Matt James had recently been cast as one of Clare Crawley's Bachelorette contestants

By Robyn Merrett
June 12, 2020 08:14 AM
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Get ready ladies, Matt James is looking for love!

The Bachelor announced James, 28, as its next leading man, making him the franchise's first-ever black male lead. Rachel Lindsay made history as the first black female lead of the ABC franchise for season 13 of The Bachelorette in 2017.

On Friday morning, Good Morning America announced James' new history-making role with a statement from ABC saying they are "privileged to have Matt" as the first black Bachelor.

"We know we have a responsibility to make sure the love stories we’re seeing onscreen are representative of the world we live in, and we are proudly in service to our audience," the statement read. "This is just the beginning, and we will continue to take action with regard to diversity issues on this franchise. We feel so privileged to have Matt as our first Black Bachelor and we cannot wait to embark on this journey with him.”

James' new role comes after Bachelor Nation called for more diversity in the franchise — rallying around a new petition that called on ABC and executive producer Mike Fleiss to cast more people of color.

The petition, which has garnered more than 84,000 signatures as of Friday morning, called the franchise's lack of diversity "unacceptable" and noted that in 40 seasons of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, Lindsay has been the only black lead. (Mike Johnson was a contender to become the first-ever black Bachelor last season, but Peter Weber, who is half-Cuban, got the gig.)

Matt James
Matt James/Instagram

Prior to being named the new Bachelor, James was previously cast as one of Clare Crawley's Bachelorette contestants.

It is not immediately clear if James remains one of Crawley's suitors as production shut down in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Host Chris Harrison explained in March that the cast could be restructured due to the pandemic.

However, in May, Harrison told Entertainment Tonight: "As far as I know, [he'll still be a contestant]. I mean, I have not heard anything different. I mean. I don't know if he wants to do this after quarantine, who knows? But as far as I know, yes."

James made headlines back in April after Crawley seemingly called him out for being on the show for the "wrong reasons."

Crawley tweeted about the men who will soon be vying for her heart on national TV, claiming some of them were only seeking fame and attention based on their pre-show behavior.

"If you are doing interviews and creating Cameo accounts before you are even on my season... you are in it for the wrong reasons... #dontwasteyourtime," she wrote on Twitter without naming any of her season's suitors. In another post, she added, "Respect the opportunity you’ve been given. Respect the rules. Respect me."

Matt James and Tyler Cameron
aul Bruinooge/Patrick McMullan via Getty

Seemingly responding to the tweets, James clarified that he is active on the Cameo app in order to raise money for coronavirus relief.

"Now for those of you who may have missed the messaging earlier this week, myself and Alex Bachman ... pledged all of our Cameo earnings to the Robin Hood Foundation to fight this fight," James said on his Instagram Story, E! News reported. "We're just coming up with creative ways to raise money for these kids that are the future and I hope y'all can help."

Crawley later clarified on Twitter that her tweet wasn't about one particular person after a user questioned her about the issue of someone like James raising money on the Cameo app.

"... it was about MULTIPLE men and a general thought I was having while we sit here in a real life crisis where someone’s (everyone’s) time + sincerity hold so much weight and value," she replied to the user's comment.

Clare Crawley and Matt James
Jesse Grant/Getty; Paul Bruinooge/Patrick McMullan/Getty I

Nonetheless, James being picked to be The Bachelor is something his close friend and roommate, Tyler Cameron, predicted. James and Cameron — who was a contestant on Hannah Brown's season 15 — run the charity organization ABC Food Tours together.

PEOPLE caught up with Cameron in August 2019 and he joked: "I can't wait to watch him next year," while pointing to James who laughed.

“With everything going on with ABC, I can’t really talk about it,” James quipped.

“That’s my line. That’s funny,” Cameron said. “I know my mom signed him up.” (The pals met as teammates on Wake Forest University’s football team in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.)

It’s not just banter: Ever since James caught the eye of Cameron’s female fans, his Instagram has been flooded with comments begging for the N.Y.C.-based commercial realtor to give reality TV a shot.