Last week, 11 acts competed in the first ever qualifying round of the American Song Contest, with Rhode Island-representative Hueston advancing to the semi-finals with his soulful performance of the song “Held On Too Long”. (Watch his performance below.) Hueston won the night, based purely off of the scores of the professional jury. Once the audience and jury scores are combined, three more (as yet unknown) acts that competed last week will advance to the semi-finals.

Hueston, jury qualifier from week 1.

But as we await the results from last week’s show, a whole new crop of 11 talented acts are preparing to perform, hoping to make their states proud. In preparation, we present week 2 of American Song Contest 101, a primer on each state and territory’s music scene, as well as an introduction to the various artists who will be competing for the audience’s votes.

Disclaimer: This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive look at the entire breadth of music each state has produced. This is merely a small taste, a morsel of information to help non-US fans get acquainted with all 56 competing states and territories.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s kick it off with the 10 states (and one territory) represented in tonight’s second qualifying round:

Population: 2.919 million, roughly equivalent to the population of Armenia

Musical Heritage: Jazz, bluegrass, rock

Notable Homegrown Talent: Charlie Parker, Melissa Etheridge, Katrina Leskanich (of Katrina & The Waves)

The history of Anglo music in Kansas stretches all the way back to the mid-to-late 1800s, when the state’s vast open landscape and cowboy culture led to the composition of several legendary folk songs, including the state’s official anthem “Home on the Range”. That was the beginning of a thriving country and bluegrass music culture that is alive and well in the state to this day. In more recent decades, rock and even hip hop culture has sprung up in pockets all over the state, but perhaps Kansas’ most enduring bit of musical legacy is as a hotbed of jazz talent in the early 1900s. Native Kansan Charlie Parker, a renowned saxophonist and band leader, came of age as an artist in the Kansas City jazz scene, eventually playing a role in the invention of bebop and becoming an icon for the Beat Generation.

Broderick and ‘Cuddle’ cohort Mike Wilkerson, 2015.

Carrying Charlie Parker’s legacy into the American Song Contest is Broderick Jones with the song “Tell Me”. Raised and currently based in the town of Olathe, Kansas, Broderick began his musical journey in high school, learning to play the piano and guitar. While in high school, he played football with a boy named Mike Wilkerson, currently an aspiring country music singer in Nashville, and the pair became close friends, attending Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas, together.

While there, the pair collaborated on a single, the sweet and soulful song “Cuddle”, released in 2014. Broderick and Mike teamed up with The Salvation Army, donating all of the proceeds from sales of the song to the “Project Warmth” initiative, a program dedicated to providing much needed winter coats to local children in need. You can watch the pair perform “Cuddle”, and Broderick discuss the single’s charitable angle, below, in an interview conducted by the college’s news outlet:

In the following years, Broderick plugged away in the Kansas music scene, gigging and gaining valuable experience. His life changed in 2016 when he was the featured vocalist on a trap remix of the Pokemon theme, mixed and produced by Romanian DJ duo it’s different. The song went viral almost immediately, racking up over a million views and streams in the first 24 hours. This success opened up a lot of doors for Broderick and gave his music career a wave of momentum he’s been riding ever since. He has since released three albums and racked up hundreds of thousand of Spotify streams. Released in November of last year, his most recent music video is for the smooth R&B track “XYZ”, off of his 2021 album Maybe Tomorrow. Watch it below:

Read our interview with Broderick Jones here.

Population: 4.487 million, roughly equivalent to the population of Ireland

Musical Heritage: Bluegrass, folk, gospel

Notable Homegrown Talent: Loretta Lynn, Billy Ray Cyrus, Jack Harlow

Located right in the heart of Appalachia, Kentucky’s music history is steeped in the folk music cultivated and popularized by the communities in and around the Appalachian mountains. This tradition of Appalachian folk played a significant role in the development of bluegrass, country music, and even rock ‘n roll. Additionally, as a hub of the Protestant religious revival in The US in the late 1800s, Kentucky has served as a bit of a breeding ground for gospel and worship music. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, the state’s greatest talents have worked in the world of country music. Loretta Lynn, the ‘coal miner’s daughter’ and country music legend who has been at the forefront of the genre since the early 1960s, is perhaps the state’s most important musical export.

Hometown hero Jordan, photographed with the Harlan County highway sign installed in his honor.

Singer-songwriter Jordan Smith wasn’t ‘born a coal miner’s daughter’, but he is representing The Bluegrass State at the American Song Contest with the song “Sparrow”. Jordan was born to two musicians parents and began performing in the church choir at an early age. Always a performer at heart, he participated in several music and spoken word competitions throughout his adolescence. In 2012, his senior year of high school, he won the local Poke Sallet Idol competition and tried his hand at poetry recitation, participating in the national arts education competition Poetry Out Loud.

In 2015, Jordan put all of his on-stage experience to good use. Despite having been rejected by the show in the preliminary rounds of a past season, Jordan auditioned for the ninth season of The Voice. His smooth vocal tone blew away the panel of coaches, earning him a four-chair turn during his blind audition performance of “Chandelier” by Sia. (See below.) As a member of mentor Adam Levine’s team, Jordan flourished, winning over voters and reaching the Top 10 on the iTunes charts with a number of his recorded covers. At the end of the season, Jordan was declared the winner, and he was given a hero’s welcome upon returning to Harlan County, Kentucky, receiving a parade and even a newly installed highway sign touting his accomplishment.

Though The Voice has a spotty history of producing popular recording artists, with many of the winners fading back into relative obscurity, Jordan defied the odds, eventually becoming the highest selling artist in the history of The US franchise. Shortly after his win, he secured three spots in the Top 10 of the Billboard Christian Music Charts, with the iTunes releases of his covers from The Voice still occupying spots in the Top 10 of the digital singles chart.  His debut album, Something Beautiful, was released in March 2016 and debuted at #2 on iTunes. He followed that up with a hit Christmas album, released later that year. Devoutly religious, Jordan credits his faith for his career accomplishments and for surviving a serious car accident three years ago. His most recent collaborators are big names in the world of American contemporary worship music, and his output over the last two years has mostly come in that genre. Watch the official performance video of one such song, “Battles”, below.

 

Population: 1.360 million, roughly equivalent to the population of Estonia

Musical Heritage: Chamber, punk, folk

Notable Homegrown Talent: Rudy Vallée, Patty Griffin, Howie Day

For such a diminutive state, Maine has a large chamber and classical music community, with a number of annual festivals and symphonies thriving within its borders. The city of Portland is also a hotbed of underground and indie punk rock music, with a large number of local bands getting their starts at a handful of Portland music venues. As with many of the states represented in this week’s competition, there’s a large tradition of folk and bluegrass, as well. There are several annual folk and bluegrass music festivals in Maine, plus a large number of celebrated singers, fiddlers, guitarists, and banjo players. One such artist is singer-songwriter Patty Griffin, a Grammy-award winning folk artist who has toured with legends like Emmylou Harris and whose songbook has been covered and celebrated by the likes of Miranda Lambert, The Chicks, and Kelly Clarkson.

Rocksmythe, circa 2006.

King Kyote is bringing that legacy of Maine folk to the American Song Contest with his song “Get Out Alive”. Born in York, Maine, in 1988, he grew up surrounded by music. His family owned a large collection of guitars, and he grew up taking music lessons and developing his craft. In high school, he formed a band with his buddies called Rocksmythe that competed in local music festivals. After earning a degree in photography from the New Hampsire Institute of Art, he began building a career in music for himself.

Under his real name, Jon King, he played local shows and wrote and recorded music. In 2011, he released an EP called, simply, Extended Play. On that album was the single “Set Fire”, perhaps his most successful music release during that portion of his career. Watch the music video for “Set Fire” below:

Around three years ago, after settling back into the Portland music scene, he rebranded as King Kyote. Since then, he’s been touring the northeast, writing songs, and releasing a steady stream of new music, including the 2020 EP Quarantine Sessions. His most recent single, released last year, is titled “Gold Fades”. You can with a live acoustic rendition of that song below:

 

Population: 1.093 million, roughly equivalent to the population of Cyprus

Musical Heritage: Country, indie rock, indigenous

Notable Homegrown Talent: Jack Gladstone, Aimee Allen, Isaac Brock (of Modest Mouse)

Unsurprisingly as a stopping point for many Anglo-Americans hoping to bring ‘manifest destiny’ westward on the continent, country is historically the most notable type of music to come out of Montana. But, as a large Native American population still remains in the state to this day, there is also a healthy culture of indigenous folk fusion. Singer-songwriter, educator, and poet Jack Gladstone, a member of the Blackfeet Nation of Western Montana, is known as “Montana’s troubadour” and has been preserving indigenous music traditions and blending them with more modern folk rhythms for the better part of three decades.

Jonah performing at a middle school talent show.

Country singer Jonah Prill will be representing Montana at the American Song Contest with the song “Fire It Up”. Born and raised in Billings, Montana, the self-described “TikTok Cowboy” grew up as an avid hunter, fisher, and outdoorsman. He received a guitar as a Christmas present one year and quickly took a shine to it, inspired by all the country music he grew up listening to. He sang in choir. He wrote songs. He performed at talent shows. But it was not Jonah‘s music that would first introduce him to the spotlight. It was his TikTok account.

In 2019, he began posting TikTok videos, chronicling his life as a rancher and country boy on the wide open plains of Montana. His account took off quickly, and he became a bit of a social media influencer. Shortly after amassing this wide audience (he currently sits at over 800k followers on the platform), Jonah began singing covers and performing his original music. See one example below:

@jonahprill Wrote this song “Tailgate”, what do y’all think? #countrymusic #montana #nashville ♬ original sound – Jonah Prill

His large online platform led to a number of performance opportunities, and he began releasing singles in 2020. His aptitude for country music crooning should not have been a surprise to anyone. His grandfather, Dean Evans, was a rockabilly performer of some repute, mostly remembered for his song “Lottin Dottin“. One of Jonah‘s most recently released singles, and the one with the newest music video, is “Cowboy $hit”. Watch him ride horses, haul bails of hay, and drink beer in the quintessentially-cowboy video below:

 

Population: 1.961 million, roughly equivalent to the population of Latvia

Musical Heritage: Indie rock, blues, jazz

Notable Homegrown Talent: Preston Love, The Chevrons, Conor Oberst

In the early-to-mid 1900s, Nebraska was a hotbed of African-American musical talent. Northern Omaha, in particular, has long had an economically and socially thriving African-American community, dating back to the turn of the 20th century. Because of this, the state’s largest city was a popular stop for famous jazz and R&B musicians in the early-to-mid 20th century and became a bit of a breeding ground for artists working in those genres. In more recent years, indie rock has became a mainstay of the Nebraskan music scene, all centered around a handful of locally-created record labels. Conor Oberst, the singer-songwriter most known as the lead singer of folk rock band Bright Eyes, is one of Nebraska’s current most famous sons, and he frequently collaborates with local Omahaian musicians to this day.

Jocelyn and Darius Rucker, on tour in October of last year.

Indie sprite Jocelyn is bringing quintessential Nebraska sunniness to the American Song Contest with her song “Never Alone”. Born and raised in Omaha by a single mother, Jocelyn and her brother spent a lot of time home alone, developing an active and artistic imagination. Her life’s path diverged when she saw Ed Sheeran perform on TV. She realized that was the career she wanted for herself and moved to Austin, Texas, to follow her dreams. It was there she would meet the man who would change her life forever: Darius Rucker of Hootie & The Blowfish.

On a 2017 episode of Celebrity Undercover Boss, Darius Rucker went undercover at various open mic nights and indie artist showcases, looking for undiscovered talent to mentor and shepherd along. He found it at his first stop, a bar where Jocelyn was the open mic night’s musical hostess. The rock legend was blown away by her vocals and positive spirit and, at the end of the episode, gave her $10,000, invited her to perform with him, and promised to use his connections in the music industry to help get her an agent. (You can watch that moment below.) He followed through on all his promises. By the beginning of 2018, she was signed to BMG and had performed on the legendary Showtime at the Apollo. Her debut single with BMG, “Speak Up”, was released in early 2019. And to top it all off, Jocelyn has been touring and opening for Darius Rucker on-and-off ever since, performing with him across the country as recently as October of last year.

Her debut album, “Different”, was released in 2020, and she’s been gigging and touring in support of it (Covid permitting) over the last couple years. But she’s also been putting her money where her mouth is, spreading her message of positivity and good vibes through relationships with a number of organizations, most notably the Boys Town National Hotline and Hope Squad. The latter charity works with teenagers who suffer from depression and suicidal ideation, and, in 2019, she teamed up with both for “The Kindness Tour”, a traveling, week-long school program that combined Jocelyn‘s music with uplifting speakers and activities aimed at promoting self-esteem in students of all ages. Her 2019 single “Love Letter” was a centerpiece of the week, with its message of self-love and acceptance. You can watch the official music video for “Love Letters” below:

 

Population: 19.223 million, roughly equivalent to the population of Romania

Musical Heritage: Hip hop, punk rock, pop, and the list goes on

Notable Homegrown Talent: The Velvet Underground, The Notorious B.I.G., Lady Gaga

Where does one even start? How to sum up the musical identity of a state that houses New York City, the most populous city in The US and one of the most culturally diverse cities in the entire world? Starting from the late 1800s, when New York City’s Tin Pan Alley became a central hub of music publishing, talent from all over the globe has set up shop there. Folk, blues, jazz, R&B, salsa, soul, pop, hip hip, punk … every genre you can think of is overwhelmingly represented within New York City’s borders. And that’s without even mentioning its role as the world Mecca of showtunes and musical theater. Some of the world’s most legendary performance venues- The Apollo, Madison Square Garden, Radio City Musical Hall- are New York institutions, and many of the most famous names in the industry either grew up in New York City or moved there to further their careers. It seems silly to pick out just one name from the thousands of possibilities, but there is perhaps no bigger musical artist today than the New York City-native and cultural force that is Lady Gaga.

Enisa rocking the latest in ’10s teen prom fashion.

Bearing the weight of all of this history and legacy on her shoulders is 26 year old Enisa, the daughter of ethnically-Albanian immigrant parents who was born and raised in Brooklyn. Her song, “Green Light”, is bringing the electropop beats, Latin rhythm, and hip hop swagger of the New York City streets to the stage of the American Song Contest. While both of her brothers became athletes, Enisa was drawn to her schools’ musical theater programs. In 2013, while finishing up her final year of high school, she entered a model search for the cover of Prom Guide magazine, eventually landing the cover of the 2014 issue. This would not be her last foray into the modeling world. Since her music career has taken off, Enisa has signed with Wilhemina Models and appeared in a number of ad campaigns and magazine fashion spreads.

While attending Brooklyn College, from which she would ultimately earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration, Enisa took her love of performing online, showing off her impressive vocals on covers of pop hits like “Titanium” and “Cry Me a River” posted to her newly created YouTube channel in 2015. The videos went viral, with her cover of “Take Me To Church” by Hozier particularly taking the Internet by storm. You can watch that viral clip below:

Enisa wasted no time capitalizing on her new platform, releasing her first original single and music video for “Burn this Bridge” mere months after her initial taste of viral success. Over the next few years, she continued writing and releasing highly-successful streaming singles, all the while maintaining her rapidly growing social media accounts. Eventually, through a series of chance encounters and connections, Enisa signed with Atlantic Records in December of 2019. Under Atlantic’s tutelage, she has released a number of songs, including 2020’s “Love Cycle”. That song, in particular, had a huge reach, becoming a runaway smash hit in Nigeria. Never one to pass up a good opportunity, Enisa released a remix of the song a few months later, this time featuring Nigerian Afrobeats singer Davido on the track (You can watch the remix’s official music video below.) Her debut EP, Fake Love, was released earlier this year. With millions of streams and video views and a large international fanbase, Enisa is one of the bigger names competing at the American Song Contest.

 

Population: 774k, roughly equivalent to the population of Luxembourg

Musical Heritage: Big band, industrial, power pop

Notable Homegrown Talent: Lawrence Welk, Lynn Anderson, Wiz Khalifa

As one of the least populated states in The US, the music scene in North Dakota has seen its fair share of ups and downs. In the 1970s & 1980s, a small (but mighty) community of new wave and power pop acts rose up in Fargo, the state’s largest city, before an economic downturn saw a number of rock venues close their doors. In more recent years, a more experimental, industrial music scene has developed in North Dakota, with social justice and political themes at the center of much of the songwriting. North Dakota’s most influential musical export couldn’t be further removed from the more angsty, issue-driven music popular in the state today. Lawrence Welk, one of the most celebrated and successful big band leaders in the history of The US, brought what he referred to as his ‘champagne music’ into millions of American homes for over 30 years with the eponymous The Lawrence Welk Show.

Chloe began dreaming up songs from an early age.

Given the state’s geographic location and history, it’s not surprising that a number of well-known country artists have also hailed from The Roughrider State. Hoping to join their ranks is Chloe Fredericks, who will be performing the song “Can’t Make You Love Me” at the American Song Contest. A descendant and member of the MHA Tribal Nation of North Dakota, Chloe‘s family has deep roots in the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. She grew up on ranch work and rodeo. Indeed, she comes from a long line of rodeo riders. Her great-uncle Pete, who was inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame in 2012, was a competitive rodeo rider in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, and her grandfather Buzz, inducted into the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2010, was a cattle man and champion at steer wrestling.

Chloe grew up immersed in the music of classic country crooners like Patsy Cline and Emmylou Harris and began writing music from an early age. After graduating from high school in 2015, Chloe studied Arts Education at Boise State University. At age 19, she had amassed enough of a song book that she was able to tour the region, performing gigs at small, acoustic houses. Through networking connections she made on that tour, she landed a meeting with producer (and touring keyboardist for the band Eagles) Will Hollis, and the pair began work on her self-titled, debut EP. She moved to LA to work on the five-track album, playing gigs around the city through late 2019 and early 2020. One such gig was a live set at In Flight Music Group, a record label and music recording studio. Watch that performance below:

With soulful, jazz-y vocals that often draw comparisons to the likes of Adele and Amy Winehouse. Chloe was an artist on the rise in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the shut down that came with the Covid-19 pandemic forced her to put any promotional performances on hold. She returned to North Dakota, where she regrouped and focused on writing new material. She eventually returned to LA at the beginning of 2021, releasing her follow-up single “Pink Cotton Candy Clouds” in March. (Watch the official music video below.)

 

Population: 11.727 million, roughly equivalent to the population of Belgium

Musical Heritage: Rock, R&B, jazz

Notable Homegrown Talent: The Isley Brother, Nine Inch Nails, and … Macy Gray

Both the Rock & Roll and the Rhythm & Blues Music Halls of Fame are located in Clevaland, Ohio, a fact that pretty much speaks for itself. Ohio has a large, thriving, historic history of different types of music, from bluegrass and folk to R&B, rock, and symphonic. Innumerable renowned jazz musicians have called Ohio home since the early 1900s, and the state was an important stop on the jazz club circuit up through the 1950s. A number of popular rock bands on the charts today formed in the state, and Ohio’s history of R&B superstars is unassailable. Funk soul group The Isley Brothers are widely considered to be one of the most influential bands in the history of American music, releasing perennial hit singles like “Twist and Shout”, “It’s Your Thing”, and “Love the One You’re With” over the course of their nearly eight-decade-long career.

Macy Gray, accepting her Grammy in 1999.

Born in Canton, Ohio, Macy Gray is the biggest name of the 11 acts competing in tonight’s qualifying round, and she is keeping the legacy of Ohioan R&B music alive and well with her song “Every Night”. Beginning piano lessons at the age of seven, Macy never thought a career in singing was in the cards. Her signature vocal rasp, which would later come to define her as an iconic voice of her generation, seemed ill-suited to a career as a vocalist. But while attending the University of Southern California, she began performing in a friend’s jazz band and performing gigs at underground clubs. After a series of chance encounters with record executives and couple of stops and starts, she released her debut album On How Life Is in 1999.

The second single off the album, “I Try”, became and international smash hit, charting all over the world and winning her a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. Watch the song’s official music video below:

After touring as Santana’s opening act in 2000, her career continued in earnest. She has released 10 studio albums over the course of her career, and, though none of her singles since have had as meteoric a rise as “I Try”, she’s been consistently touring and releasing music ever since. But that’s not all. After making her film debut in the 2000 film “Training Day” (see below) and appearing in a cameo as herself in the first “Spider-Man” movie, Macy has become a bit of a character actor. Director Lee Daniels, in particular, has made great use of her distinct presence and smoky speaking voice, casting her in 2005’s “Shadowboxer” and 2012’s “The Paperboy”. In the latter, she played the maid to a frequently half-naked Zac Efron and provided the film’s voice over. And, as if that wasn’t enough, she has appeared on a handful of celebrity competition reality shows, including Dancing with the Stars and The Masked Singer Australia.

 

Population: 4.325 million, roughly equivalent to the population of Croatia

Musical Heritage: Indie rock, grunge, blues

Notable Homegrown Talent: Paul Revere & The Raiders, The Dandy Warhols, Esperanza Spalding

Oregon has been a Mecca of indie and underground music since at least the 1960s. Many, many alternative and indie acts have relocated to the state over the years, where the state’s devoted music community has boosted them to local, national, and international success. Because of the state’s large music culture, essentially any genre you can think of is represented within Oregon’s border. But when people in The US think of the state’s music scene, they are most likely to picture hipster alternative rock acts like The Dandy Warhols, a cult psychedelic group whose popularity in Europe may even outweigh their domestic success in The US. Formed in Portland in the early 1990s, the band has released a number of albums and omnipresent singles like “Bohemian Like You”, “Not if You Were the Last Junkie on Earth”, and “We Used to Be Friends” (the song that served as the official theme tune for the TV show Veronica Mars.)

Eli (left) and Micah (right) in their younger years.

With their signature blend of alternative pop rock and hipster aesthetic, indie pop duo courtship. are, in some ways, the prototypical Oregonian music act. They are repping the state at the American Song Contest with the song “Million Dollar Smoothies”. The pair first met in Los Angeles in 2016, when Portland-transplant Eli Hirsch, who grew up playing in pop punk bands, was a guitarist in the backing band for post-punk songstress Bloodboy. When Bloodboy’s keyboardist quit to tour with Mike Posner,  Micah Gordon, an LA-native and classically trained jazz pianist, was brought on as his replacement.

Eli and Micah quickly hit it off and, after a couple of months of playing together, they convened at Micah’s house for a life-changing jam session. In their first two days as collaborators, the boys wrote and produced the song “Stop for Nothing”. Released in August of 2016, “Stop for Nothing” blew up quickly, boosted by positive press from outlets like NME and both Eli and Micah’s connections from years spent as songwriters and producers for other indie acts. Listen to “Stop for Nothing” below:

After that, courtship. was off to races, touring with acts like Passion Pit and Weezer, releasing hit singles on Spotify, and being featured in commercials and promotional campaigns for Snapchat. In 2018, courtship. released its debut album Debut in Paradise, once again receiving waves of acclaim and positive press. That album included what is undoubtedly the band’s biggest hit thus far, “Tell Me Tell Me”, a dreamy piece of synth pop that has racked up over 18 million streams on Spotify. Its official music video, which was premiered on Nylon.com, has been viewed more than 664 million times, no doubt aided in fact by the presence of “It” star Jack Dylan Grazer and its playful pastiche on Wes Anderson’s film “Moonrise Kingdom”. (Watch the video below.) While still recording and releasing music as courtship., with a new album expected later this year, Micah and Eli have also worked on solo projects, writing and producing for other bands and, in Eli’s case, releasing an EP under the pseudonym ‘Eli Hurts’.

 

Population: 8.638 million, roughly equivalent to the population of Serbia

Musical Heritage: Hip hop, R&B, folk

Notable Homegrown Talent: Ella Fitzgerald, Patsy Cline, Missy Elliott

Virginia has a tradition of mountain folk music that stretches back to the early 1800s, and many influential and renowned country music artists have come from the state over the years. Additionally, some of the most important blues and jazz musicians of our time got their start in the state known as ‘Old Dominion’. And though some recognizable faces in the world of rock ‘n roll also originated there, perhaps the state’s biggest contribution to modern music culture is in the realms of hip hop and R&B. Specifically, many of the 21st century’s most influential producers hail from Virginia. One such person is multi-platinum singer, songwriter, and record producer Missy Elliot, who helped shape the face of hip hop and R&B rhythms through both her solo work and her collaborations with artists like Aaliyah, Timbaland, and SWV. She is often considered the ‘Queen of Rap’, and anyone familiar with her extensive discography would be hard pressed to disagree.

Almira and her family celebrate her college graduation, posing underneath a billboard with her face on it, part of her university’s nationwide advertising campaign.

Indonesian R&B singer Almira Zaky is hoping to capture some of that Virginia rhythm with her song at the American Song Contest, “Over You”. Known as “Boss Lady” to her friends, Almira has already packed a lot of life into her 24 years of life. A graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in Communication and Public Relations, she has worn many hats: high school gymnast, concert organizer, film festival intern, and music video vixen. Heck, in addition to her burgeoning career as a singer-songwriter, Almira currently runs her own record label and works as vice president of a social media marketing company.

The Muslim daughter of Indonesian immigrants, Almira felt out of place among her peers as an adolescent. She found community in music, performing as a main vocalist with the Indonesian Kids Performing Arts troupe all over the Maryland, Virgina, and Washington D.C. metro area. Her adult music career began in earnest in May 2020, with the release of her debut single “Miss Me”, a bright dollop of R&B rhythms and production that hearkens back to the late ’90s/early ’00s heyday of Missy Elliot. The song performed well on streaming platforms, and the official music video has been watched more than 114,000 times. Watch that video below:

“Miss Me” was included on Almira‘s debut EP Learn to Love, released earlier this year. Also on that album is her third single, the more somber and contemplative “Clarity”. The song’s lyrics, and the following music video (see below), tell the story of travelling through grief and coming to terms with the loss of loved ones. She wrote it while dealing with the death of her long term boyfriend, former University of Virginia at Wise football player Muntsier Sharfi, who has killed in July of last year. With the song and video, she hoped to be a vessel, allowing others to see both the immense pain of loss and the hope for a brighter tomorrow.

 

Population: 104k, roughly equivalent to the population of Andorra

Musical Heritage: Indigenous folk, Afro-Caribbean, reggae

Notable Homegrown Talent: Lloyd “Prince” Thomas, Iyaz, Pressure

The US Virgin Islands, made up of St. Thomas, Saint John, Saint Croix, and 50 other smaller and surrounding islands, have been a territory of The US since first being acquired from Denmark in 1917. Located in the Caribbean, the islands were first colonized by Europeans after Christopher Columbus landed on Saint Croix during his oft discussed voyage to the Americas. As is the story throughout the history of colonization, much of the native population was wiped out over time, replaced by agents of the European shipping trade and enslaved Africans. The music of The Virgin Islands exemplifies that long history of multicultural fusion, with elements of indigenous American, African, European, and Caribbean sounds. One of The Virgin Islands’ first internationally celebrated artists was Lloyd “Prince” Thomas, who brought the Afro-Caribbean tradition of calypso music to the continental United States in the 1950s.

The cover of Cruz Rock’s 2011 debut album.

Bringing his own Latin Caribbean sound to US shores tonight is Cruz Rock, a singer, songwriter, and producer from Saint Croix. He will be performing the song “Celebrando”. The music influences of his upbringing reflect the Virgin Islands’ multicultural identity. His father played in a salsa band, his mother sang gospel music, and his brother introduced Cruz to reggae. For his part, Cruz grew up drawn to the visual arts, painting and drawing beginning at the age of five. He ultimately received a scholarship to attend Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio, where he earned a Bachelors of Fine Arts in 2006.

While in Ohio, Cruz was more and more drawn to the local music scene, eventually dipping his toe into performance at open mic nights and events. After graduating, he kept with it, performing local gigs and even forming an R&B group called “Virgin Islands Pride” with a number of other local immigrants from the islands. After one gig in 2008, he was approached by promoters who encouraged him to pursue music as a serious career. He eventually found his way to New York City, where his work in the design department on Tempo, an MTV offshoot focused on Caribbean music, introduced him to a large community of creatives and industry professionals that helped launch his career. (Watch the music video for one of his first released songs, 2009’s “Joy”, below.) He released his debut album, Temperatures Rise, in 2011.

Over the following years, Cruz has become a well-known artist in the Caribbean music scene, making breakout artists lists and even winning Best Reggae Album at the Indie Music Awards for the 2017 Soul Rebel. His music has been featured in commercials, movies, and TV shows. His biggest hit to date was a 2018 update of Jamaican DJ Beenie Man’s 2000 reggae track “Miss L.A.P.” This remix, now titled “Be Mine”and infused with Cruz Rock‘s signature Spanish rhythms, also featured the original artist. Watch the official music video below:

Read our interview with Cruz Rock here.

And, with that, we bring week 2’s American Song Contest primer to a close. Hopefully this context can give you a better understanding of these 11 acts and musical tradition of the states they are representing. The second qualifying round airs tonight at 8/7c  (1 AM Central European Time for all you insomniacs) on NBC, with performances  uploaded to NBC’s YouTube channel shortly thereafter.

Can’t wait that long to hear this week’s songs? Listen to the Spotify playlist above!

Voting is done in one or all of these three ways: on NBC.com/on the NBC app/on TikTok. If you’re a visual learner, here’s last week’s competitors Yam Haus provided a helpful explanation in a video that can be found here.

Who are #YOU rooting for tonight? How bad of a job did I do summing up the music scene of New York City? I’d like to see #YOU try! Anyway …  Sound off in the comments below, in our forum, or on social media @ESCUnited.

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One Comment

  1. […] Prior to this week’s episode Connor was able to sit down with nearly every artist for an interview which can be found here. You can also read more about the different states, territories, and artists from this week’s episode from William’s pre-episode 101 article here. […]

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