“American Song Contest” gives an American twist to Eurovision
Hosted by Kelly Clarkson and Snoop Dogg, the eight-week reality competition “American Song Contest” which is scheduled to premiere Monday on NBC, is completely new.
Its format, however, will be familiar to millions across the Atlantic: the show emulates the Eurovision Song Contest, in which the countries clash in a singing battle for pop supremacy. Eurovision catapulted ABBA’s career in 1974, and the most recent winner, Italian glam-rock band Maneskin, rose to worldwide fame, appearing in January as a musical guest on “Saturday Night Live.”
The US version will largely follow the Eurovision model, including live broadcasts. “We’re very literal,” said executive producer Ben Silverman, who helped translate “The Office” into American and pursued Eurovision rights for years, over the phone last week.
Fine, but that doesn’t help NBC viewers much since Americans are largely unaware of the intricacies of Eurovision. The title? “American Song Contest” is not “American Idol” or “The Voice”. It is, in many ways, more layered than those shows — and more combustible: a state vs. state, stars vs. hopefuls showdown in which bands and solo artists compete for the title of best original song.
So those are the basics. But in this time of red state/blue state polarization, can America handle Jewel (Alaska) against Michael Bolton (Connecticut)? Sisqó (Maryland) against … Jake’O (Wisconsin)? Let’s dive into the fun stuff.
Where do the candidates come from?
With 56 entries encompassing 50 states plus five territories and the District of Columbia, “American Song Contest” has even more entrants than Eurovision, whose 2022 edition in May will feature 40 countries ranging from tiny San Marino (about 34,000 inhabitants) to the much larger Germany (83 million). The scope is similar here: Sabyuoriginally from the Northern Mariana Islands (47,000 inhabitants), will mix sweet taboorepresenting California (nearly 40 million inhabitants).
While each European country independently selects its entry, the US show team relied on a network of music industry insiders. “We went through the professional environment to spread the news; we spent a lot of time having conversations, making sure people really understood what it was,” executive producer and showrunner Audrey Morrissey (a “The Voice” veteran) said over the phone. “We had a big submission process that took months, with multiple review cycles.”
Will I know any of the songs?
No, because they must be new. Contestants don’t have to write their own material, however – this is not a singer-songwriter competition.
A key criterion is that songs cannot be longer than 2 minutes 45 seconds, which is shorter than Eurovision’s three minutes. “It’s straight to the point, pow! said Christer Björkman, one of four Swedish Eurovision pundits recruited as executive producers and former Eurovision contestant, from 1992. “Candidates really need to be successful early on with energy and all.”
Wait, what are Jewel and Michael Bolton doing there?
“All of these people wanted to be on the show,” Silverman said of American celebrities. “They wanted to represent their state. And they earned it with their songs,” he added, noting that it will be fun to see famous people go head-to-head with up-and-comers like Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Enisa, who represents New York. Again, this is faithful to the Eurovision format.
Celebrities and hopefuls must have a strong connection to their state or territory. Bolton, for example, was born and spent most of his life in Connecticut; Jewel grew up in notoriously harsh conditions in Alaska. And if Oklahoma is represented by a K-pop singer, Alexawell, that’s because she’s from there.
“It’s different from saying, ‘I’m not here to get a record deal or become a star – I’m here to represent my house and I’m proud to do that,'” said Anders Lenhoff, another member of the Swedish Special Operations Executive Production Team, in a joint video interview with Björkman. “We see it all the time at Eurovision but there are no shows like that in the United States”
How does the elimination process work?
The first five episodes, called “Qualifiers,” feature 11 of the songs per show (a busy week will have 12). During these first rounds, the 56 entries will be gradually reduced to 22, which will then be divided into two semi-finals of 11 each. Another vote sends five artists from each semi-final to the grand finale on May 9.
Viewers will be invited to vote and the results will be compared to the votes of a 56-person jury representing all participating constituencies. Jurors are not permitted to vote for their own states or territories.
Do large states have an advantage?
“The great thing about this format,” Morrissey said, “that we’ve stuck with since Eurovision is that there’s no advantage for an artist and a song from a higher state. people.” Eliminations are made based on a complex points system in which, according to NBC, “each state and territory votes with equal power, regardless of population.”
Anyway, as Morrissey noted, “There may be more people who vote who know people from Texas than from Guam, but they haven’t heard that song from Guam yet – it could steal their hearts.
The history of Eurovision (where admittedly the voting rules have changed many times over the years) tends to confirm that the votes seem relatively fair: Ireland have won the competition a record seven times while France, with about 13 times the population of Ireland, has only five.
That is: do not exclude yet Wyoming.
Will there be extravagant competitors?
Eurovision is famous for some, uh, quirky entries – this year’s contest will feature numbers like “Give That Wolf a Banana” and “Eat your salad” who live up to their titles. It’s natural to wonder if “American Song Contest” will also honor this tradition. “We have the diversity of America and the diversity of American music represented,” Silverman said. “One person’s cliché is another person’s truth. Some of them are self-aware, some are not.
We’ll take that as a yes.