One of America’s glaring flaws is that not enough of our citizens know about the Eurovision Song Contest. Everyone has heard of ABBA, the Swedish quartet that brought us “Dancing Queen” and “Mamma Mia,” but few know the group was propelled to stardom when it won Europe’s annual song competition in 1974. If you say the word “Eurovision” amongst a crowd of Yanks, many will ask if you’re referring to that 2020 Will Ferrell movie they never watched (which they should, because it’s really funny), not the iconic contest on which the film is based. But we need to talk about Eurovision—now more than ever—because we finally have the stateside version.
On NBC’s American Song Contest, U.S. states and territories will compete against one another for musical glory. It could be the television event of the year, and it should be of prime interest to Texans. I, for one, love the Olympics and the opportunity they provide for me to be unproblematically nationalistic, to swell with pride as our medal count rises. American Song Contest can give me that same feeling, except now I get to root for a place I love even more than the USA (the state of Texas) about something I definitely enjoy more than sports (pop music). Here’s everything you need to know about what we hope will be the television event of the year.
What is Eurovision?
Think of Eurovision as like the Olympics, except with only European nations (plus, for some reason, Cyprus, Israel, Armenia, and Australia) competing; instead of sports, pop songs are performed live with dancers and lasers and fog machines. It began in 1956 and has aired every year since, except in 2020, for obvious reasons. For Americans, the most famous competitors in Eurovision’s 66-year history are, of course, ABBA, who won in 1974 with the banger “Waterloo.” But there are others. Celine Dion performed a song for Switzerland in 1988, despite being Canadian, and last year, rapper Flo Rida—who is famously from Florida—was featured on the entry from the Italian microstate of San Marino. The beauty of Eurovision is that the performers aren’t usually big stars. But the songs, oh, the songs are always big.
Sounds fun as heck. How does the U.S. version work?
In American Song Contest, representatives of all fifty states, five territories (Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands), and Washington, D.C., compete against one another for the top prize, which is having your entry named the Best Original Song. The competition consists of three rounds aired live over eight weeks, with episodes every Monday on NBC. The contest begins with a five-week qualifying round of performances from all the contestants. Viewers will vote on their favorites, twenty of which will advance to the semifinal round. From there, ten singers will move on to the finals. The winner will be crowned on May 9, providing the state/territory/district that he/she/they represent with bragging rights for the next calendar year.
Why are you just telling us about this now?
Texas’s competitor, a nice young man from Dallas named Grant Knoche (pronounced ka-no-key), performs in tonight’s episode. Knoche, nineteen, whose last name is basically as close to “kolache” as a name can get, got his start performing and touring with Kidz Bop, before he had to drop out when his voice got too low. He did a little acting on some children’s shows, including one short-lived Nickelodeon series called Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn, but he’s mostly been making tunes. For years, Knoche has been independently producing and releasing his own music from Los Angeles. He has a Shawn Mendes/Justin Bieber thing going on, except he’s not Canadian like those guys (thank God). Knoche has done fairly well for himself, racking up a couple hundred thousand Instagram followers and about a million Spotify streams. The producers of American Song Contest reached out to him to see if he wanted to submit any songs to the competition, he told Texas Monthly. He knew just the one, a little melody that just popped into his head one day, which he turned into a song called “Mr. Independent.”
What’s Grant Knoche like?
Sweet as molasses, I tell ya what. We spoke over Zoom in mid-March, not long after he was named as Texas’s representative at the American Song Contest, and he could not have been more gracious. He’s a good Texas boy we should all be rooting for, like the Tye Sheridan of network-television pop-music competition shows. He was so excited to tell me about his entry: “Well, it’s called ‘Mr. Independent,’ which is really awesome because I think, you know, Texas is so independent itself, and super strong.” Knoche cites Post Malone and Beyoncé as some of his favorite Texas artists, as well as Fort Worth’s own Kelly Clarkson, who hosts American Song Contest with well-known Californian Snoop Dogg. Knoche is excited to meet her and thinks it’s “very cool” that they both have songs referencing formal titles and independence.
What’s “Mr. Independent” like?
I am pleased to report that it looks like we have a certified banger on our hands. But don’t just take my word for it. As of this morning, you can buy and download Knoche’s new single on iTunes and Spotify. The song’s bouncy melody is quite catchy, and its chorus has the blunt upswell that is a staple of the Eurovision songbook. But it’s the message behind the music that moves me most. Knoche lays bare his oft-demoralizing experiences in the biz: being told “no” by old men in expensive suits, having to persevere in the face of rejection, producing everything by himself. “I am on my own now / I’m all I’ve got,” he croons. Not anymore, Grant. You’ve got us.
How can we best support our boy?
Knoche’s episode airs April 4 on NBC starting at 7 p.m. CST. He’ll be one of twelve performers, competing against Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, Northern Mariana Islands, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Tennessee. Alaska’s representative is none other than Jewel, who will probably pull in votes on name recognition alone—a classic democratic issue. Knoche needs our help, which means we need to tune in tonight and vote. There are three ways to vote, via TikTok, the NBC app, or a special NBC web page. (Knoche does a great job explaining all that on his Instagram.) Voting opens tonight at 7 p.m. and closes on Wednesday, April 6, at 6 a.m. This is important for Grant—but also for us. Are we just supposed to sit here and let California win?