Savannah Keyes sang at the top of her lungs.

She couldn’t help herself. R&B singer Allen Stone was performing onstage, and Keyes, a self-described “fan girl,” was near the front, singing every single word to every single song. 

In March, a few weeks after that concert in Nashville, Keyes learned something that made her simultaneously terrified and excited: She would be competing against Stone on national television.

Keyes is a country-pop singer-songwriter, and she’s one of 56 artists competing in “American Song Contest” — the U.S. adaptation of the renowned competition Eurovision, which launched the careers of artists like ABBA and Celine Dion. In the new show, which premiered last month, artists from all U.S. states and territories compete for the best original song. It’s a competition that puts up-and-coming 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, who is from Sandy, Utah, competed against 10 other artists — including Stone. It’s a bit surreal for Keyes to go from seeing one of her musical heroes in concert to performing on the same stage as him. But for the 25-year-old singer-songwriter, it marks a major step in what has been a long and dedicated pursuit of hitting the big time. 

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‘Gonna be a big star’

“American Song Contest” isn’t Keyes’ first time on TV — or on a reality competition show, for that matter. 

Keyes’ first moment in the national spotlight came when she was 13. Thanks to her grandmother, she had been singing along to country greats like Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton from an early age. By the time she was 13, when kids her age typically vented their frustrations about school or life in their journals, for Keyes, it always came out musically. She would make up little songs about what was going on in her day-to-day life.

“That’s just how I learned to express myself,” she recently told the Deseret News. “I was kind of the oddball.”

At 13, Keyes caught Ellen DeGeneres’ eye with a performance of Miranda Lambert’s “More Like Her” on YouTube. She submitted some more videos to “The Ellen Show,” and a few months later, received an invitation to sing on the talk-variety show. The bubbly eighth-grader showed no signs of nerves as she stepped into the spotlight, chatted it up with DeGeneres and performed The Chicks’ “Let ‘er Rip.” 

“You know this girl’s gonna be a big star,” DeGeneres told the studio audience.

At first, it seemed that prediction would quickly come to fruition. Keyes landed a record deal soon after her appearance on “The Ellen Show.” At age 13, she began traveling back and forth between Utah and Nashville, meeting with professionals in the music industry 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 to go to homecoming and prom and all those things, … my timeline was always, ‘OK, if I can just get through this semester then I know I get to go to Nashville,’” Keyes said. “My sense of time was always based on when my next trip was going to be out there. It felt like in order to grow, I had to be there.”

It wasn’t an easy ask. Her parents and siblings — she’s sandwiched between two brothers — had tough conversations about sacrifice and being apart and chasing dreams. In the end, Keyes was 16 when her mother joined her for 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 that kind of thing?” Keyes said. “I’m so grateful for her, still, because I just did not see another option.”

But even being in Nashville 24/7 didn’t speed things along. Keyes and her label ended up parting ways, and she found herself working multiple jobs, all the 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 rising 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 did give her the confidence to finally release her own music.

Influenced by life transitions like living on her own and meeting her now-fiance, Keyes finally released her first EP last year — during a pandemic that shut down concert venues nationwide and limited live performances to social media. 

“At the start of the pandemic it was 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 look at this as a negative thing and let this completely be debilitating and stop everything that I’m doing, or I could just pour myself into a different part of my creativity and make something good out of it.”

Now, with the EP under her belt, she’s getting ready to debut her newest song live on national television.

‘Maybe this will be it’

Keyes has lived in Nashville for close to 10 years, but she still considers Utah home, and she’s proud to represent the Beehive State on “American Song Contest.” 

“So much of what I am is because of where I came from,” she said, adding that the support her family has given her over the years stems from Utah’s family-friendly culture. “Utah will always be my home. It’s the place that I feel like I can actually take a deep breath.” 

It’s also the place that has never given her reason to doubt pursuing this career. 

Keyes can still vividly recall performing the first complete song she ever wrote, “A Chance of Rain,” for her friends at a sleepover. She was only 13 and still learning how to play the guitar and sing at the same time.

“They were so supportive,” she said. “It could’ve been a very embarrassing moment — because from what I remember the song was not that great. But they were my champions. From that point on, anytime that I would finish more songs … I would instantly send it to my friends.

“I really lucked into an incredible group of friends,” she continued. “I’ve never doubted what I wanted to do — ever.”

Monday night marked Keyes’ third time on national TV. Her new song, “Sad Girl,” didn’t win the jury vote, but viewers at home have until Wednesday to help the singer advance to the semifinal round of “American Song Contest” by voting on, via the NBC app or through TikTok.

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So far, performers including Bolton and “The Voice” Season 9 champion Jordan Smith have already made it through. Rather than being nervous or intimidated by her competition, including Stone, one of her personal idols, Keyes is viewing this moment in her career the same way she viewed being on the reality competition show “Real Country”: as another opportunity to grow and learn and make new connections.

“I feel like everybody has this perception that once you do a reality TV show it’s like, ‘Oh, your whole life’s going to change,’ and for me it did nothing,” she said with a laugh. “I’m like, ‘I still got a lot of work to do.’

 “I’m still waiting on that big chance, and maybe this will be it.” 

Note: “American Song Contest” airs Monday nights on NBC at 7 p.m. MT. For information on how to vote for your favorite song, visit

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