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Cedar Rapids' Alisabeth Von Presley reps Iowa in the American Song Contest

Alisabeth Von Presley is representing Iowa in the first "American Song Contest" on NBC. She's based in Cedar Rapids.
Courtesy of Alisabeth Von Presley
Alisabeth Von Presley is representing Iowa in the first "American Song Contest" on NBC. She's based in Cedar Rapids.

The show premieres on NBC on March 21 at 7 p.m.

Next week, the new reality competition show “American Song Contest,” starts airing on NBC, with one artist representing each of the 50 states, five U.S. territories and Washington D.C. The series is a spin off the hugely popular Eurovision Song Contest, which has featured performers from across Europe for the last 65 years. "American Idol" winner Kelly Clarkson and Snoop Dogg are hosting, and the executive producer of "The Voice" is behind this, so I'm going to tune in and see what it's all about.

I hope America is ready for Alisabeth Von Presley. She’s not the stereotypical artist you’d expect to be representing Iowa, at least in my humble opinion.

The thing that always strikes me about Von Presley, aside from her music and masterfully coordinated stage shows, is her aesthetic, which feels effortless and authentic but also calculated and very, very bright.

“I believe my visual aesthetic was established somewhere in my early teen years, when I was backup dancing for some incredibly talented drag queens in our area,” she wrote in an email. “I remember being 12 years old and Natasha Cass (Former Miss Gay Iowa) put on my first pair of fake eyelashes. I remember how it felt looking into the mirror and seeing my eyes with such added drama. She said something along the lines of ‘you are beautiful without these, but a little extra FLARE never hurt 'nobody’.”

Wise words from Miss Natasha Cass, and a backstory for Von Presley that makes so much sense if you've seen her live. Read more of my interview with her below, and note that when the contest goes live, you can vote for her on NBC's website or by using TikTok. Find more information here.

How did you prep for going on the show? 

"I try to keep reminding myself that I didn't just begin preparations for this show when I got to Hollywood. I have been learning and growing as an artist with every performance that has led me here. But just in case I get a little too anxious I remember these three steps:

Step one: Keep reminding myself that this is just like a regular AVP show, just with a lot more lights, filmed live for national TV, and with the added pressure of representing my entire home state sitting on my sequined shoulders. #NoPressure

Step Two: Make sure I'm physically ready for the fast pace of this process — so you could find me on the streets of Cedar Rapids working out to the sweet sounds of Eddie Van Halen guitar solos and Lady Gaga remixes.

Step Three: Stay present. Keep the main thing the main thing. Control the things you can and release the things you can't. This is an insanely cool opportunity, soak it in."

What should be expected from your performance?

"My song is a Girl Power Anthem set to the tune of rock 'n' roll, baby! Sequins, hot pink outfits, a keytar named "Jezzika," and more! As for the song itself, I am a fierce advocate for female empowerment — so this number is all about standing up and being a confident W-O-M-A-N, ready to take charge of her own universe!"

Did you apply to do this? What made you want to?

"I am a fan of Eurovision. So when I heard a rumor that the U.S. was using the same format for their new show on NBC, my ears perked up. Eurovision is all about new music, sparkling visuals, and is a cool representation of where artists are from and how that played a role in their development of who they are today. A few months sped by and after some I am! Reppin' my favorite state! When people think of Iowa they will surely not think of a pink-haired pop rocker. I absolutely love that juxtaposition. Hot pink doesn't scream 'the corn state.' But corn yellow and pink surely do look lovely together! (Not as good as black and gold though - Go Hawks!)"

I describe you as Iowa’s Katy Perry, but I think that’s because of your costuming and your hair. I love the aesthetic. Who are the artists who inspire you?

Alisabeth Von Presley says her aesthetic is inspired by her time dancing back up for drag queens in Cedar Rapids when she was a teenager.
Photo Courtesy of Alisabeth Von Presley
Alisabeth Von Presley says her aesthetic is inspired by her time dancing back up for drag queens in Cedar Rapids when she was a teenager.

"I remember being fairly young, dancing to Michael Jackson music videos in my grandmother's living room. I'd pause the shot, rewind, and watch as slow as possible so I could examine his every move. I learned "Thriller" this way. Michael was obsessed with focusing on visual details, and as a child I've always had a flare for dramatic visuals as well. Other artists that come to mind when I think of the word "inspire" would absolutely be Lady Gaga, Madonna, P!nk and Pat Benatar."

What’s a song you’re listening to on repeat right now? 
"Ooooh boy this is a tough one. When I am not studying every last millisecond of the song I'm going to perform on American Song Contest, I am listening to 80's hairbands. I am a huge Van Halen, Heart, Steve Vai fan. If they backcomb their hair and play electric guitars — it's my jam!"

Lindsey Moon is IPR's Senior Digital Producer