Reality TV music shows didn’t interest Allen Stone. ‘American Song Contest’ caught his ear
Spokane soul singer Allen Stone, whose music career got rolling in Seattle, will represent Washington state on NBC’s new show “American Song Contest” (8-10 p.m. Mondays) on the episode airing April 11.
Stone’s participation has a lot to do with his Evergreen State roots.
The show, an Americanized version of the international hit “Eurovision Song Contest,” marks Stone’s first foray into a reality TV music competition series, although similar shows have attempted to recruit the born-and-bred Washingtonian before.
“‘American Idol’ called me when I was, like, 22,” said Stone, 35, who lives in Spokane. “I had just started getting gigs and I remember being like, ‘I don’t want to do that.’ I was young, maybe ignorant, but I thought, well, ‘American Idol’ is for people who don’t have anything going for them, no job whatsoever in the music industry.”
Stone sees “American Song Contest” as something different, more akin to the NCAA March Madness than a talent discovery show. And it helped that he got familiar with “Eurovision” during the pandemic, part of which he spent in his wife Tara Lawson’s native Australia. “For them it was like the Super Bowl,” Stone said of Australians and “Eurovision.”
“What made me say yes to this was getting to represent Washington state, the state I was born and raised in, my father was born and raised in, my grandfather. There’s lineage of Washingtonians I come from,” he said. “I get to display my original song on a TV show that hopefully millions of people are going to see.”
“American Song Contest” features artists from 50 states, five American territories and Washington, D.C., performing original songs and competing for viewers’ votes, often on elaborate stage sets. The performers are a mix of up-and-comers, established touring acts like Stone and industry veterans (Michael Bolton represents Connecticut; Macy Gray reps Ohio). Kelly Clarkson and Snoop Dogg host the live episodes.
In an NBC press conference before the show began, Clarkson called Stone “super-gifted,” and executive producer Audrey Morrissey explained that most of the performers on “Eurovision” are signed to a record label — and execs wanted the American show to reflect that. Stone is with ATO records; his self-titled 2011 album peaked at the No. 2 spot on iTunes’ R&B/soul charts, and he has released three albums since, including November’s acoustic effort, “Apart.”
“Just through outreach and different discussions, people were interested, Allen being one of them,” Morrissey said, explaining the recruitment process. “In talking with him and his team, it’s a big deal that he’s never left the state.
“I mean, there has been plenty of opportunity and plenty of encouragement for him to leave and come to other places to be closer to maybe the epicenter of the music business so to speak, but he’s never left, doesn’t want to, has no plans on it.”
Stone, who grew up in Chewelah in rural Stevens County northwest of Spokane, wouldn’t divulge details about how his performance will look, but did say his song is called “A Bit of Both,” co-written with Lakewood artist Tyler Acord, aka Lophiile.
“This tune is about the duality of how humans essentially possess every good and bad, kind and unkind, possess everything all at once,” Stone said.
“What’s interesting to me is Washington is a very dual state,” he continued. “We come from loggers and miners and portsmen and fishermen, and yet we’ve grown to this place that has Amazon and Microsoft and Boeing and Costco, all these giant Fortune 500 companies, yet we still have this element of hands-in-the-dirt type of people, specifically on the eastern side of the state I’m living in.”
Earlier this year, Stone filmed his bio/introduction for “American Song Contest” in Seattle.
“I moved to Seattle when I was 21 and my career started there and I was able to acquire a national name in Seattle,” he said. “As far as my music career, I’m a Seattleite for sure.”
Stone says he filmed segments at Emerald City Guitars in Pioneer Square (which he called “a great guitar shop in town I spent way too much money at in my life”) and at the Edgewater Hotel on Elliott Bay, where Stone had one of his first gigs. And, of course, the production got the beauty shot of the city from Kerry Park on Queen Anne Hill.
Although the series has “contest” in its title, Stone said he’s not overly invested in the competition aspect of the show.
“I just want to beat California,” he said. “I’m totally joking, being facetious.” Stone chuckled before offering his misgivings about competition in the arts.
“Competition in art is a little janky to me. Getting to represent Washington state and play a song I wrote, that’s an honor. And if the rest of America likes it and it buys some voting and I get to play that song again in a later episode, then I’m amped,” he said. “I don’t think the competition mindset serves you too well in art, whereas it may in other business practices or sports.”
While the “American Song Contest” winner does get bragging rights, it doesn’t come with a prize beyond that, though Stone had one tongue-in-cheek request for the show’s producers.
“If I get to smoke out with Snoop Dogg, then win-win, baby,” he said.
“If I happen to make it to the end, that is a prize I would take to my grave. I would save the joint, only smoke a little bit of it, put it in a trophy case and hang it on my wall next to none of the plaques I have, because I don’t have any platinum records.”
You can watch Stone, Snoop and other songwriters competing on “American Song Contest” April 11 on NBC.