When Matt James agreed to participate on Dancing with the Stars, he knew he was taking on a big challenge, because not only did he need to learn to ballroom dance, but he was following in the footsteps of fellow Bachelor Nation competitors Kaitlyn Bristowe and Hannah Brown, who both walked away with the Mirror Ball Trophy.
“So much pressure, like the most pressure,” Matt told Monsters & Critics. “Kaitlyn was a dancer and then Hannah is just feisty, and you can’t help but love her. Yeah, there’s a lot of pressure because I don’t want to be the one to end the streak, but I say that and everyone looks good, so I don’t know where I’m going to fit in, so I’m just looking to have a good time.”
Kaitlyn wasn’t available when Matt began his DWTS journey, she was filming Michelle’s season of The Bachelorette, but he did reach out to Hannah to get some tips on how to get to the finale of the competition.
One thing Matt did decide after their conversation was to go all-in for his performances as was evidenced on Disney’s Hero Night in the blue onesie he wore to capture the true essence of Frozone as Matt and partner Lindsay Arnold danced the Quickstep to The Incredits from The Incredibles.
“All my outfits are going to be either super sexy or super elaborate, over the top,” Matt said. I don’t want to go in there looking like the next person. I want them to use every drop of creativity they have to put in these outfits. If Lindsay approves, I’m going crazy with ideas, but among all the great things that she does, she reigns me in.”
Following is more of the conversation with Matt and his hopes and expectations for Dancing with the Stars.
America got to know you on The Bachelor, but DWTS takes it to a whole new level. What do you hope fans will learn about you from doing the show?
Matt James: Hopefully, they won’t think I’m as boring as I was on The Bachelor. You can’t really show as much of your personality when you’re having to dive into very delicate, sensitive topics.
And when you’re doing Dancing with the Stars, there are definitely those moments, but most of what you’re doing is joyful. You’re dancing, you’re getting to know about one another, you’re getting to express yourself through song and through dance.
What better way for someone to get to know you than to listen to the type of music that you like? The time I’ve spent with my partner, we’ve gotten to know each other really well and I think that relationship in itself is going to aid to us doing well, hopefully.
Were you hesitant at all to join the show and be back in the spotlight after your Bachelor season ended a bit rockier than others?
Matt James: I wasn’t nervous. I don’t think that the expectations can be compared by the two experiences. One has implications of marriage, and one is about pushing yourself, really getting to know your partner, having fun learning dances and, hopefully, taking home the trophy. The things I’m trying to take away from this experience are a lot different than what I was hoping for in going on The Bachelor.
DWTS has a lot of emotional packages; is there more we can learn about you that we haven’t already via the Bachelor?
Matt James: I think you’ll see more of my personality. I think that there are a lot of very compelling heartthrob stories that I’m excited that the people participating are going to be able to share with the rest of the world.
The first one that comes to mind is Amanda’s story. She’s been through a lot these past few years and to give someone like that the space to talk about what she’s been going through and where her and [son] Elvis are going. I’m learning day by day about everyone’s stories as well, so less about me and more about everyone else and on what they’re able to share to contribute to the story.
This process can be challenging both physically and emotionally. How has girlfriend Rachael Kirkconnell been supporting you through it all?
Matt James: Oh, man, she’s been supporting me in every way imaginable. First of all, she was only person who seemed to like my beard, so you know that that’s love right there. And she was stoked about this opportunity for me.
You know her sister is an incredible dancer. So, we’ve all been consulting about how I can improve my steps when I come back from practice. She’s been my dance partner outside of Dancing with the Stars. I come back and try to apply the same lessons that I learned during my rehearsals and she’s whipping me into shape.
Why did you shave the beard?
Matt James: I just felt it was time. It wasn’t like this emotional connection to the beard. It was just time to go. It’s a new chapter. The birth of the beard was to get away from looking like The Bachelor because that was something I did, but not who I am.
I think that a lot of people got that confused after the show was over expecting me to look a certain way and act a certain way and I’m Matt James. I’m not here to please them. I’m here to be the best version myself. That has little to do with my appearance and more so about how I’m treating people, the work that I’m doing in the community, and the type of impact I’m trying to leave.
You can get caught up on things like appearance, which I think is kind of shallow. It’s kind of comical, so I grew it out in spite of what everyone wanted me to look like and just to do me.
How did you build the trust with Lindsay?
Matt James: Just sharing, talking, being open. A lot of our rehearsals are spent doing that. It’s like this New York mentality that you’ve got to be working constantly, you’ve got to this, do that, do that. But you get to know somebody by listening and hearing someone talk about their life, their family, what they have going on, what they aspire to do, where they came from.
I think it’s a 50/50 balance. You’ve got to have the dancing aspect and have your steps down, but if you don’t have rapport and relationship with your partner, then you don’t have anything. We work on those two things in tandem, so I think that it’s a recipe for success.
Had you watched past seasons of Dancing with the Stars?
Matt James: Of course! I love Dancing with the Stars. My mom is the biggest Dancing with the Stars fan. I vividly remember sitting on the couch watching Hines Ward’s season, watching Calvin Johnson’s season and Chad Johnson’s as well.
I point to those three individuals because what stuck with me is that’s where I wanted to be. I wanted to be a professional football player. Having played college football, I aspired to be like them, so it was dope watching them do something so out of the ordinary.
Watching Hines Ward and Calvin Johnson knock people over and then the next thing, they’re very in frame, just doing their steps in competing for a Mirror Ball. So, yeah, I’ve been a fan of the show for a long time and so is my mom so she might have been a little bit more excited than I was, but that’s just because you know she’s my biggest fan and advocate.
Dancing with the Stars airs on Monday nights at 8 p.m. ET/7c on ABC.