Everyone Gets a Rose

Six years ago, in preparing to return home after a semester abroad in Ghana, I found myself weary-eyed and zombie-like. I was packing up my belongings and bags in my dormitory room at the international dormitory and wasn’t quite ready to leave. And so, to bring along a little energy and a small spark of Ghanaian culture, I chose to wear a Kente-cloth dress for the flight back to the United States. Timely, as I was randomly upgraded to first class for the 13-hour flight from London to Denver. I promptly sipped unlimited mimosas and stretched my legs on a move-able bed, complete with a down-comforter.

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Reppin’ Kente cloth on the flight with Rachel. Accra, Ghana, May 2010

Kente is significant; it’s a silk and cotton based cloth native to the Ashanti region of Ghana. Various colors carry different symbols, and the cloth is so intricate that it is often woven together piece by piece. It’s typically a “loud” and vibrant textile; one of the most popular African-based designs in the world.

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Since leaving Ghana, this particular Kente-printed dress has been with me through college celebrations, weddings, the Peace Corps, travel around the U.S., and most recently, while at a casting call for the upcoming season of ABC’s The Bachelor.

Yes, I tried out for The Bachelor. In my African-print dress.

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For years, I have– usually in jest – told my friends that I would boldly audition for a spot on the show if producers should come to Denver in search for the next contestant. Apparently, the show sends a crew to Denver quite regularly, but it so happens that I’m often gallivanting somewhere else outside of Denver, anyway.

But this summer? They came. I was here. As a firm believer in living life with a posture of “why not?” and with a strong nudge of encouragement from Rachel, I completed the 10-page application and agreed to show up for the face-to-face interviews and auditions.

First, let’s talk about that application. If you are curious, you can find a copy of it here.

The Application

The questions span about 6 of those 10 pages; contractual obligations are around 4, 5, or 6 more additional pages of signing. Essentially, you are signing your rights away to the show. Seriously. If the producers want to take the show in a certain direction, they can. If they want you to “play” a certain kind of character, that will ultimately be at their discretion. And all liability is on you.

The actual questions are both expected and unexpected. You fill in answers about your hometown, siblings, and the reasons you are seeking marriage. You are also inclined to answer questions about your favorite alcoholic beverage (red wine), the reason you like that particular beverage (it’s the ultimate truth serum), and why your serious relationships have ended (distance).

In answering these questions, I knew I would have to stand out in an “alternative” way. I am not a blonde-bombshell, I don’t have a modeling career, and let’s be real, I’m kind of quirky, happy-go-lucky, and relatively down-to-earth lady. I decided to push hard on the “Africa” angle in my life – thus the reason I was adorned in African fabric. In answering questions about my proudest accomplishment, I answered “completing the U.S. Peace Corps” and when explaining my “ideal mate” I emphasized my desire to find someone who had an equally impassioned interest in helping others, learning about the world, and sharing cultures. It was cheesy. But, my pitch was quite simple: “The Bachelor has never seen a woman like me before.”

Wearing my Kente dress with pride and gusto, I marched into the Hard Rock Café for the casting call 3 hours early. Literally, I did march because I was wearing my leather cowboy boots and my black backpack to carry my computer. I meant business. Only one other girl had shown up and ABC had not yet started the “que” line for the audition. With kindness, Hard Rock Café staff allowed us to sit down near the bar as we waited for the line to get organized and the process to begin.

Just as quickly, I popped out my computer to add remaining edits for a grant application due the following day. I chugged away on my computer, fielding questions from fellow contestants about the nature of my work.

“So, um, where is your bakery?”

“Oh! Africa….”

“Oh Rwanda! Is that in Asia?”

The Que Line

When I was able to finish my final touches on the grant application, I figured it would be best to truly “take in” the experience. I put my computer in my backpack and followed the girls who had arrived outside to begin forming the line. I was the second girl up. This has to bode well for my luck – right?

I began to get to know the women around me.

The first woman in line – at the very front – had invested hundreds of dollars to prepare for the audition. With new make-up, a nail job, waxed eyebrows, and a new outfit, she was determined. Interspered in our conversation, she spoke with various contacts in Puerto Rico. Loudly she proclaimed into the phone, “If I don’t get on this show then I’m done! I’m moving to Puerto Rico and that’s just that.” Like I said, people are heavily invested.

A few girls over, I chatted with a girl who has made a career of trying out for reality shows. Most recently, she had become a finalist on America’s Next Top Model, but was left out during a final cut. In her perfectly manicured right hand, she held a hot pink water bottle. In the other, she carried a thick portfolio of photographs to showcase during her interview. Woah, I thought to myself, I am so not prepared for this.

I especially appreciated the cat-calls, questions, stares, and odd-looks from Denver pedestrians. The Hard Rock Café sits on the corner of 16th Street Mall, and so weekly foot traffic is heavy. With a line full of long-legged pretty ladies, you can imagine the types of words and sounds were receiving. Ick.

Because I was early, however, the line didn’t get much longer until later. While I stood outside, only around 50-60 girls waited with me. When I finished the entire process, though, numbers had swelled to at least 200.

The Photographs

Once ABC finished their set-up, a representative came out to welcome us to the audition! It was starting – officially. We were led in through the double doors like a herd of cows, frantically waiting to receive our special Bachelor pen.

Once received, you review your initial application for one final glance and receive a white board in which you write your full name. This white board is used during your head – and body shots. Since I was in the top portion of the line of women, I had my photographs done quickly. Remembering my persona of “nice do-gooder,” I smiled with approximately 0.1% sex appeal. Mostly, I tried to look cute, clean, and yet still a bit gregarious, especially with the style of my outfit. The photographer took a full shot of my head, a couple of profile perspectives, and of course, the entire body. It was strange.

The Camera Interview

The final point of contact during a casting call between the show and individuals trying out is the screen test. Pulled into a room with at least 5 different camera set-ups, each candidate enters the room, is “mic’d” up, and provided a handful of questions to answer while being filmed. The idea is to get a sense for how a person looks, acts, and feels on camera. I sat down and could hardly get the mic around my neck. Be cool, I told myself, be cool.

The fluorescent camera lights were dizzying at first, but I got accommodated quickly. Quick, witty, adorable. The questions started right away:

“What is your name?”

“Heather Newell.”

“Where are you from?”

“I’m a 303-girl; I’m from right here in Denver, Colorado!”

“Are you married?”

“No, I’m not married.”

“Are you divorced?”

“No, I’m not divorced, but many people in my family have experienced divorce, which is one of the reasons I am trying out for the show! Maybe TV is a way to break the cycle…?”

“How long was your longest relationship?”

“Realistically, the relationship lasted nearly a year, but continued for a bit after we weren’t able to be together.”

“Why did that relationship end?”

“Distance. My heart was broken because it was difficult to find closure when I so badly wanted it to work.”

“What do you like to do in your free time?”

“So, outside of being active, I love other cultures. I thrive in other cultures. So, I spend a lot of time with Rwandans in the Denver community, as well as Denver citizens who have come from other countries. I think it’s important to share our spaces and time so we can build more understanding in the world.  Oh. And um, rollerblading. I really like rollerblading too.”

“Okay, great, thanks Heather. If you make it to the next round in Los Angeles, you will hear from us by mid-July.”

“So, um, if I don’t hear from you at all, I can assume that I didn’t make the cut?”

“That’s correct.”

“Okay, great. Thank you so much!”

I grabbed my backpack, Bachelor pen, and made my way to the exit. The line for auditions now circled around the restaurant. Fumes of hairspray and perfume filled my nostrils. Woah. It was time to go home.

Roses for All

Now that it’s past mid-July, I am fairly confident I did not make it to the next round of The Bachelor. And hey! That’s okay. I wasn’t really trying out with that kind of expectation. I was interested, curious, and excited to have a different perspective into one of America’s most popular cultural phenomenons.

Because I’m a pretty open and ardent feminist, I must confess: it felt kind of hypocritical even showing up for the audition to the show in the first place. I mean, in what kind of world does it even make sense to have one person moving through men or women like soda pop cans in a pack? Only, it’s with roses. It is weird. And, how could I be okay with being judged, solely based on my looks?

I definitely know I’m not alone because a simple ‘google’ search will provide dozens of articles on “7 Reasons it’s Okay to be a Feminist and Watch the Bachelor.”

The struggle of enthusiastically promoting the advancement of women and simultaneously enjoying The Bachelor series is real.

I suppose in many ways, I’m curious, wanting deeply to understand the zealous drive to watch this show every week. Is the ridiculousness so bad that it’s hard to walk away? Is it simply a great excuse for 1 – or 2 – glasses of red wine? Is it actually kind of interesting to see what happens? Does it provide the kind of escape a woman needs after a long day at work?

Ultimately, I think what I like most about The Bachelor is that it’s a fun topic to chat about with my friends. We’ve had more conversations about pro-feminism because of this show. We’ve laughed, we’ve been in shock, and also, we can appreciate the great parodies that are produced on SNL (Saturday Night Live) (“Bland Man” is my favorite!) and the like.

And more than that, when I attended the auditions this summer, I realized that I hadn’t felt insecure about who I am at all during the whole process. This surprised me. You would think a room full of 200 women with perfectly bronzed legs, sculpted arms, and well-done make-up would have instigated a kind of nagging uncertainty and incapability. Instead, I enjoyed attending the casting call because it made me proud to be me. I auditioned as a proudly-weird girl who has a particular passion for Rwanda, loves eating burritos, and will make friends with anyone. It didn’t matter. I came as I am.

Maybe we should all give ourselves a little more credit – Bachelor or not – and recognize that we don’t need a man, or a show, or society to validate who we are. It can really just come from yourself. Just be sure to wear a Kente dress to keep it interesting.

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