Speculation ran rampant about who would take on the role after Katie Thurston’s season 17 of The Bachelorette aired in the summer of 2021, ending in her engagement to Blake Moynes. Us Weekly reported in August that her former contestants Greg Grippo and Andrew Spencer were in the running, while season 15 alum Tyler Cameron was also being considered. According to an insider at the time, the studio wanted to pick someone “who’s going to bring in higher ratings” and “also make for good television.”
ABC threw a curveball in September 2021, with Us confirming that the network selected a cast member from Michelle Young’s season 18 of The Bachelorette instead. The move was unconventional since, at the time that the news broke, the teacher’s journey to find love was not scheduled to premiere until one month later. A source told Us in September 2021 that Echard was set to be the next Bachelor after he was spotted filming season 26.
“Clayton stood out right off the bat,” an insider explained later that month. “Producers ended up going with him because they believed he was the best fit for the role. They wanted to switch things up and go with someone new and someone who hasn’t been in the spotlight yet.”
The women looking for love with the former football player were just as surprised by the casting as everyone else. “The mystery makes it more exciting for the prospective contestants,” the source said. “The crew found out about it last minute. The decision wasn’t even made until about a week prior to filming his intro.”
ABC did not immediately confirm the news — as Echard had yet to make his franchise debut when production on The Bachelor began — but the Missouri native did so himself in September 2021 while filming the reality series in his hometown of Eureka.
“I’m excited,” he said in a video shared by St. Louis’ Fox affiliate. “I’m also very, very nervous, and I’m looking to find my person.”
Amid the whirlwind, Echard showed gratitude for his friends and family via Instagram later that month. “Behind every good person is an even greater group of people,” he wrote. “Feeling thankful.”
Scroll through the gallery below to read everything we know so far about season 26 of The Bachelor!