Matt James Makes His Bachelor Debut, Talks Feelings of 'Responsibility' as First Black Male Lead
This post contains spoilers from Monday's season premiere of The Bachelor.
New year, new Bachelor.
Bachelor franchise newcomer Matt James began his journey to find love on Monday's season 25 premiere episode. Before meeting the 32 women competing for his heart, Matt opened up about how being the child of divorced parents affected his perspective on love.
"Growing up in a single-parent home, I feel like I missed out on a lot of what it takes to be in a good relationship," the former Wake Forest University football player, 29, said in an on-camera interview.
He then chatted with mom Patty on camera and concluded, "There's no perfect family." With that realization, Matt felt ready to start his search.
"I know what I want and I know what I'm looking for. Someone who's weathered storms, who's resilient and strong," he said. "It's a partnership. I've got so much hope in this process because I've seen it work. When I meet these women, I'm going to be 10 toes on the ground and ready to give them everything. I'm ready to start that next chapter in my life."
"My mom is white and my dad is Black, and I experience what it was like to be a product of interracial marriage," Matt told Chris. "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. 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, a specific person of a specific race.
"That's something that kept me up at night. It's like, I don't want to piss off Black people, I don't want to piss off white people, but I'm both of those. You know what I mean? It's like, how do I please everybody?"
Chris calmed the real estate broker's worries. "The most important thing is if you come out of this with joy, peace, love, and you have this amazing woman who shares those things," he told Matt.
Once Matt's nerves died down a bit, the first group of women arrived at Nemacolin Resort in Farmington, Pennsylvania. First, Matt met Bri, a 24-year-old communications manager. "I'm here for this opportunity to get to know you," she told him.
"Off to a great start," Matt said after meeting her.
Next, graphic designer Rachael, 24, introduced herself to Matt by declaring, "You are more good-looking in person!" Then broadcast journalist Sarah, also 24, admitted to Matt that she might feel a bit homesick during this process.
RELATED VIDEO: The Bachelor's Matt James Admits He's Never Been in Love in First Teaser for New Season
The entrances continued with model Chelsea, 28, telling Matt she hoped they could "make history together" as the show's first Black couple.
After meeting 24-year-old Mari, Matt found himself speechless. "Do you ever meet somebody and you just don't know what to say?" he asked the cameras. "That was that moment. Trying to be smooth, but you can't sometimes."
A few of the women incorporated their professions into their introductions. Attorney Kristin, 27, told Matt, "You have been found so guilty of being incredibly fine." Professional ballerina Alicia, 24, danced her way out of the limo.
Others relied on more out-of-the-box gimmicks. Anna, 24, brought a Bachelor survival kit featuring a stress ball and a red flag.
IT consultant Saneh, 25, tried out a pun. "I think you're the greatest of all time, and I hope you'll also think that I'm the G.O.A.T.," she said before revealing fuzzy hoof slippers under her gown.
Photographer Alana, 26, followed by asking Matt to hold a bowl of pasta and recreate a Lady in the Tramp moment.
Kaili, a 26-year-old hostess, shocked everyone by walking up in lingerie and requesting Matt pick out which dress she should wear. "You've got to love a woman with confidence," Matt said after meeting her. "Walking up in your lingerie, like, you own that. I love that she did that."
The night took an X-rated turn when Katie, 29, showed off a "really special" item from home that she brought with her. "This pandemic was really hard for me and this just really got me through a lot, and I was hoping to pass the torch to you," she said before pulling out a vibrator. Matt laughed, but she rescinded the offer. "After seeing how you look and knowing that the Fantasy Suite is so far away, I actually am going to need it just for a little bit longer," the bank marketing manager said. Inside, the ladies nicknamed the vibrator MJ.
Health food developer Illeana got a little dirty, too, when she asked Matt, "Can I put my balls in your mouth?" After he consented, the 25-year-old fed him meatballs.
Victoria ended the arrivals on a literal high when four masked men carried her in on a throne. The 27-year-old gave Matt a king's crown and headed inside, declaring, "The queen has arrived, bitches."
FIRST COCKTAIL PARTY
Inside, Victoria introduced herself to the other woman by saying, "I'm Victoria, like the queen." Katie gave a speech with her vibrator in hand and proposed a toast to Matt and making new friends.
Once Matt made his way inside, he opened up with a prayer. He and all the women bowed their heads and he spoke to God. Then Matt addressed the importance of race in his journey. "My mom's white, my dad's Black, and seeing everything that comes with that is beautiful, and I'm excited to explore that with you all," the North Carolina native told the group.
Matt chatted first with Sarah, who moved home to care for her dad, who was diagnosed with ALS when she was 19.
During his time with Kristin, she asked him about being the first Black Bachelor. "I feel a load of responsibility," Matt admitted. "But in that, I feel like my experience isn't everyone's experience. I can only go and speak on things that I've experienced and live out my truths and do the best I can in representing who I am and how I was raised."
Will you accept this rose? Sign up for PEOPLE's free weekly Bachelor Nation newsletter to get the latest news on The Bachelor, The Bachelorette and everything in between!
Rachael went on to tell Matt that she appreciated his prayer and that she also struggles to be vulnerable. "She's beautiful, articulate, she's sexy and she's being open and vulnerable. And that's what I've asked these women to do, and she's taken that challenge head-on," Matt said of Rachael after their talk. "She's blowing me away."
Matt continued the evening by playing chess with Serena P. and bonding with Khaylah, who drove up in in a pickup truck, over their North Carolina roots. New York City native Kit, 21, gave Matt a snowglobe of the Big Apple, but got interrupted by Victoria. "Excuse me, princess, but the queen is here," Victoria stated.
Bri later connected with Matt on their similar upbringings.
"It's important to me to see diverse love stories because it's not something that I saw so much growing up as a child," she told him. "My mom's Persian, so she's white-passing, and my dad was Black and they were separated before I was born. And so my mom was single her whole life and just kind of devoted her whole life [to] raising me. So I never really saw an example of what love was like."
But 25-year-old Abigail, who opened up about being born Deaf, truly caught Matt's eye. "You were gorgeous, it was hard to focus," he told her of their initial meeting before leaning in for a kiss.
Matt fetched the first impression rose and offered it to Abigail. "One of the things that I challenged the women with was being vulnerable and I felt like you were everything that I am asking of these women tonight," he said. "And knowing that you're a fighter, I thought that it was only appropriate that I ask you something. Abigail, will you accept this rose?"
She did, telling the cameras she felt "really excited" that Matt saw a potential future for them.
As some women worried that they hadn't had time with Matt, Chris arrived to inform the group that their first rose ceremony would be starting momentarily.
Before beginning to hand out his first set of roses, Matt confessed, "I'm shaking right now because I know that tough decisions are part of what happens when you are trying to find love, and I promised myself that I was going to follow my heart."
The new Bachelor proceeded to send home eight of the 32 women. Sticking around: Bri, Rachael, Chelsea, Sarah, MJ, Serena P., Khaylah, Kristin, Kit, Magi, Pieper, Mari, Illeana, Jessenia, Kaili, Marylynn, Serena C., Lauren, Sydney, Alana, Katie, Anna and last but especially not least, the queen herself, Victoria.
The Bachelor airs Mondays (8 p.m. ET) on ABC.