American broadcasters of the Olympics have some competition from another, ahem, sport this evening when ESPN broadcasts the finals of the US Air Guitar Championships.
The finals see America’s finest strummers of imaginary axes competing for possession of the US Air Guitar Championship belt. The winner will travel to Finland for the Air Guitar World Championship Finals, which have been postponed until next year due to the pandemic.
The US finals see the winners of regional heats take on one another to prove who is the nation’s best air strummer. The regional finals were streamed live on Twitch, with judges awarding performers remotely.
Each contestant had to make it through two rounds. In the first round, known as the freestyle round, competitors riffed along with a song of their own choosing. In the second round they were required to strum along to a surprise song.
Three key criteria were employed by the judges:
Technical merit: contestants were judged on how closely their strumming mirrored the original fretwork.
Stage presence: contestants were expected to stand out from the opposition.
Airness: can a performer elevate the playing of an imaginary guitar to something approaching an artistic performance?
Each contestant must perform for one minute and can choose any minute of their chosen song.
Air guitar is said to have first gained mainstream attention in 1969 when Joe Cocker mimicked strumming an invisible guitar during his performance of With a Little Help from My Friends at Woodstock.
The first air guitar contest is believed to have been held in 1978 at Florida State University. Contests began to increase in popularity throughout the 1980s and ’90s, leading to the founding of the Air Guitar World Championships in 1996. Held annually as part of the Oulu Music Video Festival in Oulu, Finland, the Championships see the world’s greatest air guitar pickers gather for the world title.
The current world champion is American Pappy “Ding-Dong” Pizzarelli DC, who won the Championships in 2019. 2020 and 2021 editions were both cancelled due to the pandemic.
In the US however, the Air Guitar Championships carried on regardless as the competition went online.
The competition has become increasingly popular in recent years and this year it’s being televised for the first time. US sports network ESPN will broadcast the finals from 1am Saturday Irish time.
US Air Guitar was founded in 2003 by Cedric Devitt and Kriston Rucker, who established an official governing body for the “sport”.