In past years, the franchise casts a standout from a previous season as its next lead. But, the coronavirus pandemic has changed production’s entire structure this year. James was announced months ago as a contestant on Clare Crawley's upcoming season of The Bachelorette, but production on her season was halted in March due to coronavirus concerns before the two ever met.
Still, James is familiar to many in Bachelor Nation because he's best friends with Tyler Cameron, who starred on Hannah Brown's season of The Bachelorette. James has already racked up over 180,000 followers on Instagram after quarantining with Cameron and Brown months ago.
"When filming [Crawley's season] couldn’t move forward as planned, we were given the benefit of time to get to know Matt and all agreed he would make a perfect Bachelor," Karey Burke, president of ABC Entertainment, said in a statement.
In addition to being the first black Bachelor, James is also the first Bachelor in 12 years to be cast without previously appearing on The Bachelorette. Though the franchise used to cast new men each season, they've since capitalized on the fandom created from previous cycles, with ABC execs saying the formula works for the franchise. Season 12's Matt Grant was the last man to be cast as Bachelor from outside the franchise, back in 2008.
So, until we get to know him on our TV screens, here's what to know about James.
He's Proud to Be the First Black Bachelor
"When Rachel [Lindsay] speaks, we listen. She has a very important voice in all this, being the first black woman, person of color to be a lead, and ... this is hopefully the first of many black men to be in the position I'm at now," James said on Good Morning America.
"It's an honor. I'm just going to lean into myself and how my mom raised me, and hopefully when people invite me into their homes on Monday night... they see that diverse love stories are beautiful," he added.
James has also spoken out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and attended protests fighting for racial equality.
"It’s cool, his mom is white” or how bout “Nah he’s good, he’s an athlete.. ” Do we have to lead with those things to be treated fairly? This is for everyone who isn’t given the “benefit of the doubt” 🗣Its Everybody vs Racism," he wrote on Instagram on June 7, alongside a photo of himself protesting with Cameron. "#BlackLivesMatter Matthew 18:20 🙌🏽."
Both James and Cameron attended Wake Forest University, and have been inseparable since. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the best friends were roommates in New York City. James later joined Cameron to quarantine in the latter's hometown of Jupiter, Florida, and appeared in his headline-making TikToks with Brown and their "quarantine crew."
James and Cameron are so close, in fact, that it was Cameron's late mother, Andrea, who nominated James to apply for The Bachelorette.
James played football at Wake Forest University, where he graduated from in 2015 with a degree in Economics. Afterwards, he gave himself a year to make it in the NFL. He didn't make the cut with the Carolina Panthers and was cut, called back and cut again by the New Orleans Saints.
After that, James shifted gears, and got a job at PNC Bank in Pittsburgh before moving to New York City, and taking a position as a research analyst at a commercial real estate company called CBRE.
In a 2019 interview with DeacLink, James opened up about his move to the Big Apple, saying he immediately fell in love with the "diversity" and "opportunity" it had to offer.
"You have no choice but to be inclusive. The thing about NYC, regardless of your culture, religion, gender, etc. if you’re competent and work hard then you will succeed!" he said. "You aren’t discriminated against (like some parts of the country) as NYC is a melting pot like no other city."
"You are uniquely positioned in a city where there is every industry and influential people all around you. If you’re a mover and shaker, the world is your oyster. The resources are here for anyone to be successful if they choose to apply themselves," he added.
At WFU, James was involved with community programs like Eat with the Deacs and Project Pumpkin, and after moving to New York, he craved that same sense of involvement. So, he started ABC Food Tours, an organization which takes provides culinary experiences to underserved elementary school students.
"They’re at an age where they’re super impressionable. No one is born racist or rude; these are all traits that are acquired through influence and experience. If you can positively influence these students at this age, you can potentially change the course of their lives," James told DeacLink. "Also, I love seeing our students try new foods! We went to Blue Ribbon Sushi recently and it was so rewarding watching these 3rd and 4th graders try sushi for the first time. We encourage them to try everything. The kids don’t have to like it but they’re able to speak as to why they do or don’t by the end of a tour."