First, fans of "The Bachelor" fell in love with Michelle Young, the elementary school teacher from Minnesota. Now, they're falling for her students and her parents.
Leading man Matt James might be, too. After meeting the people Young cares about, he gave her one of three final roses.
During Monday night's episode of the ABC reality series, Young, of Edina, introduced James to a dozen of her fifth grade students via Zoom. Seeing their faces again, Young got teary.
"I heard you have some questions that you need to ask Mr. James, is that right?" she said.
The students, some of them sporting "TEAM MISS YOUNG" T-shirts, posed the tough questions: "Is that your boyfriend?" "Have you guys kissed yet?" "Are you going to give Miss Young a rose?"
One girl read a sweet note of encouragement Young gave her before a test. "It inspires me every day," she told James. "So how will you inspire Miss Young?"
Young teaches fifth grade at Echo Park Elementary in Burnsville. Before that, she taught fourth grade at Normandale Hills Elementary School in Bloomington, according to a district spokesperson.
On her Instagram account, she gave a shout-out to her students, "a few special MVP's."
Young, 27, arrived late to James' season, but the pair had a quick connection. During Monday night's episode, James told her parents that he requested a one-on-one date with her the very next day.
Normally, for a so-called "hometown date," the star flies to the city where the contestant lives. But because of the pandemic, Young's parents Ephraim and LaVonne flew to the show.
Ephraim Young asked James what the pair's life might look like "after the spotlight's gone."
"There's nothing that I wouldn't do for someone that I love and someone that I see myself building a life with," James told him. "If that means me moving to Minnesota, then that means moving to Minnesota. I'm open to that conversation... because with that feeling that I have for her, there's nothing I wouldn't do that would keep me from being with her."
"We will respect Michelle's choice..." her father replied, "and be supportive in whatever way we possibly can. So welcome."
Young and her parents referenced a breakup two years ago that left Young heartbroken. But despite their concerns about James reciprocating their daughter's feelings, they embraced him. If he makes Young happy, and it's clear that he does, LaVonne Young said, "we'll love him and he'll be part of our family."
Then the group shot hoops in the driveway.
Young played Division 1 basketball at Bradley University in Illinois and before that was a prep basketball star at Woodbury High School, making the Star Tribune's all-metro first team in 2011.
Controversy has surrounded this season of "The Bachelor," the first to feature a Black lead. The show, long criticized for its lack of racial representation, is facing what some believe could be a reckoning.
Host Chris Harrison has stepped back from the show for an undefined period of time after defending current contestant Rachael Kirkconnell, who is facing allegations of racism. Photos show Kirkconnell, one of James' final three, attending an antebellum plantation-themed fraternity formal in 2018. (Kirkconnell has since apologized for her "offensive" and "racist" actions.)
Before Monday night's episode began, James broke his silence on the controversy, calling both the photos and Harrison's comments "incredibly disappointing."
"As Black people and allies immediately knew and understood," he wrote on Instagram, "it was a clear reflection of a much larger issue that 'The Bachelor' franchise has fallen short on addressing adequately for years."
Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168