[Warning: The following contains spoilers from the series premiere of The Bachelor Presents: Listen to Your Heart. Read at your own risk!]
First dates are awkward and anxiety-inducing by their very nature, but it's a completely different ballgame when your first date is with one of your 19 new temporary roommates who you only met for the first time the day before. On top of trying to figure out what to do with your hands and how to make small talk, you have to sing together to prove your chemistry translates in a musical fashion. Oh, and it's being filmed on national television for the first episode of a Bachelor spin-off that no one has seen before.
It was nerve-wracking even for an outsider to walk through halls covered in photos of Katy Perry, Sam Smith, and Niall Horan, but my anxiety was nothing compared to that of Jamie and Ryan, the aspiring artists on The Bachelor Presents: Listen to Your Heart's first date. The tiny brunette in pale jeans and high heels and the hipster-adjacent crooner with the "perfect face" were nestled together on a couch in the back of Capitol Studios, in the iconic circular Capitol Records tower in Los Angeles when I showed up on a quiet Saturday afternoon in January.
The hopeful love birds were in the middle of rehearsing their take on John Mayer's "Gravity" with Mayer's long-time friend and producer, John Alagia. Meanwhile, half a dozen people including publicists, producers, a video crew from Entertainment Tonight, and myself watched from the sound booth. Watching from behind a plate glass as the two negotiated song parts and harmonies didn't feel that different from watching an exhibit at the zoo. Instead of watching tigers get fed, it was two ridiculously attractive people singing at each other and trying to find love -- and a bunch of camera guys trying to get the best take of it happening.
"I'm freaking out. This is an insane experience," Jamie told me when we finally got to talk, on the same couch she and Ryan were cozied up on a few moments earlier. "Three days ago I was just living in my little apartment in Nashville. It's crazy."
To Jamie's point, both she and Ryan were living in their respective homes on opposite sides of the country earlier in the week. Within the previous 24 hours, they moved in with 18 other aspiring musicians trying to find love and potentially launch their own careers. They were hand-picked by The Bachelor casting department and direct messaged on Instagram to entice them to this new show that works more like the other Bachelor spin-off, Bachelor in Paradise, than the flagship series.
Rather than one person dating several people at once to try and find love, the 20 young people all stay at the same house in hopes of coupling up. Each date comes with a song for them to learn and perform together to test out their chemistry. When a couple decides to commit to each other, they learn songs to perform for a panel of judges, who vote whether their romantic vibe translates to the music strongly enough for them to stay in the house and continue singing together.
When I met Jamie and Ryan, they were obviously a ways off from that last part, having only met the day before. It turned out that the word "first" had truly been a defining word for their fledgling relationship. Ryan received the first date card of anyone in the house and asked Jamie because, you guessed it, they were the first people to arrive at the compound.
"We initially had chemistry off the bat, you know, talking to each other for a while before other people came," Ryan explained. "She lives in Nashville. I used to live in Nashville...Off the bat, she's gorgeous so that wasn't a tough decision. I think we kind of arrived early and I wanted to pursue it."
Ryan wasn't alone in feeling some initial sparks, and as Bachelor fans know, forming an early connection is key to building a lasting relationship throughout filming. Jamie concurred that their early arrivals at the house gave them a chance to get to know each other that perhaps other prospective couples didn't get.
"We talked a lot last night and I feel like we did really connect," she said. "I wasn't completely, totally sure that he was going to pick me today, but I'm honored that he did. I mean, that's really special to get [the first] date card, so yeah, I feel lucky...I feel like music can accelerate a connection with someone because performing music is something that takes a lot of vulnerability, and a good relationship is built on being able to be vulnerable with somebody."
Even though Jamie and Ryan hit it off first out of everyone in the house. first doesn't mean only. Jamie neglected in our interview to mention Trevor, Katy Perry's former American Idol crush, whom she also formed a connection with the first night in the house. That could have potentially played into her nerves on the day, but she also had to contend with singing a song that didn't come as naturally to her as it did to Ryan.
The latter named Mayer as his biggest career inspiration, and thus was intimately familiar with "Gravity" before the two had to figure out how to sing it together. Jamie's distance from her comfort zone was something that Alagia, their producer for the day who -- let's face it -- was also third-wheeling on this date, seemed conscious of while working with the couple.
"I'm trying to make her at ease," Alagia said in our interview after the coaching session. "The more you get in someone's head, the more it can backfire. So, the main thing is you want to make them feel at ease and pump them up as best you can. It's cheerleading. There's a lot to working with people because they are very sensitive and you want to be ultra-positive about their first experience because these are the things that will last with you for the rest of your life."
For Ryan, helping Jamie with the song felt actually felt more comfortable than having to come up with typical date banter and being able to communicate in the language of melody and lyrics made him feel like the two were forging a true connection.
"If I didn't know the song, or I was less familiar, I would have been very, like, 'Oh my God. This is too big, too big to handle,'" he said. "Music is my favorite thing to do and I was waiting to finally be involved in something musical as opposed to just, like, hanging at a house with people, which was fun, but music -- that's my heart and soul, so it brings me comfort being inside here with people I can kind of relate to."
Both he and Jamie spoke of using music to connect on a deeper level, but then it was time to watch them put those words into action as they actually sang the song they had spent the afternoon rehearsing together. All press and non-essential crew returned to the master recording room fishbowl to watch as the two stood on opposite sides of a microphone previously used by Frank Sinatra.
In the episode, their duet was reduced to a few seconds, but in reality they sang it through two times for the cameras. On the first take it felt a bit awkward as they tried to find the groove, but one thing was extremely obvious: Both of them are truly talented musicians. On the second go-round, it seemed like the nerves melted away. Ryan twirled her around during a musical break and they shared a celebratory kiss afterwards.
Press wasn't invited to the sunset dinner portion of the date on the roof of the tower, though the episode confirmed there was more romance and kissing between Ryan and Jamie. Was singing John Mayer ballads in an iconic studio and a California sunset enough to build a lasting connection between the two, though?
"I wish I had the answer," Ryan said, unaware that the next day Jamie would actually give her first rose to Trevor, a move that surprised me after crashing their date. "I'm just going day-by-day, just trying to find somebody who kind of has similar aspirations, who's trying to make me like a better version of myself, and likewise, trying to be a counterpart. Hopefully, music brings that together and I think it will."
Will Ryan be able to find the true spark that didn't happen with Jamie on their unbelievable first date? We'll have to watch to find out.
The Bachelor Presents: Listen to Your Heart airs Mondays at 8/7c on ABC.