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‘The Bachelor’s’ Mike Johnson on Diversity and New Leading Man Peter Weber

ABC named its newest star of “The Bachelor” this week, officially making Peter Weber the leading man for Season 24 of the long-running dating show.

Social media backlash ensued following the announcement due to ABC’s selection lacking diversity, yet again. Since the dating franchise began in 2002, there has been only one “Bachelorette” of color with Rachel Lindsay in Season 13, and there has never been a black “Bachelor” in the series’ 17-year history.

ABC has long faced criticism for its lack of diversity, but this year, the critiques were heard even louder because the network had a fan-favorite option with contestant Mike Johnson, who appeared on Hannah Brown’s season of “The Bachelorette” alongside Weber, and then again on this summer’s season of “Bachelor in Paradise.”

ABC has increased its diversity efforts in recent years, resulting in a more inclusive pool of contestants from which to choose its future “Bachelor” and “Bachelorette” stars, and many fans were upset Johnson was not chosen from this season’s selection of candidates.

Sources confirm to Variety that Johnson did meet with “Bachelor” executives very early in the casting process for Season 24 of “The Bachelor,” and the network had expressed strong interest in considering him for the starring role. After Brown’s “Bachelorette” season wrapped, the network had also met with Tyler Cameron, who is now dating supermodel Gigi Hadid, taking him out of the running. Later in the game, “Bachelor in Paradise” star Derek Peth was also considered for the role. But ultimately, ABC went with Weber.

This week, in an interview with Variety regarding “Bachelor in Paradise’s” strong ratings this summer, ABC reality chief Rob Mills addressed the criticism, saying, “I think there will be backlash and you’re always going to get backlash. I frankly can’t recall a single ‘Bachelor’ or ‘Bachelorette’ choice who was universally agreed upon. The backlash is always hard. We really, really care about the audience and you don’t want to disappoint anyone. It’s hard to not take it personally when people say, ‘You don’t listen to us or why did you choose this person over that?’ But you just have to have faith in the choice you made. We think Peter was the strongest option. We felt he was the guy who would give us the best 22 hours of television.”

Earlier this summer, Mills spoke to Variety about his meeting with Johnson for “The Bachelor,” explaining that while diversity is of key importance to the network, it cannot be the sole reason behind casting.

“One of the first things that I said to Mike is, ‘You’re not here because of what you look like or because of the color of your skin. You’re here because you’d be a great ‘Bachelor.’ And he actually really appreciated that,” Mills said. “He said if he was going to be ‘The Bachelor’ simply because he was going to be the first African American ‘Bachelor,’ then he wouldn’t want to do it. So, it’s not that. And that was the thing with Rachel Lindsay — Rachel was someone who was just a great ‘Bachelorette,’ no matter what.”

The ABC executive added, “I think it is long overdue that we have candidates of diversity that are considered to be the lead, and I think we’ve done a much better job of making a more fully integrated cast. But I think ‘The Bachelor’ is going to be whoever is the right ‘Bachelor’ for this season.”

Speaking to Variety earlier this summer, during his run on “Bachelor in Paradise,” Johnson echoed Mills’ statement and said he appreciated that he was being considered for “The Bachelor” for the right reasons.

“First off, I have to give kudos to Rob [Mills] because I wouldn’t want to be considered ‘the first black Bachelor.’ I would want to be ‘The Bachelor’ because I’m a great individual and great human being,” Johnson told Variety, adding that he was “elated” he was even in the conversation to possibly become ABC’s next leading man.

“I think that ‘The Bachelor’ is taking strides to make sure that the casts, in all regards, are diversified and representative of America, and I think they will continue to do that,” Johnson continued.

As for Weber? Johnson thinks his former fellow contestant will make a great “Bachelor.”

“Peter is just a great, well-rounded gentleman,” Johnson said. “I’ve always said Peter is 100% a shoo-in for ‘The Bachelor,’ in my eyes. I mean, he has the perfect family, his brother is really cool, he has a cool job, he lives down the street from the mansion,” he added with a laugh. (Weber grew up in Westlake Village, Calif., an upscale suburb that’s not far from “The Bachelor” mansion in Southern California.)

This interview with Johnson was conducted before Weber was officially announced as “The Bachelor,” so Variety asked Johnson what his message would be for Bachelor Nation if he was not selected. At the time, Johnson replied, “That is a very good question. I would say, they feel like they chose the right person, so I have no worries. They gave me an opportunity to find love, and they went with the person that they feel is the best fit.”

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