Season 25 of “The Bachelor” began with a bang as Matt James — the charming, tall and handsome 29-year-old real estate broker and founder of ABC Food Tours from North Carolina and the first African-American Bachelor in franchise history — stepped out on hope and a prayer (literally) as his highly anticipated journey of drama and romance took shape.
At the outset, Matt’s bio reel oddly ignored his close friendship with Tyler Cameron (“The Bachelorette” Season 15 runner-up), his college buddy from Wake Forest University and roommate. Even so, it was refreshing and eye-opening to hear more about his interracial upbringing, especially his views on being raised along with his brother by his white single mother. Appearing with his mother Patty James at the grand, spacious Nemocolin Resort in western Pennsylvania, the site of this season’s adventures, he admitted he was afraid of having his heart broken. Nevertheless, Patty offered words of encouragement. “I feel like you are ready,” she said. “I want the best for you. I want you to meet your one and only.”
Next, during a heart-to-heart chat with Chris Harrison, who revealed this season had a record-breaking number of submissions, Matt’s nervousness was apparent. Still, Chris reminded him how important it was to not only be genuine but to be open to his emotions. The conversation soon turned to Matt’s feelings about being the first Black Bachelor, particularly the pressure to please.
“People want you to end up with a certain type of person and I get that,” he said. “My mom is white. My dad is Black. I’ve experienced what it’s like to be a product of an interracial marriage. And it’s tough because you’ve got people who have certain views, old school views, on what a relationship and what love looks like. You’ve got people who are cheering for you to find love and you’ve got people who are cheering for you to end up with a specific person, a specific person of a specific race. And 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. How do I please everybody? It’s a lot.”
Diving deeper into his views on love and commitment, Matt revealed how his parents’ relationship impacted his own. “[My mom’s] relationship with my father affected my relationship with women,” he said. “Any time I’ve gotten super close to a woman, I feel myself backing up. Being vulnerable in the past has led to this heartbreak and letdown. But part of this process is letting my guard down, my wall down. And knowing what I know now and what it means to love and be loved, I think I’m ready to offer that to somebody. I’ve been running from it for a long time and I’m done running.”
As the wonderfully diverse group of 32 ladies arrived at the resort, there were numerous standouts:
– Bri, 24, a communications manager from San Francisco
– Alicia, 24, a professional ballerina from New York City who danced a pirouette
– Abigail, 25, a client financial manager from Beaverton, Ore., who is hearing impaired
– Kristin, 27, an attorney from Virginia Beach, Va.
– Magi, 32, a pharmacist from Adwa, Ethiopia, who moved to the United States nine years ago
– Sarah, 24, a broadcast journalist from San Diego whose father has ALS
– Chelsea, 28, a runway model from Brooklyn, N.Y., who dazzled Matt in a revealing black gown
– Mari, 24, a marketing director from Odenton, Md., whose beauty left Matt speechless
– Khaylah, 28, a health care advocate from Durham, N.C., who impressed Matt by driving up in a pickup truck
– Serena P., 22. a publicist from Toronto who cutely used a step stool to greet Matt
– Illeana, 25, a health food developer from New York City who offered Matt meatballs
– Alana, 26, a photographer from Toronto who offered Matt a plate of spaghetti with a kiss a la “Lady and the Tramp”
– Kaili, 26, a hostess from Chicago who enticed Matt in her lingerie as she awaited his decision on which of her two outfits he preferred
– MJ, 23 a hairstylist from Hudson, Ohio, who drove up delivering pizza
– Katie, 29, a bank marketing manager from Renton, Wash., who brought a vibrator
– Kit, 21, a fashion entrepreneur from New York City and the youngest contestant ever chosen to appear on the show who drove up in a Bentley
– Victoria, 27, a Los Angeles resident who arrived with tiara and scepter in tow and whose occupation was humorously labeled “Queen.”
Once all the ladies had gathered in the main room, Matt, who grew up in a religious home, opened the festivities with prayer, a surprising gesture that specifically moved Rachael, a 24-year-old graphic designer from Cumming, Ga., to tears. But she wasn’t quick enough to be the first to steal Matt away from everyone. That honor went to Sarah, who gently reminded him “no one can relate to perfect.” Now that’s what I call an icebreaker! But it wasn’t long before Rachael had her moment with Matt, stating her reasons for signing up and reiterating how much she loved his prayer. “ loved the fact you hadn’t been through this before. … You were really speaking to my soul as if we’re on the same page.” Matt obviously liked what he heard. “Rachael is beautiful, articulate and sexy,” he said. “She’s being open and vulnerable and that’s what I’ve asked these women to do. She’s taking that challenge head on and she’s blowing me away.”
Other highlights of the cocktail party: Mari beginning to speak deeply about her grandparents enduring natural disasters in Puerto Rico before being awkwardly interrupted by Katie and her vibrator (dubbed MJ); Khaylah and Matt drinking sweet tea in the back of her pickup truck; Bri stressing it’s “important to see diverse love stories” while also shedding light on her own interracial upbringing, including being raised by a single mother; a tipsy yet determined Victoria emphasizing the need to secure alone time with Matt and readily sharing her wisdom with others; and Abigail, whose endearing personality really struck a chord with Matt, particularly that she has a very close, supportive family.
In a telling move, Abigail was the only woman Matt passionately kissed on the first night. Because he loved her vulnerability and the fact that she was a “fighter,” Abigail received the first impression rose, marking what could be a huge turning point for the franchise. At the rose ceremony, Alicia, Amber, Carolyn and Emani were among the women eliminated.
Over the coming weeks, expect a variety of colorful dates consisting of hot air balloons, ATVs, race cars, zip-lining, skydiving, and boxing, in addition to the arrival of more women, the startling return of Heather Martin (aka the woman who had never been kissed) from Season 23 of “The Bachelor” with Colton Underwood, and lots of tears. In other words, get ready for anything and everything!