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There has been a lot of intrigue around Clayton Echard as the new star of ABC’s The Bachelor franchise.
When it was first reported in September, by The Hollywood Reporter, that the veteran reality dating show had found its next lead early on, Bachelor Nation curiosity began to swirl over which The Bachelorette contestant had made such an impression on the series’ producers. But when Echard was confirmed to be the contestant in question following his on-air elimination, his overall lack of screen time left a resounding question: Why was Echard, who placed eighth on Michelle Young’s season, chosen?
“I showed everybody that my heart was genuine with its intention to find love,” Echard told The Hollywood Reporter ahead of his season premiere about his Bachelorette experience and why he believes he was picked. “I went through that whole journey just trying to be the best version of myself and win over Michelle’s heart and, while it didn’t work out, I think the producers saw that and said, ‘This is a genuine guy who is here to have a long-last relationship.’ I feel like that was probably a lot of the driving force.”
On the production side, Echard was cast because his story resonated most with the decision-makers on the franchise, who leaned toward giving the newcomer a second chance at love, THR had reported. During his elimination episode, the former NFL athlete and sales rep who is now pursuing an MBA spoke about opening up his heart to Young, a teacher, and cried over touching letters written to him by two of her students. “I just want to find love so badly and have a family, and start that chapter of my life. I want it more than anything else, and I’ll do whatever it takes to get that,” Echard told the cameras.
“I was obviously taken aback, as you could see. I got very emotional,” the Missouri native tells THR about the letters, adding that he was unaware that the extra moment following his elimination would be viewed as his “Bachelor edit” — a signal to longtime viewers that Echard was in the running for the gig. “When I read the letters, I felt like I was reading letters from my future daughter or son and it really struck a nerve. At that moment, all I was thinking was, ‘Wow, these kids are special and they left an impression on me.'”
The impression on viewers wasn’t as resounding. Following his announcement, some critics of his casting vocalized on social media their displeasure that Echard, who is white, was chosen over the top four finalists who, for the first time in the long-running show’s history, were all contestants of color.
Echard’s casting also caps a year of the franchise making inclusive changes behind the scenes following the racism scandal that was sparked during the 2021 season of The Bachelor, which ultimately led to longtime host Chris Harrison’s departure. The subsequent two cycles of The Bachelorette featured more diversity onscreen — with co-hosts Tayshia Adams and Kaitlyn Bristowe, as well as the third female lead of color with Young and her contestants — and among the decision-makers, with Jodi Baskerville joining the team as the first Black executive producer. Young spoke about the support she felt behind the scenes after the culmination of her season, which brought the franchise its first-ever Black couple.
“What I thought was so great is that there are so many women from so many different backgrounds that were on my journey with me,” says Echard of how his season, which is hosted by Jesse Palmer of ESPN and former Bachelor fame, will continue to represent those franchise changes onscreen. In a nod to the pandemic era, the breakdown of his contestants reveals a majority 22 percent of women who work as nurses or in the medical profession, per @Bachelordata.
“I had a checklist of sorts in the sense that I was looking for somebody who was intelligent, driven, independent — the kind of the core values I’m looking for in a person,” he says. “What I found out really quickly is that my type was all over the board. All of these women were checking those boxes. There was fair amount of diversity and it was awesome because these women all brought something different to the table.”
Since his debut, the biggest reaction to Echard’s upcoming journey has revolved around the revealing and potentially spoiler-filled season trailer, which shows Echard not only falling in love with three contestants, but also being intimate with two of the women. The updated teaser at the end of Monday night’s premiere further hinted at his finalists, much to the surprise of viewers who take franchise spoilers very seriously.
Ultimately, Echard is aware of the doubts. “I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m the Bachelor based off of only getting eight minutes of screen time on The Bachelorette,” he joked on the premiere. He also read aloud “mean tweets” about his casting during the Bachelorette: Men Tell All. Now, he just wants people to stick around for the ride, where all will eventually be revealed.
“I really do want a family. I want to start a future, I want all of those things. I’m ready for that chapter in my life,” he says. “There isn’t a doubt in my mind that I want it and I think everyone around me realized it as well: He’s not here to play games, he’s here to find his person.”
Adding, “I don’t know all the reasons why they decided to pick me. That’s a question for [the producers], ultimately. But, for what it was, I think they saw me as being this genuine guy who wanted to find his forever person more than anything else.”
The Bachelor airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on ABC and streams on Hulu.
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