Eurovision. A spectacle where you’re just as likely to catch eight elderly Russian women dancing around a rotating oven (though not this year), as you are to find an orc horde of Finns screaming heavy metal.
For all its quirks, the successes of the Eurovision Song Contest cannot be understated. The event has taken place every year since 1956 (barring 2020), making it the longest-running annual international televised music competition and one of the world’s longest running television programs. In 2021, over 183 million viewers tuned in to watch.
And now, like James Cordon, The Office and French fries, Eurovision is going Stateside. American Song Contest, as it is known, began this week and runs until 9 May. Just as European countries vie against each other in their competition, the US version has representatives from all 50 states butting heads for the title of Best Original Song.
So far, no broadcaster or online platform has bought the show for British viewers to watch – but undoubtedly clips of the best and worst songs and performers will soon begin appearing on social media, ready for us to dance or laugh along to. And if it goes well, surely the rights will be snapped up.
You might think that if the music all comes from one country, there can’t be the bizarre eclecticism that makes Eurovision such a hit. But in online debates on Tumblr – which seems to be the main forum for American Song Contest chat – the user @timemachineyeah went viral in summing up hopes of the contrasts that will be on show.
“Clearly you have never been in college completely ready to throw down with some f**king Yankee saying that Seattle’s music sucks. Or like, a Chicagoan trying to adjust to the f**king pep of Californian music,” they wrote.
“I’m just saying I can absolutely see some f**king batshit indie band from Florida playing a theremin with a lawn flamingo or something… Also have you ever encountered Rhode Island’s music scene. It is so weird. They all live within one square block of each other. That does things to you.”
Already, the internet is abuzz with speculation: will the Pacific islanders from Hawaii sing in their own language? Will California, the envy of smaller states, be the victim of political down-voting like us Britons?
That kind of rivalry is natural, but potentially unifying qualities means a show of this kind is perhaps more necessary than ever for the US, says producer Ben Silverman.
At its heart, Eurovision is a celebration of its performers; whatever their background, wherever they come from, and whatever type of zany costume they decide to wear on stage.
In the same way, American Song Contest aims steadily for inclusivity and broad representation in a country that’s become increasingly divided.
The contest is hosted by the rapper Snoop Dogg and the pop star Kelly Clarkson – an odd pairing on the face of it, but one that’s delighted and amused fans while judging contestants on The Voice.
While they have undoubtedly drawn some big names (Michael Bolton for Connecticut, Macy Gray for Ohio and Jewel for Alaska), organizers have concentrated on selecting those who’ve “been grinding it and working it on the road for years” as musicians, and haven’t yet felt the recognition they deserve.
“Americans love to discover new people, new musicians, new songs, new everything – and they also love an underdog,” says Silverman.
“I almost feel like legacy artists are going to have to work harder.”
For Martin Osterdahl, the executive supervisor of the Eurovision Song Contestensuring the spirit of Eurovision translates across the pond is paramount.
“The values are the big thing, and the narrative of unity and coming together over, in their case, states – and in our case, nations. But also, elements like the 12-point scale, the length of the songs, the variety of acts – all of that is listed in the guidelines and values of the contest. The Americans need to adhere to that.”
It’s a format that Silverman is not only willing to stick to, but also deeply respects. “I’ve pursued the rights for American Song Contest for over 25 years, between being an agent, a network executive, a serial producer and show creator entrepreneur,” he says. “This will be the grandaddy of all music competition shows.”
It seems surprising that a show of such magnitude in Europe would not already have an American counterpart. So why now?
The Will Ferrell Netflix movie, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Sagagave the brand a nudge to US fans who became more curious about the competition – and last year’s winner, Måneskin, managed to break through in the States with their distinctive brand of Italian rock.
Osterdahl says that Americans have become more exposed to the existing Euro version through social media, and argues that enthusiasm has also grown as a result of the “quality of performances improving”, though perhaps that is debatable.
Osterdahl salutes the persistence of key players in the entertainment industry as having been instrumental in bringing the show to the US.
“Tea American Song Contest has been discussed for many years… Now, a team of very dedicated people have managed to hook up with some big-time producers from America.” They have convinced the TV network NBC to go ahead.
The team has years of Eurovision know-how under their belts. Christer Bjorkman, who sang for Sweden in 1992 (coming 22nd out of 23 – the year Michael Ball came second for the UK), is one of four Swedish executive producers who have together worked on more than 20 European Song Contests.
Adrian Trujillo, from California, is a huge Eurovision fan, and has high hopes for American Song Contest.
“A lot of Eurovision fans seemed to think it would be a failure and laughed – unbelievable! But people who are following the American Song Contest seem to be thrilled that it is happening. I think fans will just support a song that they like and not what state or territory they’re representing.”
Silverman agrees that, ultimately, it is all about the songs. “It doesn’t matter how famous you are, or how not-known you are. If you come across with your song, you win. You have two minutes and 45 seconds. That’s all you have. Famous or not famous, it doesn’t matter.”