The unstoppable juggernaut that is ABC’s Bachelor franchise just got a little bit bigger: Last night the network premiered its latest spinoff, The Bachelor Presents: Listen To Your Heart. Yes, the inferred music reference is very much intentional, as this reality show crams together 20 single men and women (this being ABC, the heterosexuality is a given) who are also pursuing careers in music—whether directly or merely with “I love to sing!”-level passion. They’re hoping to find love, musical success, or maybe just enough Instagram followers to make a living as an influencer. Two of our TV critics, and Bachelor/Bachelorette devotees, Gwen Ihnat and Alex McLevy, tuned in to the premiere, curious if this would be their newest reality-TV addiction. What they found was something a bit more dissonant—and if that shitty pun makes you groan, then boy, has ABC got a new show for you.
Alex McLevy: Gwen, right out of the smooth-pop-crooner gate, I feel like I need to admit how I watched this show. For those not in the know, Listen To Your Heart essentially functions like Bachelor In Paradise for musicians: Every few days, there’s a rose ceremony where the men and women alternate doling out roses to the partners they’ve chosen to continue pursuing romantically and/or musically. Not coupled up by the end of the ceremony? You’re sent home. In other words, I was primed and ready to love this series the same way I love that dimwitted beach-set, sun-dappled summer guilty pleasure—lots of semi-sober drama queens stirring up mischief and jumping way too fast into relationships that will flame out three weeks (or hours) later.
Only, here’s the thing: While I enjoyed nearly every minute of ABC’s finely honed skills in editing a group of 20 randos to establish the good girl, the villain, the douche, the misunderstood nice guy, and all the other archetypal roles the series slots all these people into, the very premise of the spinoff is what nearly did me in. Every time some soulful singer-songwriter picked up a guitar and started singing their feelings, it took every fiber of my being to resist fast-forwarding through it. God, it was painful. In the first three minutes, multiple people (including host Chris Harrison) referenced the recent remake of A Star Is Born. Yet they all seemed to forget what makes watching beautiful people sing to each other tolerable: It’s fiction. In real life, seeing people reveal their emotional vulnerability one-on-one through singing is the kind of cringe-worthy dread only experienced by the partners of musicians and hosts of escape-room parties. Did you manage to enjoy the music, i.e., the entire reason for this series existing?
Gwen Ihnat: But therein lies my problem right out of the gate with LTYH, as Twitter is calling it: Is the music the entire reason for this series? Or is it the lurrrrvvvve? Harrison calls out legendary musical love stories both real (Carly Simon and James Taylor) and fictional (A Star Is Born) that are not quite the paragon of relationship goals, so I still can’t figure out what the end game is here. I’m a simple Bachelor watcher: I need either everything to make sense (like in the Bachelor/Bachelorette: Get a rose, you stay) or nothing (Bachelor In Paradise), and for a new show, LTYH has a rather vague purpose so far. Does the winning couple get a record contract? A free honeymoon? A visit to a recording studio on their honeymoon?
While they iron out the kinks, I have to say that the randos were mostly hilarious. I am with you on the cringe factor of Ryan just casually sitting down at the piano and starting a sing-along, a popular party pastime in oh, say, the 1940s. Or the menfolk trying to win over the ladies with last-ditch serenades (I did like that the women were in the driver’s seat from the start, ready to cull one-third of the male contestants). Otherwise, things seemed par for the Bachelor course, with a drama queen extraordinaire (Rudi melting down over Matt’s betrayal, a man she’d known for less than a day) and a 21-year-old who just wants to lock this all down already (Jamie has been waiting for true love for so long, you guys). I was on Trevor’s side until he wore the cursed Jed sheepskin jacket, I have already seen too much of Ryan’s tongue, and Sheridan seems like a caricature of an Austin musician—a car he’s named, rings on his fingers, bolero hat—which probably means he’s in it for the long haul.
Which means… what? Do these eight couples all have to stick together now over the next several episodes? Will there be swapping going on? Do more people get sent home? I guess they all wind up in Vegas eventually? Since Chris Harrison isn’t here with us right now to explain anything, I turn to you, Alex: Where do you think the rest of Listen To Your Heart will take us over the next five weeks? Follow-up question: Isn’t it interesting how in normal times you would probably never watch this show, but starved for something new during shelter in place, we’re now ready to give it a shot?
AM: You’re absolutely right that a lack of clarity about the intentions behind the structure of LTYH isn’t helping anything. There seems to be an obvious and unspoken element of the show, which is that each person is trying to launch a career in music, or take an already-existing one to the next level. Presumably, they’re all laboring under the assumption that the further they make it in this “competition,” the more fans they’ll get, and the better their chances of achieving said career will be. So unlike this show’s flagship series, which promises nothing but a chance at love (and being on TV), there’s a clear impetus for these wannabe performers to lie, manipulate, and use each other in the hopes of finding that success. Not exactly a recipe for love. Plus, it made me laugh so hard when bearded lothario Matt said it looked like everyone arriving at the mansion would be a nice person, because “You kind of have to be to be a musician.” Ah, yes, fame-driven musicians, notorious for their kindness and generosity of spirit.
So I think the show is going to increasingly lean into the tension between carrying on a romance and carrying a tune as the weeks go by. I predict the phrase “They’re not here for the right reasons” is going to get a massive workout. But also, I don’t see myself managing to hang in there past this first episode, because it’s just too damn awkward watching people earnestly sing their way into relationships. (Also, every single one is a singer? You couldn’t throw into the mix, say, one violinist who doesn’t like to belt out showstoppers?) As funny as it is hearing a young man say, “I grew up idolizing John Mayer,” I don’t thing I want to hear the end of this song. Gwen, what stood out for you as the most appealing aspects, and were they enough to get you to keep watching?
GI: Granted, I’m probably still recovering after that last, toxic Bachelor season, but my heart actually warmed to see the women dishing about the men (hit the road, lips enthusiast Mike Todd) and actually being supportive of each other. I have no idea how this music thing is going to play out. What if you make really good music with someone but you’re not in love with them? What if they all break up? Could be a giant Fleetwood Mac situation over here. So I am curious enough to see just how the brainiac minds behind The Bachelor intend to keep this all going.
But frankly, Alex, Listen To Your Heart just seems to fit the Monday night hole in my schedule that used to be taken up with chocolate and rosé at my friend’s house, and now I message them while scrolling through these all-too appropriate wisecracks on Twitter:
Well said, Brett Vergara. In normal times, we probably would not be giving Listen To Your Heart a second look (or listen)—but right now is the furthest thing from normal. Which means, fortunately or unfortunately, I am probably on board for the duration. Go Sheridan?