- “American Song Contest” airs Monday at 7 p.m. on NBC
- Voting for Monday’s big finale will open on Sunday.
Dani Brillhart and Colton Jones are living their singer/songwriter dream, performing original music live on national television and representing Alabama in the process.
“People may not look at us and assume we’re in Alabama, but for this experience, it’s an honor,” Brillhart said.
At 7 p.m. Monday, their pop duo Ni/Co — which has ties to Montgomery — is in the top 10 of the grand finale of NBC’s new music competition, “American Song Contest,” with their song, “The Difference.”
“The whole show was live, which is nerve-wracking but also fun,” Jones said.
Fan voting began on Sunday afternoon, the day before the live episode. Each eligible person can vote up to 30 times – 10 on the NBC app, 10 times on nbc.com/ascvote and 10 times on TikTok. Voting closes at 8:30 p.m. Monday, Brillhart said, and the winner will be announced at the end of the broadcast.
Jones and Brillhart wrote “The Difference” two years ago as a sort of therapy session, they said.
Previously:Montgomery’s Lady K takes on the Disney spirit of Moana for Sunday’s American Idol
‘This message is needed’:Matthew West to Perform at Frazer, Talk Faith, Music and More
“Honestly, we never expected him to be so present in the world,” Jones said. “We kind of wrote it because we needed to. When the show picked that song, we decided to tweak it a bit and make it more universal.”
Jones’ mother, Mary Irby-Jones, was in Los Angeles for episodes of Ni/Co. She loves their song and said it was appropriate for this particular time in the country.
“I raised Colton to really see everyone and love everyone,” Irby-Jones said. “This song is just a reflection of the kind of person I think he and Dani both are. They really embrace and love everyone, and that’s what a parent would want for their child is that ‘he really likes people.
One of the unique features of “American Song Contest” is that up-and-coming artists like Ni/Co have the chance to compete against major artists.
“Michael Bolton was the nicest,” Brillhart said. “These are people we grew up listening to.”
“Coming into the show was intimidating,” Jones said. “But everyone is so nice and we have such a good relationship with all the candidates we’ve met.”
Ni/Co guest-starred after Allen Stone in one episode.
“We have already purchased tickets to see his show,” Brillhart said. “It was such a ‘pinch me’ moment for us.”
Of course, there were also the hosts: Kelly Clarkson and Snoop Dog.
“Kelly Clarkson, no pun intended, was my first idol,” Brillhart said. “Truly the first person I grew up saying, I want to sing like her.”
They received hugs from Snoop Dog. “He was like, you move me,” Brillhart said.
Brillhart said one of the reasons they’re honored to represent Alabama in the “American Song Contest” is the massive amount of talent here, as well as the opportunity to showcase a different kind of music than some might expect. of State.
“Everyone online assumed it would be country or folk, or whatever stereotypes tell people Alabama is,” Brillhart said. “What we love so much is that we’re unexpected, just like so much of Alabama is unexpected. There’s amazing music – soul, indie, funk, pop, punk – coming out of Alabama, and the people just don’t know that.”
Jones’ Alabama connection
“Alabama, to me, makes me think of neighborhoods,” Jones said. “People pulled their chairs out in the cul-de-sac and there were kids running around. That’s what memories are to me.”
Jones lived in Montgomery when he was in elementary school. His mother was the deputy features editor of the Montgomery Advertiser, then the state’s business and government editor. That was around 20 years ago, and after school — first at Halcyon and then at Brewbaker — Jones often played in the newsroom and hid under his mother’s desk.
“He asked a lot of questions and he was very curious as a kid,” Irby-Jones said.
At the time, the late Paula Moore was the advertiser’s editor, and Jones would frequently chat with her. On one particular day, Jones decided his mother needed a raise, so he walked around the press room to collect a ‘petition’ for Moore to get one for her – but he collected names without talk to anyone. Moore made him go talk to all the staff.
“Alabama was the first place my mom bought a house, which I guess was a big deal for her life, but for me it was a big deal,” Jones said. “It was the first time we had a garden and we had a dog. I just remember having so much fun there.”
Irby-Jones said her son sings all the time. One of the first songs Jones remembers singing for his mother in third grade was about an old soul he picked up from his grandmother. Looking back, he realizes the lyrics were a bit inappropriate for his age.
“I was a little kid and I didn’t have to sing that,” he said. “I sang it, and my mom was like, OK, never sing that again… We quickly got into the church choir.”
Besides singing, Jones was a student-athlete here in basketball and baseball.
“I was so bad at baseball,” he said.
Mutual Lives of Music
After Alabama, Jones said he and his mother traveled to several different states and different newsrooms for his career. Today, Irby-Jones is the editor of the Courier Journal in Louisville, Kentucky.
“Music was my constant,” Jones said. “By the time I got to Nashville, the one thing in my life I could always rely on was music. Then it was really cool to start dating someone who was so into music. than me.”
That someone, of course, is Brillhart. Born and raised in the South, the Georgia native also traveled to Nashville for the music.
“I kind of always knew I wanted to do this,” Brillhart said. “I was a gymnast, but I grew up singing the national anthem and enjoying gymnastics competitions more than doing gymnastics. My mom was like, we probably need to make a change here.”
The origin story of Ni/Co
While they’ve been making waves on NBC television for weeks, how Brillhart and Jones met in real life could have been a romantic comedy show.
They were at a songwriting session, brought together by mutual friends.
“We walked into the writing room and ended up talking for like seven hours, instead of being productive and writing a song,” Brillhart said with a laugh. “We left the session laughing and thinking that we really like this person or that we will work well together.”
Turns out it was both. In the months that followed while they were dating, they were both lead singers in a group of corporate events – private events, weddings, sorority and fraternity parties, etc.
Their first song together was a memorable medley of covers — Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” and Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.”
“American Song Contest” isn’t really their first chance to get music on network television. They also had music previously used on NBC, CW, VH1, BET, TNT, Starz and Freeform.
“When we started, we had never really heard of TV music,” Brillhart said. “But with our old publishers that we worked with, it was kind of their bread and butter. Truth be told, it became the only way to pay rent for a while.”
“We had a song that ran as a promo for ‘The Today Show’ for almost a year,” Jones said.
They have been gaining popularity for years on YouTube, with videos racking up over 40 million views.
One of their memorable sorority concerts was at the University of Alabama. They were doing covers and the crowd was singing with them.
“We just looked at each other after that show and went, we have to be able to write our own music and have that feeling because there’s nothing like it,” Jones said.
After two years of meetings and televised music, they took the plunge and formed the duo Ni/Co. About three years ago, they left Nashville for a new home in Los Angeles. Brillhart said they have been able to make a living from music so far. No day job required.
‘Spirit of Courage’:‘Freedom Rider’ Creator/Director Ricardo Khan Talks About the New Play
After:Garth Brooks will play Birmingham in the last show in its history in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia
“Our parents are very confused as to how this is going,” Brillhart said. “Sometimes we’re confused as to how it’s going, but so far so good. We’re just letting go and letting God take it.”
Along with touring the Southeast, including Montgomery, and meeting the fans who brought them to the show’s grand finale, recording projects are a definite focus for Ni/Co.
“We would like to release music right after the show,” Brillhart said. “No matter what happens, we have gained a good number of fans who contact us and want music.”
After Monday’s episode, regardless of the outcome, Brillhart and Jones said they were considering a significant collaboration with the other songwriter candidates.
“It really doesn’t feel like a competition,” Jones said. “It feels like a celebration of culture.”
Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Shannon Heupel at [email protected]