NBC’s “American Song Contest” debuts Monday (8 EDT/PDT), but the state-vs.-state talent competition has been nearly three decades in the making.
The eight-week competition’s premise is inspired by the long-running “Eurovision Song Contest,” an annual singing contest organized by the European Broadcasting Union, says executive producer Ben Silverman, who says he spent 25 years acquiring the rights for the show.
“Eurovision Song Contest” has introduced the world to music icons such as Spanish singer-songwriter Julio Iglesias as well as Swedish pop group ABBA and pop powerhouse Celine Dion, who won the contest in 1974 and 1988, respectively.
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But instead of European countries competing for the title, 56 vocalists representing each U.S. state and territory will compete on “Song Contest,” including famous singers like Jewel (representing Alaska), Michael Bolton (Connecticut) and Macy Gray (Ohio), along with lesser-known talents.
Executive producer Audrey Morrissey says this mix of rising artists and bona fide superstars reflects the landscape of “the actual music business,” and says contestants were selected after consulting with music industry contacts and an independent academy of industry professionals.
“This show is not for the 15-year-old whose family doesn’t know they sing, and they are going to come out on ‘The Voice’ or ‘American Idol’ or (‘America’s Got Talent’) and blow people away,” Morrissey explains. “This is a professional platform. This is for the artists, the person who is committed to, ‘This is what I’m doing in my life, and I’ve been grinding it and working it on the road for years.’”
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Singer and talk- show host Kelly Clarkson – an “Idol” winner who’s no stranger to reality competition series – and Snoop Dogg serve as co-hosts, who provide commentary but don’t determine which singers advance. Instead, fans at home and a “jury” of 56 professionals decide.
Clarkson says the show’s inclusivity will help bring people together at a time when it’s sorely needed.
“That’s what’s cool about this show, is it’s going to open up all of this conversation and all of this diversity that I feel like we’ve been divided for in this country for quite a bit because people have their preconceived notions of who is from where,” Clarkson says. “And that’s just not true anymore, especially in such a digital age. We are all very similar more than not.”
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. Apart from having a good rapport with Snoop Dogg, Clarkson says the hosts epitomize the show’s diversity through their own musical versatility.
“He’s done pop; he’s done rap. He’s done all of these other things, and I’ve done country and pop and all of these other things,” Clarkson says. “So, it is a cool thing to have our faces – we like a lot of different styles of music, and there is literally so many different styles of music (on the show).”
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The show’s “qualifiers,” which span the first five episodes, will feature 11 or 12 singers each week, with one contestant immediately advancing to the semifinals. Viewers’ votes translate to actual points assigned to each contestant, so more populous states won’t gain an unfair advantage.
Following two weeks of semifinal rounds,10 remaining contestants compete in the show’s live finale on May 9, which names a winner.
“‘Eurovision’ has just gone from strength to strength year to year and remains arguably the most popular and important entertainment television show in the world, and I think it translates beautifully to America and our diverse culture that is only unified through its music and song,” Silverman says. “It’s filled with regional passion and state-by-state brilliance.”
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