Heading into this season of "The Bachelorette," host Chris Harrison warned fans that the show featuring Emily Maynard would be "drastically different" than any that have come before.
Indeed, there are plenty of obvious changes: Emily, who broke off her engagement to former "Bachelor" Brad Womack last year, didn't head to the show's gaudy mansion in Hollywood to kick off her season. Instead, the program's producers allowed the blond to stay in her hometown of Charlotte, N.C. as to not uproot her 6-year-old daughter, Ricki. Emily, of course, is the first single mother ever to be at the center of "The Bachelorette"; Ricki's dad, a NASCAR driver, died in a tragic accident only days before Emily found out she was pregnant with their child.
Despite those shifts, there were still plenty of standard "Bachelorette" conventions during the show's first episode Monday night. Of course, we had a handful of contrived, gimmicky entrances from Emily's 25 would-be husbands. Lots of awkward, forced chatter at the introductory cocktail party, followed by way-too-early declarations of love for Emily after mere hours of meeting her. And just a lot of hideous facial hair.
As for Emily, even after watching her on Brad's season, I'd forgotten how drop-dead this chick is. She's like some genetically perfect Southern-belle, beauty-queen Barbie that I'm still not sure can actually exist in real life. And let's just say I thought the guys equaling her attractiveness level were, well, scant.
While Emily may have the dudes beat on the hotness scale, the majority of the men seemed far more at ease socially than she. Though the initial meetings are always slightly uncomfortable to watch, I found this season's introductions particularly excruciating. I'm sure she was nervous, but Emily barely offered up any personality while greeting the men, dropping the phrases "Awesome!" and "Gaw-lee!" three-zillion-and-a-half times.
In general, the whole vibe of the show was far less fun than usual. Listen, I get that Emily's a single mom, so we're not going to get the montage of her running on the beach and flaunting her body. But how about showing her with some friends or something? Isn't she supposedly 26 years old? The program painted her out to be a total spinster.
There she was, telling little Ricki Tick to "get all the sugar buds" out while brushing her teeth. Playing with Ricki in the park. And then tucking Ricki in when she went to bed at 7:30. (Do kids really go to bed at 7:30?!? Golly.) Plus, all we learned about her hopes and dreams for herself is that she wants a "minivan full of babies." It just seemed a tad one-dimensional, and I wish we could have seen some of her job, or any evidence that she has a life outside of her daughter.
The guys, too, seemed even more earnest than average. Sure, there were the requisite attention-seekers — Kalon, some Richie Rich who arrived at the mansion in a helicopter, and rock-star wannabe David, whose song for Emily consisted of only one lyric: "Emily." But the majority of the men seemed relatively serious, repeatedly telling Emily how she was gorgeous and beautiful and strong and made of rays of golden sunshine.
In a huge surprise, Emily gave the evening's first-impression rose to single-dad Doug, after he handed Emily a letter his son "wrote" for her. Yes, I am sure your 11-year-old penned an opus extolling the virtues of a woman he's never met. Doug probably has a pretty good shot of making it far this season, as does Chris. A corporate sales director from Illinois, Chris dropped numerous religious references upon meeting Emily, and when he gave her bobble heads of the two of them he'd somehow procured, she found the gag cute instead of creepy.
Another dude Emily seemed to like was Jef, a guy with a pompadour who gets clean water to Third World countries who arrived on a skateboard. I wanted to hate this man with his terrible hair, but he actually seemed pretty sweet. My only hesitation about him for Emily is that he's relatively scrawny, and Emily seems to like the more strapping Brad-types. Like Ryan, a former professional football player. While Ryan was also having some hair problems — his locks were kind of spiked up in the middle of his head — he pulled a relatively cute stunt upon arriving: He told Emily he wrote out some notes, and then pulled a paper that read "You're so beautiful" on one side and "I'm so nervous" on the other.
Meanwhile, I was inclined to dislike Arie, a race-car driver, because it seemed all too convenient that the show's producers would set Emily up with someone who has the same job as her late fiancé. But Arie was pretty down-to-earth, expressing his nerves and telling Emily up front about his job.
As is typical for me after the first episode of a season, I'm still not sold on our newest protagonist. While Emily may be perfectly sweet and a great mother, she didn't exactly dazzle me with her wit and charm. Still, I'm holding out hope that she isn't actually as fake as her impeccable veneers.
Full coverage of 'The Bachelorette' on Show Tracker
The Bachelorette' host: Emily's season is 'drastically different'
'The Bachelor,' 'The Bachelorette' hit with racial discrimination suit
— Amy Kaufman
Photo: "The Bachelorette," Emily Maynard, greets her suitors on the first night of the season. Credit: ABC