"The Bachelorette" made history Tuesday night: All four of the remaining suitors vying for Michelle's affection are Black, a first for ABC's reality dating franchise.
Michelle, the third Black Bachelorette, welcomed Brandon, Rodney, Joe and Nayte to hometowns week, marking the first time the show has featured a final four entirely with people of color.
In an interview this month, Michelle addressed criticism of the show's frequent conversations about race this season.
"This is my love story. That's a big piece of that," she says, "and something that's incredibly important to me because of experiences I've been through. That doesn't mean that's always going to be a person of color, but you have to be willing to sit down and have these tough conversations because they ... do matter to me.
"I have to bring those things up. There are times where that can feel heavy, and it's not dramatic, and it's not crazy, but it's real. It's authentic, it's who I am and that's what I promised myself."
She also lauded the "amazing, well-rounded men" who remain contenders.
"You really do get these deep stories of the men who are left," she said. "And you really do see how wonderful, how different and unique each of these men are."
Here's what went down on Michelle's final four hometown dates.
Brandon is head over heels for Michelle
Brandon J., the 26-year-old traveling nurse recruiter from Portland, Oregon, has never been shy about his feelings for Michelle.
That only continues with his "hometown" date, which, like the other three, is held in Michelle's hometown of Minneapolis, where the show set up shop for the latter half of the season. That night, Michelle meets Brandon's mother, father and brother, and bonds with his dad over their shared love of fishing and basketball.
Michelle later says she's falling for Brandon, who's thrilled: "I want to marry this woman, man," he says. "I truly, truly as a human being want it to be me, more than anything in this entire world."
Look back on 'The Bachelorette' premiere: Michelle Young hands out first impression rose, sends 7 home
Rodney's mom expresses concern about her son getting hurt
Rodney, the 29-year-old sales representative from Rancho Cucamonga, California, takes Michelle apple picking before introducing her to his mom and dad, who worry their son will be crushed if he doesn't make it to the end.
Nevertheless, Michelle says she has a "really strong connection" with Rodney. "If there's anything that I've learned about this process it's how much a short amount of time can change your feelings," she adds. "Every minute really does count when you're falling in love."
Joe makes a declaration of love
Joe, the 28-year-old real estate developer from Minneapolis, conveniently gets a date in his real hometown.
He shows Michelle his high school, where he's set up a prom in the gym because he never went and remembers from her poem during the first group date that she was picked last for prom. Michelle dubs it "the most fairytale moment I've had in my life."
After introducing Michelle to his mom, dad, brother and sister-in-law, Joe says he sees himself a year from now married to Michelle, living in Minnesota and starting a family together.
"I just want you to know that my feelings for you are getting stronger and stronger and I am falling in love with you," he tells her. "I feel like you're that special person for me."
Nayte's parents worry he can't 'handle' the commitment
Nayte has never introduced a girlfriend to his family – until now.
The 27-year-old sales executive from Austin, Texas, takes Michelle paddleboarding before introducing her to his mother and stepfather, who divorced more than a year ago but were both instrumental in raising him.
Nayte's mom notes her son has never wanted to make a relationship a "forever deal," and worries they wouldn't make it when facing real-life pressures.
But it's also a transformative night for Nayte, who has an emotional conversation with his stepfather in which they say "I love you" to each other for the first time.
It's a bittersweet night for Michelle, who's thrilled that Nayte and his family had this important moment, but is also concerned that her first-impression rose recipient may not be ready for an engagement.
Who gets sent home?
After a visit from her former "Bachelor" contestants Bri and Serena (both from Matt James' season), Michelle gives roses to Brandon, Nayte and Joe, which means goodbye to Rodney.
Rodney gives an emotional final farewellto Michelle: "I am falling in love with you. I need you to know that that's something that doesn't change easily. I'm always going to care about you, Michelle. Like, forever."
'He'll be the next Bachelor': Clayton’s prolonged, emotional 'Bachelorette' exit sets up his future
But wait, there's more! After months of speculation (and a not-so-subtle hint at the end of last week's episode), the show finally confirms that Clayton Echard, who was sent home last week in a surprisingly dramatic fashion, will become the next "Bachelor" when that show returns Jan. 3.
"I'm just a Midwest guy from Missouri that wants to find love, and I believe more than anything that my future wife is here," he says in a teaser.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'The Bachelorette': Clayton is next Bachelor, Michelle makes history