While season 25 of “The Bachelor” made history in 2021 with its first Black lead Matt James, the show’s chosen frontman apparently had no idea that there had been no others before him. Though his groundbreaking role within the franchise was a big deal to many fans, this fact would not become known to him until after he signed on.
“I didn’t accept the role to be the savior,” James shared with HuffPost. “My sole focus was finding someone that I could spend the rest of my life with and fall in love with. I was looking for that in my life because I was missing it.”
At the time he received the call, James was living with a “Bachelorette” alum Tyler Cameron in Florida. After initially being expected to appear on the 16th season of the show himself, he was told that production would be canceled due to the pandemic. But in a fortunate turn of events, just weeks after the show’s postponement, James was contacted for an even greater opportunity, where instead of competing to win over the heart of a woman, several would now be lined up to compete for his. And if this news wasn’t grand enough, he would later learn that he would be the first Black man to lead the show.
“I didn’t think that was something that we hadn’t crossed yet,” James mentioned on Us Weekly’s “Here for the Right Reasons podcast.” I’ve seen a bunch of Black people come through the franchise. I assumed. I didn’t know.”
He additionally expressed that he felt the weight of pressure under this title, and questioned whether or not other participants ever felt similarly having not been the “first” of any particular type.
“I’m like, ‘I wonder if anyone else has felt this stepping into a role like this.’ 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,” he said.
While America was undergoing a racial reckoning, James found himself in a very personal racial controversy. He and Rachael Kirkconnell, the contestant that he ended up with at the end of the season, briefly split when photos surfaced of her attending an “antebellum plantation” themed party in 2018.
The reality star has recently released a book diving deeper into this moment, as well as his full “Bachelor” experience in a new memoir, “First Impressions: Off Screen Conversations with a Bachelor on Race, Family, and Forgiveness.”