I’m lingering awkwardly in the entryway to the Greene Turtle in Locust Point, listening to Jillian talk how she came down from Pennsylvania to be here, for the Baltimore casting call to find the next Bachelor/Bachelorette. She’s in full trashy TV show regalia: silver spike heels, hot pink tank top, thick mascara, ostentatious cleavage. I ask her if she really thinks she’d find true love on a reality show. She looks confused. “I’m a model,” she tells me. “I’m just trying to further my career.”
And it’s not just Jillian, it seems — the sprawling restaurant/bar complex is full of reality TV hopefuls doing their best to seem real (but not too real), cute (but not trashy), interesting (but not histrionic). I keep waiting to hear someone say “I’m not here to make friends.”
“We’re here because we thought there would be some eligible bachelors,” Nikki from Baltimore tells me. “We thought we could get some phone numbers!” She and her girlfriends have already gone through the audition process — a lengthy form with very personal questions; a few quick photos; a trip upstairs to answer some more very personal questions in front of a camera — and they’re clearly having the most fun of anyone in the room. Not, alas, because of all the bachelors — the male/female ratio in the room is probably 10:1. “There is maybe one good-looking man here,” she says. “Maybe,” her friend Lee says skeptically.
There’s an odd disconnect at the heart of the audition process, and it’s the same one that makes the Bachelor/ette such a delicious trainwreck to watch: it’s a show about seeking authentic connection via the most inauthentic medium possible. One purpose of the casting call seems to be to weed out the most nakedly fame-hungry wanna-bes, the ones who aren’t even savvy enough to know that they’re supposed to at least pretend that what they’re desperate for is love, not D-list fame. “Are you genuinely looking to get married?” the multi-page audition questionnaire asks. “Please describe your ideal mate. How many serious relationships have you been in? What happened to end those relationships? Why haven’t you found the man of your dreams?”
But when I ask why they’re here, not one person at the auditions mentions love, relationships, or marriage. Most insist that they’re just here on a lark, that they thought it would be funny, that they’re here for the people-watching. Some of them I believe, others I don’t. It’s pretty easy to tell those who secretly care from those who genuinely don’t — basically, the higher the heels, the more the person is secretly invested in getting on TV. Others, like Jillian and Drew from Charles Village, are transparent about just wanting to get on TV. Drew drove out to the American Idol try-outs last week, “Just for the experience,” he says. He waited for five or six hours so he could sing for 30 seconds before the judges next-ed him. “It was the most anti-climactic thing,” he says glumly. He’s hoping The Bachelor might see something in him that the other didn’t — and besides, he tells me, everyone knows Idol is on its way out.
Three very tan, very no-nonsense, very well-preserved women — presumably the casting directors — sit behind a table, casting appraising glances out at the crowd. One tells me that they’ve seen about two hundred people in three hours; that’s a fair amount, she says, but nothing out of the ordinary. The hopefuls cycling through the Greene Turtle — many of them with a drink in their hands to ease the awkwardness — don’t seem to have high hopes for being plucked out of obscurity. I ask Nikki and her friends, who are African-American, what they think about the recent allegations that the show discriminates against non-white contestants. “That’s why we know we’re not getting picked!” she crows. “Or if we do,” her friend Nee pipes in, “We’ll get eliminated first. But that’s fine — give me my night of drinking and I’ll go home in 24 hours.” I can’t help myself — I start to get a little philosophical. Aren’t they worried about the artificiality of the show, about how their fun and vibrant personalities would be condensed down into some dumb reality show cliche? The girls look at me like I’m nuts. “[The people on the show,] they just sit around all day, drinking, traveling. You get to hang out with a different guy every night,” Nikki explains patiently. “It’s like my dream!”
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