Colton Underwood returned to TV on Wednesday morning for a revealing interview. The former Bachelor star, who led the 2019 season of the ABC reality dating franchise, said on Good Morning America that he is gay.
“Obviously, this year has been a lot for a lot of people, and it’s probably made a lot of people look themselves in the mirror and figure out who they are and what they’ve been running from or what they’ve been putting off in their lives. For me, I’ve ran from myself for a long time; I’ve hated myself for a long time. And, I’m gay,” he said during an exclusive sit-down with Robin Roberts for ABC News’ GMA. “I came to terms with that earlier this year and have been processing it. And the next step in all of this was sort of letting people know. I’m still nervous.”
The conversation had been billed as a “deeply personal” interview, with Underwood saying only, “It’s been a journey, for sure,” in a brief Tuesday night teaser.
“Journey” is a common word used by the Bachelor and Bachelorette leads when describing the reality show experience for the ABC cameras. In sitting down with Roberts, Underwood shared the off-camera road that led him to Wednesday’s announcement.
“I’m emotional, but I’m emotional in such a good, happy, positive way. I’m like the happiest and healthiest I’ve ever been in my life, and that means the world to me,” Underwood said of the relief he currently feels. After getting to a place in his life that he described as “dark” and “bad,” he recalled how at one point he felt, “I would have rather died than said, ‘I’m gay,’ and I think that was my wake-up call.”
In the pretaped interview, Underwood elaborated about previously having suicidal thoughts. “There was a moment in L.A. that I woke up and I didn’t think I was going to wake up. I didn’t have the intentions of waking up. And I did. And for me, I think that was my wake-up call of, ‘This is your life. Take back control.'” Of those thoughts, he now shared, “I don’t feel that anymore.”
As for Underwood’s time on the Bachelor franchise, Roberts asked him to address people who will feel that he may have misled the women and the public by searching for a wife on television. “Do I regret being the Bachelor and do I regret handling it the way I did? I do. I do think I could have handled it better,” he said. “I just wish I wouldn’t have dragged people into my own mess of figuring out who I was. I genuinely mean that.”
But he also credits the women and the reality dating series for getting him to this point. He recalled how he thanked God after his announcement as star for “making him straight,” sharing, “I’ve known that I’ve been different since the age of 6, and I couldn’t process it and I couldn’t put my finger on what it was until [my freshman year of high school] when I knew I was gay.” Growing up in the Catholic church, he said, “I learned in the Bible that gay is a sin” and he recalled how, as an athlete, the word “gay” was used in a negative connotation. “There are a lot of things where I look back and say, ‘No wonder I held it in.'”
Since coming out to his friends and family, Underwood said their responses made him feel that he wished he had had more faith in those people in his life. “The only reason I’m sitting down with you today is because I have the love and support of my friends and my family.”
Speaking directly to his Bachelor ex, Cassie Randolph, he offered an apology. “I messed up. I made a lot of bad choices,” he said. “I loved everything about her. And that only made it harder and more confusing for me.” He added, “I’m sorry for the pain and emotional stress I caused. I wish it wouldn’t have happened the way it did. I wish that I would have been courageous enough to fix myself before I broke anybody else.”
JUST IN: Former “Bachelor” star @Colton Underwood speaks his truth and comes out to @robinroberts: “I’m gay. And I came to terms with that earlier this year and have been processing it… I’m the happiest and healthiest I’ve ever been in my life.” https://t.co/PoYJUAPBpA pic.twitter.com/isP7SptUu7
— Good Morning America (@GMA) April 14, 2021
Underwood is a memorable recent star of The Bachelor. The former NFL player was 26 when he led the 23rd season and was marketed as the “virgin Bachelor” by ABC. He first appeared on the franchise during the 2018 cycle of The Bachelorette; prior to his elimination, Underwood revealed to star Becca Kufrin and millions of viewers that he was a virgin, citing his Catholic values. He later appeared on summer spinoff series Bachelor in Paradise before going on to lead his own cycle, where the franchise’s first virgin star would divulge more about how his past relationships impacted the personal choice. He dated Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman before beginning his three-part stint on the franchise.
“The thing I realized is that everyone who asks me why I’m a virgin, they expect this simple answer. They want a reason. And my reason is complicated,” he said when confiding in a contestant who had shared with him that she is a sexual assault survivor. “I think that’s one thing people never understand is the intimacy that goes along with what you’ve experienced, and I’ve been on the other side of it.”
When leading the show, Underwood supported the focus around his virginity in hopes that it would help to destigmatize his choice. “Obviously, people are invested in that now because that’s sort of been my story and what people know me for. Hopefully after this, they know me for much more than just being a virgin,” Underwood told The Hollywood Reporter before filming his season, which would go on to play out rather dramatically. After his top choice, Randolph, quit the show, Underwood broke show rules to chase after her. In the end, he won back Randolph and the pair left the show in a relationship (and with coy answers about the status of his virginity), but not engaged — which was a novel concept at the time. By not proposing, Underwood became only the second Bachelor star in the previous 12 seasons to not pop the question; since his run, several stars have left the show either in relationships or single.
“Forget the TV show, forget filming. I forgot cameras were there, I forgot producers and lighting. That was just me fighting for someone I loved and I cared for and I wanted to be with after all that went away,” Underwood told THR after his season wrapped of temporarily quitting the show and fighting for Randolph.
In his tell-all memoir that published in March of 2020, Underwood opened up further about his virginity and sexuality, and relationship with Randolph.
“I thought, maybe I am gay. The captain of the football team should be having sex and drinking, right? But I wasn’t,” he wrote in The First Time: Finding Myself and Looking for Love on Reality TV about how being bullied over his virginity led him to question his sexuality, according to People. “In high school, when I was struggling with my sexuality, I’m not going to talk to my parents about it. So I internalized it.”
He continued, “Even while my season was airing, I battled the gay [rumors]. They’d say, ‘he’s gay, he’s hiding it.’ No. But I’ve been there, done that now. I finally found somebody I really just want to be with. I want my life to be with Cassie. I know who I am. And that’s really all that matters.”
As for whether or not he lost his virginity on the show, he wrote, “None of your business.” For her part, Randolph had told THR after the finale that the pair was “shutting the door” on the virginity conversation. He added, “It’s part of me now, it’s part of me going forward. I get that everybody has those questions. I spoke very openly and candidly about it when it was me, and when you’re in relationships, it changes the dynamic because you’re also talking about other people now, and you’re not just talking about yourself.”
When speaking with Roberts on GMA, Underwood confirmed that he was indeed a virgin before going on the show and said, “I could never give anybody a good enough answer about why I was a virgin. The truth is I was ‘the virgin Bachelor’ because I was gay, and I didn’t know how to handle that.”
He added, “I put myself in really bad situations on purpose. I put myself in these situations so I could try to force myself to be straight.”
After their Bachelor courtship, Underwood and Randolph would find themselves back in headline news over a tumultuous breakup. Shortly after he recovered from COVID-19 at the height of the pandemic, Underwood and Randolph parted ways. The uncoupled pair would go on to share their sides on social media in wake of the split; Underwood has since wiped his social media pages, something he did several times while starring on the show. Randolph later filed a restraining order against Underwood over alleged harassment and stalking that she subsequently dropped in the fall of 2020. According to the police report, Randolph claimed Underwood put a tracking device on her car. “The two of us were able to reach a private agreement to address any of Cassie’s concerns,” Underwood said in a statement at the time.
In a podcast with franchise spoiler blogger Reality Steve in late 2020, Underwood revealed he was taking medication for anxiety and depression while filming his season of The Bachelor and criticized the producers for “painting” him to be a “controlling” and “angry” person. At that point, he had distanced himself from the franchise.
Since then, he told Roberts that he has settled down in Denver, closer to his family, and that he has grown closer to God: “I used to wake up in the morning and pray for him to take the gay away. I used to pray for him to change me and I can now wake up and pray to God and I can actually have faith and I can go into church and be present, not have it be conditional on this topic of, ‘Take this off my plate and I’ll still worship you and I’ll still be there.’ It’s more, I’m closer to him. And that’s helped.”
As for his romantic hopes, he shared, “I still haven’t had an emotional connection with a man. I’ve never allowed myself to, and it’s never been, sort of, in my cards to let myself get there. And I want to more than anything. I’m looking for someone who can push me and challenge me in all the great ways.”
In closing the interview, he offered a message to his younger self in hopes that he could reach others: “You’re going to get through it. Keep fighting for you. Keep choosing you, every morning. And, when the time is right and you’re ready, do it on your own time.”
Underwood is currently filming a reality series for Netflix to document his coming-out story, THR reported shortly after the interview.
The Bachelor franchise, meanwhile, recently wrapped its problematic 25th season with first Black Bachelor Matt James and is currently in production on the first of two Bachelorette seasons that will air in 2021.
“We are so inspired by Colton Underwood’s courage to embrace and pursue his authentic self. As firm believers in the power of love, we celebrate Colton’s journey in the LGBTQIA+ community every step of the way,” said the executive producers of the franchise in a statement to THR shortly after the interview.
Previously, during the 2019 cycle of Bachelor in Paradise, the franchise spotlighted sexual fluidity when star Demi Burnett, who was a contestant on Underwood’s season of The Bachelor, came out as queer and pursued dating a woman on the sixth season of the summer spinoff.
“Every LGBTQ person’s journey to discovering and accepting their authentic self is different, and Colton Underwood’s decision to share his truth with the public reminds us that there is no set timeline for coming out. Given the large and loyal fandom who know Colton from The Bachelor, his coming out and discussion of his faith will hopefully open eyes to the millions of out and proud LGBTQ people who are also people of faith,” added GLAAD’s head of talent Anthony Allen Ramos in a statement on Wednesday.
April 14, 9:30 a.m. Updated to include Underwood’s Netflix series in production.
11 a.m. Updated to include GLAAD statement.