One thing that never worked out well in past “Bachelor” seasons was occasionally having musicians as contestants. So, of course, they made a spinoff in which everyone has a guitar.
The newest spinoff of ABC’s “Bachelor” franchise, “The Bachelor Presents: Listen to Your Heart,” was promoted — and this was a positive thing — as “a real-life 'A Star Is Born.'” Host Chris Harrison even opened the premiere enthusing that “watching Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s characters fall in love through their music was absolutely magical.” (It seems that creator Mike Fleiss and Harrison only watched the film’s first half: Cooper’s character drunkenly wets himself on television in the middle of it and kills himself at the end.)
“Listen to Your Heart,” by comparison, doesn’t openly seem to be setting its contestants up for public pants-wettings or untimely deaths, though. Rather, it follows a group of aspiring musicians who couple up for dates and then judges musical performances (in hopes of earning exposure for their careers).
Exposure, though, hasn’t worked out for other supposed love-seekers during the franchise’s normal seasons. Over the years — primarily on “The Bachelorette” — men with acoustic guitars and what sounded like forced Southern accents were a common series punchline, clearly not there for the “right” reasons. Just witness James Taylor on JoJo Fletcher’s season in 2016 or Lee Garrett on Rachel Lindsay’s turn the following year. Even the musical career of Jed Wyatt, the ex-fiancé of “Bachelorette” Hannah Brown, hoped to flourish after his appearance on the show. Instead, the exposure backfired … and reduced Wyatt to being best known, musically anyway, for a dog food jingle.
Other than the musical performance factor, the show differs in three main ways from the usual “Bachelor” franchises. First, most “Bachelor” shows consist of at least one familiar returning contestant — effectively, a fan favorite who “lost” in a prior season — and this series presented a clean slate of contestants. Second, while the other parts of the franchise feature many people competing for the affection of one bachelor or bachelorette, on this show, the couples mingle with different people, eventually deciding on a partner for the remainder of the show.
Then, finally, because the musical performances take so much time, the actual “dating” part has been more or less set aside, and what remains has been made into a gimmick to set up the performances. That makes the dates they’re sent on one of the cringiest parts of the show. Each episode — and thus nearly each date — has a musical theme, often tied to guest appearances, like those of country singer Chris Lane or reggae star Shaggy. (“It Wasn’t Me” is arguably the worst song to dance to on any date night, period. It gets even worse watching cast members make out to a song about getting caught cheating.)
Beyond that, while the “Bachelor” franchise hasn’t always been the most inclusive show, it made some strides in recent seasons by showing conversations during dates about the social constructs around virginity, religion, same-sex relationships and sexual assault and trauma. However, because the show minimizes dates in favor of the performances, viewers of “Listen to Your Heart” didn’t get to see any of those deep, one-on-one conversations that are normally common, making it hard for fans to connect to any of the cast, let alone understand who they are as people.
As an avid participant in Bachelor Nation (the show’s fanbase), it was even more disappointing to see these conversations not occur on camera — they are what drew me into “The Bachelor” initially and what humanizes reality TV.
And then there are the performances themselves, hampered by the baffling process through which the couples receive songs for their performances. Other than an obvious “Shallow” cover — remember, it’s all about “A Star Is Born” — the rest of the choices ranged from Cheap Trick, various country artists, John Mayer and even Rihanna. Unlike other music competition shows such as “The Voice,” none of the contestants seemed to have had a say, let alone any emotional connection, to what they’re supposed to perform.
Throughout the entire season, I wondered if producers were just hitting shuffle on Spotify and going with the first song that appeared, so random were the choices in terms of potential popularity with the audience and matching the contestants’ voices or tastes or the mood of the episode.
In comparison to other spinoffs — including “Bachelor in Paradise” and “Bachelor Pad” — this newest endeavor marked a painful low for the franchise; I couldn’t even laugh at the awkward moments.
The only reason people — including myself — kept watching this train wreck for six weeks might be a subconscious one: In times where distancing from others is the norm, scientific research suggests that people use music to feel closer to their friends and as a form of escapism. Even knowing that research says I’m supposed to feel good about watching it, I was always left wondering how much worse the next episode could truly get.
It turns out the answer was always "a lot."
If Harrison and the showrunners are truly following the “A Star Is Born” template, then maybe the aging franchise itself — 24 seasons of the original series, 15 of “The Bachelorette,” three of “Bachelor Pad” and six of “Bachelor in Paradise” — is Bradley Cooper’s character. That would make this, perhaps, its public pants-wetting, just before it takes a nice, long stint away to sort itself out. Or maybe they just need to let “Listen to Your Heart” fade into oblivion … like the musicians of "Bachelorette" seasons past.