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ABC's "The Bachelor" comes to Missoula

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It's Saturday afternoon and the Sunrise Saloon is teeming with young, attractive, single women. They congregate in groups of three or five, electrons circling around nuclei. One girl per group is filling out a stack of paperwork, hoping to find the man of their dreams.

ABC's "The Bachelor" has come to Missoula.

Alexandra Jernstrom is pretty sure the show came to town to cast a cute country girl for the next season. She only joked about auditioning at first, but her friends prodded her. And she feels she'd be a good fit—shy but sweet. She's all smiles and painted orange fingernails. "I just want to find someone," she says, blushing slightly at the prospect.

So does Ashley Duncan, a staffer with the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, in Helena. She's been watching "The Bachelor" with her mom since the show started in 2002. Meeting Mr. Right in Montana is tricky, she says. Maybe national television will work. Looking around the Sunrise at the competition, she's confident about her chances. "I can clap with one hand," she says, listing her unique talents. "And I'm really, really good at Big Buck Hunter."

Erica Gerard brought an audition tape of her playing guitar and piano. But she's "wishy-washy" on whether television can really help her find "the right one." Who would that be? "Outgoing, physical, nice smile," Gerard says. "I'm big on teeth and smiles." No wonder. She's a dental hygienist in Bozeman.

I bump into Craig Toomey, general sales manager with ABC/FOX Montana and the casting call's de facto coordinator, near a pile of gift bags. He asks if I'm going to audition, too. Apparently they're also looking for the bachelor himself. Only one other guy has signed up, Toomey says. I shrug and he hands me a stack of paperwork and a rose. I can see why the girls thought the questions were tough. Asked "Why are you America's Most Eligible Bachelor?" the only response I can think of is "I'm single, and I'm awesome?"

Inside the audition room, they train a camera on me and rattle off a few questions. I must sound less than enthused; the whole thing lasts less than three minutes. Somehow, I doubt I fit the bill.

Gerard tracks me down on my way out, having just auditioned herself. She feels better about her chances now, "but there are a lot of pretty girls here," she says. It really doesn't matter if she gets on the show though, she confides. "There's lots of fish in the sea."

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