Neither Amanda Grace Jenkins nor Markelle Smith were necessarily looking for love when the opportunity slid into their DMs. Smith was contacted by a 12 Dates of Christmas casting director who had seen him on Instagram and Jenkins was recommended for the show by one of her TikTok followers. But once they’d each had a chance to see the first season of the HBO Max series, they were ready to shoot their shot for a chance at a holiday love story miracle. “Once I saw the first season of 12 Dates of Christmas and saw how wholesome it was, it gave me the confidence and green light to go ahead and pull that trigger,” Smith recalls. “I also believed it would be a fun experience, [a] once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And up until that point, I hadn’t found ‘the one’ yet so why not give it a shot.”
For those unfamiliar with the format of the show, it has some similarities to programs like The Bachelor. However, rather than being introduced all at once, new potential love interests come trickling in as the days go by — often right in the middle of an ongoing date. There are also three “leads,” two of which, Jenkins and Smith, are part of the LGBTQ+ community (their cast mate for the season, Danny Escalate, is looking for his dream woman). Finally, the goal at the end of the season isn’t a proposal, but rather to find the person they want to bring home to their families for the holidays. The result is absolutely binge-worthy TV, full of laughter, romance, and some serious twists you won’t see coming.
While the format might be a little unconventional, both Jenkins and Smith’s intentions going into the show were very traditional. “I was hoping for an amazing, once in a lifetime experience and genuine connections. Potentially a true love connection. Someone I could see in my life long-term,” explains Jenkins.
Smith also went into the show with the hopes of making a true connection with one of the handsome love interests sent his way. “You truly never know where you’ll meet that prince. And I really had such a great time on this show — and I think viewers will truly see that too,” he says.
As it turns out, making connections proved easier than they could’ve hoped for — and that can create a whole new kind of pressure for the show’s leads, who have to send people home. And trust us, there’s no shortage of tears on gift-giving ceremony (think rose ceremony) nights. While they might have only known each other for a very short time, Jenkins explains why bonds between the leads and their potential love interests form so quickly and powerfully in the house. “When you have a group of people going through a unique experience together with no distractions from the outside world and the pressure to be completely open and vulnerable, some really deep connections can form,” she says.
It also doesn’t hurt that everyone who enters the house is incredibly attractive. While Smith’s hopes were high going in, he was still surprised by how amazing the guys he had to choose between were. “It made the decision really hard,” he shares. “There are some really cute ones and some really charming ones. It also allowed me to figure out more about myself, of where I was, where I am, and what I want for the future.”
Jenkins was also aware that, in addition to looking for love, she also had the added pressure of representing the LGBTQ+ community on-screen. Rather than let it trip her up, though, Jenkins viewed it as an exciting opportunity. “I felt honored to get to represent and I definitely wanted to make the queer community proud,” she says. “I feel like all the queer individuals who came on the show really did just that. It was beautiful to see.”
Smith agrees, adding that he was excited to offer queer audiences some positive representation, which he says is all too often lacking in today’s media. “If there was anything that I would hope that the queer audience will take away from the show, it would be to not be afraid to stand out. Be who you are, proudly,” he says. “Dating in the queer community is fun and we get to make our own rules.”
Jenkins hopes this message of positivity extends beyond the queer audience as well. “I hope that the general audience will see our relationships as valid and authentic. I hope that they can enjoy and embrace real connection regardless of gender norms and sexuality,” she shares.
While it remains to be seen if Jenkins and Smith get their respective happily ever afters with one of the love interests in the house, one thing they can both agree on is that the experience has strengthened their feelings about love. “I feel excited about love, as I always have,” says Smith. Jenkins agrees, but adds that the show has taught her the importance of compatibility in addition to attraction. “I learned that some will make you feel like you’re doing too much and some will make you feel like you’re not doing enough. But as long as you show up authentically, for the right person, you will be enough,” she says.
To find out who Jenkins and Smith bring home for the holidays, and if they do find their forever loves, check out season two of 12 Dates of Christmas, which premieres November 25 on HBO Max. You can watch the trailer below.
SOURCE: PRIDE DOT COM