Matt James Reflects on His Problematic ‘Bachelor’ Season: “It Wasn’t the Right Audience”

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In a new interview, Matt James explains that his memoir isn’t meant to be a tell-all about the messiness of his experience as ABC’s The Bachelor.

“There will be another Bachelor, and there will probably be another Black Bachelor, and there will be another tell-all book,” James, who was the first Black Bachelor of the franchise, told the Los Angeles Times. “I wasn’t interested in that. If that’s what interests fans, and that outweighs the personal things I want to share, then my book isn’t for them.”

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His memoir First Impressions: Off-Screen Conversations With a Bachelor on Race, Family, and Forgiveness, according to the LAT, doesn’t delve into the two scandals that landed his season in a firestorm: He doesn’t go into the aftermath of when his top pick on the 2020 season (and current girlfriend), Rachael Kirkconnell, was seen in a resurfaced antebellum-themed party photo; and he also doesn’t even mention Chris Harrison by name. (The longtime host exited the franchise over what would evolve into an exposed, systemic franchise race problem.)

But, in the interview about the book, James does detail where he felt the hit reality dating show failed him.

“There was nothing to lay the framework — my background, who I was or why I’m here,” says James of his frustrations over being picked as a historic choice, and then seeing his story and any meaningful conversations being reduced to sound-bytes in editing. “It wasn’t the right audience. My message was not the one that The Bachelor was trying to promote across their franchise, which is fine. That’s on me, being naive. Rachael and I were the ones accountable and having the conversations. The franchise is a collection of people. I’m one person. Rachael is one person. How do you hold an organization of people responsible? You don’t.”

James, who was raised by a single mother and estranged from his father, reunited with his dad on The Bachelor season in an episode that would spark him to publicly criticize the show after he saw how it was edited; a rare move for a contracted star. “Too often, we see dangerous stereotypes and negative depictions of Black fathers in media. And they have consequences when presented without context,” he said at the time.

The controversy would end up growing so large that not only was the Warner Bros. TV franchise left without a host by the season’s end, but the Mike Fleiss-created juggernaut was also forced to enact major changes. Since then, the executive producers have added their first Black decision-maker to their ranks in Jodi Baskerville, and have diversified both on- and off-screen when hiring for and casting subsequent seasons. James notes that he and Kirkconnell — who, even after all of the drama, remain a rare relationship success story — essentially cut ties with the franchise amid the tension.

“My relationship had been made into a sideshow, a complete circus,” he told the LAT. “Rachael and I have moved on. We’re one of the only couples from that franchise still going strong. The reason is we’re going at things at our own pace. We’re not playing games that a lot of people play just to stay in that circle.”

Instead of working together to use their experience as a learning one, James says the show missed another opportunity.

“That’s the kind of thing that happens when you bring people of color into your space. If they’re not willing to have that conversation, they should strongly consider not going there in the first place,” he said. “There are things about being Black that people who aren’t Black can never understand. It’s too much for them to handle. But it’s my life.”

Amid all the “frustration” and “disappointment,” however, he still doesn’t regret signing on for the show — which returns with its 27th Bachelor season next year, along with The Bachelorette season 19 in July and Bachelor in Paradise season eight in the fall, now hosted by Jesse Palmer.  “One of the main reasons I went on the show was to find someone who was compatible with me, and I did that despite the show, which is hilarious,” he said.

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