In the season 25 premiere, Matt James meets his 32 potential wives and talks openly about the pressure of being the first Black star of The Bachelor.

By Kristen Baldwin
January 04, 2021 at 10:00 PM EST
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Credit: ABC/Craig Sjodin

Happy 2021, rose lovers! While the world still isn’t back to “normal” yet, I’m happy to report that one thing remains blissfully consistent: “Ladies” on The Bachelor are still happy to separate themselves from their dignity if it means more camera time. Case in point:

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This is Katie, a 29-year-old “Bank Marketing Manager” from Washington. And yes, she is pointing a purple vibrator in our Bachelor’s face. Who says there are no original ideas anymore? With that unfortunate bit of business out of the way, it’s time to meet Matt and begin his “journey.” Let’s recap!

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In lieu of wet cobblestones, Bachelor Nation overlord and savior Chris Harrison strolls down a red carpet to welcome us to the Nemacolin Resort in exotic Pennsylvania. The host explains that our new Bachelor, Matt James, has never appeared on a TV show before (gasp!), but don’t worry — he’s still super desirable. “After announcing Matt as our Bachelor, we received a record-breaking number of submissions from women who wanted to date this handsome guy,” says Harrison. “Never before in the history of The Bachelor has there been such intense interest in one man.” (The “because he’s the first Black guy to star on our show in almost 20 years” was implied, I guess.)

Cue the intro package!

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Oh yeah, Matt James has the “dreamboat” bonafides, all right. The dude co-founded an organization called ABC Food Tours, an organization that introduces underserved kids in New York City to healthy foods and activities in their neighborhood. “I love working with kids,” says Matt. “It’s been one of the best experiences of my life.” (Matt currently runs ABC Food Tours with his Bachelor Nation buddy and fellow Instagram oversharer, Tyler Cameron.)

Dang it, look at how cute Matt was as a baby.

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Matt says his parents split up when he was very young, and he credits his mom for raising him and his brother with strong Christian values. “That foundation was everything for me,” he says. Still, he’s a little nervous about forming a healthy adult relationship, since he grew up in a single-parent home. Fortunately, mama’s here to offer a little support.

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For Pete’s sake, I can’t be tearing up already. Why do these parental visits always melt my ice-cold heart? Please, can we get some “ladies” in here to humiliate? Enough with these human emotions — roll the quarantine intros!

Alicia, 24: This professional ballerina from NYC thinks Matt is her type because he’s handsome and he loves kids. “I can’t wait to have kids one day,” she says.

Abigail, 25: A financial manager from Oregon, Abigail was born completely deaf and now wears a cochlear implant to hear. “It’s kind of an awkward thing to bring up on a first date,” she admits. “I love when people ask me questions about it — I think it makes me feel better.”

Kristin, 27: She’s a gorgeous attorney from Jersey City, N.J. Likes: Cardi B. and Megan Thee Stallion, rooftop bars, sparkly fringe dresses. Dislikes: Being cooped up in a hotel room.

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Magi, 32: This pharmacist moved to the U.S. from Ethiopia just nine years ago. She likes that Matt is “kind, respectful, and works hard.” And I like that so far none of these women are cookie-cutter, basic Bachelor blondes.

Anna, 24: Dammit, spoke too soon.

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Sarah, 24: She’s a broadcast journalist from Palm Springs who moved home to care for her father, who has ALS. Will… not… cry. Will… NOT… cry!

That’s enough of the personalized intros. “Ladies,” please drape yourselves in sequins and report to the limos, STAT! Your Bachelor awaits.

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Sorry, had to get one last gratuitous shirtless shot in there before the limo exits… which aren’t even happening right now. Psych! It turns out, Matt has a few questions for Chris Harrison before the “ladies” arrive. Specifically, he’s not sure what to expect — and as the first Black Bachelor, Matt is also a little stressed out about what viewers might expect of him. “People want you to end up with a certain type of person,” he says. Translation: Matt knows there are some people out there who think he should end up with a Black woman. “That’s something that’s kept me up at night,” he says. “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?”

Short answer, Matt: You can’t. But props to the Bachelor and producers for putting this conversation at the very start of Matt’s “journey,” rather than pretending that race isn’t an issue. Harrison, who usually doesn’t have to offer counsel on such real-world issues, handles it well. “That’s a lot to carry,” he says. “The most important thing is if you come out of this with joy, peace, love.”

Exactly. Let the “journey” — and the limo exits — begin!

Bri, 24: Nope, she’s not vibrator girl. She’s a communications manager from San Francisco, and she arrives sans sex toys. Good job, Bri!

Rachael, 24: “You are more good-looking in person,” gushes this graphic designer in Lucite heels. “I think you and I are going to have a lot of fun together.”

Sarah the broadcast journalist is next, followed by Jessenia, 27, a social media marketer from San Antonio. “Really what I’m looking for in a partner is someone who can be my rock, just like I would be for them,” she tells Matt.

Chelsea, 28: Hell yes to this runway model with short-short hair and a swagger to match her style.

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“Hopefully we can make history together,” says Chelsea. And the Bachelor LOVES it. “Wow, she is wearing that dress,” he marvels as Chelsea heads inside.

Mari, 24: A marketing director from Odenton, Md. Pretty pink dress. She, too, wows the Bachelor. “Do you ever meet somebody, and you don’t know what to say?” he asks aloud. “That was that moment. Trying to be smooth, but you can’t sometimes.”

I appreciate how nervous Matt is in general. “My heart is racing a mile a minute,” he says. “And, like, I’m trying to come across like, ‘I’ve got it all together,’ but I really don’t.” That’s okay, Matt. This “process” is not at all normal. It’s highly irregular, as Spock would say.

Magi arrives, looking stunning in red, and she’s followed by Carolyn, 30, a journalist from L.A., who brings Matt some soothing lavender from her mom’s garden.

Sydney, 28: “You are the hottest human being I have ever met!” raves the marketing specialist from Nashville. (Side note: What in the holy hell is marketing, really?)

Oh Lord, Kristin the lawyer has a cheesy opening bit: “You have been found guilty of being incredibly fine.” Anna, the caffeine-addicted copywriter, shows up next with a “Bachelor survival kit,” featuring a stress ball and tiny red flags.

Khaylah, 28: I am not sure exactly what a “healthcare advocate” is, but I am sure that this gorgeous woman from Durham, N.C. has plenty of confidence. She drives up in a pickup truck to remind Matt of home (he was born in Raleigh, N.C.), and the Bachelor is even more impressed when he finds out she can drive stick. (“Put some respect on my name!” she jokes when he asks.) “Any time you find common ground with someone,” says Matt, “it kind of puts you at ease.”

Serena C., 24: Our first (and only) flight attendant! Also notable for another reason.

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“Oh my God, it’s been five seconds and I’m already trippin’ off you,” giggles Serena. (So yeah, I'm guessing it was planned.)

Serena P., 22: This publicist from Toronto is only 5’2”, so she brings a step stool to converse with Matt, who is very tall (6’5” to be exact). It’s a cute idea. Even the “ladies” watching from the window above love it.

Alicia the ballerina dances in on pointe; she’s followed by Saneh, the 25-year-old IT consultant, who shows up in the creepiest goat slippers you’ve ever seen.

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She thinks Matt’s the GOAT. Get it?

Alana, 26: She’s a photographer, so of course this Toronto girl goes for a picture-perfect Lady and the Tramp moment.

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“I don’t even know what to say about that,” says Matt, who seems a little taken aback by Alana’s sneaky smooch move.

Kaili, 26: Uh-oh, if Matt thought Alana’s pasta kiss was too forward, he’s sure as heck going to be clutching his pearls at what this chick has planned.

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Yep, this “hostess” from Chicago shows up in her underwear and asks Matt to pick her dress. And what do you know, Matt LOVES it. “You gotta love a woman with confidence,” he says. “I love that she did that.”

When it’s Abigail’s turn, she finds a cute way to give Matt some crucial personal info: “There’s something a little bit different about me, and that is I’m deaf. So I’m going to be reading your lips a lot tonight. Thankfully, you have really beautiful lips, so I’m not complaining.” The Bachelor promises to enunciate. (We have no choice but to stan!)

Corrinne, 22: Another “marketing manager”? What does that even mean? Can anyone explain it to me? Also, she’s from Connecticut and is very pretty.

Time for a lightning round of non-gimmicky entrances! Marylynn, 28, is an event coordinator from California with two names joined into one. Emani is a 25-year-old realtor from New Mexico! Lauren, the 29-year-old attorney from Miami, doesn’t settle for anything in life! Pieper is a 23-year-old graduate student whose last name is James, so wife her up already!

And we’re back to the shenanigans. MJ, 23, drives up in a pizza delivery car, but I’m pretty sure there isn’t a pie in that box. (Matt swung the thing behind his back like it weighed nothing… so either he doesn’t respect pizza, or the box was empty.)

Oh fun, look who it is!

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Hey, Katie. Great to see you again. Do we need to talk about the fact that Katie handed Matt the vibrator, which would be extremely unhygienic if it is, in fact, her personal sex toy? There ain’t enough soap in the world to make that okay. Let’s hope she just picked that up at the Nemacolin gift shop right before hopping in the limo.

Amber, 30: Props to this nursing student from Cosa Mesa for being able to ride a bike in a short evening dress.

Kimberly, 28: Since she’s from Seattle, this airline recruiter tosses Matt a fish, Pike Place-style.

Casandra, 25: This social worker from Newport Beach comes equipped with a football jersey emblazoned with “Mrs. James,” and a poem: “I know you’re probably nervous/ because there’s a million people in the stands/ but you don’t have to worry/ because you’ve got your number-one fan.”

Illeana, 25:

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Not quite as classy as whipping out a vibrator by way of introduction, but it’s close! (Also, I hope Illeana burns that purse after carrying that giant meatball around in it all night.)

Kit, 21: When ABC first released the names and photos of all of Matt’s “ladies,” they identified this young woman as a “socialite.” Now, she’s a “fashion entrepreneur.” (Looks like someone complained to daddy about her chyron!) And if anything says “fashion,” it’s a feathered minidress paired with black tasseled boots. (Then again, what do I know? I've been wearing yoga pants for the last 12 months.)

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Victoria, 27: In keeping with the “I’m high maintenance, treat me like royalty” vibe, Victoria arrives on a litter carried by four dudes from production. She’s a tiara-wearing “Queen” looking for her king, so she plops a Party City crown on Matt’s head. “I know I made a good impression,” she brags. Then this happens:

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Unlike Sienna C.’s trip, that wipeout did not look planned.

With that, rose lovers, it’s cocktail party time! But first, a prayer.

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That’s right, folks — Matt James kicks off the night by giving thanks to God! And even though I personally believe the Lord does His very best to stay out of all things reality TV, I am here for it. “Heavenly Father, thank you for bringing us all together healthy. Give these women the courage to get through these next few months," Matt prays. "Bless this time we have together, Father. In your holy name I pray, Amen.”

Our Bachelor loves the Lord, and he is not afraid to show it! “What you’ll get to know about me is anytime I’m feeling nervous, I’m just constantly shootin’ up prayers to put myself at ease,” Matt explains to the assembled women. He’s in the middle of giving a nice speech about his family, and how he’ll do his best to be “vulnerable” and honest, and then…. “Sorry, I saw the vibrator and I lost my train of thought.”

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Anyhoo, Matt wants his potential wives to know that he’s spent too long trying to be a “perfect person,” but that’s not how life — or relationships — work. He doesn’t have it all together, and that’s okay! “With that in mind,” he says, “let’s have some fun.”

Guys… I know we’re not even halfway through the first episode, but I’m pretty sure I love this Bachelor. Am I insane? (Don’t answer that.)

The one-on-one chats begin, and though Matt worries that he’s talking like a “robot,” he’s actually just being a polite and respectful human man. “I’m still, like, in this nervous mode,” he admits. The “ladies” think it’s adorable that he’s “all flustered,” and they do their best to reassure Matt that he’s doing a great job. In fact, many of them, including Rachael, Jessenia, and Sydney, were moved to tears by Matt’s opening prayer.

Time for a Queen’s Gambit break!

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Too bad neither of them knows anything about chess. Serena P. refers to pawns as “these things,” and Matt tries to move his queen across the entire board, hopping two rows of pawns in the process. “Game over!” he jokes.

Mari gives the Bachelor a homemade boarding pass (Flight 143, for “I Love You”) that also doubles as a “get-to-know-me” bio. She’s printed some fun facts about herself on the back, including that she’s from Puerto Rico. Mari has just started telling Matt about how much she worries about her grandparents who still live in Puerto Rico when Katie walks up and taps her on the shoulder… with the vibrator. Gross. (Mari spends the rest of the night complaining that she was “tapped by a dildo.”)

But karma has a way of working things out: Earlier, Katie decided to name her vibrator “MJ” — it’s unclear whether or not she realized there was a woman named MJ sitting across from her at the time. Later, it is “MJ No. 1,” the hairdresser, who interrupts Katie’s chat with Matt.

Putting the dildo drama aside for a moment, it looks like Matt and Khaylah are having a nice little pickup-truck picnic.

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They share some sweet tea, and Khaylah makes a toast to their “North Carolina roots.” (She’s really hitting that North Carolina bond hard, but hey — whatever you can do to stand out, right?) Other “fun” “activities” include dance lessons with Jessenia, a runway demonstration with Chelsea, and a game of Skee-Ball (rebranded as “Bachelor Toss”) with Pieper. 

Next comes the attention-whore showdown we’ve all been waiting for: It’s the Queen versus the socialite “fashion entrepreneur”! “Excuse me, princess, but the Queen is here,” announces Victoria. Kit is quite irked, but she leaves without making a scene. Even if Kit is ridiculous on her own, she’s Madame freaking Curie next to Victoria, who is completely confused when Matt uses the totally normal expression “drinking from a firehose.” The poor man actually has to explain it to her, and even then, she doesn’t get it. “But I’m, like, the best firehose though,” she drawls, “so I’ll make the best drink for you.” Girl, what?

Victoria then proceeds to harass Amber, who has yet to talk to Matt. “Literally, just go. Literally, why are you waiting?” she whines. “If I say ‘literally’ again, you have to go. Literally!” Amber politely brushes her off, and then she, Kit, and Maylynn burst into giggles the moment Victoria walks away.

First Impression Rose alert! The women who haven’t talked to Matt — including Amber, Serena C., Carolyn, and Sydney — begin spiraling right on cue. At least Kaili, the formerly naked hostess from Chicago, uses her limited chat time with Matt to… ask what his favorite animal is? Sigh. (It’s a panda, by the way.)

Wow, rose lovers, we are into the second hour of this season premiere, and the Bachelor hasn’t kissed anyone yet! (No, that pasta thing with Alana doesn’t count.) Bri tells him about being raised by her single mom, a “white-passing” Persian woman, after her dad, who is Black, left. “I never really saw an example of what love was like,” she explains. “I want that for myself.” Abigail talks to Matt about her sister, who is also deaf, and inspired her to be “super vocal” about it with other people.

This is so refreshing! Matt is focused on talking with and listening to the women. He doesn’t feel the need to suck face with people he’s just met. How novel! Maybe we’ll even make it through this whole episode without any gratuitous smooching…

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Crap. Foiled again. Congrats to Abigail, I guess, for getting the season’s first kiss. It should come as no surprise to anyone that Abigail also gets the First Impression Rose… which Matt has to walk approximately 4.5 miles across the hotel lobby to retrieve. “One of the things I challenged the women with was being vulnerable,” Matt tells her. “And I felt like you were everything that I’ve been asking of these women tonight.” So to recap: The very first Black Bachelor and a deaf woman just shared a kiss on national television. Maybe 2021 really will be better, rose lovers! 

Holy cow, is it rose ceremony time already? (Just kidding — I thought this moment would never arrive.) And as you can see, the “ladies” are nervous and fidgety.

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Rose ceremony roll call! Joining Abigail in the Circle of Safety are… Bri, Rachael, Chelsea, Sarah, MJ (the person, not the sex toy), Serena P., Khaylah, Kristin, Kit, Magi, Pieper, Mari, Illeana, Jessenia, Kaili, Marylynn, Serena C., Lauren, Sydney, and… Anna?

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Oh, sorry — he said Alana, not Anna. Next comes Katie, then Anna. (Also, of course producers made the two girls in the identical dress stand next to each other at the ceremony. God bless.) The final rose goes to… Victoria. Blech. I mean, of course it does, I guess — but I was really hoping Matt wouldn’t allow producers to talk him into keeping that tiara-wearing fool around.

So we must say goodbye to Alicia, Amber, Carolyn, Casandra, Corrinne, Emani, Kimberly, Saneh… Did I miss anyone? I think that’s everybody who got the boot. I should probably stop “double-guessing” myself. (Hat tip to Marylynn for that fun, mangled phrase.)

Welp, the sun is up, and the episode is almost over. The only thing left to do is count all the different places Matt makes out with women in the extended “this season on The Bachelor” promo: One on the hood of a car (is that Marylynn?); one on a couch (Katie); one in a hot tub (Kit?); one in a rustic lodge (Bri); one at a cocktail party (Chelsea); one in the woods (Illeana?); one in a pool (Kristin); one in an unidentified wet location (Serena P.); and one in a hot air balloon (absolutely no idea who that is). In addition to those nine kisses, we’re also given a glimpse of some new women heading to the resort (including Heather, a.k.a. Miss “Never Been Kissed,” from Colton’s season). Plus, lots of people cry, including Matt!

That was fun. Maybe it’s because it’s just night one and we haven’t had time to get bored with all the dates being in one location, but I’m hopeful that this will be an entertaining season. What do you think, rose lovers? Before you sign off, let me know which “ladies” you’re rooting for, and how you feel about our God-fearing Bachelor, Matt James. And are you surprised Chris Harrison can drive a stick shift? Post your thoughts below!

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