Ep 70: Putting the ‘Real’ Back into Reality TV with Mike Johnson

Today’s show is all about reality TV and the role that being vulnerable and authentic plays in building a personal brand, and who better to talk to about this than Mike Johnson? If you haven’t heard of Mike yet, he is the man all of America has fallen in love with since his appearance on The Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise! What many people don’t know about Mike is that he is actually an Air Force vet, but after he auditioned for The Bachelorette on a whim, he has since fallen into the personal brand-building game and is crushing it!

We chat to Mike about the surprising pivot he made from the military into being a financial advisor, and what then gave him the idea to try out reality TV before becoming a celebrity and total heartthrob. He talks about his experiences on the set of the shows, and how he handled all the pressure of actual dating while being in front of all those cameras.

Whether during the interview process, the filming of the show, or in his approach to post-show stardom, Mike has one simple principle – being uncompromisingly himself. We talk about how this allowed him to feel comfortable through the whole process, and able to focus on what the show was really about – love and connection. Mike talks about how his authenticity brings unwelcome negative attention but is also precisely what helps him cope with it, as well as what has made so many people love and identify with him. Tune in for the full story!




  • Mike’s career path from being in the Air Force to the financial world and then on reality TV.
  • Why Mike decided to audition for The Bachelorette on a whim.
  • What Mike did during the interview for The Bachelorette to get the judges to like him.
  • The process and timeline between the interview and when the show began.
  • Experiencing filming for long hours and how Mike’s authenticity played out on camera.
  • The role that being yourself on reality TV plays in having a good or bad experience.
  • How to forget there are cameras around by being present in the moment.
  • Mike’s perspectives on balancing being authentic and doing well in the show.
  • The possibility of getting into a true relationship from a dating show.
  • Seeing your date being romantic with somebody else: differences between IRL and TV dating.
  • Being fake on a first date: how it happens initially IRL and on TV, and getting beyond it.
  • Becoming an influencer and the pitfalls of post-show fame: people’s negative attention.
  • Pros and cons of being oneself publicly: some identify, others criticize.
  • The value of doing what makes you nervous and how authenticity can help overcome it.
  • Building a personal brand by being honest and owning one’s insecurities.


“They say success is never a straight line, it’s a bunch of squiggly lines all over the place. That’s definitely the truth with me as well. Never did I think in a million years that I would be on reality TV” — @MikeJohnson1_ [0:03:19]

“At the interview for The Bachelorette, I was so comfortable. When I tell people how comfortable I was in just being authentically myself, and just not caring, that really resonated with the casting directors.” — @MikeJohnson1_ [0:05:20]

“It wasn’t about winning, it was all about finding a connection, and I think that’s what propelled me to being one of America’s sweethearts on the show.”— @MikeJohnson1_ [0:09:43]

“Post-show was crazy because people like you for whatever reason and they follow you on your social platforms. You now are an influencer.”— @MikeJohnson1_ [0:13:14]

“When we can be introspective and do exactly what we feel while of course being a good human being, that’s how you win. That’s how you connect with people, and that’s how you can propel your career.”— @MikeJohnson1_ [0:17:54]

About Mike Johnson

Mike Johnson is an international influencer, global spokesperson, author, and speaker. All revolving on overcoming insecurities by cultivating self-love. He was a breakout star from ABC’s The Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise and has since been praised for his authenticity and writes on how to stop pretending in society and let your truth shine upon you by being genuine to yourself.

He’s worked with and represented major companies including Hulu, Smirnoff, and Colgate.
For nearly a decade, Mike has been involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America as a mentor and spokesperson. He served nearly a decade in the United States Air Force and also co-founded a non-profit organization raising tens of thousands of dollars for female veterans, as they are underrepresented in the military community.

Mike has been featured across hundreds of TV and online stories, including Good Morning America, Cosmopolitan, People, USA Today, Vanity Fair and Glamour. He has 750K+ followers on social media from across the world.
After years of struggling with insecurity and self-doubt, Mike has taken his set of life experiences to help others learn the art of self-care and self-love through his mantra’s and step by step guide he outlined in a highly anticipated upcoming book being released this year.


RV: (00:06) Hey brand builder, Rory Vaden here. Thank you so much for tuning in to listen to this interview. We are so excited to bring you this information and wanted to let you know that Hey, there’s no sales pitch coming from anything that we do with. This is all our value add to you and the community. However, if you are somebody who is looking for specific strategies on how to build and monetize your personal brand, we would love to talk to you and we offer a free call to everyone that’s interested in getting to know us and is willing to give us a chance to get to know them and share a little bit about what we do. So if you’re interested in taking us up on a free strategy call, you can do that at brand builders, group.com/summit call brand builders, group.com/summit call. Hope to talk to you soon on with the show. RV: (01:03) Well, if you’re like me, reality TV is a little bit of a black box. You wonder sometimes how does it work and what does it take to be on the show. And, and you know what goes on behind the scenes and we’re so excited to introduce to you a friend of ours, a new friend of ours, one of our brand Mueller’s group clients, Mike Johnson, who you may recognize from the 2019 the 15th season of the bachelorette and also bachelor in paradise. He is super popular on the show. America’s sweetheart with the big smile, which you may not know about Mike, is that he is a former air force vet, he has a sister who’s in the service, has been to 30 countries and is really building out his personal brand in a variety of different ways. One of the things that we’ve had lots of chats with him is about this direction he’s working on related to intimacy and self love and relationships. And so we’ve been working on some of that, but we thought it would be fun for you to hear from a real life reality TV star about how the heck it happened and, and what does it mean and what does it take. So anyways, Mike, welcome to the show. Thank you guys for having me. It’s so weird when someone says a reality TV star. RV: (02:19) Yeah, I remember I was at that event with you for Elizabeth from our team and it was like, man, we couldn’t even have a conversation as fan girls fanning on you like crazy. And I’m just sitting there like, don’t mind me. I’m, I’m just here to carry Mike’s bags. I’m here to, to fold his socks and, and do whatever he needs. AJV: (02:40) How so? We want to like help everyone get to know you a little bit pre reality TV. So what, what on God’s green earth, possessed you from going from the air force to this financial world that you were living in? You were on this fast tracked career path going, you know what? I think I’m gonna be a reality TV star. I think I’m going to put myself on the bachelor. How does that happen? MJ: (03:08) Well, you know, they say success is never a straight line. It’s a bunch of squiggly lines all over the place. Right. That’s definitely the truth with me as well. Never did I ever think in a million years. I would be on reality TV. Never care to do it, quite honestly. And that’s no disrespect to the ones that do care to do that. Mmm. I just had some pretty good friends in my life that thought I would be a good candidate for it. And they, one lady, she said I would be the bachelor one day, even before I even watched the show. And then a friend of mine after me bloviating to him about how much I wanted to be in a relationship and get married after him laughing. He said, Hey, you should try out for this show. And I was off work one day and well, it’s like, why not? RV: (03:53) So, so, so what, so what happened? Did you see an ad? Did you go Google it or like, like what, what does that mean? Like how do you try out for the show even? MJ: (04:03) It’s like well some of my castmates from Hannah Brown season of the bachelorette, they were handpicked, you know, they live in like certain Chicago, LA, New York, Miami, taboo areas, me down here in San Antonio. We don’t get those opportunities. But they’re still blessings all around it. The way I did it was a friend of mine, he just DMD me on Facebook, a casting call link. Then I was off work. And so that’s the only reason I did it. And as a financial advisor, I got to wear a suit cause I’m, you want me to have mindset? Hey wears a suit and no one else was in a suit that day. AJV: (04:44) Stuck out, MJ: (04:45) Stuck out. I even got on the news that day. It was kind of funny. RV: (04:48) So you went to a live in person casting call and you’re standing in line with what, a hundred couple hundred people MJ: (04:55) About? I’ll say about probably eight to 1000 people. Whoa. I would say 10% were guys. So I could have found out like that day to be off. And I was just myself. I had how to win friends and influence people. I have that book of me cause I thought it would be a really long line. So I was just reading my book in my suit and making people laugh and being joking and talking to people, making people smile. They liked me. I don’t know how I’d be a, I was so comfortable. It was, it’s kinda when I tell people how comfortable I was and just being authentically myself and just not caring, but just being myself. That really resonated with the casting directors after that. And so I did altogether, it was probably seven months of interviews, personal interviews, to been flying me to LA to me going down to Dallas, which is a big hub for, that’s the hub for Texas. You know, the phone calls, background checks, everything. It was like I have a top secret security clearance. It was like that all over again. AJV: (06:11) Just making sure you weren’t a stalker. MJ: (06:13) Very true. Very true. Not a stalker. AJV: (06:16) Well that’s crazy. So then you get on the show. So what do people need to know about what it’s really like on the show? MJ: (06:26) Well, long hours. Oh gosh. Such long hours. People would think so. I think it’s a, it’s like a hundred hours of filming for an episode. Wow. Two hour, a 90 minute episode with commercials. Right. So there’s so much filming. You’re up all hours of the night. And so for those that watched it, again, I was pretty authentic. I mean, I was wearing my doo rag on this show because I felt that if we weren’t reality TV, it should be reality. There was no need for me to, AJV: (06:59) Hmm, MJ: (07:00) Look perfect for the camera. I felt that nothing, that’s why the audience resonated with me so much because I was just who I am. The same person, whether it’s on TV or not. MJ: (07:10) Okay. My mom heard me curse for the first time. That wasn’t, sorry mom. Sorry about that. Sorry. I was definitely a embarrassed about that at first. But then the beautiful thing about the show is that it helps break you out of that shell from, for me, I don’t want to speak to no one else. I have subgroups of friends and like I have my extremely professional group. I have my extremely my day one friends that may not be as successful as I am now. And I’ve in the past acted different towards each group. They’re still a part of who I am. But when you’re on TV, you’re gonna, they’re going to see all of who you are authentically. Right. And people that have had a bad experience on TV or a good experience on TV, I think it boils down to that person hasn’t been able to see themselves fully. And so when you’re on reality TV and they’re doing so many, so much filming and so many different scenarios, they produce your way, produce your way. Your natural reaction is how you are truthfully. AJV: (08:16) Okay. MJ: (08:16) Right. And so when people say they didn’t have a good experience, I think that they just haven’t seen themselves before in different situations. AJV: (08:23) Do you think it’s hard to be authentic on reality TV? MJ: (08:28) I think when you realize and understand that people like you more for being yourself because what you’re actually doing is helping them grow. I think once you’ve realized that, it becomes quite honestly easy. I literally forgot cameras were around me. AJV: (08:48) How is that even possible? Yeah, MJ: (08:50) I know, right? It’s like I’m kissing a girl right here on my couch and there’s like 20 right there, fill me guys that I just forgot there was cameras. I was just, one of my goals for this decade is to be in the moment, no be present. Focusing exactly on what’s happening right then and there and that’s what I did on the show. And by doing those things, you, you embrace it so much more, you feel it so much more. And that’s, that’s my advice for how to forget that there’s cameras around. RV: (09:18) So how do you balance the, like I’m, I’m trying to win a show with, I’m also trying to be myself and like, you know, this need to, you know, kind of edit your behavior too to make good TV or whatever. Like how do you reconcile all that or do you really just not pay attention to it and just do what you would do if nobody was there? MJ: (09:39) Good question, Rory. I honestly feel that I had an advantage because I never really watched this show. And so I was not scared at all. And to me it wasn’t about winning. This is a show about love. And I took it as we’re dating each other seriously. You know, and let’s say that I don’t want to use AJ for example, but let’s say there was a young lady that we found each other attractive. I’m not sure. Speaker 5: (10:05) Yeah, don’t use AJ positive tape. You’re outta here outta here. Vaden, out of here. MJ: (10:17) So not if there was a young lady that I found attractive, just because we find each other drag, it doesn’t mean that we’re compatible. And just because she’s in a position of power, it doesn’t mean that I don’t have a say so on who my heart desires. Right. And so that’s how it took the show. It wasn’t about winning. He was all about finding a connection. And I think that’s what propelled me to being one of America’s sweethearts from that season. RV: (10:44) And you think you can find real love on a, on a, you know, manufactured show in a manufactured environment with, you know, handpicked people. MJ: (10:53) I think it’s hard. But I think dating in 2020 is hard in and of itself. I think that, well, I know for a fact I’ve met a few of the couples that are now married from the show and I’ve spoken to others that are, are married from the show as well. I’ve been married for years and so I think one of the biggest things when it comes to being on a show that’s about love is having the real conversations. Like, okay, you live in Kentucky, I live in Texas. How are we going to make this one right? Or you’re a dentist and you have a very successful career in Kentucky. I’m a financial advisor and LA, no, what are we going to do? And it’s comes to having effective communication and learning how to compromise. You know, when it comes to, when it comes to love, it’s the same thing to me as being out in the real world. The only difference would be I get to see who you kiss. That’s not me. When if I was dating a in the real world, she may go on dates with other individuals. AJV: (11:56) I just don’t have to see that. And that is such a good parallel that I have honestly never thought about until this moment and a confession. I have never watched the bachelor or the bachelorette, so I’m kind of a novice in this world and so when all these people were fan girling you, I was like, I guess it’s that popular show I all my friends are like, are you kidding me? It’s so popular. But like the way that you just described that as like match.com E harmony, Bumble, Tinder all got together, had a baby and then put it on reality TV. And it really is the reality of how baiting is today in terms of, yeah, I’m going to check out all these people profiles. I’m going to see what they’re like. I’m going to look at their picture, I’m going to chat them up, I’m going to meet with them. I’m going to meet with 20 of them. I’m going to narrow it down to the three I like the most and I’m going to do it on all these different sites. I was gonna say, the only difference is that producers are the ones putting the collection together, curses the whole app. It’s a really interesting parallel that I’ve never thought about before. RV: (13:01) The other thing that’s hitting me too is like you go, well reality TV isn’t real. Those are totally fake. But you go, well no, that is exactly how it is in real life. You’re all fake. Like you all pretend on your first date, you all put on a show, you all put on a performance and it’s really like, I think that’s going to be such a beautiful part of your story is as, as we build out, like can see your personal brand unfold of like, that’s what intimacy is all about is getting beyond the camera, getting beyond the fakeness, beyond the pretense. Pretend and just AJV: (13:36) being you’re awesome self RV: (13:36) Being a real connection. Yeah. AJV: (13:38) Okay. So all right, so I know everyone who watches the bachelor, other than me apparently, already knows who you are. So what has it been like after the show? So what have been some of the, the huge benefits of how this is propelled your notoriety and your online influence? I mean, you’ve got a huge social following. You’re doing all this cool stuff, you’ve got all these brand deals. So clearly there’s been some good, even though you didn’t in front of your mother, cussed in front of your mom. Well I would imagine she’s also probably never seen you make out with girls before. But I would imagine that is equal to the benefits. There’s plenty of pitfalls. Yeah, absolutely. Tell us about that post show. What’s it been like? MJ: (14:29) Post show is crazy because you have, you know, if you, if people like you, whether they like you for whatever reason, good or bad and they like you and they follow you on your social platforms. You now art influence area and AJV: (14:47) Yeah, MJ: (14:47) But that’s what it is. And so I have everyone from RV: (14:51) Middle-Schoolers to MJ: (14:53) Senior citizens following me on my social platforms. And one of the pitfalls is that I think lady Gaga said it best and she said it’s so succinct. Fame is fame could be perceived as prison because for example, we’re in self quarantined time right now. This is real world real time right now. And I had some friends less than 10 cause that’s in Texas. That’s the rule at my home. I was helping a small local businessman and we were doing all the proper precautions. But I had people saying a bunch of negative things towards me saying that I’m not being safe, I’m not quarantining, I’m being such a bad example. And I wanted to say one, I have less than two people, 10 people in my home, don’t you think I care about my safety? And then too, people always will have something to say no matter what the case is. MJ: (15:44) No people told me to not get more tattoos and I should no get tattoo removal. But I’m being praised and I’m an inc magazine, the only bachelor to ever be an inc magazine. And so I look at it as being authentically true to you. It’s just amazing. I can connect with them people on such a deeper level. People, the beautiful thing of being on reality TV is that whether you did good or bad, people resonate with you more and people appreciate you for being you. People are appreciating me for telling my struggle. My ex and I had a miscarriage. People appreciate it. Hey, the male side of that, right? People appreciate the fact that I will say exactly how I feel and not care and people appreciate. The bad side of that is that certain people feel that I should watch my words, certain people feel that I should, should not do certain things. MJ: (16:45) But then if I fall to that, I’m not being authentic to myself no longer. And so for the longest time post show, it’s been about trying to have a balancing act, right? What I’ve learned and what my mom has always told me and what our moms have always told all of us, it’s just, you know, be yourself just to be yourself. And I think that’s the most beautiful thing that is, I’ve already known, but it’s truly hit home post show. Cause I, at the end of the day, I’m a beautiful human being and I can’t help everyone, but those that I can help, I want to help them even more. So I think that’s what it is. AJV: (17:20) So it’s interesting because yeah, I remember as a kid, my mom’s saying, be yourself and I’m sure you’re, I mean I tell my sons that it’s like, I want you to be yourself and we’ve got this little mantra right now. My oldest just turned three and he’s into this word weird. And so every day I help him say, I weird, I weird, weird daddy. Mommy, you’re weird. I’m like, yeah, weird. So it’s like got this mantra, I weird. But I would love to know like what’s one tip that you would say like how do you be you like how do you be yourself, RV: (17:58) particularly when you have the [inaudible] yeah, like because you have the pressure of a camera and you have the pressure of the world watching. Like when you’re most, you’re most incentivized to do something that’s not you to be like a polished version of yourself. Like even post show, just people are now watching because they’re watching you, they’re following on social media. AJV: (18:19) How do you do it? MJ: (18:21) I think it’s even bigger post show because during the show you can’t see the comments, right? Post shows. When you see the comments, that’s when people respond to you. And I think to answer your question it’s like one of my models or it’s not my model. I’ve stolen, I mean it’s been said hundreds of times before, but the thing that gives you the most butterflies do that. And so what has always given me the butterflies post show was just, I used to get so nervous and try to Polish myself and I would get so many butterflies, but the way an antidote to those butterflies, it’s just again, embracing your uniqueness and knowing that you’re not going to be able to make every single individual fall in love with you. But the individuals that do fall in love with you are true fans of yours because of how authentic you are. MJ: (19:12) It’s just like a dating. I can’t make a hundred girls like me, but for the 20 that like me, for me, those 20 will really, really ride with me and that’s what most important is. And I can pick a one out of that 20 because if I like the rock, he’s the most famous person on all social media, not just to include Instagram, but Facebook, all different forms. He curses, he’s really big in the gym. He is, he focuses on embracing the pain, being authentic. And so I think that to be succinct when we can be introspective and do exactly what we feel, but of course being a good human being, that’s how you win. That’s how you connect with people and that’s how you can propel your career. Whether you’re like me, a reality TV star or like my former self, a financial advisor or someone that is a wife or husband. MJ: (20:09) Like yesterday, for example, I did an IgE lie and one of my insecurities as I’m growing aging man at 32 years old, my hairline is starting to go back and a lot of my fans are 21 right? And so I’m thinking, man, there I’m competing with like a 22 year old guy, 21 year old guy. Well, in all actuality, my fans like me because the strength that I have and so I make fun of it. The my, my love language in one way is just to laugh, right? And smile. And so I was, I went like this on camera. I said, Hey, does anyone know about some, some medicine that I can use or some nutrients I can use to help me with my, my insecurity of losing my hairline. Right? And someone said Biosyn. And so I think that’s what makes people resonate with you so much more. AJV: (20:57) Okay. No, I think that’s, that’s so good. And it’s so true to this whole concept of building your personal brand. RV: (21:05) Yeah. And the intimacy in the honor, I think just the honesty with yourself. I mean, if you’re building any personal brand, you know, being honest about who you are and what you’re truly passionate about, people see that and they are attracted to it or they see you being fake and they’re repelled from it. So. Mmm. Well, one last question before we let you go though. Mike, where should people go if they want to connect with you and kind of follow your journey and then kind of see what’s, what, see what’s going to happen from here. MJ: (21:33) Absolutely. Mike Johnson, one underscore that’s going to be on Twitter, on Instagram, on Facebook. I dunno how people find me, but just Mike Johnson, I don’t know how they find it. And my johnson.com is coming soon. What domain you’re, you AJV: (21:52) We can’t wait to continue to watch you on your brand journey. We have some insider info on all of the amazing stuff that’s in store for you. We’re not going to share your secrets. Everyone’s going to have to stay tuned. Follow Mike, stay in touch with us and we’ll see you again on the influential personal brand podcast. MJ: (22:11) Awesome. Awesome. Last time, last words, I would just say, make sure we all keep our mental health up and make each other laugh during these quarantine times.

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25 of the World's Most Recognizable Influencers Share Their Tips on How to Build and Monetize a Personal Brand

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