Long before American idol or The voice – Before Star search, even – there was the Eurovision Song Contest. United Nations talent contests, Eurovision featuring artists from across Europe and Australia, performing original songs on live TV, and it has long been one of the most watched shows on the planet since its launch in 1956, with an annual global audience of 200 million.
But now Eurovision awareness is at a record high in the US, due to several factors: In 2020, Will Ferrell’s satire Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga was a Netflix hit and received an Oscar nomination for Best Song; last year’s Eurovision winner, Italy’s Maneskin, became a hard rock sensation, scoring an unlikely top 15 hit in America and performing at Saturday Night Live; and the most famous Eurovision winner ever, ABBA, was recently reunited after a 40-year hiatus.
So now it is that perfect time for a Stateside version of the competition as singers representing 50 states and six U.S. territories compete for the title of best original song on NBC’s American singing competition. But the burning, glittering question is, will American singing competition (why it’s not called “Amerivision,” I do not know friggin ‘by) be as campy as its Euro predecessor?
So far, the answer is no. But Monday’s big premiere had at least … Michael Bolton !?
A little EVSC background for the uninitiated and the unknown: The original Eurovision has always been untouched by time or taste, with international graduates / pretenders all adorned in Spandex-‘n ‘sequin outfits while performing variety show dance moves that would not have been misplaced during ABBA’s famous career launch of Eurovision 1974 by “Waterloo”. Eurovision is perhaps the only televised talent competition more over-the-top than RuPaul’s Drag Race or The masked singer. An actual drag queen, Austria’s “Bearded Lady” Conchita Wurst, actually won Eurovision in 2014, and other previous standouts have included Finnish GWAR wannabes Lordi; Iceland’s gimp-masked Hatari shock rockers; and “Twin Terrors of Dublin”, identical X-factor the Jedward twins representing Ireland twice. Justin Hawkins from The Darkness was even a semi-finalist for the United Kingdom! (He was robbed.) And just last year at the EVSC, Germany’s Jendrik was accompanied by a dancing Hamburger Helper-like hand; Lithuanian electropoppers the Roop bopped around like gold-colored sprockets; Norges Tix wore Victoria’s Secret angel wings and iron chains for the power ballad “Fallen Angel”; and Flo Rida randomly showed up to assist San Marino’s pop duo Senhit.
And this is the kind of entertainment that American viewers – who until 2016 were not even able to watch Eurovision in the US without some form of geo-unblocked VPN hack – demand and deserve. But while Snoop Dogg is co-hosting NBC’s eight weeks American singing competition event (together with Idol win-turn-Vote coach Kelly Clarkson) and Bolton take on Connecticut again this week ASC premiere did not live up to Eurovision’s crazy promise or premise. The participants – even Bolton, a man with a sense of humor who once hailed Jack Sparrow with The Lonely Island – took themselves way too serious, and the NBC brass seemed to confuse this show with the network’s recently canceled songwriting competition, Sangland. I mean, where was the pyro? The Sprocket robots? The cage dancers? The S&M dungeon masters? The Dancing Hamburger Helpers ???
Oh yeah. Maybe when thong singer SisQó represents Maryland in a future episode (Yes, it happens), things will get better. Incidentally, other big font names that will compete on American singing competition in the coming weeks include reigning Masked singer champ Jewel (representing Alaska, of course); electronic duality Crystal Method (Nevada); folk / soul singer-songwriter Allen Stone (Washington); The voice Season 9 winner Jordan Smith (Kentucky); and, representing Ohio and hopefully wearing her infamous, delightfully sticky 2001 VMA dress, soul star Macy Gray. (Unfortunately, one named Ale Zabala will sing for Florida instead of the obvious choice: the aforementioned Flo Rida itself. Suk. Another missed opportunity.)
As for whether any of American singing competitions 56 contestants – ranging from established stars to relatively unknown – will eventually bring fun and funk, rock as hard as Lordi and Maneskin, or come up with something half as ear-worm and grand prize-worthy as the fictional Fire Saga’s “Yes Yes Ding Dong” that everything remains to be seen. At Monday’s grand premiere, 11 of those 56 hopefuls competed, including Bolton; at the end of the live two-hour episode, a jury of 56 people representing each unit chose one song to advance to the semifinals, while three additional songs, determined by that jury plus the voters at home, will be revealed at the top of next Monday’s quarterfinals. Here’s what went down:
Yam Haus (Minnesota), “Ready to Go”
These cute boys from the Midwest came across as a light, less catchy Walk the Moon, Foster the People or Portugal. The Man with their banal pop-rock positivity anthem. Yam Haus was pretty much ready to take … back to Minnesota.
AleXa (Oklahoma), “Wonderland”
This Tulsa-raised cheerleader who became a K-pop star and currently lives in South Korea brought at least the right production to the show that one would expect from anyone in the K-pop world. She looked like a cartoon heroine in her fembot armor and Aeon Flux pigtails as she strutted on the checkered stage floor and dangled from NSYNC doll strings. She knew how to put on a show. Too bad her song was so generic, but she sold it at least.
Kelsey Lamb (Arkansas), “Never Like This”
Kelsey is a country-pop singer who loves Blake Shelton and Avril Lavigne … and that’s pretty much what “Never Like Thing” sounded like. Her faint vocals would never have turned on Blake’s red chair or any other chair The voice, and her earth-colored staging made her look like she was performing at a local Thanksgiving competition. Like Yam Haus, she seemed like an obvious feed participant. She will go out like a lamb.
UG Skywalkin (Indiana), “Love in My City”
This Uganda-educated missionary boy was also robbed of any splashy production, but he had some serious swag and natural charisma to make up for it. Maybe this was not the MTV Video Music Awards level, but I could at least watch this track be on a VMAs preshow. His song was modern and low-key; Snoop himself called it “bangin ‘” and said he was “jammin'” to it.
Christian Pagan (Puerto Rico), “Loko”
The pink leather biker jacket made Christian look like he was at Metro Station (or maybe Walk the Moon), and his performance was energetic – but it just wasn’t enough to save such a generic song.
Michael Bolton (Connecticut), “Beautiful World”
It was a very Olympic anthem American idol Season 2 coronation song, with minimal production in addition to the white chorus that appeared until the last chorus. Of course this is Michael friggin ‘Bolton, and his voice sounded fantastic, so maybe he did not need all the Eurovision bell and whistles. But I was a little bored. Where was The Lonely Island when we needed them?
Alisabeth Von Presley (Iowa), “Wonder”
Alisabeth described her style as being “if Lady Gaga hit Pat Benatar, and it exploded in a pot full of glitter”, and she had pink hair and played keytar, so it was all very promising and very on-fire for the Eurovision franchise . Her girl power anthem was not very memorable, but it had a pleasant Little Mix-like feel and came with Barbie & The Rockers / Gem & The Holograms flair. So this girl gets an A for effort.
Jake’O (Wisconsin), “Feel Your Love”
OK, this self-proclaimed “weird Wisconsinite” was one of my favorites. He had a good-looking Mark Ronson-like matinee idol, handsome Elvis-on-Ed Sullivan staging, and Jack White’s rock ‘n’ roll charisma, and his “nuvo retro” banger of a song was not bad. He certainly lit up the stage and raised the energy in the room. I felt his love.
Keyone Starr (Mississippi), “Fire”
This ecclesiastical rock ‘n soul singer who described herself as “if Aretha Franklin and Lenny Kravitz had a child” and promised the “full Mississippi experience” was actually discovered by Mark Ronson (she sang “I Can’t Lose”). “on his Uptown Special album). Her original song was not at the Ronson level, but as a sexy and experienced performer, she managed it occupation. She had hair with a high ponytail, burning vocals and a fearless stage presence. She owned this. I do not know if Keyone can win this show, but she really should go on The voice.
Ryan Charles (Wyoming), “New Boot Goofin ‘”
I enjoyed this “cowboy western rap” artist much more than I expected and more than I bother to admit. Everything about his performance embodied the sublime ridiculousness of what I had wished for from a Eurovision spinoff: corny Chingy-like rap, lots of twerking, a futuristic boot shop filled with neon footwear, etc. It was completely silly and a lot of fun. Snoop seemed to enjoy it too, dancing along and predicting, “I think everyone will be getting new boots on TikTok because I’ve already started it.”
Hueston (Rhode Island), “Hold on Too Long”
Invoices itself as “if Chris Stapleton and Adele and Sons of Anarchy had a baby, but in a good way ”(what was up with all these strange re-spliced descriptions tonight?), this big-hearted dive bar singer from our nation’s smallest state got the pimp seat for a good reason: This was a genuinely solid power ballad, in that discerning KISS-does- “Beth” / Journey-does- “Faithfully” / Bob Seger-does- “We’ve Got Tonight” tradition. I could see this song actually winning the whole show.
It turned out that “Hold on Too Long” won tonight’s jury selection, so Hueston advanced to the semifinals. As for the other three, I would go with Jake’O, Keyone Starr and Ryan Charles for pure entertainment value – sorry, Michael Bolton! But I hope there will be more entertainment in the coming weeks. SisQó, I’m looking at you …
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