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If you’ve ever watched videos of performances from the Eurovision Song Contest, you know that the acts are all over the music spectrum, with elaborate staging and slick production. That’s what you can expect from American Song Contest, produced by the people that crank out Eurovision every year. But is the music any good?
Opening Shot: In a taped intro to the live American Song Contest first episode, hosts Snoop Dogg and Kelly Clarkson talk about why their respective home states — California and Texas — are a big part of their music.
The Gist: In ASC, an American spinoff of the popular Eurovision Song Contest, acts from all 50 states, 5 U.S. territories and Washington, DC represent their home states/territories with original music. The styles of music are all over the map, from country to rock to pop to hip hop. Each act is introduced by Clarkson and Snoop, and the staging is slick, professional, and full of dancers and/or pyrotechnics.
The structure in each of the five preliminary rounds is that approximately 11 state/territory representatives are shown in a pre-recorded bio reel, talking about why their home informs their music and where they are in the music business. Then each performs live. As the episode goes on, the TV audience votes. The top three acts from that vote go to the semifinals. Also, a jury with representatives from all 56 states/territories votes for their choice, who also goes to the semifinals.
While most of the acts are professional, working musicians with some degree of success, there are a few legends thrown in the mix. In the first episode, for example, Michael Bolton, representing Connecticut, performs a new song. Jewel will rep Alaska, Macy Gray will rep Ohio, Sisqó will rep Maryland and The Crystal Method reps Nevada.
Also highlighted are unexpected acts. AleXa, repping Oklahoma, is a very successful K-pop star in South Korea. Alisabeth Von Presley, from Iowa, does more anthemy-rock-pop along the lines of Pink or Katy Perry. Ryan Charles, from Wyoming, does a country-hip-hop hybrid called “New Boot Goofin’”.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Eurovision, of course. The elaborate staging of most of the songs is reminiscent of what fans of the long-running song contest have been seeing for decades. An American equivalent is likely the late rounds of American Idol or The Voice, where the cover songs performed are staged more elaborately than they are earlier in the contest.
Our Take: The idea behind American Song Contest is a solid one: After decades of singing contest where people are singing other artists’ songs, here acts can make hits their own. The songs submitted by the singers who tried out online weren’t necessarily written by them, but they are supposed to be unreleased songs. There are two major issues: The execution could be a little tighter, and the songs could be a bit less generic.
Snoop and Clarkson do their best to keep the crowd up and the excitement palpable. They get involved in some dopey side segments — Snoop with a “Just the facts” segment, Clarkson with games similar to what she does on her daytime show — but for the most part, they’re there to amp up the audience in the studio and at home. They love all the songs, because it’s their job to love all of them. Whether they actually do or not is another matter, but we’ll take them at their word.
But the show’s pacing is terrible. You get a far-too-long bio reel, a song, then a commercial break. And that pattern pretty much continues for two hours. If you’re not watching ASC on your DVR or no-commercials Hulu subscription, you’re going to be in for a frustrating slog.
The songs are mostly generic. Some are catchy, but they feel like music we’ve heard before. For instance, Wisconsin’s Jake’O touts his music as retro and futuristic at once, but his song, “Wonderland”, sounds neither retro nor futuristic. The arrangement is too slick and the dancers and skittery camera work used during his performance distract from remembering anything but the idea that the song could have been better.
Then there’s the matter of the legends that are thrown in, and it looks like it’s one for each preliminary episode. We’re not 100% sure why they’re there. Are they really there to rep their home state and mix themselves in the contest, or are they there to promote a new song and give ASC an act people will tune in to watch? It was strange watching Bolton standing with the other acts, waiting to hear about who gets to be the jury’s choice to go to the semifinals (Spoiler: he wasn’t). Did he even care?
Is the show designed to have the “legends” move on or just present their new song and bow out? Their presence is confusing to us and detracts from the people who actually have incentive to move on and maybe actually win this contest.
Sex and Skin: None.
Parting Shot: The jury’s choice gets picked. Next week, we’ll hear about the other three acts that the audience chose to move on to the semifinals.
Sleeper Star: Ironically, Bolton’s song, “Beautiful World,” was not only the best song of the night, but one of the few Bolton songs we’ve heard that didn’t sound like a great song made painfully generic.
Most Pilot-y Line: The goofy side stuff means that two hours is far too much time for these episodes. There’s even a “halftime” segment, where Snoop and Clarkson “analyze” the acts, complete with Snoop using a telestrator. Yeesh.
Our Call: SKIP IT. It feels like the preliminary rounds of American Song Contest are going to be interminable to watch, leading to the anticlimactic and speedy semifinals and finals. If they’re all like the poorly-paced and generic first episode, we’ll pass.
Will you stream or skip the music reality competition #AmericanSongContest on @nbc? #SIOSI
— Decider (@decider) March 23, 2022
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.
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