Tours, together.

Not only did Matt and Tyler -- who regularly appear on each other's social-media accounts -- become roommates in New York City, but they've also been quarantining with each other in Florida in recent months, and Hannah was also part of their "Quarantine Crew" for several weeks and seemed to become close with Matt.

Matt is originally from North Carolina and attended Wake Forest University, where he majored in economics and played wide receiver for their football team.

Matt and Tyler were teammates on the school's football team before Tyler transferred to Florida Atlantic University.

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Matt went on to briefly play professional football, before moving to New York City.

ABC says Matt has a passion for food and created ABC Food Tours to find creative ways to encourage physical and mental wellness for children from underserved communities in New York City, while also giving them opportunities for new experiences.

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