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02.20.11

Bachelor Brad Womack's Hidden Brilliance

Ratings for Brad Womack's comeback season on The Bachelor are down, and he's been scorned as a featureless, psychobabbling Ken doll. But beneath his boring exterior lies a highly skilled Romeo, says Nicole LaPorte.

It's not easy being Brad Womack. The star of The Bachelor has been called "the most reviled" bachelor in the show's history since his first appearance on the reality series three years ago, when he had the gall to leave two ladies rose-less at the end of the show (i.e., he did not pick a bachelorette). This season has been touted as his redemptive comeback—after heavy therapy, Womack says he's "changed" and is now determined to find a mate—but ratings are down. Meanwhile, on Twitter, the sensitive Texan bar-owner has been a constant source of mockery. "Every word the bachelor says now makes me laugh hard," tweeted writer-director Judd Apatow. "He is the new Ron Burgundy. He has No sense of humor. Nothing he says is a joke ever."

It's simple enough to see where this scorn comes from. Womack, after all, is a walking Ken doll: pretty to look at, but beyond telling a woman she looks "amazing" and repeating his own psychobabble narrative ("Then I wasn't capable of falling in love. I didn't even realize those walls were up"), he is about as entertaining as a plank. Even his heavily manscaped bod grows tiresome the 40th time he takes off his shirt to think deep thoughts and gaze out at the canyons.

But to more discerning observers, there is something deceptively brilliant about Womack; as they see it, his bland exterior actually masks the talents of a highly skilled Romeo. According to Robert Greene, author of The Art of Seduction, Womack is the modern equivalent of Benjamin Disraeli, one of the greatest seducers of all time. It was Disraeli, after all, who as prime minister of England in the late 1800s seduced the socks off Queen Victoria by appealing to the stodgy royal's femininity and deeply buried sexuality. Disraeli affectionately (and with irreverence that shocked everyone but la reine) referred to Victoria as the "Faery Queen." He sent her political reports that were essentially love notes, filled with juicy gossip about her enemies (one of whom was wittily described as having "the sagacity of the elephant, as well as its form"). But the essence of Disraeli's genius as a courtier was his ability to make it all about her.

Enter Womack, who constantly deflects attention from himself to focus on the needs and whimsies of his potential brides. On his first date with Jackie, a 27-year-old artist who lives in New York, he brings her to a luxurious day spa. "Can I help you with this?" he says as he gallantly helps her into a robe. He then tells the camera how excited he is that the date "solely centers on pampering Jackie." Later on, when he whisks Jackie off to a private dinner and concert at the Hollywood Bowl, he toasts his by now totally smitten date by saying: "Here is to what I hope is as close to a perfect day as possible for you. I'm glad it's you." And throughout the night, which concludes with a private Train concert, he frequently murmurs, "I hope you're happy."

Like other famous Charmers, such as Bill Clinton, Womack "doesn't draw attention to him or herself, and is a really good listener," says Greene.

According to Greene, Womack displays the classic traits of a Charmer, one of the nine seducer types he breaks down in his book (others include The Rake, The Dandy, The Coquette, etc.). Like other famous Charmers, such as Bill Clinton, Womack "doesn't draw attention to him or herself, and is a really good listener," Greene, who lives in Los Angeles, said in a telephone interview. "Charmers are able to sort of see what the person's needs are and supply it in an indirect way by flattering them, and basically making them feel like they're the star of the show. It can be very effective on women, because men usually don't listen very well."

Greene pointed out that on The Bachelor, Womack is not in the traditional position of seduction artist—technically, it should be the women who are seducing him. But as someone who is trying to "seduce America," as Greene described Womack's "motive," and convince audiences that he's no longer an insensitive cad, his wooing energies are in high gear.

The only time Womack ever seems flustered is when a woman disrupts his flood of attention and turns the focus back to him. Womack clams up and is visibly thrown off his game when Emily, a pretty blond widow, tells him what a "great-looking" guy he is and how, when she first saw him, she was "super intimidated," and that, "I'm just so grateful to be here. And I'm even more grateful that it's you" (a line ripped right out of the Womack Charm Guide).

"You make me lose words," he stammers nervously. "I feel like an idiot talking to you."

But Emily is an exception. Most of the women are so insecure and damaged—the bachelorette pool is populated with divorcées, widows, fang-wearers, and women whose fathers either abandoned them or passed away—that when Womack throws the spotlight on them, they are more than happy to soak it up.

Jenn Berman, a Beverly Hills psychotherapist and relationship expert, says Womack's behavior isn't just gentlemanly grace but a highly effective tool.

"Most women are really hungry to be heard and understood. That's a skill," Berman said. "I'm sure you've heard people talk about emotional intelligence—to be able to empathize with people and make them feel understood. That's powerful and seductive."

Something else Womack seems to understand that women crave, or at least relate to, is therapy talk. The times Womack does open up about himself it's to say how he's "changed" and how his "walls have come down." He is the first Bachelor in history to bring his shrink on the show—as well as the first to turn a trip to Dr. Drew's radio show into a group date.

"I think it's a dream come true for most women," Berman said. "It's very appealing because speaking that language is to speak the language of women. It makes women feel very understood and connected, to be able to talk to a man in those terms, and to be able to process things and work through things. That's very seductive, and it's something most women hunger for."

Womack's heavily groomed, all-American looks don't hurt, of course, bringing us to another weapon in his seduction arsenal. In addition to being a Charmer, Womack also has a touch of the Dandy, a personality type that was most effectively embodied by Rudolph Valentino, according to Greene.

"People, on an obvious level, think a male dandy is someone who wears ruffled shirts, but that's not the case," says Greene. "It's just a man who's very into his appearance and puts a lot of attention into it, which is traditionally not something your average man would do. He doesn't have to be metro, but he very clearly has a look that he likes, that he uses, and consciously puts together. That's very much the dandy spirit."

Womack's sartorial aesthetic could be described as Chippendales meets GQ. There's the hunky, shirtless, Let's-Get-In-The-Hot-Tub look. But when clothed, he cleans up good, affecting a rugged cowboy vibe (jeans, work shirts, and untucked button-downs) that is nonetheless perfectly tailored and metro-leaning.

But whatever Womack's allure, Berman ultimately questions whether his approach is the best path to a lasting relationship—a criticism that has often been lobbed at The Bachelor.

"The person who does that well, who you love to be in the room with, who makes you feel very important—what ends up happening is the woman doesn't really get to know him," Berman said. "It's a relationship based on feeling the electricity. That isn't reality-based. It's based on courtship, a honeymoon period…It's less likely the relationship will go the long haul because the woman doesn't know what she's getting into. And for him, he's so busy doing the seduction, he doesn't get to know her on another level."

What would Womack say to that? Probably something along the lines of: "I hear you. I understand where you're coming from. I'm just so grateful to be here."

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Nicole LaPorte is the senior West Coast reporter for The Daily Beast and the author of The Men Who Would Be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies, and a Company Called DreamWorks.