You’ve probably at least heard of the Eurovision Song Contest, a wildly popular competition that pits singers and songwriters from different countries against each other.
It’s been held annually (with the exception of 2020) since 1956, and 183 million viewers tuned in last year when the Italian glam rock band Måneskin won the prize. (The contest also was parodied by Will Ferrell in the Netflix movie “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” in 2020.)
Americans have never participated, of course. But now, thanks to NBC and the producers of Eurovision and “The Voice,” we’ve got our own version — “The American Song Contest.”
Executive producer Ben Silverman calls it “the granddaddy of all music competition shows.” And, while producers in general — and Silverman, specifically — are known to be hyperbolic, in this case he’s right. “I think it translates beautifully to America and our diverse culture that is only unified through its music and song,” he said.
That, or course, remains to be seen.
Contestants representing all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and five territories will compete. Representing Utah is singer/songwriter Savannah Keyes. She said her participation in the show is “truly a stroke of luck. Honestly, I still pinch myself every single day. I’m not sure how I got so lucky. When I look at the cast, I’m, like, ‘Wait, I’m also doing this. This is amazing.”
Executive producer Audrey Morrissey (”The Voice”) said “American Song Contest” is not a show “for the 15-year-old whose family doesn’t know they can sing and they’re going to come out on ‘The Voice’ or ‘American Idol’ or (‘America’s Got Talent’) and blow people away.” It’s for singer-songwriters who have achieved some degree of success. Many of them are already signed to record labels.
And not all the contestants are unknowns. Michael Bolton is representing Connecticut; Sisqó is representing Maryland; Macy Gray is representing Ohio; and Jewel is representing Alaska. (She was born in Payson, Utah, but grew up in Alaska.)
But will the high-profile contestants have an advantage? Gray and Bolton already have followings — how can Keyes compete with that?
Morrissey said that all the artists — both new and established — are being given “an even playing field” with “the same level of support.” And she discounted the advantage Bolton or Gray might have by arguing that “Americans love to discover new people, new musicians, new songs and everything, and they also love an underdog.”
“I almost feel like the legacy artists are going to have to work harder,” said Kelly Clarkson, who’ll host alongside Snoop Dogg.
That, of course, remains to be seen. But executive producer Christer Bjorkman said that in the 20 years he’s produced the Eurovision contest, he’s “seen it all. I’ve seen stars win. I’ve seen stars fall. I’ve seen new stars being born — lots of them. And the thing is, this show is all about the song. It doesn’t matter how famous you are. ... If you come across with your song, you win.”
Keyes found out in January that she was going to be on. The show was originally scheduled to start airing in February, but was pushed back because of the omicron variant surge. “It’s just enough time to freak yourself out,” she said.
Keyes grew up in Sandy, although she now makes Nashville her home. She said her “whole family” still lives in Utah, and she visits often. She isn’t exactly sure how she was chosen to be on the show, and the producers were sort of vague about that. Morrissey said the show’s staff “put our feelers” and used their contacts from working on “The Voice” and other shows. And Keyes competed on “Real Country,” sort of a country-music version of “The Voice” that aired in 2018 on NBC’s sister channel, the USA Network.
It’s a curated group, unlike the European version, where each country has its own selection show that feeds into Eurovision. “Here, we have no mechanism for that,” Morrissey said. “Hopefully, down the road, we will. But in the meantime, we had to sort of kickstart this.”
Starting this week, “The American Song Contest” will air “live” — tape-delayed in the Mountain time zone — on Mondays at 7 p.m. on NBC/Ch. 5. “Which is absolutely terrifying,” Keyes said. “But it makes it more exciting.”
The results will be a combination of viewers’ votes and input from a judging panel. And, according to the producers, contestants from smaller states or territories won’t be at a disadvantage. According to executive producer Anders Lehnhoff, who also produces Eurovision, the winner of the popular vote in each state or territory gets the same number of points — so the winners of the popular vote in California (population 39.5 million) and Guam (population 169,000) each get 12 points, at least in the early rounds.
As the eight-week competition continues, “you need to find support in as many states and territories as possible,” Lenhoff said.
“I think when you sit down to watch the show in the beginning, of course, you root for your home state,” said Bjorkman, “but then you fall in love with any song that you like.”
Keyes is keeping her fingers crossed that she’ll get the support of viewers in Utah. “The people here are always supportive of somebody who has a dream. It’s just taking it further and actually picking up your phone to vote,” she said with a laugh. ”It’s out of my control completely, and I just have to put together the best performance I possibly can.
“But please vote! Otherwise, it’ll just be my mom and my dad, and that’ll be a bummer.”
“The American Song Contest” isn’t just about the performances, it’s about the songs. Keyes can’t talk about the song she wrote until after she performs it on TV, but she did say that when she woke up one morning, “I had a title that I really wanted to write. … It’s one of my favorite songs I’ve written.”
Of course, the competition is also about the performances. Eurovision has become famous — maybe infamous? – for its over-the-top costumes and extravagant production in its final rounds. “And we’ve been working for months to really deliver on that level of production value that Eurovision has and bring that here,” Morrissey said.
Not matter what happens in the competition, Keyes will have a national television stage to promote her song and her career. “Absolutely,” she said. “This is a great opportunity.” And Clarkson said, “It’s also about just getting your music out there.”
And no matter what happens on “The American Song Contest,” it’ll be a big year for Keyes. She and her fiance, Luis Casas, are in the middle of planning a September wedding and she’s “trying to launch an entire career.”
“When it rains it pours, but it’s all good things,” she said. “I’ll probably take a nap at the end of the year, but it’s going to be so much fun.”
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