'American Song Contest' Recap: We’re Almost Done

Only three more weeks...

NBC/Trae Patton
American Demo Contest

Songstresses, I have huge news. This episode was the last week of qualifying rounds. That means, as Kelly Clarkson said excitedly, “we are just three weeks away from crowning the winner!” Three more weeks. We can do this.

So who from last week will be moving on to next week’s semi-finals? If you remember (you don’t), Washington’s Allen Stone was the jury selection and we were all fine with that. The three states/performers joining him are Massachusetts’s Jared Lee (booooo), Georgia’s Stela Cole (I hate it, but I get it), and New Hampshire’s MARi (we have to support all the non-white people on this show, so this is good).

Before diving into this week’s contestants, let’s take a moment to remember all of the top-tier bangers we’ve heard so far…

I actually cannot remember any of them. Is this what the characters on Severance feel like when they leave the office?

Illinois - Justin Jesso, “Lifeline”

We took a break from it last week, but we are back to annoying white guys opening the show. This one is different because he has a song with Kygo. That rocks, dude. I understand why they are so into having songwriters on the show — this is ostensibly about the song — but Jesso is proof that not all songwriters are meant to be performers. “Lifeline” is a fine tune, but he is not the person to sing it. This would be a pretty good Shawn Mendes or 2010 Bruno Mars song, but Jesso isn’t doing it any favors. Maybe they should rename the show American Demo Contest.

California - Sweet Taboo, “Keys to the Kingdom”

In the words of these three girlies, “Sweet Taboo represents a double meaning, on one hand we can be really sweet and our taboo side represents our edgy sassiness.” I was ready to write them off immediately. However, they killed this. They looked great, they sounded great, and they have a very clearly defined girl group energy. This looked and sounded like a performance at the Grammys, and I have decided to stan.

Idaho - Andrew Sheppard, “Steady Machine”

After Kelly introduced him as coming from the “potato capital of the world,” the first thing Shepard said was, “There’s a lot more to Idaho than just the potato thing.” I got a little laugh out of that. Again, this song is fine, and I just wish a famous person was singing it. A non-famous person singing a non-famous song is so boring, which is why most singing competitions have people do covers. This guy would probably do really well on The Voice, but here? A snooze.

New Mexico - Khalisol, “Drop”

This made me feel absolutely nothing. My face didn’t move at all while watching it. Not a smile, not a grimace, not even a twitch. Moving on.


Kelly and Snoop Dogg informed us mid-show that the first song that will be brought back for a redemption round in the semi-finals is… Ryan Charles’s “New Boot Goofin.” The redemption song was based on streams, so obviously the joke song that worked well on TikTok is coming back. Congratulations to Wyoming! Do you think Dick Cheney knows about “New Boot Goofin”?

Missouri - HALIE, “Better Things”

Again with the mononymous girlies who have completely normal names. Halie? That is bad SEO. She isn’t even the first musician who comes up when you just Google “Halie.” Anyway, HALIE’s claim to fame is that she was on another NBC songwriting competition, Songland, and she made Martina McBride cry. I did not cry watching her sing “Better Things,” but it is pretty. I think she would do herself a favor by adding a little twang to her voice.

American Samoa - Tenelle, “Full Circle”

I think this song is good. Here is my evidence: It had 10,000 views on YouTube as of this morning (by comparison, HALIE has under 2,000), Tenelle can actually sing despite how screwed up the sound engineering is on this show, and it’s catchy. Maybe I just desperately want a territory to win this competition, but I am rooting for Tenelle. (Now that’s a good mononymous name.)

North Carolina - John Morgan, “Right in the Middle”

This is the level of twang that HALIE needed. I have no other notes. Now that I’ve realized that all of these songs should just be demos for famous people I have ruined the show for myself. Give this song to Luke Bryan and it’s probably a hit.

Vermont - Josh Panda, “Rollercoaster”

A new nemesis has emerged. This guy’s whole deal is that by day he’s just a normal Vermont dad and by night he’s a freak who likes to wear costumes while performing. “Sometimes you’re in, sometimes you’re out?” Katy Perry already told us that in 2008. This show needs a man with a cane who will yank people like this guy off the stage.

Guam - Jason J., “Midnight”

No offense to this guy, who is a good singer, but I kind of hate that the ASC producers have consistently picked people from tropical territories who sing “tropical” music. It feels like they think we won’t understand what’s going on if you have a straight-up pop singer from Guam. Are there no punk bands in this country’s stolen lands? Every time a person of color from a territory comes out you know they’re going to give them the “ocean/floral/chill” production design, and it’s not like they made Vermont sing in front of a maple leaf.

Michigan - Ada LeAnn, “Natalie”

I do not want to be rude to a child — Ada LeAnn is either 16 or 17 depending on if you believe her or Kelly Clarkson — but she said, “Stevie Wonder, I see how young he was and how young I am and I say, ‘How do I continue that legacy of Motown?” Then she sang what might as well be a song that didn’t make Olivia Rodrigo’s album. Teenagers should not be allowed to speak in a public forum. As for the song, it’s cute. It’s very Taylor Swift’s Fearless-era. It was cute enough that it earned the coveted jury’s selection spot, and will be moving to the semi-finals. Sure.

Maryland - Sisqó, “It’s Up”

The “Thong Song” rapper was our famous person of the night, and in case you forgot, he rapped in his first verse that he’s from “the home of The Wire.” Sisqó did a pretty decent job of lip-syncing this minor bop, and the kind folks of ASC helped him out by showing him almost exclusively in a wide shot and adding a big dragon to his microphone so you couldn’t see his mouth. That is what we in the business call teamwork.

Surprise Guest - Tom Pullman

That’s right, y’all. We got to meet the Chief Programming Officer for iHeartRadio. He’s a member of the mysterious jury, and suddenly everything makes sense. Pullman is just some middle-aged white guy who puts songs on the radio, and the jury is made up of a bunch of dudes just like him. That’s why some of the worst shit you’ve ever heard moves forward on this show. Mystery solved.