Excitation spectra up to the ionization threshold are reported for barium atoms located on the surface of helium nanodroplets. For states with low principal quantum number, the resonances are substantially broadened and shifted towards higher energy with respect to the gas phase. This has been attributed to the repulsive interaction of the excited atom with the helium at the Franck-Condon region. In contrast, for states with high principal quantum number the resonances are narrower and shifted towards lower energies. Photoelectron and ZEKE spectroscopy reveal that the redshift results from a lowering of the ionization threshold due to polarization of the helium by the barium ionic core. As a result of the repulsive interaction with the helium, excited barium atoms desorb from the surface of the droplets. Only when excited to the 6s6p 1P1 state, which reveals an attractive interaction with the helium, the atoms remain attached to the droplets.