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Tayshia Adams already stepped in once to save The Bachelor franchise. Midway through production on the 2020 season of The Bachelorette, the franchise alum fielded a call from producers to take over the starring role from Claire Crawley, who had unexpectedly exited early after finding love. In the end, Adams’ takeover was a success; she found love with her winner, Zac Clark, and helped to move the franchise needle towards featuring more representation onscreen along the way.
Now, she’s doing it again with Kaitlyn Bristowe for the next Bachelorette. During a time of controversy and uncertainty for the hit ABC and Warner Horizon franchise after the problematic season of The Bachelor, the former Bachelorettes signed on to co-host the 2021 cycle that was left rudderless by the departure of Chris Harrison. Their joint role was announced in March, about one month after Harrison had stepped aside following a widely criticized interview where he excused racially offensive behavior from Rachael Kirkconnell, who went on to win the historic Bachelor season with Black star Matt James.
When Adams and Bristowe accepted the high-profile hosting rose, the franchise was making national news over its failures in handling race. At the time, Harrison said he planned to return (his exit later became official the day after The Bachelorette premiered), but what quickly became clear was that the Mike Fleiss-created reality dating franchise needed to fill Harrison’s job for its immediate future, as season 17 of The Bachelorette with star Katie Thurston was about to go into production.
“I know that we are a huge step for the franchise,” Adams tells The Hollywood Reporter of the two women serving as the current face of the show. “There are so many steps that are being taken to change the franchise right now, but this was something that I wanted to definitely be a part of. If I can help change the franchise in any way, or change peoples’ perspectives on the show, then I wanted a part of that.” Bristowe adds, “Tayshia and I both came into it saying, ‘We want to be a part of the change.’ We wanted to see it in every way possible and I think we were both really pleased in what we saw.”
Adams and Bristowe spoke to THR together during a press day for the now airing cycle with Thurston. Below, the duo explain why they feel they are representative of the changes the embattled franchise is aiming to make, beginning with The Bachelorette season 17.
The premiere for Katie Thurston’s season has been well-received by Bachelor Nation — the consensus being that former Bachelorettes hosting The Bachelorette makes sense. From your shoes, what responsibility did you feel when stepping into a position that was filled by a familiar face for almost 20 years?
Kaitlyn Bristowe: I think we felt a responsibility to not compare ourselves to his time and his role on the show. We are not Chris Harrison. We are Tayshia and Kaitlyn who have been in the position of a Bachelorette; we’ve been a contestant, we can relate to everybody who is living through this journey. And, like you said, having women come in and host and mentor Katie, who is doing this for the first time, makes a lot of sense.
Tayshia Adams: We were able to have relatable conversations. We’ve been in her shoes. Not many women or people in the world can actually say that, and us providing that perspective for her is something you are definitely going to see in the conversations throughout the season. It made sense for two women to help navigate another woman going through this journey.
Chris Harrison’s status with the franchise has been in flux since February. Did it surprise you when you found out that he wasn’t coming back and that you guys were getting this gig?
Bristowe: It surprised me and it didn’t. It surprised me because he has been a part of the show and the face of this show for 20 years, however many seasons. And then it didn’t surprise me because I see how much the franchise is trying to make the right changes. Even bringing two women into the show is a nice change-up for everyone to see. So, a little bit of both.
As the franchise’s first female hosts, how do you hope your season is received differently?
Adams: We’re able to have conversations that only we can relate to. This journey is not typical; you can possibly fall in love with multiple people and we can help her navigate those feelings. Katie is very sex-positive; Kaitlyn can really hone in on those conversations with her and let her feel comfortable in being who she is, and be empowered and strong. And we both provide a really good perspective and take and advice when she needs it. That’s always something that other women who have been in her position can really help her with.
Bristowe: And we do it through the whole season, people will see that. We both felt empowered to help Katie and I know Katie felt empowered in herself that we could give her that confidence and say, “How you are feeling is valid.”
Adams: I think you felt that in watching night one.
What surprised you most about this role now that you’ve been behind the scenes on the other side?
Bristowe: What surprised me was how invested everyone behind the scenes also gets in peoples’ feelings and relationships. For viewers at home, sometimes you think, “Why are you crying night one? You just met her.” But being there, you’re in it and your emotions are so high. It’s just more real than you could ever imagine it being.
Adams: At the time, when you’re in the position as lead, you don’t know if you can trust anybody or if you’re making the right decision. Being on the opposite end, we were very invested in her journey and helping her navigate these waters. And, even with the guys as well. Now that we’ve been in this position we were able to say to her, “No, you can trust us. It’s really tough. Your feelings are valid.” It’s just as tough being on the other side.
Amid the criticism and backlash against the franchise during Matt James’ season, you both spoke out to advocate for change and say that it was time for more inclusion. When the two of you signed on, what were some things that were important to you that you wanted to see change this season?
Adams: For me, I know that we are a huge step for the franchise. I wanted to make sure that people saw that women supporting women is an amazing thing to see on television. We do not have to tear each other down. We can help each other. You’re seeing us front and center help support another person. There are so many steps that are being taken to change the franchise right now, but this was something that I wanted to definitely be a part of and have my hand in. And if I can help change the franchise in any way, or change peoples’ perspectives on the show, then I wanted a part of that.
Bristowe: We were both honored to step in and be a part of that change because we saw it in the diversity of the cast and the diversity behind the scenes. Bachelor Nation is really incredible because they will hold people accountable and they will also stand by the franchise if they do see the changes being made. I think Tayshia and I both came into it saying, “We want to be a part of the change.” We wanted to see it in every way possible and I think we were both really pleased in what we saw.
Tayshia, you have said that you felt supported behind the scenes during your season, with your producer on the ground and with the diversity team as a resource. This season, did you feel there was more diversity behind the scenes to support this cast?
Adams: One-hundred percent. I think it’s great to see that it’s not just for the lead, but for everybody else behind the scenes and all of the contestants. From my own experience, I have seen a lot of change since my first day. From my first day on the scene until now. And it’s nice to be there and see it for myself in a different light, in a different position. And that it’s within the entire franchise, not just for the lead.
Katie Thurston told THR that change doesn’t happening overnight, but that change is happening. Did you two feel like you had more involvement in the creative process because of the situation, where you were you able to vocalize suggestions and/or feedback during filming?
Bristowe: That often came up. They actually gave us the opportunity to sit down and say anything that we were feeling: “What do you think? What do you feel? What could change?” And I really appreciated them coming to us to make sure we felt [involved]. I can’t really think of anything specific right now, I just know that those conversations were always had and it was nice that they came to us.
Adams: Since the first day, they said, “If you guys have any insight, please let us know.” And we really did have the opportunity to chime in and say we want this or that. I really appreciate that because we didn’t know what our roles were going to be and how much involvement we were going to have. But since day one, they said, “You’re a part of this.” It was really refreshing, actually, and it took me by surprise.
Would you recommend that female hosts stick around for Michelle Young’s season of The Bachelorette in the fall and would you two be interested? [Note: Bachelor in Paradise will have rotating guest hosts, while a host, or hosts, for The Bachelorette season 18 has yet to be decided.]
Bristowe: Well, we can’t go back now! I think we did a pretty good job — if I find out where they’re filming and I’m not a part of it, I’m showing up anyways! (Laughs.) I think you have to really listen to your audience, whether that is them sharing their concerns about the show or what they love about the show. I think people really enjoyed this refreshing season and what women can bring to the table when it comes to empowering one another, and I think people at home really like to see that. We’d love to be a part of it. And even if it’s not us, we would love to see women involved.
Adams: Absolutely. If it’s not us, we would love to see women involved. I think Katie has even spoken to the fact that it really helped her and encouraged her. It’s a very different experience.
Are there changes that you’d like to see come back, or other improvements made, for the season 18 of The Bachelorette?
Bristowe: You know how we say that love comes in all shapes and sizes and colors? I think we can always grow in that way. That’s just how I feel, moving forward, that it can always grow. Any show can. Anything that you are putting out into the world where there is an audience watching, you always want to evolve as a show and I think they have the opportunity to always grow.
Adams: And I think they also listen to how the show is perceived by the people. If people speak out on something else and they bring something to their attention, it doesn’t go unseen by the franchise. I think change is something they are open to, obviously, and very aware of, as you can tell with just us sitting here right now. So, who knows. I’m sure a lot more will change in the future and I’m excited to see the change.
Katie said there was one moment in particular where she couldn’t have done this without the two of you. What can you tease?
Bristowe: I definitely sat with her on a bathroom floor at one point!
Adams: Yeah, you did. I almost pounded through some walls like, “They did what?!”
Bristowe: I think it was important for Katie to know that we had all felt that way, at some point, in our own journey. If you get to a point where you’re so overwhelmed with emotions that you want to quit and go home, I kept joking that then you’re doing it right. Because that means your whole heart is in this and that you’re taking this extremely seriously, as you should. We all feel that way at some point or another and we’re here to pick you back up off the bathroom floor, tap you on the butt and say, “Get back out there.”
Adams: It’s at that point that you don’t want to give up. You want to keep leaning into the process, because your heart is really in it and you never know what you can get if you keep going.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Bachelorette season 17 airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on ABC.
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