It was an emotional moment unlike any in The Bachelor franchise’s history. There has always been plenty of crying on camera, but those impassioned occasions were mainly due to romantic entanglements, not racial injustice. Then, on season 16 of The Bachelorette, viewers witnessed Tayshia Adams break down in tears while discussing the Black Lives Matter movement.
As the reality series began filming in the summer of 2020, protests were taking place worldwide following the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. Adams, the biracial star of the franchise’s latest season, remembers feeling like she and the contestants were “in such a bubble” during production. “I didn’t have time to process anything that was going on,” remembers the 30-year-old, whose father is Black and mother is Mexican. Still, she felt compelled to broach the subject with her suitors while cameras rolled.
“BLM was a big conversation that I wanted to have surrounding any of the guys that I was with,” says Adams, sitting on a sizeable L-shaped couch in her West Hollywood hotel room during our socially distanced chat earlier this month. “Not because it was a hot topic, but because we were experiencing it. It touched on my heartstrings, and I feel like it was a conversation that would show me where people stood.” As Adams discussed her feelings about the movement with contestant Ivan Hall, the charming engineer who made it to the final three, she got choked up. “There were so many emotions that were coming up,” she remembers. “I didn’t know how to describe them.” Even now, Adams wonders: “Why was I being so affected with a man that I didn’t know?” But at that moment, she felt connected to Hall, who is Black and Filipino, and remembers thinking, “I’m sharing that burden with him.”
What is that burden? It’s the weight that comes with being a person of color in America: mostly made to feel like you have to go out of your way to prove you aren’t a threat while processing how you’re consistently devalued. It’s a perspective that’s basically been non-existent across the ABC franchise, which began in 2002 when The Bachelor debuted. But Adams’s season—of which she became the star after Clare Crawley quit the show early to be with contestant Dale Moss—has been groundbreaking for additional reasons, including its focus on mental health struggles, and disorders, and addiction. Fitness coach Ben Smith, who was one of the final two contestants, talked openly about overcoming an eating disorder and attempting suicide twice after feeling overwhelmed from breaking his back, leaving the Army, and struggling financially.
Zac Clark, who won The Bachelorette and is now engaged to Adams, opened up about his struggles with drug and alcohol addiction following surgery on a brain tumor. During recovery, he started abusing pain medication and drinking heavily. The 37-year-old also revealed that he’d gotten married around that time, but his wife left him after he got a DUI. What followed was a “scary" low period, he said on the show. “It was touch and go. Moments of, ‘I’m not sure if I’m going to make it to tomorrow.’” Now sober, Clark runs Release Recovery, a transitional living facility with locations in New York City and Westchester, New York, that focuses on connection and community for addicts hoping to begin their recovery.
It’s meaningful to Adams that her season was the one to engender these conversations, given the franchise’s history of dodging serious issues and its lack of diversity. “I was in millions of homes of people who haven’t really seen any of these conversations go down or been exposed to any of this type of talk,” she says. It wasn’t until 2017 that Rachel Lindsay became the first-ever Black Bachelorette. The current Bachelor, Matt James, is that show’s first Black lead after 24 seasons and only the second non-white Bachelor (2014’s star was Venezuelan soccer player Juan Pablo Galavis).
Adams recently spoke out about this season’s racism controversy. A couple weeks ago, photos emerged of current contestant Rachael Kirkconnell dressed in Native American attire as costume and at an antebellum plantation–themed ball. The show’s longtime host, Chris Harrison, defended Kirkconnell against the “woke police” after she was scrutinized. Upset over Harrison’s comments, Adams wrote on Instagram: “When there are blatant forms of racist acts you cannot be defensive of it.” Harrison has since stepped away from the franchise “for a period of time,” per a statement on Instagram.
Clearly, Bachelor drama occurs both on and off camera. But during Adams’s season, nothing went down behind the scenes that didn’t at least get touched on during an episode. “If I recall, [producers] said, ‘We’re just going to let it be,’” says Adams of how the show’s crew discussed editing the footage that would make it on air. As a result, season 16 of The Bachelorette was unique. “I feel like I shined a little bit of light to just cause people to question and realize how much there is out there that they don’t know and to educate themselves,” says Adams of the topics broached while she was the show’s star. “Even if it was just a little bit of light, it was something.”
For his part, Adams’s fiancé, Clark, who is white, has been putting in the work to understand his future wife’s background better. If the couple has it their way, they’ll have a few mixed-race babies one day, and Clark hopes to thrive in the fatherhood department. “So, I’m trying to understand and educate myself and talk to [Tayshia] about her experience growing up and what could have helped her and understand that that’s going to be a different experience than I had,” Clark tells me, stopping briefly to chat after laying a few kisses on Adams and shooting a couple of “I love you”s her way. “At the foundation of our relationship is honesty and being able to have those tough conversations. I’ve never dated an African-American. I’ve never dated a Mexican. So, this is all new in some way. But it’s also…” he pauses to collect his thoughts, then continues, “Like, when she walked in the room [her race] wasn’t my first thought. My first thought was, Wow, she’s gorgeous, and getting to talk to her and getting to know her, I was attracted to a lot of things, one of which is the ability to have these types of conversations.”
Despite their obvious chemistry, Adams is aware of the optics surrounding her engagement to Clark, and not Hall. When the show wrapped, Adams says she and Clark began to prep for the “possible backlash that I didn’t choose someone who looks like me.” That prep consisted, in part, of conversations with the show’s diversity team about their dating history and their families’ views on their relationship. The chats, says Adams, “prompted a lot of conversations between us, like, how do I like to be referred to; is it a person of color or African-American or is it Black?” (For the record, she prefers biracial and identifies as both African-American and Mexican.) When it comes to Clark’s family, Adams learned they’ve “never had anybody of color in it,” but, she says, “his dad welcomes me with the biggest arms.” The affection is a far cry from her experience with her ex-husband’s (white) family, she reveals. Feeling a lack of acceptance “was something that I experienced and swept under the rug,” says Adams, who was married to Josh Bourelle from 2016 to 2017. It wasn’t the first time she’d encountered narrow-mindedness.
At school in Orange County, California, when Adams was in the seventh grade, “this kid said he wouldn’t sit in my desk because I sat there, and he was Purell-ing the desk,” she remembers. “I felt ashamed. I was embarrassed, and I was like, ‘I’m not going to say anything. I don’t want anybody else saying the same thing.’ ” Now, Adams hopes to continue raising awareness about race and serious issues, as she did on The Bachelorette. She says she would hit the streets and attend another protest, like she did in Orange County following Floyd’s death. “I’m going to show up and I will speak my mind if I’m being asked,” she says, but she’d rather not be called an activist. “There are people that are phenomenal at it, but I’m still learning,” she says, adding, “I’m more so in the realm of teaching people just to love one another, no matter who it is.”
Adams hopes her and Clark’s relationship can be an example of that kind of love. “Being in a mixed relationship with someone that has never dated anybody of color before and sharing that experience, I would never shy away from opportunities like that.” Now officially living together in New York, Adams and Clark are enjoying getting to know each other. “We’re dating right now while being engaged,” says Adams, who admits the whirlwind nature of the show puts a lot of pressure on their union. She says she’s constantly getting asked if she and Clark are still together. When she says “Yes,” what she often hears next is “Please don’t break up.” “I’m not at all thinking about [ending the relationship],” she says. But when people consistently make comments like this, she wonders, “Is there something I’m not seeing?”
Adams can likely attribute those questions to the low number of lasting couples to come out of the franchise (just eight out of 40 completed Bachelor/Bachelorette seasons). Acknowledging her swift courting period and quick engagement, Adams keeps it real: “It’s not a normal relationship,” she says. Adams and Clark have only been engaged for about five months and have been shacking up for three. “We do bicker and fight, but 99 percent of it is good,” says Adams, who still has a place of her own in California. She prefers to keep her own space “for peace of mind,” she says, adding, “It’s not my first rodeo.”
When Adams and her ex-husband split, she remembers going to stay at her parents’ house “because I didn’t have anything that was mine,” she says. “I think that’s followed me.” She recognizes that people might see this “as a setback or like, ‘Okay, so you guys clearly aren’t doing well.’” But Adams argues, “No, I’m considering this like an adult and trying to set it up for the most success I can.”
She’s taking the same thoughtful approach when it comes to getting married. Well, for the most part, anyway. “At first, Zac was the person to be like, ‘We could get married next week.’ And I was like, ‘Slow your roll.’ I’d love to date a year. And now I’m like, ‘You want to … maybe next month?’ And he’s like, ‘Tayshia, slow your roll.’ We’re back and forth. But there’s no timeline. It’s definitely going to happen. I just don’t know when.”
Despite her (occasional) desire to get married ASAP, when asked if she thinks she and Clark would have gotten engaged so fast had the cameras not been rolling, Adams isn’t sure. But she is smitten. “I feel like I’m obsessed with him at this point, which is weird to say because I don’t like to sound so cliché, but he’s very much everything I need,” she admits. “I have an issue with trust. He’s teaching me to get that back.” And Clark, she adds, needed to be with someone who believes in him. “At one point, nobody trusted him as an addict,” she says. “I took a chance on him. We’re very complementary to one another.”
Influenced by Clark’s work at his treatment centers, Adams, who worked as a phlebotomist before she was recruited for the show, has been considering ways she can expand into philanthropic work. “Seeing how he interacts with his clients has been eye-opening,” she says. “You have to be so strong in your sobriety and all of your inner demons to be a [role] model. That’s made me want to start helping. If there’s anything I want to be known for, it’s giving back to the younger community. I want to help kids from abused homes and girls who are transitioning from teenagers to adults who have low self-esteem.” While Adams says she did not experience any abuse growing up, she did “have a tough childhood,” she reveals. “My dad was very strict with me. I’m working through things now that I’m realizing are because I was restricted as a child. With that, I feel like I’m very drawn to helping younger women.”
Adams is also determined to pursue TV hosting (she co-hosts the podcast “Click Bait” with fellow Bachelor franchise stars Natasha Parker and Joe Amabile), especially after feeling “so at home” during a recent guest-host stint on Entertainment Tonight. Until she lands that dream job, she’s bringing in cash as an influencer (she has 1.8 million followers on Instagram) via deals with brands like Smirnoff and Secret deodorant. “There’s a negative connotation with the word influencer,” she says. “But if I just paid off my student loans because of it? I’m sorry, but I think I’m doing quite well.” Adams is confident she’ll find her way professionally, just like she knows she’ll keep trusting her instincts when it comes to matters of the heart. “People expect you to have all the answers by the time you’re 30 years old because you’re a grown woman,” she says. “I don’t have all the answers. I’m learning just like everybody else.”
Photographer: Raul Romo / Makeup: Allan Avendaño / Hair: Ryan Richman / Stylist: Natalie Saidi