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Why American Song Contest was a wonderful, exuberant flop

Why American Song Contest was a wonderful, exuberant flop
Snoop Dogg and Kelly Clarkson hosting American Song Contest's second semi-final episode, before the grand finals. (Photo by Trae Patton/NBC)

American Song Contest has been appointment TV in my house for the past seven weeks. At 8 p.m. on Mondays—or a little later to allow for some fast-forwarding—it’s on, and we’re having a blast watching and talking about it, from the first episode to tonight’s finale, which revealed the winner.

American Song Contest has a tremendous amount of talent, both in front of the camera and behind it. I like it so much better than American Idol, and it’s eons better than NBC’s own America’s Got Talent, which has just become excruciating to watch.

The finale continued that sense of fun, with some great performances and 20 minutes of results that mirrored Eurovision in the best way.

Watching those rankings shift was fascinating and tense—and then thrilling as America’s votes effectively overturned the jury’s results, which was particularly satisfying for me.

As the jury’s votes were announced, and then the state totals were added in, I was nearly screaming at the TV, and so thrilled that Oklahoma’s AleXa ultimately won.

Oklahoma's AleXa performs "Wonderland" during the American Song Contest grand finals
Oklahoma’s AleXa performs “Wonderland” during the American Song Contest grand finals. (Photo by Trae Patton/NBC)

American Song Contest was hosted and led by Kelly Clarkson and Snoop Dogg, who deserve Emmys for their unpretentious and perfectly calibrated interaction. They’re hosting a lighthearted party by having fun themselves.

Is it you? Is it me? It’s them!

While time-wasting bits would normally irritate me, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Snoop and Kelly’s bits. Even their outtakes are charming! My husband and I eagerly await the Halftime Report, which has been the peak of the show’s silliness.

But a singing competition doesn’t work without good music, and American Song Contest definitely delivered that, too.

A show with all original songs is a wonderful complement to all the bad karaoke American has suffered through throughout the years, thanks to singing competitions.

The singers are all accomplished, but in different ways, and at different levels.

With the exception of Michael Bolton (who I’ve joked about but makes me very, very concerned, especially during the finale), all of the other celebrity acts—Macy Gray, Jewel, Sisqó—were eliminated.

The staging of their performances is usually strong, and there’s a great range of music, from moving ballads (Jordan Smith’s “Sparrow”, Bolton’s”Beautiful World”) to ridiculous nonsense (Ryan Charles’ “New Boot Goofin'”, “Million Dollar Smoothie”) to catchy songs (AleXa’s “Wonderland”, Grant Knoche’s “Mr. Independent”).

Several of its songs are now in heavy rotation (“LOKO”; “Mr. Independent”; “Train”) on my playlist.

Texas' Grant Knoche performs "Mr. Independent" during American Song Contest's semi-final round
Texas’ Grant Knoche performs “Mr. Independent” during American Song Contest’s semi-final round. (Photo by Trae Patton/NBC)

All shows—especially live ones—can take a while to find their footing, but it was pretty sturdy to begin with, and I liked it from the start.

Still, I’ve appreciated how it’s tweaked itself from week to week.

For example, how exactly votes were calculated has remained opaque, and the finale delivered an animated segment with “Professor Snoop” explaining how grand final voting worked.

Overall, I think American Song Contest has been one of the bright spots in reality TV this year so far. So why did so few people watch?

American Song Contest’s mistakes

American Song Contest's logo, as seen in an NBC ad for its version of Eurovision
American Song Contest’s logo, as seen in an NBC ad for its version of Eurovision.

In short: American Song Contest was a ratings disaster.

The best thing that happened with the ratings is that, after losing about half its audience from week one to week three, its live ratings have stayed steady.

But coming in a distant fourth place in its timeslot is not a win, and it’s gained nothing in DVR viewing.

What went so wrong?

I was a guest on The EuroWhat? Podcast‘s latest episode to talk about American Song Contest, and Ben and Mike and I discussed a lot of this in depth. (It’s currently on their Patreon feed but will be in the main feed soon.)

But here’s what I think might have hurt American Song Contest.

Its generic name

I get that it’s using Eurovision Song Contest’s name.

But “American” ≠ “Eurovision.”

And American Song Contest just sounds like a store brand American Idol.

Its scheduling

Against American Idol? Why split the audience for live singing competitions?

Pushing back the premiere because of COVID concerns was the responsible choice for a show with a live audience, but didn’t help the show, since it didn’t get to draft off of the Winter Olympics. But I also doubt that a February premiere would have made it a big hit, especially because the Winter Olympics’ wind was a soft fart, at best.

Why was American Song Contest spread out over seven weeks, with nothing happening in between each episode? Eurovision’s semi-finals and final are all in the same week.

I think this is the kind of show that should have aired in December, over a week or two, like NBC’s The Sing-Off. Build momentum. Weekly episodes just didn’t do that.

(On the podcast, Mike and Ben talked more about the scheduling versus Eurovision itself, and how it basically overlapped with Eurovision season, and not in a helpful way.)

State vs. state

I understand why it was impossible for NBC to replicate Eurovision with state-based contests sending their winners to American Song Contest. So the producers cast people instead.

I think they generally did a great job of casting acts from each state and territory, offering a range of artists and music from across genres.

They didn’t just echo a state’s stereotypes, either. After all, a K-pop singer from Oklahoma won. And my state, Florida, was represented by a female Latin pop artist, not a sweaty, sunburned troglodyte infected with COVID wearing a DeSantis hat and screaming mah free-dum! while demanding that other people’s rights be taken away.

Ultimately, I cannot remember who is what state, and I just don’t care, either. And I don’t know if state identity in American translates to reality TV voting.

The jury

I understand American Song Contest modeled itself after Eurovision, but giving immediate power to the jury (they voted based on dress rehearsal footage, which is why we saw their results immediately) was annoying.

If you really think you need to balance the public’s vote, why have a public vote?

To its credit, ASC brought on a jury member to humanize them. But they largely remained faceless people who kept voting (as a group) for the most generic music that I couldn’t stand. And since they didn’t have my exact taste, I’m done with them!

What also didn’t help was the lack of clarity about just how voting worked mathematically, at least not until the finale. Thankfully, it took some of the jury’s power away by grouping them into regions, instead of giving each jury member the same power as an entire state’s votes.

Still, I wanted to scream every time another region voted for Washington. So boring, jury!

Will there be an American Song Contest season 2?

I’m not sure if fixing any—or even all—of these things would turn American Song Contest into a reality TV sensation.

I do hope it gets a second season, ideally condensed into more of an event.

But I realize this hope is a fantasy, and the chance of it returning approached zero with every subsequent episode.

Then again, broadcast networks are basically just hitting a panic button these days, so maybe a show with tiny ratings would be a safer bet than something new. Then again, that might have been what NBC thought when they tried to bring Eurovision to the United States.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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Happy discussing!

redpenner

Friday 13th of May 2022

I love Idol, the Voice, and the other music shows, and I tried to watch this one, but I just couldn't after the first episode. It was just way too noisy! It seemed like a lot of shouting from the audience, yelling from the hosts, flashing lights and loud background music.

JF

Wednesday 11th of May 2022

I watched all of it on Peacock and enjoyed most of it.

Here's where they need to make changes:

1. Watching the same staging of songs with just new costumes and maybe new background visuals is not thrilling. Have them do new interpretations of the songs or bring in famous artists to turn those songs into duets for one performance. Something, anything, to shake it up and make it worth watching the same songs over and over.

2. Considering shortening the whole experience. The best part of Eurovision is it is one big night. I know you can make more money from multiple episodes, but maybe try spreading it over a single week or weekend in stead.

3. The jury needs to go. If you want to have "music industry insiders", have them provide some commentary or interview the artists about their future plans. The tastes of these experts are most unlikely to align with the country, so it really just creates an adversarial experience.

4. Promote the show. I didn't hear about it other than just before the premiere via one news spot. After that, zero promotion.

Tracy

Wednesday 11th of May 2022

In my opinion....'Wonderland' is a catchy tune but has no heart, unlike many of the other songs such as 'Beautiful World' or 'Sparrow'. I'm guessing that there were more voters of the younger generation who are into K pop music. Does not mean the jury was wrong on their voting, maybe just a different age group.

BadMitten

Wednesday 11th of May 2022

This was one of my favorite reads on your site in awhile, you had me cackilng with a couple of your quips: - "especially because the Winter Olympics’ wind was a soft fart, at best." - "And my state, Florida, was represented by a female Latin pop artist, not a sweaty, sunburned troglodyte infected with COVID wearing a DeSantis hat and screaming mah free-dum! while demanding that other people’s rights be taken away"

I'd also say I agree with you on most, if not all about what you said about the show. Particularly that this should have been a 2-3 week show in the midseason/winter timeslot. I really enjoyed the first round of the competition and hearing all of this great new original music I hadn't heard before. However, that quickly got redundant with the artists playing those same songs again in the semis and then the finale.

BadMitten

Wednesday 11th of May 2022

@BadMitten, Also I feel like it's pretty rare for a show of this ilk to have one of its best components be the hosts. So the show rightfully deserves praise for pairing Kelly and Snoop together. They were an absolute delight all season

Hakan

Tuesday 10th of May 2022

I can just jump in and mention, the producers behind ASC are swedish, which have a similar show, Melodifestivalen. Its aired every saturday for 6 weeks during february - march, with 4 normal shows, 1 semi-finale and one finale. And we also got this faceless jury, that got 50% of the votes, and sometimes the jurys choice wins, sometime the peoples choice wins, so you wonder why a faceless group have such big decision making?

Another thing is that you mention, who are the artist, why are they there and so on. Needs to be a mix between known artists, random artists, good songs, ridiculious songs, up tempo, down tempo and so on. We also had a K-pop-artist in the finals this year.

But in the end, 50 (?) american artists doesnt make a Eurovision, its about the culture and different languages, but also being silly and not taking it too serious, with some countries like UK always suck, why we in Sweden sees it as one of the biggest shows to win and goes all in the win it.