Two 'Bachelorette' Stars Revealed as 'Bachelor' Franchise Moves on Without Chris Harrison (For Now)

Michelle Young, Katie Thurston
ABC

Michelle Young and Katie Thurston on 'The Bachelor: After the Final Rose'

Amid ongoing controversy, The Bachelor franchise is committing to not one but two seasons of The Bachelorette.

The long-running reality dating franchise is doubling down on its female-led series for what will be the 17th and 18th seasons. The 17th cycle of The Bachelorette will star Katie Thurston and will air this summer. The 18th season, set to air in the fall, will star Michelle Young.

Both Thurston and Young have been plucked from the current season of The Bachelor and were officially announced during Monday's highly anticipated Bachelor: After the Final Rose finale special, where Young was revealed to be runner-up to problematic contestant Rachael Kirkconnell in the competition for the final rose of historic Bachelor star Matt James.

"We're the Bachelorettes!" said Young and Thurston of their double reveal and individual seasons in a brief appearance on Monday night. "I was a little nervous, but once I found out it was two different seasons, I was here for it. I'm excited that I will have somebody to bond over with this and share notes as we go," said Young. Thurston added that she is ready to find love: "I've seen it work before. Why can't it work for me?"

Production on Thurston's season is already underway without the embattled face of the franchise, Chris Harrison, as The Hollywood Reporter has reported. On Friday night, ABC and producers Warner Horizon made Harrison's hiatus from The Bachelorette official when they announced that former Bachelorette stars Tayshia Adams and Kaitlyn Bristowe would be taking over his hosting duties for what viewers now know will be Thurston's season.

"We support Chris in the work that he is committed to doing. In his absence, former Bachelorettes Tayshia Adams and Kaitlyn Bristowe will support the new Bachelorette through next season," read the joint statement, which did not name the pair as "co-hosts." Multiple sources have told THR that Adams and Bristowe will assume a mentoring role behind the scenes, as an official decision about Harrison's future as host has yet to be made. (In addition to appearing in Monday's pre-taped finale, Harrison's voice was also heard teasing the post-show.)

The Bachelorette traditionally airs in the spring, following The Bachelor season. The ongoing pandemic has impacted and shifted productions Hollywood-wide, however, and 2021 will mark the first calendar year to air the two Bachelorette seasons. (There is no official word yet on summer show Bachelor in Paradise or the planned "seniors" spinoff, which has been putting out casting calls during The Bachelor season.)

The 2020 cycle of The Bachelorette, which aired in the fall due to the pandemic, was novel in the sense that the season was split between original star Clare Crawley and Adams, who took over from Crawley midway as lead. Only one other year featured two Bachelorettes in one season by design — Bristowe's in 2015 (the contestants voted between Bristowe and Britt Nilsson and by the second episode, Bristowe was named as the star). The upcoming season will follow the blueprint laid out by the bubble seasons of the 2020 Bachelorette and 2021 Bachelor cycles, which each filmed safely and without any COVID incidents.

Before moving ahead with another season, there had been growing calls for the franchise to address its issues surrounding race and representation. First Black Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay had publicly suggested that the show press the pause button to reassess before going back into production, as the team behind the hit reality franchise privately grappled with how to move forward after her widely condemned interview with Harrison. After he stepped aside, production on The Bachelorette was pushed back one week to deal with the fallout, according to sources.

Friday's statement from ABC and Warners, which came weeks after that Feb. 9 interview, was the first public commitment that work is being done behind the scenes. "As we continue the dialogue around achieving greater equity and inclusion within The Bachelor franchise, we are dedicated to improving the BIPOC representation of our crew, including among the executive producer ranks," read the joint statement, in part, addressing renewed criticism over the lack of diversity among the decision-makers on the hit show.

With Harrison having made public a plan to eventually return, the Mike Fleiss-created series doesn't appear ready to shut the door on one of its own. Along with hosting The Bachelor and its many spinoffs since 2002, Harrison also serves as a producer.

Emmanuel Acho, who hosted Monday's After the Final Rose finale special in Harrison's absence, has also said that Harrison is committing to educating himself. "People need to give him the opportunity, the grace and the time to do the work. And then they need to receive the work that he does," the Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man author told Lindsay in an interview with Extra on Friday. During a recent appearance on ABC's Good Morning America, Harrison said he has "sought out leading scholars, teachers and faith leaders" since defending Kirkconnell over allegations of racism (she had apologized twice going into the finale).

Despite the controversy overshadowing the current Bachelor season, the off-camera drama has also brought more attention to the hit franchise. And while ratings for James' season have been down both in overall viewers and in the coveted 18-49 demo, the show's declines are in line with those of broadcast TV as a whole this season. As fan account @BachelorData has been tracking (in illuminating chart form), the national news coverage of the scandal has resulted in the key players — Harrison, James, Kirkconnell and Lindsay — all growing their social media followings. "I think something that you can definitely attribute that to is people following to see what’s going to happen next," Suzana, who runs the account, recently told THR of the online audience leading up to the finale.

Lindsay, who at one point was forced to deactivate her accounts over online bullying, has continued to lead the way in the dialogue surrounding issues involving race within the franchise. Ahead of ABC and Warners' commitment to do so, she had most recently renewed her call for the executive producers to diversify. "You've got to have a person of color in the decision room," she said after the March 9 episode aired an "uncomfortable" conversation between James and his estranged father (James said the narrative perpetuated "dangerous stereotypes and negative depictions of Black fathers in media.")

Acho had teased an enlightening on-air special with After the Final Rose, which was taped last week, and when the special aired on Monday, viewers saw the TV host navigating a tense reunion between James, the first Black Bachelor in 25 seasons, and Kirkconnell. After alluding about rocky times off-camera in the lead-up, James confirmed that he and Kirkconnell — who ended the season together — split over the off-camera revelations about racially insensitive behavior in her past, which surfaced after the cameras stopped rolling. The breakup brings The Bachelor its second-consecutive post-show split, following Peter Weber's early 2020 season. In total, only one Bachelor star — Sean Lowe — is in a relationship with his winner, while two former stars (Arie Luyendyk Jr. and Jason Mesnick) remain with their runner-ups.

The Bachelorettes, on the other hand, have better odds — five of the 17 women remain with their final picks, including Adams. (Bristowe is in a relationship with another franchise alum.)

New stars Thurston and Young had both emerged as fan favorites. After Thurston made a name for herself with a memorable limo exit stunt on the premiere (she brought along a pink vibrator), the sex-positive and savvy social media contestant became a voice of reason amid a culture of bullying among the women in the house, and earned praise from viewers by calling out that toxicity.

The casting of Young, a former Division 1 basketball player and kindergarten teacher, marks the fourth Black lead for the long-running franchise, following Lindsay in 2017, Adams in 2020 (as the first-ever Black and Latina star) and James in 2021. Adams' and James' castings were a result of renewed outcry over the franchise's lack of diversity in wake of the 2020 national racial reckoning. Those changes resulted in the franchise hiring more producers of color, bringing in a diversity team as a resource behind the scenes, and debuting historically diverse casts with the 2020 and 2021 cycles.

Those Bachelorette and Bachelor seasons broke tradition in not picking leads from the previous round; Crawley and Adams each hailed from multiple past seasons (of The Bachelor and Bachelor in Paradise), and James had never appeared on the franchise before stepping into the leading man shoes. The naming of the two new Bachelorettes — no matter how unconventional — marks a return to the traditional casting cycle of a lead being a recent star. Thurston remains an outlier, however, as she does not hail from the final four contestants (only Hannah Brown before her was named as a Bachelorette despite not ending as a finalist).

James' casting as the first Black Bachelor has been criticized by several stars in the franchise as being a "bandaid," particularly amid the ongoing racism controversy. And some have voiced growing concern that contestants of color are being casted to check a box. In a joint statement from the entire cast of the current Bachelor season that was made as the show was airing, the women noted that the experiences of BIPOC individuals are not to be "exploited or tokenized."

Moving forward, Lindsay recently put the onus on the contestants who continue to opt into the franchise to become the ones demanding accountability and change. "I just don't think that things have been fixed in the right way and anybody who is standing up for change, I don’t see how you could be a part of this current season because as we have seen in [the March 9 episode], there's still so much work to be done," she recently said on her Higher Learning podcast for The Ringer. "I don’t want my name to be affiliated [on the new season of The Bachelorette] and I have heard that there are several people of color who have removed themselves from the show that were apart of casting for this current season."

How diverse and representative the forthcoming seasons will be remains to be seen, as a major conversation around the show has focused on the importance of screen time and representation. Despite boasting a cast made up of 25 BIPOC women on The Bachelor, a majority of the current season was devoted to drama surrounding white contestants, instead of showcasing diverse love stories.

The Bachelorette is a production of Next Entertainment in association with Warner Horizon Unscripted Television. Fleiss, Martin Hilton, Nicole Woods, Bennett Graebner, Peter Gust, Tim Warner, Louis Caric and Peter Geist are the executive producers.