Last week, Chloe Fredricks of North Dakota, Broderick Jones of Kansas, and Jonah Prill of Montana joined jury winner Jordan Smith of Kentucky as the four acts advancing to the American Song Contest semi-finals from week two. And after 12 more acts strutted their stuff, week three’s jury winner was revealed to be … Tyler Braden of Tennessee. Watch his performance of “Seventeen” below:

Tyler Braden

Three more acts that performed during last week’s qualifying round will advance to the semi-finals. If the jury had its say, based on the scores revealed throughout the course of the night, Ale Zabala of Florida, Ni/Co of Alabama, and Grant Knoche of Texas would be the lucky ones chosen to join Tyler Braden in the contest’s next round, but we won’t know the full results of the public vote until the beginning of tonight’s show. While we all sit in suspense, prepare for tonight’s festivities with week 4 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 (plus the nation’s capital) represented in tonight’s third qualifying round:

Population: 7.64 million, roughly equivalent to the population of Bulgaria

Musical Heritage: Chicano, alternative rock, Western

Notable Homegrown Talent: Lalo Guerrero, Linda Ronstadt, Jimmy Eat World

Referred to by one local musician as “a rock mecca”, Phoenix, the state capital, has seen a number of alternative, punk, and pop rock acts grow and flourish since the 1960s. And thought there is a rich history of Western cowboy music in Arizona, its primary contribution to the national soundscape was the development of Chicano music. ‘Chicano’ refers to politically and socially active communities of Mexican-Americans who preserve their own cultural heritage, rather than fully assimilating into English-speaking, American culture. ‘Chicano music’ is more or less a catch-all term, not a specific genre. Lalo Guerrero, a labor and women’s rights activist, first fused Mexican music traditions and American genre trappings to create the singular Chicano sound, and he recorded over 700 songs in his nearly 70-year-long career.

The twins, age 13, pose with their parents and brother, moments after winning the singing competition that would change their lives.

Mexican-American twin sisters Las Marías are keeping the regional music tradition alive with their song “De La Finikera”, roughly translated as “From Phoenix”. Born María Teresa and María Isabel to Mexican parents living in Phoenix, Arizona, the girls’ father owned a restaurant that featured live music on the weekends. At age eight, the twins decided they wanted to perform at the restaurant, and soon locals were referring to the sister act as ‘El Show de las Cuatas’ or ‘The Identical Twins Show’. But just months later, their lives would be turned upside down.

Las Marías‘ father was living and working in The US without legal status and was deported back to Mexico in 2007. His family soon followed him, and they resettled in the border town of Nogales. The girls continued attending American schools, crossing the border every day, but, as they grew, they studied music in Mexico. At age 13, they competed at ‘El Charro Cantor’, a local music competition, and won the children’s category. As a prize, a song was written and recorded for them by well-known Mexican musician Ariel Barreras. The attention they got from that song, titled “Canción Mixteca”, lead to performance opportunities at local cultural events on both sides of the border. (See one example below.)

One particular opportunity would prove to be especially fruitful, when the then 14-year-old singers were discovered at a mariachi convention in Baja, California, by a producer from Telemundo, a Spanish-language network in The US. They were casting for the third season La Voz Kids. María Teresa and María Isabel eventually competed on that season, both making the final three girls on their respective teams. (María Teresa‘s mentor was reggaeton rapper Daddy Yankee, and María Isabel‘s mentor was ranchero singer Pedro Fernández.) As their parents could not return to The US, their brother Alberto was their chaperon. Since then, Las Marías have been incredibly busy and prolific. They self-released three albums in 2016, 2017, and 2018. They toured Mexico and shared their experiences in a YouTube vlog. They collaborated with and opened for major acts in the regional music scene. In 2019, they signed to Fonovisa Records, an American Spanish language division of Universal Music, subsequently releasing two more albums and an EP. With a major label behind them, Las Marías‘ popularity has skyrocketed over the last two years, with their songs and music videos receiving hundreds of thousands of streams. The music video for their song “Libro de Recuerdos” (see below) currently sits at over 1.2 million views.

 

Population: 10.94 million, roughly equivalent to the population of Czech Republic

Musical Heritage: Hip hop, rock, R&B

Notable Homegrown Talent: Ray Charles, Trisha Yearwood, Lil Nas X

Located at the epicenter of the delta blues and southern folk traditions, Georgia has one of the most diverse music scenes in all of The US. It has produced any number of famous and revolutionary rock, soul, R&B, and country musicians over the last 100 years.  One could spend pages breaking down the types of music that have flourished within the state’s borders and not even begin to scratch the surface, but no one subset of the Georgian music scene has produced more nationally-dominant artists recently than hip hop. Some of the genres biggest, most influential names have emerged from the state’s rap scene over the last three decades, including queer provocateur Lil Nas X. His 2018 song “Old Town Road” holds the record for longest time spent at #1 on the Billboard charts, and he has since delighted and scandalized the nation with the songs and videos for “Montero” and “Industry Baby”. The city of Atlanta, home to many modern rap and R&B stars, was once called “hip hop’s center of gravity” by The New York Times.

Stela performs an original song at the 2016 Miss Star’s Mill Pageant.

Pop songstress Stela Cole will be bringing her trademark swagger and sultry vocal tone to the American Song Contest with the entry “DIY”. Raised in a suburb outside of Atlanta, Stela was an avid soccer (Ok, fine … FOOTBALL) player, until a serious back injury her freshmen year. The injury required surgery, and Stela spent her sophomore year slowly recovering. During that time, though, she began falling in love with performance. She acted in school musicals and competed in pageants, placing first runner-up at the Miss Star’s Mill Pageant two years in a row. (As you could expect, she won the talent portion both years.) As a junior, she recorded and released a song written by her guitar teacher, and, in her senior year of high school, wrote and recorded an EP titled Let Me In. Watch her performance of “One of a Kind”, a song off of that EP, below:

Stela continued recording and uploading songs while she was a first year vocal major at Belmont University in Nashville. Her music got noticed and, by 2018, she had dropped out of Belmont and was signed to RCA Records. Her first single under RCA, “You F O”, was released in the summer of that year, and Stela‘s trademark mix of smoky vocals, hip hop beats, and pop production got her noticed. An EP, titled Throwing Up Butterflies, followed shortly thereafter. Since then, through a steady stream of singles, touring, the release of her 2020 album Woman of the Hour, and her mastery of social media marketing, Stela‘s audience has continued to grow at a quick pace. Her arguably biggest song so far, 2021’s “I Shot Cupid”, has just under 17 million stream on Spotify. (Watch the song’s music video below.)

 

Population: 1.4 million, roughly equivalent to the population of Estonia

Musical Heritage: Indigenous folk, rock, kanikapila

Notable Homegrown Talent: Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, Jack Johnson, Bruno Mars

Hawaii has a rich history of cultural traditions that predate 1959, when it became the most recent state to be admitted into The US. The sovereign and unified Kingdom of Hawaii’s final monarch, Liliʻuokalani, was herself a prolific music composer before being overthrown by a coup in 1893. Religious chants and folk instruments used by the indigenous Hawaiian population have remained vital elements of the state’s music sound, and innovations like the steel guitar have revolutionized the sound of country and blues music worldwide. String instruments are a vital part of the Hawaiian music tradition. ‘Kanikapila’ is a uniquely Hawaiian-style of performance, typified as loose, close-knit jam sessions with a special focus on acoustic instrumentation. Perhaps the most famous practitioner of this style is Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, a native Hawaiian activist and singer-songwriter of the ’90s, sometimes referred to as ‘The Voice of Hawaii’, whose ubiquitous cover of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is immediately recognizable.

Bronson (left) and Pu’uwai (right) perform their winning song “Waiting for You” at the Brown Bags to Stardom concert.

Bronson Varde is bringing this loose, acoustic vibe to the American Song Contest with his performance of “4 You”. He was born on O’ahu, the third largest island of Hawaii, and grew up listening to Hawaiian island and reggae music. In 2012, his senior year of high school, he and his friend Pu’uwai Roback formed the music duo No Pressure and submitted an entry to the Music Video Challenge of Brown Bags to Stardom, a local televised talent competition for Hawaiian school kids. Their video, for the song “Waiting for You” won first prize, and the duo would win 2nd place in the same category in 2013.

After graduating, Bronson enrolled at the University of Hawaii West Oahu, studying marketing. In his freshmen year of college, under the username @VardeBigBody, he began posting on the video sharing website Vine, amassing a bit of a following and making connections with other Hawaiian social media personalities. When that site shut down in 2016, Bronson was among a group of Hawaiian Viners to start 808 Viral, a website and YouTube platform that allowed them to keep engaged with the following they had amassed on Vine. At the same time, Bronson, along with No Pressure’s Pu’uwai Roback and mutual friend Russell Satele, began posting sketches and music video parodies on YouTube and Facebook. The comedy trio named themselves ‘Lethal Giggles’. Watch one of their earliest sketches, a comedy music video titled “All I Want for Christmas”, below:

In 2016, Bronson began working as a recreation director for the state’s parks department. Lethal Giggles continued uploading comedy sketches until around 2019, and No Problems released a handful of singles over the following years. Last year, however, Bronson struck out on his own. In July, he performed a solo, live streamed acoustic set, filmed by Hawaiian videography collective Propeller USA. (Watch below.) And, last month, Bronson released his first single as a solo artist, “Far Away“. “4 You” will be his second.

 

Population: 6.92 million, roughly equivalent to the population of Denmark

Musical Heritage: Rock, classical, Irish folk

Notable Homegrown Talent: New Edition, Dropkick Murphys, Meghan Trainor

Nearly 25% of the Massachusetts population is of Irish ancestry, a symptom of the large wave of immigration to the state in the 1800s. Because of this, Irish culture and, more specifically, Irish folk music is a large piece of the fabric of Massachusetts’ sound. Boston-based Celtic punk band Dropkick Murphys has a sound that fuses the ’70s punk rock of The UK with the more modern sounds of working class, American rock music. But it isn’t all mosh pits and bruises in Massachusetts. The state is home to some of the nation’s most historic symphony orchestras and a handful of the most prestigious music conservatories in the world. Musicians from all over the globe come to places like Berklee College of Music and the Boston Conservatory to refine their crafts.

Jared, a performer from an early age.

Singer-songwriter and producer Jared Lee will be representing Massachusetts at the American Song Contest with his entry “Shameless”. Jared grew up in Boston, playing in jazz bands and performing in a cappella groups all throughout high school. He tried his hand at a number of instruments, including sax and violin, but he ended up gravitating toward the piano. He attended Vanderbilt University in Nashville, and, while there, he began writing music and networking with other songwriters and music publishers.

After a few years of working with some big names and flirting with joining major record labels, he ended up signing with a smaller label, relocating to LA, and recording his debut EP, 2011’s Falling Through Holes. The first single off of the album, “It’s Over (Goodbye)” spent a week in the Billboard top 40 charts and was featured on an episode of American Idol. (Watch the music video for the song below.)

In the following years, Jared has been incredibly busy touring, writing and recording new music, and collaborating with music superstars like Jason Derulo, TIËSTO, and … Michael Bolton! In 2014, he teamed up with American Idol season 10 contestant Pia Toscano for a music duo called 7East. More recently, he has been a co-writer and featured vocalist on a number of tracks by well-known electronic artists. His 2019 collaboration with Midnight Kids, “Those Were the Days”, is perhaps the most successful of those projects, landing in the Top 10 on the Billboard dance charts and racking up over eight million streams on Spotify. (Watch that music video below.)

Read our interview with Jared Lee here.

Population: 3.24 million, roughly equivalent to the population of Bosnia & Herzegovina

Musical Heritage: Lounge, rock, country

Notable Homegrown Talent: Ne-Yo, Panic! at the Disco, and … The Crystal Method

Billed as ‘The Entertainment Capital of the World’, the city of Las Vegas, the largest city in Nevada, needs no introduction. The Las Vegas strip, an around four-mile-long stretch of road, is home to more than 60 casinos, each with their own handful of theaters and performance venues. As such, famous and infamous entertainers have performed and taken up residence in the city over the years, including Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, Celine Dion, Cher, and Britney Spears. Perhaps no entertainer has prospered more in Las Vegas than Liberace, the flamboyant piano man who was, at one point, the highest paid entertainer in the world. Though he did not begin his career in Nevada, his name became synonymous with the Sin City, as he took up residency there regularly from the 1940s through to the 1980s.

Scott (left) and Ken (right) in front of their house/recording studio, 1998.

A pioneering music project in its own right, The Crystal Method is hoping to bring some of that quintessential Vegas showmanship to the American Song Contest stage with the song “Watch Me Now”. The Crystal Method began in 1992 as a partnership between two University of Nevada, Las Vegas students: Scott Kirkland and Ken Jordan. Ken was a DJ and worked at the college radio station, giving him access to state of the art DJ equipment. Ken taught Scott everything he knew and, after graduation, the two left Las Vegas and settled into Los Angeles to give a music career a shot.

The pair bought a house next to the freeway, hoping the sound of LA traffic would drown out the sounds coming out of their converted garage music studio. Eventually, a tape of their music landed in the right hands, and they scored a record deal. The duo’s debut album, Vegas, was released in 1997, eventually being certified gold in 1998. (In 2007, it was certified platinum.) A number of singles from the album had significant success on the electronic music charts, no doubt due to their use in commercials, television shows, and movie soundtracks. The first single off of Vegas, “Keep Hope Alive”, featured prominently in the 1998 action movie The Replacement Killers, and the official music video contains clips from the film. (See below.) By 1999, their profile was high enough that they were interviewed in the documentary Better Living Through Circuitry, a look at the electronic/dance music scene.

Over the next nearly two decades, The Crystal Method created music at a continuous pace, although they eventually moved out of the garage and got themselves a real studio. They released five more albums and had songs featured in media as varied as Zoolander, a ‘Columbo’ TV movie, Nissan ads, and the racing game Need for Speed: Underground. They even composed the theme song for the show Bones. In later albums, the guys brought in more featured vocalists to add lyrics to their tracks, including LeAnn Rimes and LMFAO. The band slowed down a bit in the 2010s, after Scott had a cyst surgically removed from his brain, and, in early 2017, Ken decided to retire from music and move to Costa Rica for a more ecofriendly life. Their final album as a duo, The Trip Home, was released in 2018 and featured the single “The Raze”. (See music video below.) With his blessing, Scott has continued The Crystal Method as a solo project, with a new album expected later this year. Tonight’s song is the album’s lead single.

Joining Scott on stage tonight is a dream team of rock and electronic artists. Model/artist/musician Hannah Vandermolen is on bass, former Nine Inch Nails strummer Danny Lohner is on guitar, electro-industrial percussionist Joe Letz is on drums, ambient music composer VAAL is providing additional percussion, and experimental electronica singer Koda will be providing lead vocals.

Population: 1.38 million, roughly equivalent to the population of Cyprus

Musical Heritage: Rock, outsider, choral

Notable Homegrown Talent: Connie Converse, The Shaggs, Our Last Night

Musicians in New Hampshire have historically moved to the beat of their own drums. But from a state that has NINE state anthems, how could that not be the case? Though a number of popular rock acts got their start in New Hampshire, some of the state’s biggest music names came before their time and only gained recognition long after the fact. One such legendary example is The Shaggs, an all-female, unintentionally avant-garde rock group, made up of a family of sisters. Their father goaded them into existence, based on a palm reading his mother had given him as a child, and, despite the fact that the girls were not very … practiced, vocally or instrumentally, the band recorded an album in 1969. They would have faded into obscurity were it not for ’70s rockers like Frank Zappa and NRBQ, who discovered the album and were compelled by the innocent, committed cacophony of The Shaggs’ recordings. After the band’s one-and only-album, Philosophy of the World was reissued, the girls became cult figures in the realm of outsider art.

MARi, with her husband and daughter.

Fierce and fabulous MARi is bringing HER unique voice to the American Song Contest, but, unlike with The Shaggs, her vocals will presumably be in tune. She is performing the song “Fly.” Born in Boston in 1985 to a Cuban father and Puerto Rican mother, MARi‘s upbringing was not always easy. As an infant, she was removed from her parent’s home due to abuse and was adopted by another family. After her grandfather taught her to play piano, MARi began singing in church and performing at school talent shows. After graduating from high school, she continued to perform at clubs and festivals, quickly being scouted by a record label. She was offered a recording contract, but she felt lost in her life and sought guidance from her pastor. Eventually, she determined she was not ready for that step in her music career and became a church worship leader.

She spent the next decade performing in church, marrying her husband, and giving birth to a daughter. In the early 2010s, MARi felt called to finally dip her toes into the music industry again. But she wouldn’t just be making ordinary Christian worship music, though. She would be making Christian EDM. Her album “Treasure” dropped in 2016, featuring a blend of gospel, dance, and Latin music traditions. Watch the music video for her single “Shine Brighter” below.

After releasing a Christmas album the very next year, MARi kept hustling, and eventually ended up as a contestant on the first season of La Voz, the Spanish American edition of The Voice franchise that aired on Telemundo. Her audition performance of “Bang Bang” by Jessie J, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj showed off her big voice and rhythmic flow. She would join the team of “Despacito” hit maker Luis Fonsi but was eliminated in the battle rounds. The exposure from appearing on the show gave MARi an opportunity, and she has been releasing a stream of of dance/electronic singles ever since. By far the most successful was 2019’s “Let’s Here It for the Boy”, a song that spent 11 weeks on the Billboard dance charts. (Watch that song’s official music video below.) Sometimes known as “Peluca Queen”, MARi‘s over the top style and fondness for brightly colored wigs makes her immediately recognizable.

Read our interview with MARi here.

Population: 12.81 million, roughly equivalent to the population of Belgium

Musical Heritage: Hip hop, jazz, soul

Notable Homegrown Talent: Patti LaBelle, Will Smith, P!nk

As home to a number of fringe religious sects in the colonial era, Pennsylvania’s early music traditions revolved around praise and gospel music. Over time, this gospel sound gave way to a booming jazz scene in the early 1900s and mid-century soul and rock scenes. Philadelphia, the state’s largest city, is also popularly considered the birthplace of hardcore rap and has produced many of the genre’s biggest names. More upbeat than their hardcore contemporaries, DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince were the first major hip hop act from the city to make it big, releasing platinum albums and hit singles in the late ’80s and early ’90s. If the name ‘The Fresh Prince’ sounds familiar, it should. After landing a sitcom and dropping the stage name, Will Smith became one of the most famous people in the world. You may have read about him recently …

Bri, on stage with Kendrick Lamar, living her best life.

Representing the Philadelphia hip hop scene at the American Song Contest is Bri Steves, with her track “Plenty Love”. Raised by a single mom in Delaware, her musical upbringing was uniquely two-sided. She grew up listening to hip hop and R&B greats, people like Missy Elliot who changed the music industry game. At the same time, starting from the age of 10, she studied viola at the Delaware Symphony Orchestra, absorbing centuries of classical music tradition. She would eventually attend Temple University in Philadelphia, studying public relations. But, in her junior year, she turned down a dream internship at a fashion company to work at a music studio. Let’s rewind.

While in school, Bri began to seriously invest in a future as a music artist. And I do mean invest. She sold her viola and bought studio equipment, teaching herself how to record, mix, and master her own music. Her self-released songs and local sets soon put Bri at the center of a record label bidding war. In 2015, Bri signed with Atlantic Records, and she spent the next year balancing a demanding schedule of recording, performing, and promoting her music with finishing up her senior year at Temple. All the hard work paid off. In 2018, her single “Jealousy” was released and blew up, landing at #15 on the R&B/Hip-Hop radio charts. (Watch the music video below.) The song’s success opened up a number of doors, but none was more significant than when Kendrick Lamar, the Grammy and Pulitzer Prize-winning rap superstar, invited her to perform on stage with him during a 2018 music festival.

Bri‘s life has been a whirlwind of touring and recording ever since. Atlantic sent her on a national tour of The US’ HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities.) She’s gotten shout outs from Jazzy Jeff, Pharrell, and even Snoop Dogg. She has opened for artists like Mary J. Blige and Erykah Badu and even went on tour with H.E.R. in 2019. She was featured alongside Saweetie in Paper Magazine‘s feature on the future of women in hip hop. And last year, when morning show Good Morning America polled nearly 100 black leaders in culture, media, and politics and asked them to nominate a person who is shaping and serving the black community, Bri‘s hero Missy Elliott chose her. An outspoken advocate for the advancement of black women in music and The US in general, Bri paid tribute to all of her childhood hip hop and R&B heroes, dressing up as Lauryn Hill, Aaliyah, Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopez, Erykah Badu, and Missy Elliott in the video for her song “Anti Queen”. (See below.) Most recently, Bri released her first, full-length studio album titled TBH.

Read our interview with Bri Steves here.

Population: 3.36 million, roughly equivalent to the population of Moldova

Musical Heritage: Choral, punk, folk

Notable Homegrown Talent: The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Donny & Marie Osmond, Imagine Dragons

Mormon settlers were the first community of Anglicans living in Utah, and they brought a tradition of folk music with them that persists to this day. For a state that’s culture is dominated by the influence of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Utah has a surprisingly large indie rock and punk scene, with many recognizable bands getting their start in The Beehive State. The underground punk scene is especially notorious, having been the subject of the 1998 cult film SLC Punk!, and there are a number of popular annual rock and punk festivals held in Salt Lake City, including Crucialfest and The Dark Arts Festival of Utah. But The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is undoubtedly the state’s most consistent music institution. Founded in 1847 and housed within the Salt Lake Tabernacle, the choir has hosted a weekly radio show since the 1920s, toured the world since the 1950s, and recorded and released Christmas albums since the 1960s. With a handful of gold records to its name, The Tabernacle Choir is one of the most famous of its kind in the world.

Young Savannah and her parents.

Country-pop Kewpie Savannah Keyes is hoping to be a similar ambassador for the state of Utah with her song “Sad Girl”. Born in California and raised in the city of Sandy, Utah, Savannah‘s biological father walked out on the family six months after she was born. (This will be important later.) Her grandmother introduced her to the music of country music greats like Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton at an early age, and she had stars in her eyes ever since.

Savannah began uploading covers to YouTube and, at age 13, she sent one of her video to The Ellen DeGeneres Show, a daily, syndicated talk show.  The gamble paid off, and she was invited on the show to perform and sit down for a brief interview. (You can watch that segment below.) Soon after, she moved to Nashville and got a record deal and, by age 16, she was living and working by herself in the country music capital of the world. She wrote songs. She recorded demos. She performed as part of an all-female, singer-songwriter collective known as Song Suffragettes.

But things don’t always turn out the way you plan. At age 18, she and her record label parted ways. She took up side hustles to pay the bills, getting a gig as an interviewer and host for the Nashville-based Radio Disney Country. She continued working on songs and competed on the singing competition show Real Country in 2018. But, by 2019, her near decade in the music scene had only yielded a handful of released singles. That all changed in November of that year, when entrepreneur and TV host Marcus Lemonis came to town, shooting an episode of his documentary TV show Streets of Dreams in Nashville. Savannah was one of the people profiled in the episode, sharing her experience as a struggling artist and even inviting Marcus Lemonis to sit in on a songwriting session. (His verdict? Her voice is, “f*cking unbelievable.”) Due to Covid delays, the episode didn’t air until January 2021, but the exposure allowed her to release the single she wrote during the course of filming. That song, “Superman” is a tribute to her step-father, who her mother married a few years after Savannah‘s biological father walked out on them. (You can watch her songwriting session and listen to the final result in the clip below.) Since then, her profile has only been rising, and she finally released her debut EP, I’m Not California, last year.

Read our interview with Savannah Keyes here.

Population: 7.89 million, roughly equivalent to the population of Switzerland

Musical Heritage: Grunge, metal, punk

Notable Homegrown Talent: Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Macklemore

The state of Washington has been at the center of some of the biggest music revolutions in US history. From the ’50 to the ’80s, there was a pervasive culture of rock, metal, and punk hedonism, particularly in the Seattle area. All of these influences combined to create grunge, Washington’s signature sound. Originally a regional subculture in the mid-to-late ’80s, grunge exploded in popularity in the early ’90s, and many local acts were thrust into the nationwide spotlight. No act was this more true for than Nirvana, the Kurt-Cobain fronted alternative rock group that became a worldwide phenomenon of the era and had huge success with songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Lithium”.

Young Allen, doing his best Daði Freyr impression.

Make no mistake, soul singer Allen Stone is a heavy hitter. Washington’s representative at the American Song Contest is coming into the contest with a large following and will be performing the song “A Bit of Both”. Born in a small Washington town in 1987, Allen spent some of his earliest year in Ukraine, where his parents were training to be missionaries. After returning to The US, his father became a pastor, and Allen regularly performed worship music in front of the congregation. By 14, he was performing on The US Christian music circuit. He eventually got noticed by Atlanta and Nashville-based producers and recorded music that he uploaded to his MySpace page. After graduation, Allen attended one semester of seminary, but he was beginning to doubt his spiritual beliefs. He moved to Seattle, where he continued playing worship music and released a gospel EP. In 2007, a band manager scouted him at a show, blown away by the mismatch between his soulful R&B and his nerdcore appearance. That manager would begin hooking him up with touring opportunities, but he had one piece of advice: drop the worship music.

Allen, who was well on his way to no longer identifying as a Christian, agreed, and soon he was on the road, touring three-quarters of each year.  He spent the years between 2009 and 2011 opening for big names and building a solid reputation. Though he self-released an album in 2009, his self-titled second album really began to put him on the map. After the music video for his song “Unaware”, filmed in his mother’s living room, went viral (it currently sits at over 14 million views), Allen made his US television debut on Conan O’Brien’s TBS late night show in October of 2011. It went well. Watch for yourself below:

So indie was the album’s release that there was no physical copy of the album for Conan to hold up. (His manager printed up a fake one.) After making a couple more TV appearances, he was at the center of a record company bidding war, eventually signing with ATO Records, and a physical copy of the album was released. Since then, through touring and releasing three more albums, Allen has amassed a substantial following. He has performed with big names like Macklemore, Hall & Oates, and The Dave Matthews Band. He’s sold out major venues. His songs and music videos have been streamed millions of times. He and his wife have split their time between The US and Australia, where she is from, since 2018, and the pair welcomed a son in 2019. The song “Brown Eyed Lover”, off of Allen‘s album Building Balance was written in tribute to his wife. (Watch a live performance of that song below.)

 

Population: 1.76 million, roughly equivalent to the population of Latvia

Musical Heritage: Appalachian folk, bluegrass, gospel

Notable Homegrown Talent: Bill Withers, Michael W. Smith, Brad Paisley

One of the more rural states in The US, West Virginia is located in the middle of the Appalachia region and has long been a hub of both The US’ coal mining and lumber industries. The music of the state is reflective of that, with folk and country music being the predominant sound. The state is home to the 2nd oldest country music broadcast in The US, and hosts a number of annual folk and bluegrass festivals. Grammy award-winning, multi-Platinum selling country music superstar Brad Paisley is arguably the biggest current name to originate from West Virginia.

The cover of Alexis’ 2010 EP, ‘Wonderlust’.

If West Virginia is a little bit country, Alexis Cunningham is a little bit rock ‘n roll. The indie pop-rocker will be representing her state with the song “Working On a Miracle”. Born and raised in West Virginia, Alexis taught herself how to play guitar at age 15 and, under the name ‘Grapejuice4291’, began uploading covers to YouTube, a then relatively new video sharing platform. She soon built up an audience on both YouTube and MySpace and began posting original music on her social media pages. (She even had her own primitive-Internet fansite.)This grabbed the attention of a local indie record label, and she was able to record three EPs: 2008’s Rooftops, 2009’s Color Me Purple, and 2010’s Wonderlust.

In 2012, after a few years playing local gigs and working with experienced producers, Alexis released her full-length debut album, the folk-y Love at the End of the World. Watch Alexis perform an early version of “Plastic Stars”, one of the songs off of that album, in the video below:

Around that same time, Alexis relocated to Philadelphia where she met performer, songwriter, and producer Eric Bazilian. A founding member of the legendary ’80s/’90s band The Hooters and a co-writer of Joan Osborne’s 1995 smash hit “One of Us”, Bazilian took Alexis under his wing. Their collaboration has been a long and fruitful one. For the past decade, they have written songs and performed all over the world together. They collaborated on the now-defunct, Philadelphia-based band The Sugar Pops, and, in 2021, they recorded and released Alexis‘ 2021 solo EP Don’t Worry, Baby. (Eric is even a co-writer on her song for the American Song Contest.) They are hard at work on Alexis‘ next album and recently premiered the music video for their newest song “The Medicine”. (Watch below.)

Read our interview with Alexis Cunningham here.

Population: 718k, roughly equivalent to the population of Montenegro

Musical Heritage: Go-go funk, punk, jazz

Notable Homegrown Talent: Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers, Marvin Gaye, Henry Rollins

The nation’s capital, Washington D.C. is considering a federal district and is not part of any state, though it borders Virgina and Maryland. For a city of just over 68 square miles (177 square kilometers), its impact on several music movements has been monumental. In the early-to-mid 20th century, during the era of racial segregation, it became a hub of jazz, and that maverick music spirit gave birth to both progressive and punk rock scenes in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. But no subgenre more represents the sound of Washington D.C. than the one that is officially recognized as the city’s official music: Go-go. A subgenre of funk, go-go incorporates elements of jazz and hip hop to create a regionally-specific set of beats and rhythms. Chuck Brown is considered ‘The Godfather of Go-Go’, and, together with his band The Soul Searchers, brough the genre to a nationwide audience with the 1978 hit single “Bustin Loose”.

NËITHER, celebrating his graduation from Morehouse.

NËITHER, Washington D.C.’s representative at the American Song Contest, is bringing his own mixture of funk, soul, and R&B to the stage tonight. He will be performing the song “I Like It”. Born in Fairfax, Virginia, to the daughter of a Trinidadian immigrant, NËITHER dove headfirst into the arts after his grandmother taught him to play the piano. He learned the violin. He took tap dancing class. He starred in his high school’s productions, including playing Rick James in a Motown musical his senior year. While in high school, NËITHER and his friend Austin Jacques began writing songs and collaborating with classmate Maya Milan, presently a rising star in the R&B scene. This led to NËITHER and Austin’s formation of the production company Signature in 2013, a project they continued to run remotely while the two were attending college. (Watch a 2017 live streamed performance from the founders themselves below.)

NËITHER attended Morehouse in Atlanta, Georgia, a historically black college, studying applied physics and technology. In addition to his work on Signature’s projects, NËITHER continued pursuing his own performing dreams, playing gigs around Atlanta and acting in regional theater productions. With a little perseverance and support from the United Negro College Fund, NËITHER graduated from Morehouse in 2017.

After returning to the Washington D.C. area, NËITHER felt a little lost and began struggling with depression, unsure of what his next move should be. The answer came in 2018, when he packed up moved to Los Angeles. With business partner Malachi Fuller, he formed the LA-based consultation and content creation company Hyyer Creative, a boutique agency specializing in outreach to black Millennial & Gen-Z culture. That business grew rapidly, and the team soon found themselves working with big names like Lil Nas X, Cardi B, and Lena Waithe. While focused on his work at Hyyer Creative, NËITHER found the time to record his own solo EP (2020’s Outside) and release a handful of singles. One of those songs, 2020’s “Grown”, has a music video that can be viewed below:

And, with that, we bring week 4’s American Song Contest primer to a close. Hopefully this context can give you a better understanding of these 11 acts and the musical traditions of the states they are representing. The fourth 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, week one competitors Yam Haus provided a helpful explanation in a video that can be found here.

Who are #YOU rooting for this week? It better be Arizona. I need them to advance. Can I bribe #YOU to vote for them? I will pay #YOU good money.*Ahem* Sorry. Anyway … Sound off in the comments below, in our forum, or on social media @ESCUnited.

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3 Comments

  1. […] If you haven’t seen our interviews with all of the artists, make sure to check out our interview tab here and if you need an in-depth dive into each state, you can read William’s ASC 101 article here. […]

  2. […] Prior to this week’s episode we were able to sit down with four of this weeks artist for an interview which are all posted here. You can also read more about the different states, territories, and artists from this week’s episode from William’s in-depth pre-episode 101 article here. […]

  3. […] American Song Contest 101: A European’s Guide to Who, What, & Where? (Week 4)  ESCUnited Source link […]

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