Matt James as franchise’s first Black star


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Before Matt James was tapped for “The Bachelor,” Rachel Linsday was the only black person to hold a title role. She was “The Bachelorette” in 2017.

USA TODAY

Matt James made history Monday night as the first Black star of ABC’s “The Bachelor” in a night of new settings, first kisses and wild first impressions. 

If you don’t recognize Matt, you’re not alone. Unlike most “Bachelorette” contestants-turned-“Bachelors,” he hasn’t appeared in the franchise before, although he says he was once set to follow that path. But he’s best friends with “Bachelorette” fan favorite Tyler Cameron, who came in second to singer/songwriter Jed Wyatt in Hannah Brown’s season (an upset we still haven’t forgiven). 

Still, host Chris Harrison tells viewers James had to be “The Bachelor” despite his inexperience in the world of reality TV. 

A 29-year-old North Carolina native and former Wake Forest football player, Matt now works as a commercial real estate broker in New York City, where he spends his free time working with kids from low-income areas. How much more convincing do you need? 

Matt James meets his contestants on night one of “The Bachelor.” (Photo: Craig Sjodin, ABC)

Viewers meet Matt at the franchise’s second quarantine-season location: the Nemacolin Resort in Farmington, Pennsylvania. We’re not complaining about the view. The resort is nice to look at, too. 

Why ‘The Bachelor’ pressure kept Matt up at night

Before Matt can meet his (record number of) 32 contestants, there are a few conversations that need to be had. He’s never been on TV or been in love before! Lots to process first. 

After sharing how growing up the son of a white mother and a Black father in a single-parent home has shaped his views on love, Matt sits down with his mother to reflect on his dating life. The unpredictability of 2020 has taught him that there’s no such thing as a perfect love story. 

He then hops in a limo to meet Harrison in front of the resort, but he needs to have one more conversation before we get the ball rolling. Sitting down inside, Matt opens up about the pressures he’s feeling to be perfect as the franchise’s first Black Bachelor.

“It’s tough, because you’ve got people who have certain views – old-school views – on what a relationship and what love looks like,” he says. “And you’ve got people who are cheering for you to find love, and then you’ve got people who are cheering for you to end up with a specific person … of a specific race. That’s something that kept me up at night. I don’t want to piss off Black people; I don’t want to piss off white people, but I’m both of those.” 

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Matt makes it clear that his experiences on “The Bachelor” are just that: his own. He doesn’t need to feel the weight of representing an entire group of people. He also doesn’t need to feel like his parents’ split means he’s incapable of love. 

Pickup trucks and sex toys: Contestants take wild approaches to catch Matt’s attention

Will Matt find his future wife among this diverse group of women? 

There’s Kristin, a 27-year-old attorney who notes in her intro that she’s a fan of “a good Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion song.” Let her say “WAP,” ABC! Magi, 32, moved to the U.S. from Ethiopia nine years ago to get her pharmacy doctorate. (Is she the most educated contestant the franchise has ever seen?) Sarah, a 24-year-old broadcast journalist, moved home to be a caregiver for her dad, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. 

Matt meets Alana, a 26-year-old photographer from Toronto, who gets creative with a “Lady and the Tramp”-inspired opening. (Photo: Craig Sjodin, ABC)

Bri, 24, is first out of the limo, keeping things simple by telling Matt she’s heard so many good things about him and is excited to get to know him. She’s followed by a slew of other women who make short, sweet introductions. Abigail, the first deaf contestant in the franchise’s history, reveals her cochlear implants to Matt, who promises to enunciate clearly for her. 

Some take the creative route: Khaylah, a 28-year-old fellow North Carolinian, arrives in a pickup truck to remind Matt of home. Alicia, a 24-year-old ballerina, dances on pointe from the limo to Matt in a full ball gown (don’t mind us watching this in our sweats from the couch). Alana, 26, inspires a “Lady and the Tramp” spaghetti moment for the first kiss of the season. 

The bold gestures only escalate. Katie, 29, a bank marketing manager, tells Matt she brought him something that got her through quarantine, brandishing a purple sex toy. Kaili, a 26-year-old hostess, walks up in lingerie and a robe and asks Matt to pick her gown from two options. Victoria, a self-described “queen,” is the last to arrive, carried in on a throne. She’s wearing a crown and a major attitude and is poised to be the perfect “Bachelor” villain.  

‘They’re idiots’: Queen Victoria promises a messy reign

Inside, the women begin to mingle, marveling at how hot Matt is in person and scoping out the competition. Victoria introduces herself as “Victoria, like the queen” to Magi, whose facial expression can only be interpreted as a very polite “Yiiiiikes!”

Matt decides to begin the night with a prayer instead of the usual toast. He hopes for courage and pledges to be vulnerable.

“Bachelor” star Matt James speaks to contestants on the first night of the season. (Photo: Craig Sjodin, ABC)

The women love the way he kicks things off, though Matt reveals to Sarah that he was worried his nerves made him sound like a robot. 

Mari gives him a cute placeholder boarding pass until they can actually travel somewhere and describes how her grandparents in Puerto Rico are faring after the recent earthquakes, until an ill-timed tap on the shoulder from Katie cuts things short. Talk about buzzkill.

Victoria and Matt have an odd conversation about firehoses, but that isn’t enough and she later decides she needs more time with the Bachelor. Meanwhile, other women are worrying they won’t get any time with him, which the queen says is because they’re not bold enough.

“I don’t feel bad going to see Matt twice because they’re idiots, anyway. That’s not my fault,” she says in a “let them eat cake” moment. 

And the first impression rose goes to…

Katie says she’s expecting to get Matt’s first impression rose. Victoria also thinks she’s a no-brainer. 

But ultimately the rose goes to Abigail, after their sweet and vulnerable conversation about her childhood, and she nabs the first and only kiss of the cocktail party. 

Eight say goodbye at the first rose ceremony

Along with Abigail, the women who receive roses are Bri, Rachael, Chelsea, Sarah, MJ, Serena P., Khaylah, Kristin, Kit, Magi, Pieper, Mari, Ileana, Jessenia, Kaili, Marylynn, Serena C., Lauren, Sydney, Alana, Katie, Anna and Victoria. 

That means Matt says goodbye to eight contestants: Alicia, Amber, Carolyn, Cassandra, Corrinne, Emani, Kimberly and Saneh. 

Matt is no longer a reality TV rookie, but the teaser indicates there are plenty of firsts – dates, tears and fights – to come, plus some new contestants and a familiar face.

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