aAcross the United States on Monday evening, many Americans asked a simple question: What is the American Song Contest? NBC’s entire live music competition, which aired its two-hour premiere last night, is trying to make it happen Eurovision to the United States. This is not necessarily an easy task. Despite her track record of success abroad – you can thank Eurovision for ABBA and Celine Dion – the 65-year-old’s annual Song Championship isn’t widely understood in the US.
While Eurovision showcases a single artist for a country and presents a web of political intrigue and an often untranslatable local culture, the American version, somehow Not called “Amerivision”dig the original songs 56 artists Of all 50 US states, five territories (Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the US Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands) and the nation’s capital in an arc-style encounter. The multi-step competition will be broadcast over six weeks.
The American Song Contest, hosted by Kelly Clarkson (the first-ever American Idol winner) and Snoop Dogg, has the support of European competition producers and showrunner, Audrey Morrissey, who has executive produced the highly successful NBC song contest The Voice. It has legions of Eurovision fans curious to know exactly what distinguishes the US states and territories. It has a process that combines expert jury votes and fan votes on NBC and on TikTok. (according to diverseThe 56-member jury—one from each state/territory, including a former member of The Fray and the chair of iHeartMedia—are supposed to rate each performance based on “artistic expression, striking potential, originality, and visual impression.” )
It has a series of March Madness-style tours that pit artists with different levels of name recognition and professional experience against each other. Superstars like Michael Bolton (Connecticut) and Joel (Alaska) will compete against the amateurs (Michigan sends out a 16-year-old high school student, for example).
So how did the games begin? The premiere packed a lot of excitement and cross-country rivalries into a chaotic two-hour period. (Full disclosure: I’m from Ohio – Shouts to Missy Gray, the Grammy-winning R&B singer representing Buckeye State – and the only Eurovision performance I’ve seen before this was an unbeatable one Latvian hacker group, so I got really baffled by the concept.) Clarkson and Snoop applied their distinctive energies—mother’s irresistible bubbles for her, petite liveliness for him—to shorten the in-between images between the eleven performances. The (entirely optimistic) shows themselves reached a whole glut of genres, from hip-hop to Latin pop to country earworm called jovin new shoesCourtesy of Wyoming’s Ryan Charles, apparently designed for TikTok (he was the clear winner on social media of the night).
The hosts explained the equation loosely, so here’s the logistics: The first five episodes will contain 11 shows each (they will each have 12 shows), from which one chapter will automatically advance based on a jury vote, announced at the end of the night. A fan vote will determine the other three steps to progress for each episode, which will be announced the following week. The two semi-final rounds will feature 22 acts that perform “a little louder” to their original songs, according to NBC. Ten artists will make the Grand Final, where a combination of jurors and fan votes will determine the winner.
Back to the initial set of competitors, representing regions of the country as geographically different such as tropical Puerto Rico and the frozen state of Wisconsin. Overall, the evening was a mixed bag of quality – to be fair, it’s pretty hard to sing live in the studio, especially when some artists haven’t performed to more than two thousand people – although Clarkson was uniformly enthusiastic and Snoop was jumping into every Song. Many artists have explained their style through a mix of famous stars. Pink-haired Elizabeth Von Presley of Iowa described herself as as if Lady Gaga and Pat Benatar collided and exploded in a pile of sparkles. Hueston of Rhode Island said he was Chris Stapleton mixed with Adele and Sons of Anarchy, “but in a good way”; Wisconsin’s Jake’O, the black hair styled backwards like Elvis, coined his “nuvo-retro” style.
Some played according to the expectations from their state: Minnesota entry, the pop band Boy Yum House, consisted of four very serious white men embodying “cute Minnesota” (“Op!”). Keyone Starr of Mississippi, who recorded with Mark Ronson, paid tribute to her state’s rich history in black musical traditions – delta blues, gospel and rock ‘n’ roll – with a fiery, heavy performance on belts and guitar. Kelsey Lamb of Arkansas sang a very traditional country song with his wide-brimmed hat. Michael Bolton, very honestly from Connecticut, sang a serious Michael Bolton song called Beautiful World.
But there have also been many conscious efforts to surprise and complicate the image of different regions of the country, and to highlight the diversity of American musical talent. AleXa, a well-known K-pop artist who used to perform in front of big crowds in South Korea (you can tell — she owned the stage, and the hosts know it), said that she’s from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and people expected her to wear a cowboy hat and sing country music. Her intense performance in choreography for Wonders It was the highlight of the evening. Indiana UG Skywalkin’, real name Josh Kimbowa, is an immigrant (representing UG Uganda) who frankly seeks to put the Indianapolis hip-hop scene on the map. Puerto Rican entry, Christian Pagan, sang in both English and Spanish in a leather Bob Punk costume. Tonight’s jury winner, Hueston of Rhode Island, defended the state’s image of sunny beaches and tourism by speaking about his difficult blue-collar upbringing and losing friends to addiction.
This deliberate directing of the lights is perhaps the best argument for the American Song Contest. Shows were almost secondary to the three- to five-minute introductory videos, which provided lesser-known slides and experiences about the country for a moment to connect and explain. This is particularly exciting for areas in which many Americans knows very little about, if they knew they existed as part of the United States at all. As chaotic and random as last night’s American Song Contest was and likely to be, this low-stakes opportunity is a worthwhile one.
That exposure may be more limited than NBC had hoped. the first show It garnered just under 3 million viewers, below the new episode of American Idol on ABC that aired at the same time. So maybe Eurovision fans will want Americans to like it. Many NBC executives and a 56-member panel of music industry personalities want Americans to want it. But do Americans want their own Eurovision? We have another six weeks to see.
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