Matt James' Bachelor journey started off in a bittersweet way. Before he was announced as the first black Bachelor on Friday, the 28-year-old was revealed as a contestant on Clare Crawley's since-postponed season of The Bachelorette.
On March 12, he was gearing up for Crawley's Crawley's season -- filming was about to start, and he spoke exclusively with ET's Lauren Zima about how his dear friend, Bachelorette alum Tyler Cameron's mom, Andrea, had nominated him for the show. Andrea died earlier this year from a brain aneurysm. At the time of the interview, James had just arrived in Los Angeles after attending her funeral.
"She would be happy to know that I followed through with it," he shared. "She had nominated me and I think she saw everything that it did for Tyler and the way that he had changed as a man, and me being his roommate and being one of her sons, I think that she wanted something like that for myself."
"So, I wanted to see it [through] for her and just to see if I would be compatible with Clare," he added.
James said that after The Bachelorette, Cameron "came back different, just more in touch with who he was as a person and what he wanted in a relationship." "I feel like I am ready for something like that," he expressed.
He didn't want to leave Cameron behind during such a vulnerable time, but knew he had a great support system back home.
"That's my guy. It's just super emotional because I had never been to a funeral before, and to have someone that close to you that you considered a mom... it just happened so suddenly. To see how it impacted her boys and her men, I just felt super torn up," he shared.
Emotions were still a little raw for James, but he was ready embark on a new adventure. "I think I am grounded... I have done [a lot of things] leading up to this point, making sure I am having constant conversations with my mom and people I am not going to be around for a while and that I love and respect," he said. "It just kind of put me into the right mindset to make sure that I am doing everything to make them proud."
In a statement on Friday, ABC Entertainment President Karey Burke said that the Bachelorette shutdown allowed them time to get to know James as a possible lead instead of a contestant. "[We] all agreed he would make a perfect Bachelor," she said.
James was already familiar to some Bachelor fans for his ties to Cameron, who was runner-up on Hannah Brown's season. James made headlines last July for his apparent disapproval of Brown asking out Cameron for a drink on her After the Final Rose finale, following her failed engagement to Jed Wyatt. He and Brown have since mended fences; Cameron, Brown and James all quarantined together at Cameron's mom's house in Jupiter, Florida, earlier this year.
As for whether Cameron offered any advice on how to navigate his televised journey to find love, "He just said, 'Be yourself, be true to that. ... All you can do is just be who you are, and if it goes well for you, then it was meant to be,'" James recalled.
"I think that me and TC are cut from the same cloth of just our moms being super impactful in our lives. And if it ever came to someone disrespecting a woman that we were pursuing or a women that was around us, then I hope I would step up and take a stand for her," he added.
James and Cameron were seemingly living it up in New York City, having just moved into an apartment together months earlier. So, is James really ready to leave that behind and settle down?
"I think a lot of times when you are in a city like New York or any just big-time metropolis, you have a lot of distractions. So, for me it's work, it's the work we do with the kids of ABC Food Tours, it's fitness, it's a lot," he explained.
As for the parties and attention that comes from having some notoriety, James said it's "fruitless."
"There is not a lot of meaning in that stuff, and I am looking for something meaningful," he told ET. "I feel like you get super clouded with what is going on in the city and outside distractions, and when you can take yourself outside those situations and you can really focus on somebody... that's really what I am excited about."
"You are afraid to get your heart broken, we've all been there," he confessed. "When you are vulnerable, when you put yourself out there like that, you've got to be ready for that to happen. So, we will see how it goes."
Even back then, ET asked James about the possibility of being the Bachelor, if things didn't work out with Crawley. "Well, hopefully we won't get there," he respectfully replied. "I hope I will be with Clare."
During his Bachelor announcement on Good Morning America on Friday, James confessed his reaction to being cast as the Bachelor was, "Does this mean I don't get to meet Clare?"
"I was looking forward to meeting her," he shared. "I had set aside all this time and we'd gone out to California and then been called back with quarantine."
However, James quickly shifted gears, saying he's "excited to take on the role" as Bachelor. "It's an honor. I'm going to lean into myself and how my mom raised me. And hopefully when people invite me into their homes Monday night, they see that I'm not different from them and that diverse love stories are beautiful," he said.
"I think a lot of people are in that situation where they're uncomfortable dating outside their race … it's a conversation starter for a lot of people and hopefully it paves the way for a lot of diverse love stories," James shared.
James is also taking inspiration from his mom when it comes to qualities he looks for in a wife. "[She is] selfless, honest, caring, compassionate -- those are qualities found in women of all shapes, sizes and races, it's not a black or white thing," he said. "So I'm hoping that when that limo pulls up, there's a lot of diversity and I see every type of woman."
Crawley's season of The Bachelorette is expected to film later this summer, to air in the fall. James' season of The Bachelor is expected to film after Crawley's and debut in 2021. See more on The Bachelor in the video below.