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'The Bachelor' Season 26: Is Clayton Echard ABC's New Star?




 

The next star of "The Bachelor" will be an unfamiliar face - but not for long.

Sources tell Variety that ABC's new leading man for Season 26 of the hit dating show is Clayton Echard, though ABC and Warner Bros. TV declined to comment for this story.

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If Echard's name doesn't ring a bell, it's because Bachelor Nation hasn't met him yet. Echard will be introduced to America as a suitor on the upcoming season of "The Bachelorette," which premieres on Oct. 19, and will star fan-favorite Michelle Young.

"The Bachelor" typically premieres in January, just after the new year, but insiders say that production is starting this month.

On Wednesday, photos that leaked of Echard with a camera crew were published by E! News in a speculative piece, questioning whether he would be the new "Bachelor." Multiple sources tell Variety that Echard is indeed ABC's pick, but he won't officially be announced as "The Bachelor" anytime soon - after all, Young's season of "The Bachelorette" hasn't even aired yet.

Echard is 28-years-old and from Missouri. He played college football at Mizzou, and as an undrafted rookie in 2016, he was signed to the Seattle Seahawks. The former tight end refers to himself as a "washed-up athlete now trying his luck in orthopaedic sales," according to his Instagram bio. (For the record, at the time of this article publishing, Echard has 1,648 followers on Instagram, which will certainly grow exponentially, as his profile rises on the ABC dating show.)

Initially, there were some timing concerns over choosing someone from Young's season, given that the production schedule for "The Bachelor" and the airdate of "The Bachelorette" would pose some complications as to when would make sense to announce the next male star. But, insiders say that during Young's season, producers fell in love with Echard and he rose to the top of the network's shortlist, after a slew of other men from Bachelor Nation had been considered.

Greg Grippo, for one, was a strong contender at one point, but ABC opted not to go with him as the next lead. Grippo was a frontrunner on Katie Thurston's season of "The Bachelorette," but after his final episodes aired, he was hit with negative headlines and social media chatter when Thurston accused him of "gaslighting" her. (More on that here.) Grippo was also embroiled in rumors that he was actually an actor, and not truly searching for love on the reality show.

Before settling on Echard, sources say the network had met with other suitors from Thurston's season and also the current of "Bachelor in Paradise."

(The network and studio typically do not comment on any casting rumors relating to the franchise, and both ABC and Warner Bros. TV declined to comment on Echard."

As for Young, the school teacher was introduced as a contestant on Matt James' season of "The Bachelor," and emerged as a quick favorite among viewers. The team behind the franchise is said to be extremely excited about her upcoming season of "The Bachelorette," which is internally being hailed as one of the best seasons in recent memory.

"The Bachelor" Season 26 will be the first season of the flagship show not to be hosted by Chris Harrison, who departed the franchise earlier this year.

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