'American Song Contest' Recap: Jewel of Denial

Wigs, key changes, and homages to Sweden

Trae Patton/NBC
Trial by Jury

Songstresses, this week’s episode of American Song Contest was one for the books. There were format changes, songs I liked that the jury hated, a wig reveal, and a lot of performers who do not have the charisma to be doing this at all. Let’s get into it.

First, we have to discuss the results of last week’s voting. The 56 “music industry experts” — most of whom are just radio DJs from the iHeartMedia company — had already locked in Kentucky’s Jordan Smith. Joining him in the semi-finals are North Dakota’s Chloe Fredericks (we like her!), Kansas’s Broderick Jones (we are neutral about him), and Montana’s Jonah Prill (he’s hot). Notably, Macy Gray did not make it to the semi-finals, proving that this isn’t rigged in a way where the famous people automatically move forward. I am sure it is rigged in some way though, I just haven’t figured out how yet.

After two episodes that moved at the pace of molasses, the brilliant minds behind this show finally realized that they had a pacing problem. Gone is the format of song, commercial, song, commercial. Some genius finally said, “Maybe we can do two songs back-to-back and cut out the weird parts where we make Kelly Clarkson do trivia with the contestants.” I celebrate that genius. This does mean that my beloved Halftime Report is no longer part of the show, so please join me in a moment of silence for a fallen segment.

Okay, time for performances.

Texas - Grant Knoche, “Mr. Independent”

This is the best show-opener yet, but do not mistake that to mean it is in any way good. It is not hard to be better than Yam Haus. In his intro, Knoche said that as a kid, “while everyone else was playing football, [he] was there dancing.” He is certainly a dancer first, singer second. In that way he is kind of like J.Lo, but she at least had Ashanti’s vocals to rely on. This was shockingly low energy for a performance that had him dancing his heart out, acting out his Timberlake fantasies. It is not a good sign for him that my first thought was, “Texas is so big, and this was the best they could do?”

Louisiana - Brittany Pfantz, “Now You Do”

First of all: headdress. We have to address that. Is that a Louisiana thing that I’m being culturally insensitive about? One of those oversized crowns that you can get on Etsy for $60? Or was it just an odd choice that made no sense with the rest of Pfantz’s deal? Okay, now about the song. One of the only interesting things about it is that it actually has a distinguishable bridge, which is more than you can say for almost every other contestant’s performance. I hate to sound like a broken record, but all of these songs sound like anonymous songs from commercials. This one is for a new, sleek, non-Apple cell phone.

Tennessee - Tyler Braden, “Seventeen”

As close readers of these recaps will note, I am from Virginia. Lots of people I grew up with were very into country music, and I gleaned an appreciation for it through a combination of osmosis and wanting to have something in common with popular kids. This is all to say, I have a huge soft spot for country songs about looking back on your youth. I love this song, and thought Braden had a great voice. See, I don’t always hate this show. The jury agreed with me, granting Braden their top spot and ensuring his move to the next round.

New Jersey - Brooke Alexx, “I Don’t Take Pictures Anymore”

Another song about the passage of time, but this one is bad. I think I’ve finally put my finger on my main problem with this show, which is that very few of the performers have star power. None of them have a personality that is bursting through the screen, demanding my attention. I know this is technically a contest about the song itself, but to ignore the vessel through which it is delivered would be foolish. Also, if you’re going to do a wig reveal, I think it should be less obvious that you’re wearing a wig to begin with.

Alabama - Ni/Co, “The Difference”

Nicole and Colton (Ni/Co, see what they did there?) are an interracial couple from Alabama — did anyone else catch the cotton field in their intro? This is important because their song is all about their differences making them stronger together. I think that if these two had a baby they would use the #swirl hashtag, that’s the kind of energy they’re emitting. Colton is the better singer of the two, and I would be more inclined to like this if it were just him. To say something positive, I liked that the show decided to dramatically change the aspect ratio for this performance. To say something negative, what the hell is up with the sound on this show? I don’t think any of the performers can hear themselves. No one seems to know what key they’re singing in or where they are in their track.

Florida - Ale Zabala, “Flirt”

There must be some unspoken rule on this show that some people are allowed to lip sync while others are forced to sing off-key with a malfunctioning in-ear. Zabala made no good effort to pretend like she was singing live, which doesn’t actually matter because “Flirt” is a fun little bop that doesn’t demand any kind of vocal prowess.

Alaska - Jewel, “The Story”

Have you ever wondered what it would sound like if Jewel recorded a demo for ABBA? Well, look no further. I am choosing to believe that this song is an ode to ASC’s roots as a Eurovision knockoff, and I love that about it. The jury did not like this song, ranking Jewel eighth out of eleven. What the jury is looking for in these songs and performances is completely beyond me — if you aren’t into Jewel singing throwback pop while wearing a pink suede cowboy hat, what are you into? At the end of her introduction package, Jewel said that we should “yodel if [we] love it,” and baby, I’m yodeling.

South Carolina - Jesse Leprotti, “Not Alone”

Somewhere a SoulCycle instructor is beaming with glee because they’ve just found the newest song to inflict on their classes during a climb.

South Dakota - Judd Hoos, “Bad Girl”

The interesting thing about this band is that it is one older man on drums who’s been in the group for 15 years, and then four young guys with 2012 Brooklyn haircuts who all look like they could be his little brothers. Their song “Bad Girl” is about wanting a bad girl that’s “good for me.” Clever. Kelly said it best when she said her favorite part was watching Snoop Dogg dance during the performance.

Delaware - Nitro Nitra, “Train”

See, this is what I’m talking about when I talk about star power. Not only is Nitro Nitra a really good singer, but the energy level is high and she is commanding the whole entire stage. This is what all the performances should be like, but ASC is afraid to succeed. My nemeses on the jury ranked her sixth, so I am going to have to throw her ten of my fake votes and hope for the best.

Northern Marianas - Sabyu, “Sunsets & Sea Turtles”

When you only have a population of 50,000 people, I imagine it’s difficult to find someone willing to go on live television and sing an original song. That’s probably how the Northern Marianas ended up sending Sabyu, who is very cute but a complete snooze with this song. It did make me think that if, by the grace of Satan, this show gets a second season, Jack Johnson should be on it.

Colorado - Riker Lynch, “Feel Alive”

I had never heard of this man in my life, but apparently other people had. He is a member of the Lynch family, the most notable member of which is Ross, who was on the Netflix Sabrina show and several Disney shows. Riker was apparently enough of a micro-celebrity in 2015 to appear on Dancing with the Stars, and he actually came in second place behind Rumer Willis. Here he is dancing a paso doble while dressed as Jack Sparrow:

So Lynch is no stranger to small amounts of fame, which mostly means that he looked really comfortable on stage while singing his “tropical pop” number about staying young forever and chasing your dreams. The nicest thing I can say about this is that it would have done really well back when the band fun. was dominating the charts.