Tiny Desk ContestOur search for the next great undiscovered artist to play a Tiny Desk concert.
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Tiny Desk Contest

Our search for the next great undiscovered artist to play a Tiny Desk concert

Meet Alisa Amador, the winner of the 2022 Tiny Desk Contest

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Alisa Amador is the winner of the 2022 Tiny Desk Contest Jacquelyn Marie / Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Jacquelyn Marie / Courtesy of the artist

Alisa Amador is the winner of the 2022 Tiny Desk Contest

Jacquelyn Marie / Courtesy of the artist

Today, Morning Edition announced the winner of the eighth annual Tiny Desk Contest: Alisa Amador. A songwriter from Boston, Mass., her entry "Milonga accidental" rose to the top of the thousands NPR Music received this year.

This was Amador's fifth year submitting a song to the Contest in the hope that it would earn her a performance behind series creator Bob Boilen's famed Tiny Desk. For this year, she tried something new: She submitted a song sung entirely in Spanish, with a video that included what she calls an "animated visual translation of the lyrics."

"Milgona," from the song's title, "is a folk rhythm from Argentina and Uruguay," Amador tells All Thing Considered's Mary Louise Kelly. "It's a really driving rhythm." She says she's always identified with her family's roots in Argentina, Puerto Rico, New Mexico and all of the other places her family is from. She explains that "Milonga accidental" is an ode to feeling like she doesn't fit neatly into any one box. "Cuando sabré descifrar mi razón? / Cuando sentiré mi hogar en mi voz?" ("When will I know how to decipher my purpose? / When will I feel at home in my voice?"), she sings in her winning entry.

Past Tiny Desk Contest winners have gone on to win Grammy awards and write for Broadway, Kelly points out. Amador says that finding out she won brought on a mix of emotions – both immense excitement and wondering, "Oh my God, what am I going to do with this?"

In the past few months, Amador says she had actually been considering an exit from a career in music. "A career in independent music is challenging in good times," Amador says. "And these [past few years] have been uniquely, painfully, difficult times." Amador admits that just before Boilen called her to let her know she'd won, she had been feeling so tired that she didn't think she could keep pursuing music, but was grieving the thought of letting it go.

Winning is "such an honor," Amador says. "I do not take this lightly." She says her friends call these life-changing curveballs "an intervention from the universe." We're so glad Amador took a fifth swing.

Hear "Milonga accidental" below, and listen to our full conversation with Amador above. To see Amador perform live, you can get tickets for the Tiny Desk Contest On The Road tour here.

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Announcing the winner of the 2022 Tiny Desk Contest

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Choosing one Tiny Desk Contest winner from all the incredible entries NPR Music receives each year never gets any easier — though the process, where a panel of judges and I get to hear so many amazing unsigned artists from across the country who hope to play a Tiny Desk concert, is always pretty exciting. Now, after sifting through thousands of entry videos to this year's edition, we have some big news.

Today we're thrilled to announce Alisa Amador is the winner of the 2022 Tiny Desk Contest!

Amador is a singer-songwriter from Boston, Mass., with a powerful voice whose tender performance commands attention and fosters connection. Each of the Contest judges (NPR Music's Bobby Carter and me; Tiny Desk alums Raveena, Big K.R.I.T., iLe and Japanese Breakfast's Michelle Zauner; and WBGO's Nate Chinen) fell in love with Amador's winning entry, "Milonga accidental." "Her performance – marked by a soaring vocal improv and imbued with Spanish inflection and a crystalline sense of purpose – captivates from start to finish," says Chinen.

This was Amador's fifth year entering the Contest, but her first time submitting a song completely in Spanish. Amador's family is from Puerto Rico, New Mexico and Argentina, and she told us her winning song is "an ode to in-between-ness, to having several identities at once, to feeling split between cultures and languages." "Cuando sabré descifrar mi razón? / Cuando sentiré mi hogar en mi voz?" ("When will I know how to decipher my purpose? / When will I feel at home in my voice?"), she sings in her entry. "I like that rhetorical question," Contest judge iLe told Rachel Martin on Morning Edition today. "You never know when you will find the answer, but you want to keep searching — and that's the beauty of the song for me." Amador says she wrote the song as a way to make a home for herself and "for anyone who has felt out of place or like they don't fit neatly under one label."

Later this month, Amador will play a Tiny Desk concert at NPR's headquarters in Washington, D.C. She'll then headline the return of NPR Music's Tiny Desk Contest On The Road tour: a victory lap of sorts, celebrating the winner and the spirit of the entire Contest community. At each stop, the lineup will include Amador and her band, plus other local artists who entered the Contest this year.

You can hear more from Amador herself this afternoon on All Things Considered. And you can learn more about each tour stop and get tickets at NPRPresents.org.

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Pocket Queen & The Royal Flush, "WE CAME TO MOVE"

Hometown: Los Angeles, Calif.
Pairs well with: Caipirinhas under the peek-a boo shade of trees

Drummer and vocalist Taylor Gordon (aka The Pocket Queen) delivers a sensual bossa nova track, complete with the flute flirting with us. The song will have you swaying thanks to the groove thrown down by upright bassist Chris Thigpen and guitarist Mauricio Guererro Jr., and lyricist Ryck Jane adds even more flavor when she joins on the track.


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Brassville, "Bring Yo' Brass"

Hometown: Nashville, Tenn.
Pairs well with: A plate of red beans and rice precariously balanced in your hand while you dance

Who doesn't love a good brass band? The moment drummer Derrick Greene kicks off this song, there is no question that Brassville is about to deliver. With trombonist MarVelous Brown's spirited drawl, swinging horns and a solid rhythm section, every note is designed to entice you to the floor.


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Tivon Pennicott, "Off the Cuff"

Hometown: New York, N.Y.
Pairs well with: Childlike giggles while running around a playground

Saxophonist Tivon Pennicott's sly smile invites you into "Off the Cuff." Improvised with looping and a drum machine, Pennicott experiments and builds the song in real time, giving the listener a sneak peek into the joyful process of creation.


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Salome Hajj, "Pursuit"

Hometown: Los Angeles, Calif.
Pairs well with: Self-reflection brought on by a solo stroll

Salome Hajj's entry tells a story of recovering from disappointment and growing in the aftermath. Hajj's sultry voice and hypnotic harp are perfectly accompanied by an understated but meaningfully rich performance on the bass and drums from Jermaine Paul and Myles Martin, respectively.


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John Ferrara, "Perhaps Everything, Perhaps Nothing"

Hometown: Wickford, R.I.
Pairs well with: Daydreaming while gazing at a stormy skyline as rain drops slide down the windowpane

Bassist John Ferrara makes his five-string bass sing in this solo entry. The myriad of sounds Ferrara pulls from his instrument construct the type of multilayered storytelling you'd expect from more than one musician.

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Before we reveal our 2022 Tiny Desk Contest winner, our Contest judges have been sharing their favorite entries as part of our annual Top Shelf series. In the second episode, which streamed live on NPR Music's YouTube channel today, Tiny Desk alums Michelle Zauner (Japanese Breakfast) and iLe shared their top picks with Bob Boilen.

Zauner and iLe's selections included remarkable guitarists, songs sung in Spanish, a "mind-blowing" bassist and more:

The judges also talked about their own experiences playing behind the Tiny Desk. "I remember being very, very nervous," admitted Zauner as she explained how performing without any vocal effects can be a very humbling experience.

iLe said she had always thought she would make her performance perfect if she ever had the chance to perform behind the Desk. But her actual performance wasn't what she was expecting at all, she said – it was even better. "Sometimes it's nice when things go in a way that you don't plan or expect," iLe shared. "You learn new things about it and still enjoy the show."

Bob said one of the nice things about messing up behind the Desk is that the audience (typically made up of staff working at NPR's headquarters) embraces the artist's fragility and appreciates having a special moment with them.

We can't wait to have a special moment with this year's Tiny Desk Contest winner very soon. To watch all the entries to this year's Contest – and be among the first to know when we announce the winner – you can visit npr.org/tinydeskcontest.

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Our Tiny Desk Contest judges have a very tough decision ahead of them. After reviewing tons of incredible entries, they need to determine who will be named the winner, and will get to come play a Tiny Desk concert at NPR's headquarters. But before that happens, judges are. Before we reveal the 2022 Contest winner, judges are sharing their favorite entries as part of our annual Top Shelf series.

In today's episode, Bob Boilen (Tiny Desk series creator, Contest judge and host of All Songs Considered) and Bobby Carter (Tiny Desk concert producer and Contest judge) shared some of their favorite entries live on NPR Music's YouTube channel.

Their top picks included entries from a handful of artists who entered the Contest for the first time this year, plus a returning artist who Carter calls "Top Shelf royalty." The featured entries span a variety of genres, styles and locations – hip-hop from St. Louis, a harpist from Los Angeles, folk from Colorado, rock from New York and more:

And these featured entries represent just a fraction of the talent and creativity in this year's entries; it's going to be a tough call for the judges. "I could think of five to 10 people who could win this thing!" says Carter.

You can join us again next week to discover even more new artists live on NPR Music's YouTube channel, where Bob will chat with Contest judges and Tiny Desk alums iLe and Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast. Sign up for reminders at topshelf2022.nprpresents.org.

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Hometown: Seattle, Wash.

Pairs well with: Running around your childhood playground

The Seattle-based artist Ollella describes her Tiny Desk Contest entry as a "contemplation on playfulness." "Lava" reflects longingly on the days of playgrounds, monsters and mischief, pondering where this playfulness goes as we get older. Ollella's mature voice contrasts with the childlike frustrations about growing up that she describes: "I don't know why you won't follow me / Adults they think they know." This innocence is expressed through the bouncy cello line, paired with floating melodies and keys that evoke nostalgic contemplation. Ollella may know where she's trying to go, or perhaps trying to return to, but can't quite get there: "Catch myself standing still," she sings, "wish I knew how to unfurl." "Lava" serves as a hopeful call to action — a call to reflect and play.

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Soon, we'll announce our 2022 Tiny Desk Contest winner, the artist who will perform their own Tiny Desk concert at NPR's HQ before touring the country with NPR Music. But the Contest is about more than one winner — it's about the entire community.

This year, we received entries from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, from Maine and California and every state in between. To showcase this inspiring and growing group of musicians, we created a video soundtracked by entrants SNACKTIME PHILLY in Pennsylvania, AYVIO in Oklahoma and Lalah in Puerto Rico. Today, we present to you: the 2022 Tiny Desk Contest community.

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Hometown: North Hollywood, Calif.

Pairs well with: Taking a deep, belly full of fresh air on a sunny day

"Sometimes it's just better off if you just let go / If you just let go and just breathe," Tim Reynolds sings over his playfully percussive, string-centric song "Be Free." The singer-songwriter and violinist evokes all types of good feelings in his Tiny Desk Contest entry, down to the infectious smile that almost never leaves his face. The song is simple, yet Reynolds' approach is also mindful. With just a mic, violin and loop pedal, Reynolds crafts melodies vocally and through his violin, incorporating folky and soulful embellishments. Reynolds wraps up his performance by serenading us with a violin solo that hits quite the high note, passionately driving his message home. After all, what better feeling is there than the freedom to just be?

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Hometown: Astoria, N.Y.

Pairs well with: Singing into your hairbrush and dancing around your room

dolltr!ck knows how to set the scene. The New York-based artist performs in a blue lit room for her aptly titled entry, "In The Blue." The dark, cool backdrop creates the perfect contrast for the lights of her synth pads to flash and pop like a dancefloor. dolltr!ck owns this dancefloor, jumping around her space while expertly navigating her tech and singing with crystal clarity. Her voice sweet and secure, she evokes early 2000s dance pop with her headset, braids and sugary melodies. While dolltr!ck performs solo, she is accompanied by the colors that guide the imagery of her lyrics and visuals. The flute especially shines, along with the other beats and sounds seamlessly layered into this nearly five minute song. dolltr!ck ties all of these elements together, sparkling with all the confidence of a pop star — it's impossible to deny her joy.

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Hometown: Silver Spring, Md.

Pairs well with: Breakfast for two

"Potatoes on my plate / hash brown sausage / I can't wait. / Don't forget the bacon too – I made it for you," Alex Fasehun croons at the top of "Home Cooking." With a sweet groove and honeyed vocals, Prjct Untld takes an easygoing approach to devotion. Suitably recorded in the kitchen, the song celebrates the romantic intimacy of sharing meals and underlies the mortifying vulnerability of courtship ("If it don't taste that good, at least promise you'll fake it") with the easy joy of being with the one you love. Earnest, and perhaps a little kitschy, "Home Cooking" is the ultimate declaration of being in it for the long haul. Because when push comes to shove, is there really anything more romantic than offering to share your food?

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Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.

Pairs well with: A heart ready for second-chance romance

Everyone makes mistakes in relationships. For this Tiny Desk Contest entrant, what matters most is a person's ability to clearly examine their role in a conflict and commit to making things right. This track by Zaxai is a really intriguing meditation on betrayal, wherein he asks his partner to forgive themself for their wrongdoing. Zaxai's powerful vocals are reassuring, begging his partner to understand how much he believes in them and the relationship they share. "I believe in you / Now that my mind is clear / No I won't let you go," he sings with searing sincerity. I only wish that all second-chance romances could feel this honest and healing.

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The first rule of the Tiny Desk Contest is simple: All entry videos must include a desk. If they didn't, how would we know artists are up to the task of performing behind the Tiny Desk if they win?

We watched each and every one of the thousands of entries to this year's Contest. We saw big desks, small desks, crafty desks, desks in unexpected places and desks that tested the limits of what exactly a desk is. Here are the best of those desks in one supercut video, soundtracked by a Florida band called Speak Easy, whose members perform their groovy entry, "Ain't No Need to Wonder," in matching tracksuits behind an especially large desk.

Watch the full versions of all the entries featured in the video – plus thousands more entries to this year's Contest – at npr.org/tinydeskcontest.

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Hometown: Tampa, Fla.

Pairs well with: Confronting harsh truths

Going straight into the searing chorus from rapper Perception, the tone is set: "Streets is not a game / you insane / they can't coach you. / Some make it out but you're really not supposed to." Perception X Katara's Tiny Desk Contest entry is filled with dark observations about navigating survival within various societal structures that seem to go against that very thing ("No justice in a system tryna make it work / Power tripping but they never get to quench their thirst"). The interplay between Perception's realist lyrics and ethereal harp and keyboard-led melodies is indeed a delicate balance. The whole band moves nicely in sync here, but a special nod goes to the keyboardist playing keys and harp at the same time — no small feat!

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Hometown: Jamaica, N.Y.

Pairs well with: A well-needed Friday night in

In "City Sea," Justine Grove sings about finding solace in the noise of the city. Her vocals sit nicely on top of acoustic rhythm guitar and an intoxicating layer of chords from Daniel Lerner's electric guitar: "Lost I think I'll forever be / A wanderess always wandering / Under city lights in the city streets / That is me forever." As their guitars build to a ringing forte through the chorus, Grove's lyrics paint the picture of a narrator allowing her burdens to wash away and succumbing to escape: "I'll let the ocean take me in / I'll let the waves crash / I'll let the sea take my peace / As I drown in the city sea."

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Hometown: Nashville, Tenn.

Pairs well with: Pressing flowers; changing seasons

On "Wilted," singer-guitarist Katie Domschke reflects on a love that's wilted like plants in a neglected greenhouse. "Do you feel it getting colder the further / We are from the sun?" she asks, her voice strong, consoling and conversational. In the video, four band members — Domschke, Geoffrey Mutchnik, Peter Vance and Max Hewett — perform where two staircases meet, each artist's talents coming into focus as the song progresses. The group's catchy "oohs" and "aahs" back Domschke's melody on one verse; they finish her sentences in the next. "Words we," Domschke begins, "Buried under," the band interjects; "Crowded," Domschke continues, "Lonely garden," the band responds. "Wilted" is like a comforting friend there to help soak up a melancholy feeling.

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Hometown: Los Angeles, Calif.

Pairs well with: Driving by your old school and wondering what could have been

"You made me feel like a criminal / I was a kid," Figgy Baby raps to an old teacher, the song's namesake, who had expelled them for marijuana charges when they were in 8th grade. This Contest entry, "Mr. Baron," is a reflection on this common experience and how it uprooted their life at such a young age, enwrapping unresolved resentment and self-awareness with a greater message about drug culture, all while exuding childlike joy. Figgy Baby's energy here is motivated at least in part by the fact that, while years and laws have passed, not much has changed. People, kids like he was, can still be harshly punished for marjuana possession. With a sly smile on their face, Figgy shares that "you can tell Mr. Baron I'm still smoking," before going on to thank the ones that did protect them. Figgy Baby's commentary takes center stage in this performance, only accompanied by a light drum beat, slipping keys and dusted harmonies.

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Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio

Pairs well with: Skimming the SparkNotes page for The Phenomenology of Spirit

From a slightly too-crowded room, weighted blnkt offers a cozy anthem to all the enigmatic crushes I had in college – though the group skips the all-black outfits, we do get a taste of the self-seriousness that can stem from reading too much Kant, as McCooey calls out "out into the snow / midnight repose / wandering through prose I used to espouse." But with Gatton's ad libs about Duke Deuce and childhood friends and the hazy feel of "sigma male anthem" takes a more tongue-in-cheek approach to insufferableness. Even as they sing of solitude, weighted blnkt's homespun style gives its music a sense of warmth that encourages us to stick around.

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Hometown: Nashville, Tenn.

Pairs well with: Choosing to not be the bigger person

Being bitter is frowned upon more often than not, but in this entry Jordan Lindley's animosity is the central wheel spinning this sneering song about getting left by an ex. Accompanied by a simple, strummed guitar pattern, "Dust" shines a light on all of the dark, negative and very human emotions that occur during the stages of a breakup. (Especially if you thought they would be The One™.) "Don't be kind enough to leave me / I'm so in love, I don't need you to love me / Don't go, rent's cheaper the longer we're in it / You'll regret it / Maybe you won't," Lindley sings, timid. In its last verse the song shifts from a fragile outpour of denial and desperation to disconcerting spite and revenge, as Lindley dreams of when his ex comes crawling back. "When you get close / I'll be a mouse trap / Disintegrate you / You deserve that / I can't wait."

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Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.

Pairs well with: Playing darts at the dive bar

The ability to put on a powerful performance in a small space is key to any great Tiny Desk concert – and A Very Special Episode has it down. The trio of self-described "NYC noise rockers'' told us it recorded its Tiny Desk Contest entry at a desk under the band members' office bed. In the video, guitarist Patrick Porter and drummer Chayse Schutter create a behemoth of sound that washes over the room. And like a new sheriff in town, bassist-singer Kasey Heisler steps into that dusty desert of sound, lavishly rhyming "mystery," "masculinity" and "toxicity" while plotting the demise of a no-good cowboy.

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Hometown: San Juan, Puerto Rico

Pairs well with: Laying in the park and looking up at the clouds

The Supa Crew, led by vocalist Luis Anchondo, exudes effortless confidence and craft. The group's Contest entry, "I Don't Wanna Wait," captures the feeling of floating away, the desire to escape to a lighter place and not come down any time soon. The song ebbs and flows from ethereal to jam to jazz, linked together by dreamy guitar solos and Anchondo's guiding voice. There are so many charming moments in this performance, from the recorder played at the beginning to Achondo's barefoot dancing to the scatting solos and percussion breakdowns. "I don't wanna wait, another moment in time," Achondo sings — The Supa Crew certainly isn't wasting any time.

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Hometown: San Juan, Puerto Rico

Pairs well with: Watering your plants in your dream house

With a spare and sweet acoustic guitar behind his voice, first-time Conest entrant Celso Garayúa describes expansive love: an idyllic house on the beach. The imagery is palpable here – palm trees swaying in the air, the hypnotizing sensuality of ocean tides, the dreamstate of drinking coffee by a window that overlooks the sea, with each chorus asking: "Who gave you this light?"

Surrounded by four white walls in a small courtyard with a few tropical plants, a big antique desk and natural light pouring in, it's as if for his video Garayúa actually went to the place his heart had imagined. Turns out it's not a far stretch from where he actually is – on an island filled with natural beauty (that we were happy to welcome to this year's Contest), Puerto Rico.

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Hometown: New York, N.Y.

Pairs well with: Tears blurring diary pages

Jack Braun, the singer-songwriter who performs as Jackfruit, opens their Tiny Desk Contest entry narrating an act of defiance: "I asked you to grow your hair out / So you slept with a girl from your book club," they sing. "Lou" was inspired by Lou Sullivan, the gay and transgender author and activist who died from AIDS-related complications. "If I can't live like you / I'll die like you instead," Braun repeats achingly over melancholy chords. Braun told us they wrote the song as a final project for a school class – but even without the educational context, it's easy to feel moved by the tender songwriting of "Lou." "I tried to grow a beard / You said it didn't look right," Braun sings, their raspy, gorgeous voice breaking with emotion. "Don't you think I know?"