Eurovision Is Being Adapted For The U.S., And Thanks – But No.

Some of you will already know how much I love and adore the Eurovision Song Contest, despite being a citizen of the United States and thus unable to fully revel in the wonders of that annual celebration of campy, joyous, musical mayhem. So you can easily imagine my mixed feelings when I learned today that, while I had been inconvenienced by a power outage that knocked out my internet connection, the United States had made the groundbreaking decision (four days ago! I’ve been oblivious to this for four days!) to start their own song contest, directly inspired by the Eurovision Song Contest and following most of the same rules, which will air sometime in late 2021. This really ought to be a happy occasion: but it’s not, and I have to at least attempt to explain why – though I’m not sure my analysis of the situation will be able to rival The Irish Times‘ scathing breakdown of the differences between Europe and the U.S.A. that will make it impossible for our so-called “American Song Contest” to ever truly compare to the one song contest to rule them all.


Oh, and, uh, quick side-note: this post has nothing to do with movies at all (unless you want to draw a tenuous connection to Netflix’s Eurovision movie, which I reviewed earlier this year), so that just shows you how much this matters to me.

The basic idea of the “American Song Contest” (I will consistently be using quotation-marks to refer to this horrid concept, just be aware of that) is that all fifty states in the United States of America will put forward their very finest musicians and musical acts to compete at one big, glorious event held in the fall or winter – for which I am immediately deducting points because (a) Eurovision has always had a warm, spring/summer energy, best exemplified by almost every recent entry from Cyprus, and (b) Eurovision’s close proximity to Pride Month has helped to make it extremely important to the LGBTQ+ community, with LGBTQ+ friendly music becoming a mainstay at the contest. As of right now, it seems that our version of the contest will only shake up the rules slightly, to include additional qualifier rounds – no states will be automatically guaranteed a place in the finals or semi-finals.


One of the most notable reactions from social media has been to point out that the name “American Song Contest” is misleading and kind of offensive because it implies that this is an international event, with nations from all over the Americas, especially Central American nations with rich and unique musical cultures, participating. But no, the name is a bit of a lie: this is a strictly U.S. event – which, as many have pointed out, might make the contest a little boring. In Eurovision, you have countries as distinct as Italy and Iceland competing; in the “American Song Contest”, there’s no surety of any such diversity among the contestants. I am happy for all the musicians who will undoubtedly get a big break from this contest – just like Eurovision, singers will have to perform original songs: no covers – but I can’t help but be worried that we’re in for a lot of similar country music acts from all the Midwestern states. There’s a bright side (at least for me, personally), which is that Eurovision 2020 contender Lesley Roy, whose pop throwback “Story Of My Life” was one of my favorites out of this year’s many fantastic entries, lives in the U.S. and could definitely shake things up at our “American Song Contest” if she doesn’t return to represent Ireland at Eurovision 2021.

Exacerbating the problem of sameness is the fact that there are sure to be far fewer non-English songs at the “American Song Contest”. One of the strengths of Eurovision is how it allows performers to sing in their native languages, providing much-needed variation while giving viewers around Europe a chance to learn a little something about their neighbors – and also Australia. Obviously, hundreds upon hundreds of languages are spoken in the U.S., but good luck trying to convince whatever TV network this airs on of that. Seeing as they won’t actually need to broaden the contest’s appeal beyond the borders of our one country, it’s hard to imagine many languages besides English (and hopefully Spanish at least) being represented.


Then there’s the major problem with the whole concept, which is, of course, that the United States of America doesn’t really need our own take on the Eurovision Song Contest if we’re not going to do it the right way, unless we actually plan on springboarding from this into Eurovision proper (dear God, I hope not, but it’s now a very real possibility). Eurovision was created as an attempt to patch up the wounds that Europe had suffered during the horrors of World War II by trying to create a friendly, fun, communal experience where countries could both celebrate their differences and simultaneously come together on one stage as a united front (against the Soviet Union, but that’s beside the point). The guiding principle behind the “American Song Contest” is said to be similar, with creator Christer Björkman (a Swede; the one possibly good thing about this whole affair) saying that he wants to use the contest to unite a “fractionalized” America. It’s a nice gesture, but wouldn’t it then make a lot more sense if this contest was open to all of North America instead of just one portion of the continent? As it is, the contest is looking a little bit exclusionary. Even if we’re just sticking to the U.S., why isn’t Puerto Rico being offered a place in the competition? What about Washington D.C.? Björkman said he wanted to unite America “by celebrating its diversity, its distinctions and in pulling everyone around its love of music and its love of song.”, but that’s hard to believe when we’re already cutting so many people out of the equation. Luckily, our nation is diverse enough that we could see singers from a wide variety of backgrounds show up in the running for the grand prize (presumably still just a trophy like at Eurovision, though the U.S. loves its monetary prizes), but somehow it’s hard to imagine we’ll see as much as we would from the real deal – at Eurovision, every year’s lineup includes a couple of acts that celebrate underrepresented ethnic groups or cultures: hopefully that transfers over to the U.S.


When all is said and done, I’m going to be morbidly interested in how this plays out.  Which state will be the San Marino of this contest, constantly providing groovy disco bops and freaky music videos? Which state will come in with the showstopping power ballad, or the hard rock hallelujah? Will we get a good variety of musical styles, from techno to gospel to those cringeworthy (yet embarrassingly enjoyable) motivational songs that England always sends to Eurovision? Will my home state of Connecticut make it to the left side of the scoreboard? Will there even be a left side of the scoreboard? I have too many questions, too many mixed feelings, and not as much hope as I would like to have. If it can be pulled off well, we might be in for a real treat. If not, well….there’s always the real Eurovision to look forward to, whenever that comes back.

What was your reaction to hearing about the “American Song Contest”? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

“Eurovision Song Contest” Review!

Confession time: I’m a sucker for dumb wholesome movies with musical numbers, and Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga fits the bill perfectly. Is it by any stretch of the imagination a good movie, technically? Nope. Is it, on the other hand, a really stupid comedy filled with outlandish humor, ridiculous scenarios and catchy songs? Yes, and it’s so unapologetically the latter that I can’t in all honesty fault it for not being the former. Sometimes, you have to just accept something bad and love it despite that fact – and there you go, I’ve summed up the entire plot of Eurovision Song Contest for you.


Now, here’s another confession for you: I am American, but I actually knew what Eurovision was long before watching this movie, and it surprises me that so many are only just now being introduced to the zany glory that is the real-life Eurovision Song Contest. Started after World War II with the intention of uniting the European countries through song and dance, the contest is still going strong to this day (well, actually, not this year, thanks to coronavirus), and now even hosts countries that technically aren’t part of Europe, (looking at you, Australia), all of which come together to try and outdo each other with a series of successively weirder and weirder performances. Some people will poke fun at the contest: it’s an acquired taste, and I understand that. I just think some people don’t admire or respect the contest’s noble purpose. But yeah, anyway, I love Eurovision. I also love a number of obscure musical artists from all over Europe, some of whom have performed at Eurovision, some of whom, unfortunately, haven’t gotten the chance – yet. This film, thankfully, manages to temporarily satisfy my unceasing desire for more weird European music: though let me be clear, it barely does so.

My biggest complaint with the film has to be that there’s simply not enough musical numbers- especially not ones which exemplify the absolute insanity of Eurovision. There’s “Volcano Man”, the upbeat song about a dormant volcanic spirit looking for love which puts the Icelandic duo known as Fire Saga on the map and sets the tone for the rest of the movie; “Double Trouble”, which is fun, but is also undeniably helped out by the fact that Will Ferrell is rolling around in a giant hamster-wheel during one performance of the song; a mostly uninteresting highlight reel of the other contestants, including Demi Lovato’s “Mirror”; and my two personal favorites – the Song-Along sequence, which involves about a dozen performers passing different songs around the room and each singing a verse, which might sound awkward but is actually extremely fun to watch; and of course the big surprise song in the finale where the film’s real star Rachel McAdams gets to truly shine, with a big assist from Swedish pop-star Molly Sandén’s vocals (Sandén, by the way, has an excellent career apart from this film, and I’m a big fan of her: that information is, strictly speaking, unnecessary, but I just thought you should know).


When I say that Rachel McAdams is the real star of the movie, I absolutely mean it. McAdams’ character, mild-mannered pagan Sigrit Ericksdottir, carries the film through some of its worst rough patches in the bloated second act, and her desperate attempts to try and appease the Elves of ancient Icelandic folklore are, dare I say it, very relatable (this movie is exposing a lot about me). And while she’s not actually the one singing, she still brings all the onstage charisma and dramatic flair one would expect from a real Eurovision performer.

Will Ferrell, on the other hand, is doing his best: but he’s not particularly funny here. He also doesn’t ever really shine when he’s onstage alongside McAdams, as his singing voice isn’t particularly impressive. He has most of the big emotional beats in the story, which all fall a little flat due to being extremely predictable. His character, Lars Erickssong, is at his best when he’s dressed like a heavy metal Viking and dancing in the frigid wilderness: the more conventional parts of his story arc – trying to win respect from his father, who for some reason is Pierce Brosnan; pushing away Sigrit’s romantic advances because he’s focused on winning; making promises to himself to never be laughed at again, and so on – all seem out of place in a movie that should be over the top at all times.

The other performances in the film have good and bad elements: perhaps the most notable is a glorified cameo from TV personality Graham Norton, who provides cruel and merciless narration of Fire Saga’s various onstage disasters. The lineup of other singers includes Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens), a flamboyantly dressed Eastern European with murky motivations, who does at least get to deliver one of the best lines in the entire movie – though it’s in his very last scene, so you’ll have to wait awhile; Demi Lovato as Katiana, another Icelander, who has a very small role in the beginning of the movie and then keeps showing up for reasons that are never explained; and a long list of past Eurovision winners and contestants who show up for brief cameos, including Israel’s Netta, Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst, French YouTuber Bilal Hassani, and John Lundvik of Sweden. Mikael Persbrandt, who appeared as the shape-shifter Beorn in The Hobbit, has a small but pivotal role as a member of the Icelandic government whose key-chain doubles as a garrote – because why not?


Unfortunately, all of this talent would probably have been better utilized in a slightly better film – Eurovision Song Contest, is, I must admit, far too long for a movie of so little plot. If every minute of available screen time had been packed full of music, I might have understood why it needed to be just over two hours long: but we spend a lot of time focusing on Lars’ boring emotional baggage, Sigrit being unsuccessfully wooed by Lemtov, Lars being unsuccessfully seduced by a Greek singer, and, worst of all, wandering around Eurovision host city Edinburgh without a single sight of the River Leith – and yes, that’s obviously a legitimate criticism of this film.

But what can I say? I enjoyed most of the time I spent watching Eurovision Song Contest, and I don’t regret it. That being said, you have to remember I have a clear bias: I just really like Eurovision, so this was always going to be my cup of tea. I’m a little unhappy that this movie might not be good enough to inspire viewers to check out the real thing, but at least Iceland now has a movie that honors their rich, vibrant, underappreciated musical culture.

Movie Rating: 5.9/10