Savannah Keyes sang at the top of her voice.
She couldn’t help it. R&B singer Allen Stone was performing on stage, and Keyes, a self-proclaimed “fan girl,” was near the front, singing every word of every song.
In March, a few weeks after that concert in Nashville, Keyes learned something that both terrified and excited her: she would be competing against Stone on national television.
Keys is a country-pop singer-songwriter, and she is one of 56 artists competing in “American Song Contest” – the American adaptation of the famous contest eurovision, which launched the careers of artists like ABBA and Celine Dion. On the new show, which premiered last month, artists from every US state and territory compete for the best original song. It’s a competition that puts emerging artists like Keyes on the same playing field as established artists like Stone and legacy artists like Jewel, Macy Gray and Michael Bolton.
On Monday night’s episode, Keyes, a native of Sandy, Utah, will face 10 other artists, including Stone. It’s a bit surreal for Keyes to go from seeing one of his musical heroes in concert to performing on the same stage as him. But for the 25-year-old singer-songwriter, it marks a major milestone in what has been a long and dedicated pursuit of hitting the big time.
“It’s going to be a big star”
“American Song Contest” isn’t the first time Keyes has appeared on television — or on a reality show, for that matter.
Keyes’ first moment in the national spotlight came at age 13. Thanks to her grandmother, she had sung with country greats like Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton from a young age. At age 13, when kids his age usually expressed their frustrations about school or life in their journals, for Keyes it always came out in a musical way. She made up little songs about what was going on in her everyday life.
“That’s how I learned to express myself,” she recently told the Deseret News. “I was a little eccentric.”
At 13, Keyes caught Ellen DeGeneres’ attention with a performance of Miranda Lambert’s “More Like Her” on YouTube. She submitted more videos to “The Ellen Show” and, a few months later, received an invitation to sing on the variety show. The bubbly eighth-grader showed no signs of nervousness as she stepped into the spotlight, chatted with DeGeneres and performed The Chicks’ “Let ‘er Rip.”
“You know this girl is going to be a big star,” DeGeneres told the studio audience.
At first, it looked like the prediction would come to fruition quickly. Keyes landed a record deal shortly after appearing on “The Ellen Show.” At age 13, she began traveling between Utah and Nashville, meeting music industry professionals and learning the art of songwriting.
She was so captivated by it all that she begged her parents to move the roughly 1,600 miles from Sandy to Nashville.
“Instead of being excited about going to reunions and prom and all that stuff, … my schedule was always, ‘OK, if I can just get through this semester, then I know I can go to Nashville’,” Keyes said. “My sense of time was always based on when my next trip was going to be there. I felt like in order to grow, I had to be there.
It was not an easy question. Her parents and siblings — she’s sandwiched between two brothers — had tough conversations about sacrifice, separation, and chasing dreams. Ultimately, Keyes was 16 when her mother joined her in the cross-country move, staying with her in Nashville for about a year to help her adjust.
“I mean, how many people can say their parents are incredibly supportive and would do this kind of thing?” said Keyes. “I’m so grateful to him, again, because I just didn’t see any other option.”
But even being in Nashville 24/7 didn’t speed things up. Keyes and her label eventually went their separate ways, and she found herself working multiple jobs, all while writing songs and trying to figure out who she was as an artist.
In 2018, she landed on the short-lived reality competition series “Real Country,” where up-and-coming country artists competed for monetary prizes of up to $100,000 and a chance to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. Keyes didn’t win, but the show gave him the confidence to finally release his own music.
Influenced by life transitions like living alone and meeting her fiancé, Keyes finally released her debut EP last year – during a pandemic that has shuttered concert halls nationwide and limited live performances to social media. .
“At the start of the pandemic, it felt like I couldn’t move the needle no matter how hard I tried because the world was literally shut down,” Keyes said. “But I could take it as a negative thing and just let it be completely debilitating and stop everything I’m doing, or I could just get into another part of my creativity and do something good with it.”
Now, with the EP under her belt, she’s gearing up to debut her new song live on national TV.
“Maybe that will be it”
Keyes has lived in Nashville for nearly 10 years, but she still calls Utah home, and she’s proud to represent Beehive State in the American Song Contest.
“A lot of who I am comes from where I come from,” she said, adding that the support her family has given her over the years stems from the family culture of the city. ‘Utah. “Utah will always be my home. It’s the place where I feel like I can breathe deeply.
It’s also the place that never gave him reason to doubt pursuing this career.
Keyes still vividly remembers performing the first full song she ever wrote, “A Chance of Rain,” for her friends at a sleepover. She was only 13 and still learning to play guitar and sing at the same time.
“They were so supportive,” she said. “It could have been a really embarrassing moment – because from what I remember the song wasn’t that great. But they were my champions. From then on, every time I finished more of songs… I instantly sent it to my friends.
“I was really lucky in an amazing group of friends,” she continued. “I never doubted what I wanted to do – ever.”
Monday night will mark Keyes’ third time on national television. If his new song, “Sad girl», won over the jury of music industry experts and the millions of viewers at home, the singer will qualify for the semi-final of the “American Song Contest”, organized by Kelly Clarkson and Snoop Dogg.
So far, artists such as Bolton and “The Voice” Season 9 champion Jordan Smith have already succeeded. Rather than being nervous or intimidated by her competition, including Stone, one of her personal idols, Keyes views this moment in her career the same way she viewed being on the TV show. -reality “Real Country”: as another opportunity to grow and learn and establish new relationships.
“I feel like everyone has this perception that once you do a reality show, it’s like, ‘Oh, your whole life is going to change,’ and to me, that didn’t matter. nothing,” she said with a laugh. “I’m like, ‘I still have a lot of work to do.’
“I’m still waiting for that big chance, and maybe this will be it.”
To note: “American Song Contest” airs Monday nights on NBC at 7 p.m. MT. For more information on how to vote for your favorite song, visit NBC.com.