'The Bachelor' alum Matt James claims he didn't know he'd be the first Black Bachelor until after he accepted
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 05/03/2022
The Bachelor alum Matt James claims he wasn't aware he was going to be the franchise's first-ever Black star until after he had already accepted the Season 25 gig.
Matt, 30, was initially selected to compete for Clare Crawley's heart on The Bachelorette's sixteenth season in 2020, but when the coronavirus pandemic delayed production on Clare's season, ABC chose to promote Matt and announce him as the Bachelor prematurely in June of that year instead.
Matt starred on The Bachelor's 25th season, which premiered in January 2021, and made history as the first Black Bachelor, althoughThe Bachelorette had already featured a woman of color, Rachel Lindsay, as its leading lady several years earlier.
"I didn't know my decision would be a groundbreaking one. I hadn't watched the show before," Matt wrote in his new book, First Impressions: Off Screen Conversations with a Bachelor on Race, Family, and Forgiveness, according toUs Weekly.
Matt continued in his book that was just released on Tuesday, May 3, "I hadn't even thought much of the show before. If pressed, I would have assumed that a Black man had been chosen as the lead in the past."
Matt reportedly wrote that he only learned he was the first Black Bachelor "more than a week" after signing on for the show.
"Hadn't it been on air forever? Surely at least one brother had led the franchise. That thought would quickly be proven wrong!" Matt penned.
Matt admitted to Us during an episode of its "Here for the Right Reasons" podcast that he "wasn't really asking the right questions" when going through the casting process for The Bachelor.
"I didn't think that was something that hadn't been done. It's 2022, I didn't think that that was something that we hadn't crossed yet," Matt told the magazine.
Matt did not appear to disclose any additional details about when and how he allegedly finally learned he would be the franchise's first Black Bachelor -- or his initial reaction to the information.
The Bachelor premiered its first season all the way back in 2002, and so nearly two decades had passed when Matt said "yes" to being The Bachelor star.
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"I've seen a bunch of Black people come through the franchise that I guess I assumed [there had been a Black Bachelor]," Matt said.
When Matt was approached about the opportunity -- weeks after the filming of Clare's season was postponed -- he was living with his best friend and The Bachelorette alum Tyler Cameron in Florida.
"Initially, I thought it was a prank call because it was in the middle of COVID and I was living in a quarantine house with all my friends, and we were all just messing around at the time," Matt told the magazine.
"So when you got calls like that, you kind of took it with a grain of salt. You're like, 'All right, whatever.' And then when they follow it up, I'm like, 'Oh, snap.'"
Matt therefore insisted that he accepted the Bachelor role without knowing the gravity of the situation and what he'd be taking on his shoulders for such a groundbreaking season.
"I didn't accept the role to be the savior," Matt explained. "My sole focus was finding someone that I could spend the rest of my life with and fall in love with and just looking for that in my life because I was missing it."
Matt elaborated, "And it wasn't until after I accepted it that I really felt the weight of, you know, everyone's expectations on my journey. And I'm like, 'I wonder if anyone else has felt this stepping into a role like this.'"
Matt believes no male lead had ever felt that pressure or weight before.
"And they hadn't because it was at the right time in the country where we were going through everything that we were going through from a racial standpoint -- [and] still are going through," Matt said, referring to political strife and the Black Lives Matter Movement.
"It really dawned on me a couple [of] days after or just as time approached [to film] the show, like, people telling me what I had to do and what I should do. And I'm like, 'I hadn't even got there yet. What are y'all talking about?'"
Once Matt agreed to be the Bachelor for 2021, he reportedly wrote in his book that he had very "tactical" conversations with producers, including how he needed to refer to fans of the show as "Bachelor Nation."
Matt also revealed that he almost missed out on the chance to star on the series because he missed an important Zoom call following a boating trip he had taken.
When Matt's The Bachelor season was airing in early 2021, Bachelor Nation had to deal with former host Chris Harrison's racism scandal.
Chris took a leave of absence in February 2021 after defending The Bachelor 25 contestant Rachael Kirkconnell -- whom Matt chose during his season finale and is currently dating -- over racially-ignorant and racially-insensitive photos from Rachael's past that had resurfaced online, including a 2018 image of Rachael attending an antebellum-themed "Old South" party at her Georgia college with sorority sisters.
Considering major backlash continued and Chris' apologies were questioned and criticized, ABC and Chris publicly declared in June 2021 that he'd be permanently leaving the franchise and would not return to host any future seasons
Matt, however, told Us that he intentionally left all the Harrison drama out of First Impressions.
"We spent enough time talking about that stuff. I hate beating a dead horse and everything's played out how it's played out and there's no need to go back [to] something that we've talked so much about because unfortunately, those type of conversations overshadowed context that I would've liked to have been applied to the season that would've answered a bunch of questions," Matt explained.
"They had things that I talked about and discussed and went into in-depth in my dates and on group dates and on one-on-ones that never aired. So I didn't wanna take any more time to talk about that stuff. I wanted to focus on themes that I felt could really help people and I don't think that going back on that would be any help to anybody."
Matt even recently said that an engagement, marriage and "everything is on the table" with the Atlanta native. He has boasted about their good communication and ability to build trust.
"It's been such a crazy journey to that point," Matt said of the time leading up to his book release.
"I couldn't be better. I'm healthy, which is the biggest blessing, and I'm in a great headspace. I'm in a great relationship. I recently moved down to Miami and it's allowed me to reallocate my time, energy and resources on things that are most important to my life."