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[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Season 20 of ABC’s The Bachelor.]
Surprise! ABC’s long-running Bachelor franchise has selected Joelle “JoJo” Fletcher as the next star of The Bachelorette.
The news broke amid expectations that the reality dating series would finally tap a diverse woman to lead the show. After half-Caucasian and half-Filipino contestant Caila Quinn, from the recently completed season of The Bachelor, was spotted with a film crew in her hometown of Hudson, Ohio, rumors swirled that she would be picked as the next woman to search for love on the franchise.
Instead, Fletcher, a 25-year-old from Dallas, will take the reins in the series’ upcoming 12th season. Chris Harrison made the announcement Monday during ABC’s post-Bachelor staple After the Final Rose.
In a release sent out by ABC confirming Fletcher as the next Bachelorette, there was no mention of her heritage. The release referred to her as a “Southern sweetheart” who grew up the daughter of two doctors.
According to her ABC bio, Fletcher says, “My mom is Persian, and my Dad was born and raised in Tennessee.” A source confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that Fletcher’s mother is from Iran.
The franchise has long been criticized for its lack of diversity. With 31 seasons between The Bachelor and its female-focused spin-off The Bachelorette, there has been only one previous diverse star — American-born Venezuelan Juan Pablo Galavis. Galavis‘ season spun its own scandal after the first Latino star made public anti-gay comments, calling homosexuals “perverts.”
In January, former ABC entertainment chief Paul Lee addressed the franchise’s lack of diversity during the Television Critics Association winter press tour. “I’d be very surprised if The Bachelorette in the summer isn’t diverse,” he told reporters.
Meanwhile, director Ken Fuchs told THR last week that the franchise is making a larger push to be more inclusive when it comes to diverse contestants on the dating series. “They’re trying to see as many diverse people as possible all the time. They’re very open to that, and if that person wants to be on the show, will fit the show and will do well.” As for choosing Fletcher, Fuchs called her a “great choice.”
Fletcher placed second during Ben Higgins’ recently wrapped season of The Bachelor. The real estate developer was sent home shortly after Ben admitted he was in love with both remaining women. Ultimately, Higgins chose Lauren Bushnell over Fletcher during Monday’s The Bachelor season finale.
The Bachelorette premieres May 23.
8:38 p.m. PT: Updated with ABC’s announcement
March 14, 8:02 p.m. PT: Updated with Fletcher’s ABC bio
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Robert De Niro