Rachel Lindsay was named the next “Bachelorette” during Monday’s telecast of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” But that would hardly be the big news:
For the first time in the history of one of TV’s most popular franchises — “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” — an African-American contestant will be the one handing out roses, breaking hearts, sending would-be Lotharios home early.
The news is not a total surprise. A number of websites confirmed Lindsay’s role late Monday, while ABC executives — including showrunner Mike Fleiss — have hinted that one of TV’s most reliably white franchises was about to subvert expectations, which is to say anoint a black bachelorette. Fans have long expected Lindsay — still on the 21st season of “The Bachelor,” which launched early January — would most likely be the one. Lindsay will be on “Good Morning America” shortly.
On “GMA,” she was asked by co-host Michael Strahan whether she had been “skeptical” about the role when first offered. Lindsay replied: “I’m a skeptical kind of person. I was excited but also equally nervous, then weighed the pros and cons (and realized) it’s too good an opportunity to pass up.”
Asked about the “pressure,” she said: “I don’t feel added pressure. I’m honored to have this opportunity and I do hope people rally behind me like they did in Nick’s season, and realize that my journey is just trying to find love. Even though I’m an African-American woman, I’m no different from any other bachelorette.”
Over the years, there have been a small number of black contestants on both series — just under 40 — but they typically leave earlier. (A few superfans have done the counting, saying that three-quarters of them are gone by the second week.)
Lindsay — a 31-year-old lawyer from Dallas — has subverted that expectation as well. She has yet to be eliminated by software sales guy Nick Viall, but by naming her the next ‘ette, ABC has effectively given away the outcome of this particular storyline of the 21st season. She will be, but her story won’t end there.
As fans are long aware — and as the mainstream press, which only occasionally covers this hugely popular franchise, knows as well — race has been one of those long, difficult issues for both series. It’s the elephant in the room, or the subject that dare not speak its name, at least on the air. No reason to buzzkill the budding TV romances, wilt those roses or ruin the champagne. “Bachelor/Bachelorette” is about creating illusions, making money, entertaining millions — not about making statements or reminding viewers of the most rancorous issue in American history.
In 2012, a group of Nashville, Tennessee, residents, led by Nathaniel Claybrooks and Christopher Johnson, sued both series and producer Warner Bros., saying both series “plainly prohibits whites from refusing to contract with African Americans because of their race.”
But the lawsuit foundered on the First Amendment, when a judge sided with Warner Bros.
In a 2011 “EW” interview, Fleiss insisted the series’ had attempted to include contestants of other races and backgrounds: “We really tried, but sometimes we feel guilty of tokenism. Oh, we have to wedge African-American chicks in there! We always want to cast for ethnic diversity, it’s just that for whatever reason, they don’t come forward. I wish they would.”
In a statement to the press Tuesday — with no mention of race — Robert Mills, ABC’s chief of unscripted, said: “This coveted role is always reserved for a fan favorite from the previous season, and Rachel is no exception and has been the fans’ choice since she exited the limo. She is an accomplished, confident and beautiful woman who knows what she wants in life. We all look forward to joining her on the joyous journey as she looks for that one special man.”