In an unexpected announcement this past June, ABC announced that it had its Bachelor lead for 2021: Matt James, who is currently starring in the show's 25th season and is the first Black Bachelor. If you're wondering who Matt James is, you're not alone. James was initially cast as a contestant on Clare Crawley's Bachelorette season, and ABC claims that they instantly knew James to be the perfect fit for their leading man. So ABC poached him from Crawley's lineup and declared him the new Bachelor before Crawley's season began filming. (If you're interested in spoilers for his season, we've got 'em all right here.)
In 40 seasons, the show has had exactly one Black lead: Rachel Lindsay, who starred as The Bachelorette but has claimed she'll leave the franchise if calls to increase the diversity and treatment of cast members and production alike aren't met. A petition called "A Campaign for Anti-Racism on The Bachelor" had been circulating prior to the announcement; one of the demands of the petition was that the next Bachelor be a Black man. ABC responded quickly by casting James, a newcomer to the franchise.
So, who is Matt James?
James, 28, was initially intended to be a cast member on Clare Crawley and Tayshia Adams' season The Bachelorette. In a statement, Karey Burke, president of ABC Entertainment, said: "When filming [Crawley’s season] couldn’t move forward as planned [because of the coronavirus pandemic], we were given the benefit of time to get to know Matt and all agreed he would make a perfect Bachelor."
Was Matt James on Clare Crawley's season?
No. In fact, there was a weird interaction between James and Crawley before her season began filming: Crawley seemingly subtweeted James in a tweet, suggesting he wasn't there for the "right reasons" because he had a Cameo account.
Fans quickly rushed to James' defense, because James' profits from Cameo were going to charity, plus James is heavily involved in the nonprofit world. Chris Harrison jumped in to calm things down: "She's not specifically talking about Matt, she's just saying she's living under a certain set of guidelines and rules because she's the Bachelorette. She's kind of already in our family, and she's been respecting that...These guys aren't living under those guidelines, because they're not really part of our thing yet."
Either way, James and Crawley never got a chance to meet, because James was abruptly pulled from her lineup during quarantine and given his own season.
Who is Matt James friends with?
Remember when Brown and Cameron were quarantining together with a bunch of friends in Florida, making viral TikTok videos and fueling rumors that the two might be getting back together? Yeah, James was there. He remains close with both Brown and Cameron; Cameron in particular is all over James' Instagram. The two of them do a ton of work for his nonprofit together (more on that in a sec), and it was Cameron's late mom who actually nominated James for The Bachelorette.
James has called Cameron his best friend, and Cameron showed up at least once on James's season. James alluded during his season to his close friendship with Brown, too: When Heather Martin (from Colton's season) showed up and told him that Brown thought they would be a good match, James was clearly flummoxed, saying that he trusted Brown's opinion but that he felt it was too late in the process.
What does Matt James do for a living?
James played football at Wake Forest University before a brief stint as a wide receiver in the NFL; he missed his shot with the Carolina Panthers and then was cut (twice) by the New Orleans Saints. He then moved to New York City. "I didn’t think I was going to make a career out of football, but I thought my stint in the NFL would be longer than a few months," he said in an interview.
James also founded ABC Food Tours, which you can learn more about here (and which you've probably also seen Cameron promoting on Instagram). James says he had the idea after running into a group of elementary school kids in Manhattan's Lower East Side and wanted to find a way to engage with other kids in underserved communities. "Our goal is to implement an experiential learning platform for students in NYC living in underserved communities that will educate, motivate, and inspire them to overcome life’s obstacles," says its About Us page.
What else do we know about Matt?
James is a devout Christian, which sparked something of a controversy: On night one, he asked all of the women to join him in prayer. Viewers pointed out that only about 65 percent of adults in the United States identify with the Christian faith. In response, James told Refinery29: "I think it’s important that they know where my peace comes from and where my decision making is rooted in."
And while leads of The Bachelor and Bachelorette are often painfully apolitical (or worse), James, thankfully, isn't afraid to speak up. He's posted a number of Instagrams about the nationwide protests triggered by the police killing of George Floyd, and has been vocal about how Black men are perceived. In the first episode, he says: "It's important to me to see diverse love stories because It's not something I saw so much growing up as a child."
After the Jan. 6 uprising at the Capitol, James posted to Instagram: "Yesterday, as we watched the riots take place inside our Capitol we're reminded yet again we're living in two different Americas...As a Black man who saw how peaceful protestors were handled this summer, I know a group of black or brown rioters would not have been dealt with the same way."
Unfortunately, it was during James's history-making season that tension over race in the Bachelor franchise reached breaking point. It emerged that a frontrunner on James's season, Rachael Kirkconnell, had "liked" racist posts on Instagram, and Chris Harrison went on television to defend Kirkconnell in an interview with Rachel Lindsay, an Extra TV host and the first Black Bachelorette. The interview went shockingly badly, with Harrison defending Kirkconnell—something even Kirkconnell herself has refused to do—and repeatedly referring to the "woke police." The outcry forced Harrison to step down temporarily from his position as host.
When and where did Matt James' season film?
Filming started in September and ended in late November. ABC filmed James' season at the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Pennsylvania. By comparison, Crawley's season—which later turned into Adams' season after Crawley fell hard and fast for one of her contestants, Dale Moss—was filmed over the summer in a beach resort in California. The setting for James' autumn/winter season has more of a cozy, woodsy vibe.
Will Matt's mom Patty appear on his season?
James is super close with his mom, Patty. She showed up at the beginning of episode one, and you can expect to see more of her on his season. In a chat on ABC with Cameron before his season aired, James told Chris Harrison: "I think the grandkid counter for my mom started when the announcement was made."
James has been open about how he and his brother were raised by their mom, and their dad wasn't around. But according to Reality Steve, James's dad actually makes an appearance on the season—which might explain why there are promos of James being asked if he's okay and replying, "No, I'm not." It's pretty clear, according to RS, that James had no idea his father was being brought on. "I don’t know the outcome. If it was contentious, if Matt got closure, if it’s a touching moment, etc. Not sure," RS writes. Which...isn't a great move on ABC's part.
Who wins Matt James' season?
Spoilers for this season ahead. Alert! Spoilers incoming! If you don't want to know who wins this season, stop reading.
Still here? Okay, let's do it: The winner of this season is the aforementioned Rachael Kirkconnell, according to Reality Steve. The runner-up is Michelle Young, and she's followed by Serena Pitt and Bri Springs.
Unfortunately, when the show began airing, fans dug up evidence that Kirkconnell had "liked," and been featured, in racist Instagram posts, including one that had a Confederate flag. She was also photographed, allegedly at 2018, at what appears to be a "plantation-themed ball."
Kirkconnell later posted an apology to Instagram:
A week later, after Harrison stepped down, James posted a statement of his own:
But it seems that James and Kirkconnell's relationship was not able to survive the controversy. Reality Steve reported on Feb. 22, just days before the finale was set to air, that Kirkconnell and James had broken up—something that RS says that James implicitly makes clear in his statement, in which James calls Kirkconnell's photos "incredibly disappointing." "I will continue to process this experience, and you will hear more from me in the end," James noted.