Forget most dramatic, Rachel Lindsay's appointment as the new Bachelorette was The Bachelor franchise's most historic.
After 15 years and 33 seasons, the 31-year-old lawyer from Dallas will be the ABC reality hit series' first black lead, and the series creator Mike Fleiss knew it was a major moment. Fleiss, who has been asked about the franchise's lack of diversity many times over the years, used his Twitter account to tease a "historic" announcement in the days leading up to big reveal on Jimmy Kimmel Live on Monday night, and later tweeted, "Very happy about the overwhelming support for our new
Prior to Rachel's casting, the franchise's only other non-Caucasian lead was The Bachelor season 18 star Juan Pablo Galavis, a Venezuelan-American soccer player, who was flaunted as the first Latino Bachelor, before ABC quickly had to put out multiple PR fires caused by arguably the most polarizing lead in the show's history (namely his inflammatory comments about the possibility of a gay Bachelor).
But even then, in 2013, mind you, Juan Pablo's casting didn't really feel like progress, and the conversation about the lack of the other kind of D being represented on the show followed the franchise, which began in March 2002 before launching its Bachelorette spinoff in 2003.
Fleiss first seemed to address the franchise's lack of diversity in a 2011 interview with Entertainment Weekly, saying, "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."
And they did...just not in the way Fleiss had wished.
In 2012, Fleiss, ABC and the three production companies who work on the show were sued by a group of Nashville residents, led by football players Nathaniel Claybrooks and Christopher Johnson, for racial discrimination, after both men said they auditioned to be on the show but never made it to the second round of interviews because they were African-American.
In response to the lawsuit, counsel for ABC and the producers argued, "Television casting decisions are protected by the First Amendment." The lawsuit was later dismissed, but it once again drew attention to the franchise's lack of diversity and the producers, whether consciously or not, responded in season 17.
While seasons 13-16 featured no black contestants (seasons 1-12 featured a total of 16), season 17, which starred Sean Lowe and was the first to air after the lawsuit, featured four black women and six non-white contestants overall, with Catherine Giudici, who is half-Filipino, ending the season engaged to Sean. But before Nick's current season, which featured eight non-white contestants (the most for any season to-date), no black contestant had ever made it to the final four on The Bachelor or The Bachelorette.
And the elephant in the franchise was addressed on the show itself in season 11 of The Bachelorette, when Kupah James, a half-black, half-Puerto Rican contestant frustrated by his lack of connection and time with Kaitlyn Bristowe, told producers, "I don't want to be here any longer than I have to be if I'm the minority guy that fills a quota." He later said to Kaitlyn, "I don't want to be here because I look good on the roster of men, that you still keep around." (She eliminated him later in the episode after he became increasingly upset.)
Later that same year, then-ABC Entertainment president Paul Lee promised change for the franchise, telling reporters, "I'd be very surprised if The Bachelorette in the summer [of 2016] isn't diverse. I think that's likely."
It was likely...but it didn't happen, as The Bachelorette almost found its first diverse lead in Ben Higgins' season with Caila Quinn, who is half-Filipino. But at the last minute—and after several days of filming in Caila's hometown—producers changed their minds, choosing Joelle "JoJo" Fletcher as their leading lady. "It was nothing against Caila, but JoJo's storyline was just so compelling," a source told E! News at the time of the switch.
In August 2016, Channing Dungey, who took over for Lee as ABC's Entertainment president, said the issue of diversity amongst the franchise's leads stems from the initial casting process.
"We need to increase the pool of diverse candidates in the beginning," Dungey said at the Summer TCA Press Tour. "That is something we really want to put some effort and energy toward."
The lack of diversity in the casting process stage is something Fleiss also addressed in a January 2016 interview with Reality Burred. "The vast majority of our applicants are less than diverse...it's a hard thing to do because we can only cast the people—we can only put people on the show who want to be on the show. So if 90 percent of the people who want to be on the show are white, well, that makes it challenging for us."
Enter: Rachel Lindsay, who, on paper and on screen, is a producer's dream candidate. She's 31, a lawyer, smart, beautiful, confident, close with her family, and was the first black contestant to receive the First Impression rose in the show's history. She's also the first lead to be announced as the next Bachelor or Bachelorette even though her elimination has yet to air on the previous cycle, with the show spoiling itself.
But the casting process may be why Rachel was revealed as the next Bachelorette even before her exit from The Bachelor, as Rachel even "solicited" applicants on Jimmy Kimmel Live, saying, "We're a couple of weeks out from filming, we're ready to get this started. I'm ready to find love, find a husband, so if you know anybody out there who needs to apply, go ahead, sign up!"
In announcing Rachel as the next Bachelorette so early, ABC, Fleiss and the producers could be trying to get ahead of the lack of diversity in its pool of applicants that they've addressed as an issue. Not every person is going to pull a Kupah and wait until they are already filming to question if they are just filling a quota.
Rachel's season of The Bachelorette will premiere on Monday, May 22 on ABC.