The Bachelorette: Michelle Young Proves Why She’s a Lead For Our Time

Pop Culture

There’s a moment in each season of The Bachelor or Bachelorette when a lead lives up to their ABC-anointed title. It usually happens in later episodes—think Hannah Brown moving the rose stand away from an embittered contestant mid-rose ceremony, or Ben Higgins credibly telling both of his final two contestants “I love you” in the same emotionally-fraught episode. But for Michelle Young, who stars in season 18 of The Bachelorette, that moment occurred just an hour into her reign. 

True to modern dating norms, last night’s storyline starts with an Instagram DM. When contestant Joe Coleman, a real estate developer from Young’s home state of Minnesota exits the limo, she quickly recognizes him. “Have I slid into your DMs?” she asks, becoming the first Bachelorette to openly admit that direct messaging hot strangers is as common a meet-cute as any these days. Coleman plays coy, but Young later informs co-hosts Tayshia Adams and Kaitlyn Bristowe, “We chatted back and forth about basketball, and then he ghosted me.”

While the admission is endearingly relatable, it’s in the pair’s conversation that Young proves she’s a Bachelorette worth paying attention to. Later in the night, she tells Coleman, “I was surprised to get a few responses back, and then someone forgot to hit send.” He explains that he owns property in George Floyd Square, three blocks away from “a lot of shootings, murders a lot of things going on there,” adding, “At the time, it just caused a lot of anxiety, and I didn’t feel like I was in a place kind of to open up to somebody.”

Coleman’s reference to the murder of Floyd—and ABC’s decision to air it—is significant enough, given The Bachelor’s problematic past when it comes to meaningfully incorporating race or featuring contestants of color. It would’ve been easy for Young to accept Coleman’s explanation, no questions asked, for fear of minimizing his feelings. Instead, she opts to speak about her own experience as a biracial woman and educator living in the state where Floyd lost his life. 

“I’m a big communications person, and I’m also a very understanding person,” Young says. “I’m also a woman of color living right there when George Floyd and all these different things are going on. I’m right in the heart of it too. My students are experiencing it. If anyone were to be understanding, you would have just had to say the word. You didn’t have to be ready for a relationship. You just had to communicate that you’re not in a good place right now. That’s it.” Young and Coleman then discuss the stigmatization Black men can receive for seeking therapy, before parting ways. 

Of course, one moment does not a show’s new chapter make. Coleman’s possible exit is used as a dramatic cliffhanger later in the same episode, before he predictably receives the final rose of the night. But that organic interaction, coupled with the season being helmed by Jodi Baskerville, the Bachelorverse’s first-ever Black executive producer, signals a potential pivot for a franchise with too many recent representation blunders to count.

Audiences were introduced to Young on Matt James’s fairly tainted season of The Bachelor. Crowned the franchise’s first Black Bachelor after 19 installments following last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, James gave his final rose to Rachael Kirkconnell, who was accused of past racist behavior. Longtime host Chris Harrison’s ill-advised defense of Kirkconnell and diatribe against cancel culture ultimately led to his exit. Extra correspondent Rachel Lindsay—who conducted Harrison’s infamous interview and was the show’s first Black Bachelorette—spoke candidly about her deteriorated relationship with the franchise.

Naturally, it wouldn’t be an episode of The Bachelorette without some watered-down drama and questionable contestants. There’s Peter the “Pizzaprenuer,” who claims to “change lives one slice at a time.” A guy named Rick arrives via buffet table, his head poking out from atop a silver platter: “When you’re done with your appetizers and are ready for your main course, come and find me,” he tells Young. And who could forget sweet, sweet Rodney, dressed as a red apple, who describes himself as the very-much green variety known as a Granny Smith?

The night-one villain title goes to Ryan, who is revealed to have a typo-ridden packet of documents outlining how to get airtime and which former contestants to emulate. Young immediately pinpoints the red flags and sends him home, but not before the camera zooms in on his red folder—labeled with the word “Bachlorette” [sic] and a poorly drawn rose. Meanwhile, Nayte emerged as the season’s early frontrunner—receiving the holy trifecta known as first limo exit, first impression rose, and first kiss. 

Michelle Young gives Nayte Olukoya her first impression rose. Craig Sjodin/ABC

Prior to Young’s turn, the Bachelor franchise produced four full seasons of TV under COVID-19 restrictions—meaning that the budgetary and travel hurdles that plagued the first pandemic-era season (anyone else remember the La Quinta?) have largely receded. It’s even been reported that Young and her contestants will travel this season—the first time the cast has been able to do so since 2019. 

Just as this formula has been perfected, however, The Bachelor will return to its hallowed mansion next season with a fairly uniform lead and host. Clayton Echard, a former athlete and contestant on Young’s season, has already been chosen as the next Bachelor, while Jesse Palmer, a former Bachelor and athlete himself, has been tapped to replace Harrison. But before the show reverts back to its tired and true ways, it would be wise to maintain the quietly progressive spirit cultivated in Young’s premiere episode. 

Loyal Bachelor Nation viewers know that Bachelorettes are not born, they’re made. But if her first episode is any indication, Michelle may have been destined to do this from the beginning. 

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