Over the last decade or so, the Eurovision Song Contest has outgrown its tongue-in-cheek reputation and become such a celebratory juggernaut that imitators were bound to emerge at some point. And this month, the biggest imitator of all will be launched into the world. That’s right – give way to an American song contest.
In two weeks, the American Song Contest will feature artists from all 50 US states, plus five US territories and Washington, DC, to sing original material and compete for a prize to be awarded in May.
However, unlike the first Eurovision Song Contest in 1956, when there were so few entries that each country had to sing two songs, the American Song Contest wants to start with a buzz. As long as you can keep some perspective (after all, no one at the top of their career is going to take a chance on a televised singing competition), his action list is breathtaking.
The show itself will be hosted by Snoop Dogg and Kelly Clarkson and will include a host of performers who already have their own Wikipedia page. Jewel represents Alaska, Sisko represents Maryland, Macy Gray represents Ohio, and Michael Bolton represents Connecticut. It’s no surprise that artists from this pedigree are willing to drop everything for the American Song Contest – most recently Michael Bolton was hired to perform ironic light cover songs on a date show – but it’s a sign the organizers are taking the matter seriously.
Of course, the fact that you know the names of these people does not guarantee any success. The UK has spent years inviting celebrities to the Eurovision Song Contest and all they have done is reinforce the notion that name recognition is not the magic key you might think. Blue tried and failed once, as did Bonnie Tyler and Engelbert Humperdinck. And every year they were beaten by a lesser-known performer who arrived at the competition with a much better song.
This, after all, is what competitions are all about – both European and American. It doesn’t matter who you are or how many records you’ve sold. Rise up with an undeniable song and you win.
The bigger question is whether the American song contest will fit with Eurovision. My inner feeling is that it won’t. In terms of culture, Europe is everywhere and what makes it special is that it allows all these different tastes, languages and attitudes to collide. Watching Eurovision means immersing yourself in a complex web of perverse attachments, political votes and localized cultural touchpoints that are often not as well interpreted as the performer would like. But with one country literally made up of many United States, we can probably expect to see much less sociological diversity.
This may not happen, of course. Like the Eurovision Song Contest, the US Song Contest could change the boundaries of geographic rivalry in a way that bleeds the scabs off a few old wounds. If it does, it might even help explain the US world, which isn’t such a bad thing.
In fact, you might argue that now is just the right time to release the American competition to the world. After all, Eurovision was originally conceived to help the wounded continent create a new sense of post-war harmony by demonstrating that our neighbors are not as far away from us as we might think. It was clearly a way to bring us all together. And if Michael Bolton needs to honk some old nonsense on TV to do the same for America, it will all be well spent.