‘Breathtakingly starry’: is the American Song Contest about to outdo Eurovision?

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Michael Bolton represents Connecticut, Macy Gray sings for Ohio and Snoop Dogg hosts with Kelly Clarkson. It’s the US’s new Eurovision imitator


Over the past decade or so, the Eurovision Song Contest has outgrown its naff, ironic reputation and become such a celebratory juggernaut that imitators were bound to come along at some point. And this month, the biggest imitator of all will be unleashed upon the world. That’s right – make way for the American Song Contest.

Starting in two weeks, the American Song Contest will see performers from all 50 US states, plus five US territories and Washington DC gather together to sing original material and compete for a prize that will be awarded in May.

However, unlike the first Eurovision – held in 1956, with so few entrants that each country had to sing two songs – the American Song Contest wants to begin with a bang. As long as you are able to retain some perspective (after all, nobody at the pinnacle of their career is going to take a gamble on a televised singing competition) its list of acts is breathtakingly starry.

The show itself will be hosted by Snoop Dogg and Kelly Clarkson, and the line-up includes plenty of acts who already have their own Wikipedia page. Jewel is representing Alaska, Sisqó is representing Maryland, Macy Gray is representing Ohio, and Michael Bolton is representing Connecticut. That performers of this pedigree are willing to drop everything for American Song Contest is no surprise – Michael Bolton was most recently employed to sing ironic easy listening cover versions on a dating show – but it is a sign that organisers are taking this thing seriously.

Of course, the fact that you know these people’s names doesn’t guarantee any sort of success. The UK spent years throwing big time celebrities at Eurovision, and all this did was reinforce the notion that name recognition is not the magic key you might think. Blue tried and failed to win once, as did Bonnie Tyler and Engelbert Humperdinck. And every year they were beaten by a less famous performer who arrived at the contest armed with a much better song.

This, after all, is what the contests – both European and American – are about. It doesn’t matter who you are, or how many records you’ve sold. Turn up with an undeniable song and you’re going to win.

The bigger question is whether or not the American Song Contest will be a match for Eurovision. My gut feeling is that it won’t. In terms of culture, Europe is all over the place, and what makes it so special is that it allows all these diverse tastes and languages and attitudes to collide. To watch Eurovision is to submerge yourself in a complex web of warped allegiances, political voting and localised cultural touchpoints that often don’t translate quite as well as the performer would like. But, with a single country literally made of lots of united states, we can probably expect to see a lot less sociological diversity.

That might not happen, of course. Like Eurovision, the American Song Contest could redraw the lines of geographical rivalries in a way that rips the scabs off several old wounds. If it does, it might even help to explain the US to the world, which will be no bad thing.

In fact, you could argue that this is exactly the right time to unleash the American Contest on the world. After all, Eurovision was originally designed to help a scarred continent forge a new sense of postwar harmony, by demonstrating that our neighbours aren’t as far from us as we might have thought. It was, explicitly, a method of pulling us all back together. And if it takes Michael Bolton honking out some old rubbish on the television to achieve the same thing for America, the whole thing will be money well spent.

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