Bachelor Nation

Sharleen Joynt on Episode 1 of The Bachelor Presents: Listen to Your Heart

The Bach alum shares her POV on the premiere of the new Bachelor musical series

I’m almost irritated at how much I liked last night’s series premiere of Listen To Your Heart. Trust me, I was the first to snark on those previews, all strategically placed partway through Peter’s season’s live segments. Frankly, it appeared destined to become the franchise’s most misguided spinoff yet, like Paradise but…sincere.

As a disclaimer, I should mention I’ve never even seen A Star Is Born (I honestly can’t even stand the song!), so the movie that “inspired” this show in no way “inspired” me to like this spinoff. But—ugh!—I liked last night’s Listen To Your Heart premiere! In fact, I liked it a lot. Perhaps I went in with overly low expectations, primed to have them surpassed. Maybe, being a musician, this show spoke to me on a level even a fantastic Bachelor season cannot. Or maybe—just maybe—I’m secretly soothed by this mansion’s familiar Bachelor-ific decor, calmed by its curiously wet driveway. Maybe I missed this show more than I’d like to admit, or maybe Listen To Your Heart satisfied a reality TV craving only a pandemic could induce. Maybe it’s all of the above, but I’ll argue, with or without special circumstances, Listen To Your Heart is a hell of a lot more than just a distraction or fresh meat.

Watching contestants sporadically break into song last night, I tried to pinpoint just what made it so pleasing. It brought me to the simple fact—and probably my favourite aspect of Listen To Your Heart—that talent cannot be faked. All the glamour and luck in the world can’t compensate for talent. In that sense, this spinoff came at just the right time and, in a way, speaks to the genius of this franchise’s The Powers That Be. For a few years now, we’ve been living in a world where Bachelor fame can beget literally millions of Instagram followers, with a shiny new celebrity life and bank account balance to match. Thus, this game’s players have become increasingly polished, increasingly TV-ready, increasingly (and strangely) good at “falling in love” on national television. That’s the impasse at which The Bachelor has now found itself; it’s just too damn easy to fake words and “feelings,” to say what your producers and potential fiancé(e)-to-be want to hear. I’m not saying everyone on The Bachelor is or has been faking it, but the trust is looong gone—these days it’s safer to assume why someone has gone on that show than it is to trust their conveniently on-schedule ILYs and artfully crafted sob stories. But there’s no lie detector, no reality TV police to prove whether or not you’re being authentic. Isn’t it funny that this is where reality TV has gotten us? On a show about being real people, quite literally, acting can win you success.

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Meanwhile, last night I found myself endeared by this talented cast’s undeniable awkwardness. Is it just me, or do they seem way less polished than the way so many recent Bachelor casts have been? Unlike the many models and pageant queens and former NBA-dancers that came before them, to be seen isn’t their bread and butter; it’s to be heard. Just think about the different mindset that reality brings with it: function over form, the realization that you have to be good to get lucky. This was the first season in awhile where I’ve felt like we’re watching real people, not those whose looks are, and always have been, a major part of their identity. Of course, that’s not to say there was a single unattractive face in the bunch, but it was just refreshing for something other than conventional attractiveness to be the clincher in someone getting cast or lasting on a TV show. (And when a contestant is undeniably beautiful—for example, Bri—it just feels like a cherry atop the proverbial sundae, not the sundae itself.) After deliberating, I’ve decided this cast has the quiet confidence of those who possess that aforementioned talent (not to mention trust in that talent). There is no need to overcompensate, to attempt to stand out for attention or airtime. (It’s worth nothing that this show’s dates appear to cater to that talent; so far things don’t seem designed to humiliate or manipulate them. That doesn’t hurt.) Further, in the humble opinion of someone who knows many musicians of all genres, I truly believe that to pursue a music career you are required to be a sensitive, oftentimes inquisitive person. To become presentably “good” at what you do, one must be constantly improving, or at the very least striving to improve. And in order to improve, one must be their own worst critic. And to be self-critical, one must be self-aware. That series of traits doesn’t immediately bring to mind your average Bachelor contestant.

Interestingly, the very aspect of this show I was expecting to be the most groan-worthy—the music—turned out to be what I enjoyed most. We’re used to associating guitars and sporadic breaking-into-song with Wrong Reasons. But that engrained thinking has been turned on its head: Can it be a Wrong Reason if they’re all there for the same reason? There’s something refreshing about no one having anything to hide; they are all pursuing careers in music, and there’s no shame in that being prioritized on a level akin to “finding love.” Consider the playing field levelled. Last night, I wistfully remembered my age old Bachelor favourite, otherwise known as the best spinoff this franchise ever had, Bachelor Pad. (If you’re looking for past shows for entertainment, WATCH IT NOW.) The joy in Bachelor Pad was the cash prize. (This was before Instagram would become its own cash cow.) There was no pretending, no insulting our intelligence as to why folks were there. Sure, some people would couple up for awhile, perhaps genuinely or perhaps out of convenience or strategy. I won’t be surprised if that happens with couples on Listen To Your Heart, but I’m totally fine with that. That’s because we know what’s in it for these folks—there’s no rigmarole, no pretending, no shielding us from the truth. The prize isn’t cash anymore, but nor is it some nebulous byproduct of “falling in love” on TV; it’s plain, simple, priceless exposure. It is to appear on the show in the first place. They know it, we know it, they know that we know it. We’re all on the same page.

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But while there’s an obvious benefit to coupling up, I would wager that, if true couples do emerge from this show, they have a better chance than most Bachelor pairings. Julia, during her (excellent) chat with Sheridan, said that most non-musical exes have viewed her music career as a “cute project,” a point you could tell he understood deeply. Julia later deemed Ryan attractive due to his being “wildly talented.” (The #talentcrush is real.) As absurd as Michael Todd was, he wasn’t wrong when he said, “Definitely Savannah’s beautiful but we’ll have to see how her voice sounds.” This is all to say that these relationships are being built with an understanding and mutual respect that goes far beyond what we’re used to watching with this franchise. It goes beyond the wow-factor of professional-level good looks on The Bachelor, beyond the basic compatibility required to spend days on end in a mutually beneficial couple, à la Paradise. This adds to the mix something we’ve been missing: true collaboration and respect for what one does, for their pursuits, which far better represents healthy real-life dating than anything on The Bachelor does. You can see these musicians assess and view each other differently based on their talents, and it’s refreshing to watch people bond and connect over something not remotely superficial or sex-based.

OK, I’ll stop gushing long enough to spend a paragraph talking about actual people and plot points. Do I think Rudi was overreacting and being far too possessive when she tore Matt to shreds over leading her on with that date? Yes. But in both parties’ defence, this felt like one of the more producer-puppeteered parts of last night’s finale. Knowing how inexperienced Matt is with The Bachelor (enough to not know Chris Harrison’s name), you can imagine how a producer probably couldn’t resist steering him towards Mel (child’s play for these producers). I like Jamie in that she’s quirky and endearing, but let’s be honest: If she were a man and flip-flopped as she did throughout last night’s premiere, she’d be deemed a dirtbag for it. Ryan, whose job title of ophthalmic technician feels like a reverse Bachelor joke occupation, seems destined for music superstardom. Sheridan, in a scene that would have rung all the Wrong Reasons bells on The Bachelor, simply gave me goosebumps while he serenaded Julia.

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Perhaps that’s what got me the most about these contestants’ talents: I wanted more. When we kept cutting to Jamie and Trevor‘s steamy hot tub scene, I found myself not caring, far more interested in the group jam session of “Stand By Me” taking place by the piano. The show has done a great job so far of dosing out its contestants’ talents, of keeping us in suspense for musical numbers to come. I can’t wait to hear Bri finally sing for Chris, or to hear Brandon perform. It just feels good to watch people who are passionate about something. It’s clear no one here is quitting singing or playing when they’ve reached X number of Instagram followers. It feels like this an opportunity that happened to come along, not that it’s an opportunity they’ve been preparing for. For once, this show isn’t a means to an end. In the case of this cast, this “journey” has already existed for years and will likely continue for many more; Listen To Your Heart is just a step along the way.