Why Matt James Will Never 'Disparage' 'The Bachelor' Publicly (Exclusive)

In 2021, the reality star served as the franchise's first Black, male lead.

Matt James is grateful for his time on The Bachelor -- and he'll never say otherwise. In his debut book, First Impressions, James revealed why he doesn't have any ill will toward the franchise, despite several controversies surrounding his season.

"Whatever mixed feelings I may have about The Bachelor franchise after my season, whatever disagreements I may feel with the way I was portrayed or how conversations I remember clearly were ultimately characterized, you will never see me disparage the show publicly," James writes. "I know personally the faceless mass of people propping up the franchise. They are hardworking and kindhearted friends, relying on a show that employs hundreds for their livelihoods. You don’t mess with that."

James further explained his point in a conversation with ET's Denny Directo.

"This is people's livelihood. You've got camera operators, you've got grips, you've got lighting [people], you got sound [people], who rely on this show and their families rely on this show," he said. "In essence, it's not a bad show. There's bad characters, there's things that happen that make the experience different for everybody."

"From everything that I've gained from it, from a relationship standpoint, and from personal growth and family bonding, I can't go out there and say that there's things that you wish you could change and conversations that you wish you could have back," James added. "There were key people in that franchise that helped me through, so I'll forever be indebted to that."

While James said that "it's a shame" that several people have gone "through this experience with that sour taste in their mouth," he noted that "it doesn't have to be like that." Still, the franchise isn't without some blame.

"You have to make sure that the show that you're continuing to build out caters to the audience, because if you're having to do circus acts and trapeze stuff to strum up this fake hype, then maybe you should get back to the basics," he said.

Before James ever appeared on The Bachelor -- and before his final pick and current girlfriend, Rachael Kirkconnell, was ushered into a racism controversy that led to the exit of the franchise's longtime host, Chris Harrison -- he made history as the series' first Black lead.

In his book, James writes that, in the wake of George Floyd's murder, he looked "like a solution" to ABC executives combating criticism about a lack of diversity. James, though, was unaware of what he was being thrust into until production got underway.

"Listening to the producers frame me as their new golden boy, a symbol of their progressive attitudes, I suddenly felt put off from the position," he writes. "I could see myself being tokenized in their eyes. The last thing I wanted was to give the series, which (I would soon discover) had long faced allegations of discrimination, undue absolution."

"But then I considered what my acceptance could mean for mainstream culture. It’s easy to be dismissive of The Bachelor, but its reach is undeniable. I considered the impact I’d have if I brought distinction and dignity to that iconic role," he adds. "... Rather than slowing down the process, I doubled down. I wanted this now. For myself. For my family. For onlookers, eager to see themselves on one of America’s biggest stages."

Knowing the number of people his love story would be shown to, James told ET, made him want the show "to be shot authentically."

"There hadn't been someone like myself stepping into that position," he explained. "With everything that was going on in the country at that time, I wanted my experience to be raw and truthful to my experience, not what someone thought that experience should look like, or what someone thought someone in my position should act like."

"I want people to see the culture through a lens that they hadn't seen before. It's uncomfortable with people, because they haven't been around people like myself," James added. "If I can bridge that gap by providing context, then what better outcome than me stepping into this position, looking for love with someone who potentially looks like them, making that connection, and being OK with that type of relationship taking place?"

When the show began airing, though, James writes, "I appreciated, for the first time, just how much of my power I had given away."

"This had been billed as 'my' season, but it wasn’t, not really at least," James writes. "I had a dizzying few months leading up to that moment, but at each step along the way -- through preparation and filming -- I thought I was in the driver’s seat. I didn’t remember handing over ownership of my story; but watching the premiere, it was clear that I had."

One of the consequences of his story not being portrayed fully, is, in James' opinion, that viewers didn't get to know him well. "My introduction to America ran five minutes. It spoke little about the people and beliefs I valued most," he writes, citing "unseen" moments with the women that would've showed his "fears, faults, and contradictions" as another example of such behavior.

Another instance of this is the lack of discussion about one of James' biggest focuses: giving back. James founded ABC Food Tours, a non-profit organization that educates children in underserved communities about food and exercise in New York City.

"That's such a big part of my life," he told ET. "... Reliving those stories was one of the more fulfilling parts of the book... When you sit there and relive these moments, and tell these stories for everyone to share, you're like, 'Dang, that happened.' We're working on changing these families' lives."

Also left out was any substantial information about James' background or family life, an exclusion that was most noticeable when the show aired a conversation with his estranged father, Manny James, who had been in and out of his life since childhood. 

Before the conversation aired, James worried on Twitter that, "without context," it could perpetuate "dangerous stereotypes and negative depictions of Black fathers," and cautioned the audience to watch it with "nuance" in mind.

In his book, James gives more context to his father's life, from his father's death when he was young, to his time in jail for growing and selling marijuana.

"I feared becoming for my wife what my father was to my mother. Dishonorable. Unreliable. A source of pain. I feared bringing children into the world whom I might one day disappoint," James writes. "When the show’s producers suggested that my dad come on for an episode, I agreed because I thought the time had come for another conversation. We hadn’t seen each other in nearly two years."

"Without context, the conversation looked like a stereotype that too many are familiar with: the trope of the deadbeat Black dad. The label doesn’t fit because it’s one dimensional. Dad and I contain complexities," he adds. "The conversation, including the parts that weren’t shown, helped me overcome the limits I’d placed on myself. It didn’t deliver us to a rosier place. But it allowed me to let go of the greatest fear looming over me. I confirmed I wasn’t anything like my father."

While speaking with ET, James revealed that, today, he and his dad "have a great relationship," and added, "As you gain perspective of things, my empathy and compassion for the way things were handled changes." 

As for how the elder James feels about his son discussing his misdeeds in First Impressions, the reality star admitted, "Before this experience of being on The Bachelor and all that I think he would be pretty upset, just because the things that I share in the book about my dad's past are shameful to most people."

"But until you embrace those things, you can't overcome them," James explained. "That's what I saw on the show and through his visit and that conversation that we had on the show. He's begun to embrace those things in the past, which have made him a better father, a better co-worker, a better person. I think that he's going to be proud of me for having the courage to share those things."

Feeling that so many important parts of himself were left out of his season is one thing that prompted James to write First Impressions.

"After that experience, I felt I left a lot of people questioning, 'Who is this guy?' There's a lot that [viewers] didn't get to explore because we were trying to get into the narrative... I wanted to get my side of who I am and what I've been through out there," he told ET. "As I was writing with [co-author] Cole Brown, I'm just like, 'This story's going to resonate with a lot of people, because the experiences that I've gone through, a lot of people have experienced.' Hopefully it's a victory story for them, and they can relate to a lot of things and be like, 'If Matt came out the other side, then I could do the same.'"

First Impressions, James' debut book, is now available wherever books are sold.