Allen Stone stood out at the “American Song Contest” party three weeks ago in Austin, Texas. One songwriter from each of the 50 states, five territories and Washington, D.C., was represented courtesy of a photograph at the soiree, which touted NBC’s latest music reality-TV series.
Most of the participants were glammed out, and then there was the bespectacled Everyman who resides on the South Hill. The laidback neo-hippie with the oversized glasses has always been more about substance than style while belting out his soulful, elegant and playful R&B.
It’ll be fascinating to see how it plays out for Stone, who is vying for best original song in a competition decided by votes from a jury panel and a televote from fans.
“This should be about the songs,” Stone said. “It shouldn’t be about what you wear, the lights and the fire and dancing. It should be about the vocals, the lyrics and the melody. I’ve always been about the music.
“I would rather see James Taylor and his acoustic guitar than see Pink fly through the arena on a trapeze. Not that there is anything wrong with what Pink does. She has a great voice and is amazing. But a song is just enough for me.”
Stone, 35, flew to Los Angeles on Tuesday and will be in Hollywood through Monday, which is when his song “A Little Bit of Both” will air. “All I have to do is show up and sing well,” Stone said. “I’m accustomed to doing that. I’ll execute.
“I don’t have to worry about anything else. I don’t have to run the lights or shoot confetti from a cannon. As long as I remember my lyrics, I’ll be fine. The biggest thing for me is to not catch COVID. That could put a wrench into everything.”
The COVID-19 protocol is in place. Stone’s wife and son flew to Los Angeles with him, but the set is closed. “There is testing ad nauseum,” Stone said. “The set is really tight. I’ll do my best to stay healthy and represent the state of Washington.”
Battling it out in song is a strange concept for the Chewelah native. “It’s weird to me that there is a competition with art,” Stone said.
There’s always been competition with art. A decade ago, Brian Wilson detailed during an interview that he viewed the Beatles as competition, and it pushed him to greater heights when he composed songs for the Beach Boys. But the push and pull between the Beatles and Beach Boys wasn’t for a TV show.
“It’s just super weird, but I’m still looking forward to the experience,” Stone said. “This is an incredible opportunity to represent the state of Washington. The opportunity to play an original piece of music for my state is amazing.”
Did Gov. Jay Inslee send a good luck charm to Stone? “No, I haven’t gotten the nod from the governor,” Stone said. “He has bigger issues to deal with. If I represent Washington well and win this thing, maybe I’ll get a key to Climate Pledge Arena.”
Or perhaps Spokane Arena. Stone lived in Seattle for a few years and even does a spot for Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which still is played on the airport intercom. “I think that was my biggest hit,” Stone quipped. “I go up to people at parties and say, ‘Hi, I’m Allen Stone from Sea-Tac airport.’ ”
Stone is doing his best to keep his head on straight. “I have to be like that because when I was in my 20s, I was up and down,” Stone said. “It was an emotional rollercoaster. I connected too often with results, such as how many people bought this or that and if I was nominated.
“So, I’m older, and I realize I have to be focused. I also get excited about the process. Hey, I pay my rent with music, and all the rest is frosting. I think this thing will be a lot of fun and something I’ll always remember.”
That will particularly be so if Stone meets Snoop Dogg, “American Song Contest” co-host with Kelly Clarkson.
“I’m going to do my best to get my tolerance up in case Snoop invites me to his trailer to burn one,” Stone said. “Maybe that will be the consolation prize. I don’t know what we win, but I know it’s not a million bucks. Maybe I’ll get to do a bong hit upside down while Snoop holds me by the ankles.”
“American Song Contest” airs on NBC at 8 p.m. Mondays.