UNITED STATES – Despite the contest having Super Bowl status in Europe, it wasn’t until Will Ferrell’s 2021 film Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga that the competition’s profile was heightened in the U.S. That profile is about to expand even more — after 66 years of making musical history, Eurovision has been adapted for the U.S. as American Song Contest, premiering on NBC on Monday (March 21) at 8 p.m. ET and PT.
Eurovision fans wondering if the American version would closely follow the format of the original were reassured when the network announced that among the executive producer ranks were two Swedish television executives who had experience producing the Eurovision Song Contest as well as Melodifestivalen, the Swedish national final to choose that country’s entry for Eurovision every year.
Billboard interviewed Christer Björkman and Anders Lenhoff about what viewers can expect from American Song Contest.
What elements are you keeping from Eurovision and what did you change?
Christer: One of the most obvious things that had to be fixed is that there is no way we would survive 56 people [being awarded the top score of] 12 points. So we had to find a way of keeping the 12-point moment but not repeating it 56 times. Another (change) is to connect the artist with their state. The “postcards,” as we call them in Eurovision, become an anthem for the connection between the artist and the love for their state and music. That’s the journey. We make it into a sports event. It’s like the Olympics of the song. It’s all about heart. It’s so positive. It’s so heartfelt. And these packages, as you call them here, they’re really great. It’s such a cool reminder I think to everyone and also to Americans of how wonderfully beautiful and vast your country is.
Anders: One of the key points to your question is that we needed to find a way to keep the soul and core of the show. One of the key elements of that is Christer because he knows what works for the format. I’ve been in meetings where ideas would pop up and suddenly Christer goes, “Oooh,” and you realize that actually breaks the core of the format because Christer is the test for that.
Eurovision, as it exists today, is made up of two semi-finals and a grand final, all held in one week. American Song Contest is going to take place over eight weeks. How will those eight episodes unfold?
Anders: We needed to make this into a season. Otherwise, it simply was not going to happen. Nobody wants the one-off. So it’s a fairly easy setup. It’s five qualifying shows. All 56 states, territories and Washington, D.C. are spread out over five weeks. In each qualifier episode, you have 11, except for one episode which has 12 songs, to make up 56. At the end of each show, there’s a jury vote winner and then three other songs that move on in the competition are revealed at the top of the next show. And then you reach the semi-finals which are episodes six and seven. You add two redemption songs – two of the songs that got eliminated make it back into the competition, one in each semi-final. You have two semi-finals with 10 songs in each. Five songs from each semi-final move on to the Grand Final, which is 10 songs.
Juries have been a part of Eurovision since it began in 1956. How will the jury in America be composed?
Christer: The jury consists of 56 people. One person from each state votes. They are music industry people, everyone from composers to artists to radio programmers to A&R staffers to – you name it. They will all be named.
And like Eurovision exists today, will be the voting be part jury and part public vote?
Christer: It’s 50-50, half jury and half the public.
Anders: And jury members cannot vote for their own state. The public will have a voting window of 36 hours.
Eurovision has a set of rules – songs cannot run longer than three minutes, contestants must be at least 16 years old and you cannot have more than six people on stage for each entry. What rules have you kept and which ones have you changed?
Christer: (Maximum song length is) 2:45. We kept the (minimum age of) 16. For the competing act, it is a maximum of six people. But musicians and dancers can be added, they (don’t count among the) six people. There could be a choir. There could be a lot of people on stage, but the competing act is not more than six people.
You’ve been in production for months. What has surprised you about the show so far?
Anders: When we saw the first interview packages, at that time with hundreds of artists, I was blown away by the commitment, by the engagement and by the sheer diversity of not just music but the states themselves, because that was part of the package. We’ve been to the states a lot but to very few parts of it, but when you see images and these people talking about everything from the U.S. Virgin Islands to Alaska to Maine to Idaho to places I’ve never heard of, the vastness of it is so impressive and really quite emotional.
Christer: There’s the corn state (Iowa). There’s the cheese state (Wisconsin). All these states are known for something and they’re so proud of it. It’s fantastic.