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Erin Elton was appalled to discover that her friend hadn't been out on a date in four months. So she launched the online "Mormon Bachelorette" series and got Aubrey Messick engaged. "It's kind of crazy," Elton understated.
What began as a lark has become a second full-time job for Elton, a Brigham Young University graduate who lives in Huntington Beach, Calif. And it's remarkably popular http://www.themormonbachelor.com attracts between 4,000 and 5,000 unique visitors per day. Hundreds of single Mormons want to be part of the Web show, which is planning to film a third season later this year in Provo.
"It's gone more viral than we thought it would," Elton said. "And the only way we got the word out was through Facebook."
Elton and roommates, all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, were looking for dates. And, potentially, husbands. "We're all a little bit older than the average of people who get married in the Mormon culture," said Elton, 30. "So we were trying to come up with different ideas about how to meet new people."
One roommate, Messick, a floral designer, is a huge fan of ABC's "The Bachelor." She even auditioned to be on it.
"We thought let's do something different to try to meet new people and see if we can find you a guy," Elton said. "So two days later, we started 'The Mormon Bachelorette.' And it just kind of took off from there."
After screening applicants, Elton, Messick and their friends embarked on an ambitious schedule to film the series in a month. Messick went on 22 first dates with 22 guys. Then she went on eight second dates. Then she went on a third date with Matt Laidlaw. They're getting married on March 19.
"It's been great and exhausting," said Rick Buck, the current "Mormon Bachelor" on the second season of the show. "It's really fun, but it's really tiring."
Messick and Laidlaw knew each other slightly; they were members of the same LDS ward at one time.
"Our first date went very well," said Messick. "I just knew he was someone I was interested in."
The interest was mutual. They got engaged in December, about three months after that first date.
Elton and Messick, who had no previous Web experience, were learning as they went.
They had a sense of humor about the whole thing, and it shows: "The Mormon Bachelor" is fun to watch.
"Yeah, there's a serious component to it," Buck said. "But, at the same time, it's for fun." Like this question in the online application: "How Mormon are you?"
"We were trying to be funny with that one," Elton said. "We've had very few people get offended by that question, but most of them have a lot of fun with it. They'll say things like, 'I'm true-blue, Jell-O-and-funeral-potatoes Mormon.' "
But they were serious about looking for Mr. Right. Messick certainly was. "I went into it thinking it could happen."
Elton didn't want her friend to have false hopes. "But you never know who might see it," she said. "Some guy might see it and want to take you on a date. That happens a lot now. We had a lot of guys reach out to us, and girls now."
Girls, that is, who want to date Buck, a dentist from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., and an unsuccessful suitor in "The Mormon Bachelorette." Elton thinks the show is going to be two-for-two. Buck, another BYU grad, is a little less certain.
As for Elton, she's still single but said she doesn't have time to be a "Mormon Bachelorette" herself.
" 'The Mormon Bachelor' takes about 40 hours a week. I don't honestly know if I could get anybody to spend as much time on it as I do without getting paid," said Elton, who's vice president of marketing at Gutenberg Communications.
The current season of "The Mormon Bachelor" will end on Feb. 14 Valentine's Day. The next season is tentatively set for production in Provo in August or September.
She's had meetings with Viacom and MTV, along with several digital producers interested. They're looking for not only "The Mormon Bachelor" but "The Jewish Bachelor," "The Hindu Bachelor," and others.
The Web show has already taken the friends further than they imagined.
"We thought it was just a fun way to meet new people," Elton said. "We wanted Aubrey to find a husband and Rick to find a wife, and it ended up working. Who knew?"
How Mormon are you?
Check out the second season of the Web dating show at http://www.themormonbachelor.com.