Why Did Colton Underwood Come Out? Reality Star Comes Clean in Interview

Saturday May 15, 2021
Originally published on May 12, 2021

It has been just a month since Colton Underwood came out on "Good Morning America" to host Robin Roberts. Since then he announced a Netflix reality series about his coming out, as well as being slammed for his relationship with ex-Carrie Rudolph who took out a restraining order against him last year for stalking.

But in an exclusive interview with Variety, Underwood did a deep-dive into the reasons for his coming out when he did, and the story is darker than initially thought.

"The confession was prompted not by liberation but out of fear," Variety writes. "'I'll just say it,' Underwood reveals on a recent afternoon, still adjusting to his new life as an openly gay man. 'I, at one point, during my rock bottom and spiral, was getting blackmailed. Nobody knows I was blackmailed'."

As he explained it, he was living in L.A. and visited a gay spa. Not long after, he received an anonymous call, which has been reviewed by Variety, claiming that someone too nude pics of him at the venue. "Underwood never saw the alleged photos and explains he was at the spa "just to look," saying he 'should have never been there.' The unidentified sender threatened to 'out' him in the press, and in a panic of paranoia, Underwood forwarded the email to his publicist, Alex Spieller, which forced him to finally have an honest conversation about his sexual orientation. "I knew that out of anybody in my world, my publicist wasn't going to ruin me," Underwood explains.

Up to that point Underwood was known as the virgin Bachelor who appeared on the hit ABC reality show to find a wife in 2019. He had previously been seen on the series spin-off, "The Bachelorette," but was eliminated early on in the competition. Much was made of his virginity in promoting the show to a more conservative fan base, making it appear that it was his Christian faith that was leading him to not have sex with women, when in reality he was hiding being gay. "Underwood's coming out, so soon after he'd entered into millions of viewers' homes as the poster boy of fairy-tale heterosexuality — the Ken doll-like star of a major dating franchise — touched a nerve," added Variety.

In his two-hour interview with the entertainment publication, Underwood was said to be "still adjusting to his new life as an openly gay man." The interview took place prior to him filming a scene from his reality show and he was dressed casually: joggers, a black baseball cap and red Nikes. "At one point, he picks up his iPhone and scrolls through DMs from strangers, admitting he's most touched by those who write to tell him he's made them feel less alone by coming out."

That part of the experience is meaningful for Underwood, alluding to the hundreds of messages he has received from those in similar situations. "I know people are saying that this story has been told, but I grew up in Central Illinois," Underwood says. "I had never seen a football player that had made it to the NFL that had been gay, growing up Catholic." He points to some of the more touching messages he's received. "I've had hundreds of gay Christian men and women who are confused in their walk with Jesus say, 'I felt closer to God when I came out.'"

But prior to doing so, Underwood found himself in a downward spiral. "It got so dark that he took pills one night last summer, hoping he'd never wake up. 'I tried to end my life, and it didn't work,' he tells Variety. 'That was the saddest and most confused and most hurt' he could remember himself feeling."

Underwood recalls feeling different at age six, but never had an opportunity to interact with other LGBTQ people. "I would have done anything to see a gay football player," he tells Variety, getting choked up. "The closest person I ever could look at was like Ricky Martin because I love music."

He went to some lengths to watch "Brokeback Mountain" as a teenager, using a friend's Blockbuster card to rent the seminal gay romance. "That was very authentic to who I was, growing up in the Midwest," says Underwood. "I wasn't a cowboy, by any means, but I grew up on a farm in Illinois." About that time his father discovered Underwood had been visiting gay porn sites, which he explained away. ""I just said that I was curious and I was exploring and just looking," Underwood says. "I remember having that conversation with him and being like, 'Just don't tell Mom.'"

After college, he was signed as a free agent by the San Diego Chargers, then joining the Philadelphia Eagles' practice squad and the Oakland Raiders. He recalled "when Michael Sam became the first openly gay player drafted by the NFL in 2014, no one in the locker room supported the idea. Their homophobia only drove him deeper into the closet," writes Variety.

"Growing up in sports, I was taught that gay is wrong and gay is bad and football players are not gay," Underwood says. "By the time I realized that I was gay, I didn't want to be gay. It was easy for me to hide in plain sight behind a football mask and hunting and fishing and the things that this world tells us is 'masculine' and 'manly.'"

He then discovered "The Bachelor" franchise. He was quickly recruited as a contestant for "The Bachelorette" in Becca Kufrin's season of "The Bachelorette," which aired in 2018, where he finished fourth and became a fan favorite. Next he appeared on "Bachelor in Paradise" and eventually landed the starring role on Season 23 of "The Bachelor" in 2019. "Part of his appeal was his innocence: He became known as 'the Virgin Bachelor,' and marketing materials plastered his face on a poster similar to Judd Apatow's 'The 40-Year-Old Virgin,'" adds Variety.

But even that virginity is questioned as Underwood reveals that prior to "The Bachelor" he had clandestine hook-ups with men. "I'll say this," he starts with a long pause. "I was 'the Virgin Bachelor,' but I did experiment with men prior to being on 'The Bachelorette.'"

But he added a confusing clarification. "'When I say 'hookups,' not sex,' Underwood says. 'I want to make that very clear that I did not have sex with a man, prior to that.' He reveals that he joined the dating app Grindr under an alias in 2016 or 2017. (He's currently single, but no longer on the app.)," Variety reports.

When fame came with "The Bachelorette," there was also anxiety. "I remember feeling so guilty, like 'What the hell am I doing?'" Underwood says of his gay encounters. "It was my first time letting myself even go there, so much so that I was like, 'I need "The Bachelorette" in my life, so I could be straight.'"

Now out, he sees his Netflix show as a way of finding himself as a gay man. He says "the purpose of his Netflix show is to share a multitude of LGBTQ stories, not just his own," writes Variety. He will be joined by his close friend Olympian Gus Kenworthy. "But producers have made sure not to just focus on white privileged gay men." Like Underwood, Kenworthy is an athlete who came out in the spotlight. "He's been somebody that I've not only learned so much from, but he's held me accountable and he's allowed me to see the privilege of being a straight-presenting gay, white man," Underwood says of Kenworthy. "He pointed out how my path has been, compared to other people."

Despite the outcry, which includes Change.org petition asking Netflix to cancel the series that has received some 35,000 signatures, the streaming service is behind the show. ""One person's experience will not fill the void of queer stories on TV. We have to do better as an industry to highlight more kinds of lives and love. That said, we hope the show will help challenge outdated notions of what kind of stories can or should be at the center of entertainment," says Brandon Riegg, vice president of unscripted and documentary series at Netflix.

Addressing the backlash against Underwood, Riegg says: "Colton has been public about his past and the bad choices he's made and this will be part of the show, too. While there is tension with providing a platform, we think his complicated story, which includes him taking accountability, is one others can learn from, and we trust Colton and the producers to address it in a thoughtful way."

One such way is addressing Underwood's relationship with his father, who tells Variety his son's sexuality did not shock him, and he actually tried to broach the subject with him in high school, when he had suspicions.

"First, I put that on myself — what was I doing that he felt he couldn't open up to me?" Scott Underwood says. "But Colton said, 'I didn't know what I was yet. I was still struggling.'

"I understood that. He was still trying to figure himself out," his father says. "If it just helps a few young men and women come out and be proud of themselves and understand that all parents aren't going to be upset, it can save lives," he says.

Colton says of his dad: "My dad is proud to say that he is a conservative Republican, and he is also proud to say, I have a gay son,' I think it's important for America to hear that and see that. Right now, the media makes it seem like there is no middle ground."