For 66 years, the Eurovision Song Contest has been the biggest pop music contest in the world. It has created stars like ABBA, Celine Dion, footage not found for 30 years, and, most recently, Måneskin. It is a staple in Europe, with more than 180 million people tuning in to last year’s competition. Eurovision is known for being ridiculous fun, with performances that lean into camp sensibilities and absurdity. It is also often a form of misguided soft diplomacy, with countries strategically giving allies their coveted 12-point top scores and flags of various kinds flying around everywhere as a ballerina pops out of white baby grand piano. A recent winning song famously included chicken sounds in its chorus.
American Song Contest, which premiered last night on NBC, is trying to replicate the star-making frivolity that Eurovision is famous for. The problem here — one that I assume we’ll keep running into for the next eight weeks — is that Americans do not understand how to be fun. All we know is white rappers and Old Navy music. With that being said, let’s break down last night’s premiere episode in all of its weirdness.
Kelly Clarkson and Snoop Dogg host the show, and are by far the best part of the whole thing. Whatever genius over at NBC Universal decided to pair those two together should get a raise. They have incredible chemistry, and are great at lying about loving an awful song. Early on in the episode, they were tasked with explaining the voting process for ASC, which is about as confusing as the electoral college.
Every viewer can give any of the night’s artists up to ten votes, and after toying around with the website, it seems that you can give them all ten votes if you want to. Additionally, there’s a jury made up of 56 judges from every state and territory represented on the show. I think they are music professionals. At the end of each episode they choose one performer to be their pick to move safely to the next round, with the catch being that they cannot vote for a performer from their state. So I guess they’re like the Senate? I don’t know, I’ve just chosen to believe that the whole thing is rigged.
Onto the performances!
Eleven artists took the stage last night, and each got a little introduction package where they could proudly declare that their state was more than its stereotypes and then go on to talk only about its stereotypes. Did you know that they love cheese in Wisconsin?
Wisconsin - Yam Haus, “Ready to Go”
Starting the show with the absolute worst song of the bunch is certainly a choice. Yam Haus is four white guys from Minnesota who sing music that sounds like generic brand DNCE. What does Yam Haus mean? Thank you for asking. Yam stands for “You are me.” Haus, meanwhile, is the German word for house. I have no further explanation, and I have nothing more to say about these dudes or their song. It was the lowest point of the night — uninspired, boring, and the main guy was wearing flared khakis.
Oklahoma - AleXa, “Wonderland”
Here is the moment where I thought that ASC might be able to capture some of that Eurovision magic. AleXa is an actual K-pop star who performs in Korea but is from Oklahoma. Following the bland display put on by Yam Haus, she might as well have been Beyoncé. AleXa put on a real show, taking full advantage of the LED floor, backup dancers, and props. She even fell off a set of stairs at the end (on purpose), which I am choosing to believe was an homage to Black Swan. She was, in fact, perfect.
Arkansas - Kelsey Lamb, “Never Like This”
Kelsey’s fun fact about Arkansas was that she loves “cheese dip,” which is “not queso” but actually just Velveeta melted down with Rotel. This was as interesting as Kelsey got, as her song sounded like the music they’d play on Selling Little Rock. Here is a sample line: “I’ve never been kissed / The way you’re kissin’ me / Right now / Baby.” However, I must give kudos to the production designers at ASC. Her stage set up was gorgeous.
Indiana - UG skywalkin, “Love in My City (feat. Maxie)”
Before you ask, yes, the city he’s talking about is Indianapolis. UG skywalkin was the first rapper of the night, and was promptly upstaged by Maxie, the featured artist on his song. Performing live is hard, and Maxie sounded more comfortable and less out of breath. UG skywalkin — the UG stands for Uganda — did look really good though, and I’m sure that will at least garner him more votes than my new nemeses in Yam Haus.
Puerto Rico - Christian Págan, “LOKO”
This song is honestly great. It has everything: a confident performer, a catchy melody, and a key change. It is a dumb pop song about driving a girl crazy, and, well, it worked on the girl writing this. This was one of the only performances of the night to really capture the Eurovision spirit, and I did give him ten of my fake votes.
This is where Kelly and Snoop sat behind a desk and did color commentary about the performances they’d seen so far. They loved everything. “I’m impressed with all the plays,” Kelly said. No notes!
Connecticut - Michael Bolton, “Beautiful World”
I have never seen someone want to be anywhere less than Michael Bolton. Looking absolutely dead-eyed in his introduction package, he told the camera, “I’ve been all over the world, but all my life Connecticut has been bringing me back.” The manager of a popular venue in New Haven called Bolton “the heart of the entire state.” Here I was thinking that the heart of Connecticut was the insurance business like an idiot.
Anyway, for someone doing this either for a quick check or because he was misled as to what other performers had signed on, Bolton brought the heat. Not once did he move his feet or make any attempt at “performing,” but that man can sing. His song was about “kindness” and I loved every second of it.
Iowa - Alisabeth Von Presley, “Wonder”
It’s pronounced like Elizabeth. This woman has bright pink hair and runs a coffee shop in Iowa, one that has a drink called a “Van Halen.” It is good that she has a day job, because this sounded like you hired a P!nk impersonator to sing “Confident” by Demi Lovato. As an ode to being a badass woman, it was uninspired, but I do appreciate that she did a fake keytar solo during the breakdown.
Wisconsin - Jake’O, “Feel Your Love”
What I will say about Jake’O is that he is doing the 21st century Danny Zuko look really well. He’s fully committed to this aesthetic, which is more than you can say about some of his fellow performers. This song about having sex all night, however, is completely forgettable.
Mississippi - Keyone Starr, “Fire”
I wanted to like this so bad. Starr has a good voice, one clearly honed in church choirs, but this did nothing for me. The most exciting part of the performance was her background tambourine players giving it their all and a guitar solo where sparks flew out of a John Elton lookalike’s guitar.
Wyoming - Ryan Charles, “New Boot Goofin”
This is the moment we waited for all night. Charles, a white rapper, explained that the term “new boot goofin” was inspired by the time his uncle got a new pair of boots and was really feeling himself. Never once is it mentioned that the phrase originated on Reno 911!. The song is, obviously, awful. But this is what ASC should be: overly confident Americans named Ryan fully committing to the worst thing I’ve ever heard in my life.
Rhode Island - Hueston, “Held on Too Long”
The mastermind behind the show’s lineup decided to follow “New Boot Goofin” with a song about heartbreak and addiction. Hueston described himself as “if Chris Stapleton and Adele and Sons of Anarchy” had a baby, which I laughed off at first, but it turned out to be true. Outside of international singing sensation Michael Bolton, Hueston was the best singer of the night, and was rewarded with the jury vote. Whatever that means.