'I want to make Vermont proud': Josh Panda's latest appearance on 'American Song Contest'
Vermont musician Josh Panda appeared Monday night on the NBC music-competition show “American Song Contest,” with hopes of advancing to the semifinal round next week.
The Burlington performer, who played the song “Rollercoaster,” came in eighth out of 11 contestants in judging Monday night by a panel of music-industry representatives. A singer-songwriter from Michigan, Ada LeAnn — who said she models herself after Grammy-winning young musicians Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish — took the top spot.
Panda — one of 56 contestants from every U.S. state and territory as well as the District of Columbia — still has a chance to move on to the next round. Viewers had until 7 a.m. on Wednesday, April 20 to vote for three more competitors who will advance to the semifinal round of 18 performers.
Introduced by Snoop Dogg
Panda was the eighth act to perform Monday on the two-hour show. Rap star Snoop Dogg, who hosts “American Song Contest” with singer Kelly Clarkson, introduced him as ““a man who likes to make a big impression on stage. Competing for Vermont, meet Josh Panda Panda Panda Panda Panda,” Snoop Dogg said with a drifting, echoing voice.
Before performing, Panda was profiled in a short video.
“By day I am just a normal Vermont dad making peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches,” the man born Joshua Pender said of his family life in Burlington. “And at night I find the music inside of me and I become Josh Panda.”
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He spoke of his penchant for flashy costumes and soul music. “When I’m on that stage I close my eyes and I feel the energy in the room,” Panda said. “We just keep going higher and higher until it just feels like the room is going to blow up. And I go home and I do the dad thing.”
Like the other contestants, the North Carolina native spoke of what he loves about the place he lives.
“Vermont is a place where you can be yourself. If you are quirky, if you are a flatlander, if you are a woodchuck, Vermont will accept you,” Panda said as a graphic explained that a flatlander is a non-Vermont native and a woodchuck is a second-or third-generation Vermonter. “To me that’s the thing that makes it so special. But I’m a flatlander, so what do I know?”
Panda spoke of how he played for tips on Church Street in Burlington when he moved to Vermont as a 21-year-old. “We are a small state but we are feisty,” he said, “and I want to make Vermont proud.”
Josh Panda sings ‘Rollercoaster’
Panda described the song he would play, “Rollercoaster,” as a catchy, uplifting singalong. He co-wrote “Rollercoaster” with guitarist Clint Bierman of Vermont band The Grift; Bierman was among the musicians on stage during the performance.
“Throw your hands up/Close your eyes/You’ve got your ticket/Now enjoy the ride,” Panda sang. He wore a spangly, dark jacket but his outfit was less flamboyant than the sunglasses and bright jumpsuits Vermont fans are accustomed to seeing. He got to show off that soulful, belting voice Vermonters have heard for more than a decade now. The brevity of the pop song — Panda had less than three minutes to perform — didn’t let him get as freaky as he might when singing a longer song in concert.
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“That’s Josh Panda — people goin’ crazy at his watch party in Vermont!” Snoop Dogg yelled at the end of the song as footage of supporters in Burlington was shown on the screen.
After a commercial break, Panda — with his wife, Ruthie Hill, standing next to him — presented Snoop Dogg and Clarkson with Vermont Teddy Bears dressed in costumes like the two hosts might wear. Panda’s mother-in-law, Liz Robert, is the former CEO of the Shelburne-based Vermont Teddy Bear Co.
Contact Brent Hallenbeck at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Brent on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BrentHallenbeck.
This article originally appeared on Burlington Free Press: 'American Song Contest' Vermont contestant Josh Panda performs