Call it pure, unmitigated luck. Model Ashley Harper was taking in a day of shopping and relaxation at Denver’s 16th Street Mall. She wasn’t paying too much attention to the massive line, comprised of gorgeous women, forming throughout the mall — until someone came up to her.
“I’m an executive producer for The Bachelor and I’m interested in your look,” Ashley says she was told. At first she thought it was a joke, but it turned out to be a major turning point in her career.
The producer then took her Polaroids. What followed was a series of Skype interviews and phone calls with the production team. Ashley Harper officially became one of 26 lucky women chosen to compete for Sean Lowe’s heart during the 2013 season of ABC’s The Bachelor.
Speaking to Ashley over the phone, from her home in Denver, it became immediately obvious that the producer who initially approached her had hit the jackpot. She was bubbly and positive, but also forthright and candid.
A native of North Carolina and a natural-born performer, Ashley has been dancing, acting, and modeling since the age of 4. Today, she works as a fit model and international swimwear model, is a singer and songwriter, and has also worked with major media outlets like NBC, CBS, FOX, Bravo and VH1. Even though she was eliminated fairly early in the season, she credits her appearance on The Bachelor, and the relationships that she made with the show’s team, with helping to further her career.
It’s been a whirlwind three years since her appearance on The Bachelor, but lately Ashley has been answering questions about her appearance on the show — particular when it comes to diversity in the show’s contestants. As one of only a handful of black contestants, the issue of race occasionally comes up for her in interviews, especially after The Bachelor’s most recent season. African-American contestant Jubilee Sharpe made it further than any black cast member ever has in The Bachelor’s history. Sharpe became a fan favorite — her name frequently trended on social media platforms as viewers rooted for her. Sharpe’s prominence also sparked conversations about diversity on The Bachelor.
In the show’s 20-season history, all of men have been white and all of the winning contestants have been white, with the exception of 2013 winner Catherine Giudici, who is half-Filipino. Only a fraction of the contestants have been non-white and they are usually eliminated early on. This dynamic has become a pop culture joke of sorts, and was even lampooned on a recent episode of Saturday Night Live. In the sketch, a group of women compete for one man’s heart in a spoof of The Bachelor, titled “Bland Man.” Sasheer Zamata plays the sole black contestant who introduces herself as “the black one.” The “Bland Man,” played by Taran Killam, swiftly responds with “Let me walk you out,” as he grabs her arm. The audience erupts into laughter.
Despite the frequent jokes, Ashley denies tokenism played a factor in her casting. “I never felt in anyway that I was being chosen because I was black,” she says. “The casting process was unbiased. Producers were looking for real people. I’m real like Jubilee [Sharpe].” Her assessment is definitely on the nose as Sharpe’s seemingly awkward tendencies proved endearing to viewers.
Ashley also points out that the bachelor in question provides a good deal of input when it comes to the women that make the final cut. She was lucky to be part of one of the most diverse casts in the show’s history, because bachelor Sean Lowe specifically asked for women from all backgrounds. The fact that Ashley was chosen to be on the show out of 100,000 applicants points to something special about her.
She looks back on her time on the show fondly, but is always moving forward, hinting at another television project in the works. In the meantime, she’s gearing up for a big performance at Atlanta’s Womenincharg3 music festival on April 23rd, in addition to a major PR tour.
When asked whether or not we’ll ever see a black woman winner on The Bachelor, she answers, thoughtfully.
“I’m rooting for it — biggest cheerleader. I think it’s overdue, but it will happen eventually.”