Tiny Desk Contest Our 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

Hometown: Nashville, Tenn.

Pairs well with: Rocking chairs, western wear

It's hard not to root for someone wearing a light-up cowboy hat. Thankfully Madeleine Kelson and Evan Phillips easily justify this impulse with a moving country ballad about the beauty and mundanity of queer love. Kelson's voice is rich and warm as she croons: "Call me a sinner, and I'll call you a fool / Damn me to hell and I'll break you the news / If I don't get to heaven for loving her true, / God has never loved a woman the way I do." Trading boomboxes under windows for grocery store flowers, "The Way I Do" stands out as a testament to a steadier love that grows stronger year after year, and to that, I say yeehaw and amen.


Hometown: New York, N.Y.

Pairs well with: Penning a love letter to your flirty Trader Joe's cashier; Perfume Genius' Set My Heart On Fire Immediately

Sometimes a song pulls you in with an incredible title, an intriguing first line or an artist's potent emotion. This Tiny Desk Contest entry, "I had gay sex with god (it could've gone better)" by New York artist Juno Lev, does all three. "I saw god in a Trader Joe's / buying organic blueberries / prettiest man I'd ever seen," they begin. Throughout the song, Lev chronicles their love affair with a god who once kissed them in a grocery store parking lot but no longer returns their calls. The desperation in their voice builds over a gentle piano, but their faith doesn't waiver as they beg, "Mom, please don't get upset / cause now I'll be immortalized."


Hometown: Bellevue, Wash.

Pairs well with: A cabin trip with a fire pit for roasting marshmallows and deep talks; healing

Washington singer-songwriter Dalaine's 2023 Contest entry is an ode to the power of healing. Dalaine warms the room with her gentle but striking voice: " 'Cause I've done the battle and the warring with myself / When I'm back in the saddle you know I'll be gunning for more," she sings. The song itself is going through an uphill battle as it starts off slow and melodic but rises in volume and power halfway through as the strings get louder, the drums beat harder and Dalaine dominates the room with her passionate vocals.

Alisa Amador performs on the Tiny Desk Contest On The Road tour Farah Sosa/NPR hide caption

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Alisa Amador performs on the Tiny Desk Contest On The Road tour

Farah Sosa/NPR

We recently reached out to our 2022 Contest winner, Alisa Amador, about writing for the Tiny Desk Contest newsletter. She wrote about how the Contest changed her life and her advice to the Tiny Desk Contest community:

Hi. I'm Alisa (ah-LEE-sah). I won the Contest last year, and I never, ever imagined I would. Not because I don't believe in my art (although I'm sure I'm not alone when I say, sometimes it's freakin' hard to believe in yourself!), but because I never entered the Contest for the purpose of winning. I entered every year for five years because it always introduced me to fantastic artists. It reminded me that I actually wasn't alone — as much as it can seem so when you're an independent musician. There were thousands of other independent artists all over the country, sending in their original music, too.

Since winning the Contest in May 2022, I have toured all over the country, sharing the stage with some of the people I admire most, like Lake Street Dive, Madison Cunningham and Sammy Rae & the Friends; felt overwhelming joy as one of my biggest inspirations, Puerto Rican songwriter iLe, talked about my music on NPR; and played my first tour in the U.K. and Europe. (Also, I just found out that my next show in London is sold out, so I've had to add another show!)

All of this sounds very impressive but, what means the most to me in this new chapter of being a working musician is the community — is how not alone I feel. I really want people to know that the Tiny Desk Contest is a window into a whole community, and that it's the people who make the real difference. I want you to participate in this Contest because it will change your life, even if only in a small, but still significant way. Believing in your art enough to press "send" on the application: That changes your life. When you meet a new friend and source of inspiration through the Contest: That changes your life. When you realize you're not alone in this isolating industry: That changes your life.

I am so deeply grateful for the gifts the Contest has given me — before and after I won. I am about to go on tour throughout the U.S. with Emily Scott Robinson and Violet Bell. I have an amazing team that I trust. I am learning how to take care of myself, believe in myself and fight for a healthier music industry culture.

I've never liked the word "Contest." So, instead of calling it "entering the Contest," let's call it "entering the community." I invite you to enter the Tiny Desk community. Discover artists who inspire you. They might become some of your best friends (that's what happened to me with Cricket Blue, Hayley Sabella and Kaiti Jones). And remember that you are not alone. You are not alone.

Also, music is fun! I'd forgotten that for a while. I'm so grateful to be remembering it now.

The Tiny Desk Contest helped take Amador's music and career to the next level. Could you be next? Enter the Contest at npr.org/tinydeskcontest by March 13 at 11:59 p.m. ET.


Hometown: San Diego, Calif.

Pairs well with: Watching a pastel-colored sunset through an airplane window; new life

I didn't think the music of four-time Contest entrant Jesus Gonzalez could sound even more heavenly — but I was glad to be proven wrong by his 2023 entry, "Forever." Gonzalez's falsetto seems to float over the waltzing harp played by Kalendula Rose and violin played by Jamie Shadowlight. The result sounds like Bon Iver meets Tchaikovsky. And the San Diego-based artist's entry video looks as gorgeous as it sounds: Warm sunlight sprinkles across the room, creating shimmering rainbows on the harp; the instrumentalists' flowing dresses match the room's lace curtains. Gonzalez serves as a pillar in the center of it all, singing, "Let me be the one who delivers the heavens at your door."


Hometown: Springville, Utah

Pairs well with: Staring at a fire and pondering existential questions

"This song is about death :P" Little Moon describes its entry with a playful dissonance that immediately pulls you in. Submitted on opening day, "Wonder Eye" marks the group's confident return to the Tiny Desk Contest, and it's thrilling to see such an assured entry right out of the gate. Staged in a dark red room sprinkled with lit candles, lead singer Emma Hardyman sits on the floor while the rest of the group surrounds her in opposing colors. "Wonder Eye" starts with Hardyman's angelic voice floating above a delicately plucked guitar, but just as you're starting to get comfortable, a sudden shift introduces a heavy guitar, drum and bassline, juxtaposed with dreamy harp and synth keyboard. "Is it a tale that we make true in the telling? / Is there a knowledge that is found not in knowing?" Nathan Hardyman sings, in lyrics that capture the musical contrast. Little Moon explores these clashing questions with harmony and intention. For a song about death, "Wonder Eye" is full of life.


The 2023 Tiny Desk Contest, our annual search for the next great undiscovered artist to play a Tiny Desk concert, opened for entries at 10 a.m. ET today — and musician Karen Bridges submitted her entry at a cool 10:01. The Bloomington, Ill., singer-songwriter performs her ballad "Break Me Down" while playing a piano (beside a desk) in a dimly lit studio.

"I'm not gonna let you break me / I'm not gonna let you break me down," Bridges repeats, her stunning voice radiating throughout the space with each repetition. She told us the song "was born out of the struggles of being a woman making music in a small midwestern town."

Bridges has now entered the Contest three times, so she certainly knows what she's doing on the video production side — but newcomers, don't let her sharp multi-camera setup discourage you from entering. Our judges, a mix of Tiny Desk producers and artists who have already played the Tiny Desk, will be selecting a winner based on who has the best song. Recording an entry on your iPhone, at your kitchen table, is perfectly fine.

The Contest will be open until March 13 at 11:59 p.m. ET. Unsigned artists who are 18 years or older and living in the 50 United States, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico or U.S.V.I. can submit their entries at npr.org/tinydeskcontest. And we'll be featuring more standout entries over the next few months here on the Contest blog, so stay tuned.

Want to play your own Tiny Desk concert? The 2023 Contest is now open for entries

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The bric-a-brac-stacked shelves of the Tiny Desk. NPR hide caption

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The bric-a-brac-stacked shelves of the Tiny Desk.


The Tiny Desk Contest, NPR Music's annual search for the next great undiscovered artist, is back!

First, let's meet this year's esteemed panel. Returning judges Bob Boilen (Tiny Desk series creator and All Songs Considered host) and Bobby Carter (Tiny Desk series producer) will be joined by five new experts: The inimitable Sharon Van Etten, who performed behind the original Tiny Desk in 2010 and then played again at today's Tiny Desk; Baby Rose, who graced the Desk with her incredible voice in early 2020; fellow Tiny Desk alum Sudan Archives, a gifted singer and violinist whose sound pulls from R&B, hip-hop and experimental electronic music and, last but not least, Albina Cabrera of KEXP, a champion of independent musicians and Latin American music. Each of these judges has an ear for exceptional talent, is passionate about up-and-coming artists and knows exactly what it takes to perform behind the Tiny Desk.

Are you an unsigned artist 18 years or older? Here's how to enter:

  1. Record a video of you playing one original song behind a desk.
  2. Upload your video to YouTube.
  3. Submit your video at npr.org/tinydeskcontest before the Contest closes on March 13 at 11:59 p.m. ET.

The winner will play a Tiny Desk concert, be interviewed on All Things Considered and headline our Tiny Desk Contest On The Road tour. But even if you don't win, there are tons of ways you might benefit from entering – first, you join a supportive community of creatives from across the country. You also have a ton of opportunities to be featured by NPR Music over the next few months – we'll be sharing standout entries on the Contest blog, on NPR Music's social channels, on YouTube as part of our annual Top Shelf series and more.

We're also expanding our Tiny Desk Contest On The Road tour this summer. After this year's winner plays their Tiny Desk concert, they'll hit the road to play shows alongside other entrants in Los Angeles, Oakland, Houston, Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Brooklyn.

Questions? We recommend first completing this quick checklist to make sure your video is eligible to win. You could also check out our FAQs, or if you're feeling ambitious, the official Contest rules.

One last, important thing to keep in mind: Your video doesn't need to be fancy. The Tiny Desk was born as a DIY project and is a space where artists perform stripped-down sets. While some of our winners had ambitious entry videos, most filmed theirs while simply sitting at their regular old desks in their bedrooms and basements. Our judges are looking for artists with a story to tell, a new perspective to share and a singular talent. Show us what you've got.


Xavier Dphrepaulezz, who performs as Fantastic Negrito, has always wanted to "tell the stories that will make us think; the ones that will make us grow." He entered the first-ever Tiny Desk Contest in 2015 with that dream and a video he shot in one take. And after winning, Dphrepaulezz slowly began to realize how it would change his life — that there would "be a huge spotlight put on" what he was doing, he says. "It was going to be like busking on the streets — on steroids," he laughs.

Since winning the inaugural Contest, Dphrepaulezz has gone on to headline world tours, win three Grammy Awards, release a handful of albums and become a catalyst for creativity in his local Oakland community. NPR Music recently caught up with him while on tour for his latest studio album, White Jesus Black Problems.

Dphrepaulezz says the album was inspired by his desire to tell the story of his seventh-generation grandparents, an interracial couple who lived in Virginia in the 1950s. "It was a story of courage, a story of perseverance, a story of inspiration and a story of good old-fashioned, roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-something-done," he shares.

One thing that has remained the same since winning the Contest all those years ago: his humility. "I have an attitude of gratitude," says the multi-Grammy Award winner. "I don't expect anything."


"This feels like a moment where I'm restarting, in a way ... a career that I've worked so hard at for so long," says 2022 Tiny Desk Contest winner Alisa Amador, reflecting on what was likely one of the craziest months of her life.

Just a few days after finding out she won this year's Contest, Amador flew from her Boston home to Washington, D.C. for her Tiny Desk concert – the first show at my Desk with an audience in over 2 years. The day after that performance Amador hit the road, headlining our month-long, cross-country Tiny Desk Contest On The Road tour.

NPR's video team recently caught up with Amador in Brooklyn at our final tour stop to hear how her life has changed – from the first time she entered the Contest, 6 years ago, to finding out her 2022 entry, "Milonga accidental," rose to the top of the thousands we received. This is her journey.

Retro soul shines in Micah Edwards' Tiny Desk Contest entry 'Jean Leon'

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A Houston store decorated with an old Pac-Man arcade game and a vintage typewriter sets the scene for Micah Edwards' Tiny Desk Contest entry, "Jean Leon" — and Edwards and his eight band members fill the space with a retro Texas soul sound to match. His upbeat sound and sentimental lyrics are part of what made his entry stand out to this year's Tiny Desk Contest judges (including Japanese Breakfast's Michelle Zauner, who highlighted the entry in the Tiny Desk Contest Top Shelf series) – it's one of a handful of impressive entries Weekend Edition is featuring this month.

Edwards says he wrote the song, which is the title track of his debut record, about weighing some heavy relationship decisions. "On the surface, it sounds like a summer bop," he tells Weekend Edition's Ayesha Rascoe. "But when you look into the lyrics a little bit," he adds with a laugh, "you're like, 'Ooh man, maybe I should be crying!' " When he wrote the song, his parents were going through a divorce. "It's really me singing to my parents' marriage and the expectations I had for myself as a husband and a father," he says.

Edwards takes influence from 1970s Texas soul artists, but also drew on many different sounds in crafting his album. "What I'm trying to create is a blend of that retro vibe with country and Americana," he explains — to "create that's uniquely my own and I could really be proud of," he says.

Family and faith are two major themes in his music, and Edwards says spirituality plays an important role in his creative process. "I was able to use songwriting as a way to process pain and frustration and confusion and grief and loss," he explains. "Spirituality and my faith was the only way I got through the past few years." He says he uses music to process baggage from the family he grew up with and to guide the family he's building now. "I took it to Jesus and he just so happened to give me melodies back," says Edwards. "I know this [album] is gonna be a time capsule because the Lord has more for us, more for my family, more for me. We're gonna grow through this," he adds.

He knows everyone who listens to the album won't have the same experiences with faith that he has, but there's a message he wants all listeners to know: "The lies we hear about ourselves are so wrong – whether it's family or your boss or society telling you who you are or this is where you're gonna be. All of that's just noise. The only person that can define where you're headed is you."

Web adaptation by Elle Mannion. You can head here to read, listen and watch more from the 2022 Tiny Desk Contest.

A rock climber takes the Tiny Desk Contest to new heights

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Lillian Frances' Tiny Desk Contest entry is off the wall – literally. The Sacramento-based artist, who describes herself as a "sonic collager" with an "alt-pop style," filmed her entry video from a portaledge on the side of a cliff in Lake Tahoe. Her striking video – which shows her climbing up the mountain, setting up on the cliff and sporting tiny-desk jewelry – stood out among (or above, you might say) the thousands of entries NPR Music received for this year's Contest.

Rock climbing and music are Frances' two passions, so she decided to do both at the same time. "It just hit me one day!" she tells Weekend Edition's Scott Simon. "Like, oh duh, portaledge concert, obviously." Frances' idea was ambitious, but she was up for the challenge. "After a lot of planning (finding someone with a portaledge, tracking down climbing videographers, finding the right crag, setting up a totally portable music set) and a whole lot of optimism, we finally set out to accomplish this goal," she shares.

Her song "Gravestone Feel," took on a new meaning when she performed it for her Contest entry. It's about "trying to live life to the absolute fullest, take on adventure and do things you've never done before," she says. "So in a lot of ways, this was the perfect song to sing hanging off a cliff."

Frances says she's not drawn to a particular genre, but makes her creative decisions "based on experimenting, and then just selecting the little pieces that stoke me out," like the electronic beats that elegantly contrast the natural world surrounding her in the video. "I love the synthesis of natural and organic and synthesized," she says. "That's kind of what music is to me and what life is to me."

Web adaptation by Elle Mannion. You can head here to read, listen and watch more from the 2022 Tiny Desk Contest.

Wryn's Tiny Desk Contest entry sends love and affirmation to transgender youth

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"These are things that I'm personally processing: the anger, the frustration, the love," says Wryn. "And most of the time, what I'm writing about is things that are almost too big for me to talk about." Kait De Angelis/Wryn hide caption

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Kait De Angelis/Wryn

"These are things that I'm personally processing: the anger, the frustration, the love," says Wryn. "And most of the time, what I'm writing about is things that are almost too big for me to talk about."

Kait De Angelis/Wryn

In their 2022 Tiny Desk Contest entry, Wryn sits alone in a room with an acoustic guitar. After taking a meditative sigh, they quietly begin strumming, leading into their song, "Pushing." "Everybody's pushing up against you / And you are who you are who you are who you are / And nothing's gonna change you," they sing.

The somber serenity of their voice is reminiscent of songwriters like Angel Olsen or Julien Baker, occasionally rising to a full-bodied burst before quietly subsiding into the verses of the song. That serenity is why the judges of the 2022 Tiny Desk Contest named Wryn's performance as one of this year's standouts, and over the next few weeks Weekend Edition is highlighting some notable entries from the contest.


The song "Pushing," Wryn tells NPR's Ayesha Rascoe, was inspired by a time in their life when they were confronted with the difficulties many trans youth face when accessing health care.

"During this time, I was also helping a young trans teen in my family get the health care that they need, try to find the right doctors, the right therapists, jumping through all of the hoops," the artist says, who is also trans and nonbinary. "It's this mix of emotions — frustration with the system, even in a place like California where it's not illegal, like what's going on in so much of the rest of the country."

When asked if there's a message they want to send to trans youth in a year when they've been particularly targeted, Wryn says: "Every day, these kids are waking up and they're seeing headlines and they're seeing news and they're seeing thinkpieces about them. But they're not objects — they're people. All of these adults are saying that they shouldn't exist; that they aren't real. The main thing I want to send to them is just another voice saying, 'No, you should not be the ones to change. The world should be changing for you.'"

For Wryn, music has taught them a lot about themselves, particularly their relationship to gender. Currently working on their first full-length album, a collection of songs written in the last few years, the big topics they explore in their music are deeply personal to them.

"These are things that I'm personally processing: the anger, the frustration, the love," they say. "Most of the time, what I'm writing about is things that are almost too big for me to talk about. It's just a vehicle to release those emotions, and hopefully also connect with people and show some empathy."

You can listen to this story using the audio player at the top of this page.

Yosmel Montejo performing in Los Angeles Farah Sosa/NPR hide caption

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Yosmel Montejo performing in Los Angeles

Farah Sosa/NPR

After the winner of the Tiny Desk Contest claims the grand prize — playing an actual Tiny Desk concert — NPR Music takes them on tour across the country. This year's Tiny Desk Contest On The Road tour was a victory lap for 2022 winner Alisa Amador, who was met by thousands of new fans, and also showcased local talents in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Seattle, Los Angeles and New York, as three Contest entrants performed alongside Amador each night.

Tour began in Washington, D.C. — the city that's home to Bob Boilen's Tiny Desk — with an eclectic lineup of artists from the area. Everyday Everybody kicked off the night with an energetic set; Outerloop kept the energy high performing its loud, invigorating, cathartic songs; and 2021 Contest winner NEFFY put on a breathtaking acoustic performance, including a rendition of her Contest-winning song, "Wait Up."

In Atlanta, O'She Tyght kicked off the show with soulful rap songs, Alto Moon brought the heat with his theatrical set and stunning voice, and Yah Yah and her crew put on a groovy R&B performance that had the whole crowd dancing.

Yah Yah performing in Atlanta Josephine Figueroa/NPR hide caption

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Yah Yah performing in Atlanta

Josephine Figueroa/NPR

In Seattle, Halley Greg and her band played a handful of what they called "bluesy feminist rock songs." Then, in Helmer Noel's first-ever live gig, he dazzled the audience with his exquisite voice and natural stage presence. And Ollella put on a moving performance with her impressive cello looping.

In Los Angeles, Yosmel Montejo and his band kicked off the night with a lively set, and he also had an inspiring message for the audience: "We all came here because of a dream. Don't quit. Just go for it." Jack Rabbit took the stage next, performing songs about heartbreak, friendship and queer joy. And Pocket Queen closed out the night, wowing the crowd with a skillful, drum-heavy performance.

Amador and her band put on joyful, jazzy performances across the entire tour, prompting celebratory encores and standing ovations from fans who'd fallen in love with her heartfelt lyrics and beautiful melodies.

A.J. Hines of Seratones performing in New York Itzel Alejandra Martinez/NPR hide caption

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Itzel Alejandra Martinez/NPR

A.J. Hines of Seratones performing in New York

Itzel Alejandra Martinez/NPR

Eventually, the tour wrapped up with a night to remember in New York. For the first time ever, a handful of Contest winners performed as part of the same lineup at the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival in Prospect Park. Amador kicked off the night, making herself right at home on the biggest stage she's performed on yet. Then, 2020 winner and New York native Linda Diaz took the stage to play her gorgeous R&B songs. Next, Seratones (one of many past entrants who, despite not winning the Contest, have gone on to play the Tiny Desk) took over and rocked the park. And for the grand finale, our first-ever Contest winner and three-time Grammy winner Fantastic Negrito put on an incredible performance, playing the song he won the Contest with and selections from his new album, White Jesus Black Problems.

What was really special to us, besides watching all of their incredible live sets, was seeing these artists support one another: Each artist shouted out the others from the stage, congratulated this year's winner and lifted the Contest and their local music communities up every evening.

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The eight winners of the Tiny Desk Contest — our annual search for a great unsigned artist to play a Tiny Desk concert — have all gone on to do great things, from performing on world tours to winning Grammy Awards. Today, we're taking a moment to highlight one of these artists: the beloved Gaelynn Lea, winner of our 2016 Contest. The Duluth, Minn., native won with a video of her song "Someday We'll Linger In The Sun," which she recorded on her phone in the space where she taught fiddle lessons. Gaelynn Lea makes music unlike anyone else. Her beautiful folk melodies are often rooted in the sounds of Irish fiddle tunes. She also has brittle bone disease, which makes it necessary for her to play her instrument in an inventive and unique style.

"The Contest definitely changed my life," Lea told NPR Music last year. Since winning, she's toured the world and co-founded a coalition that amplifies disability culture in the music industry. She's also writing a book. Most recently, she wrote music for the Broadway adaptation of Macbeth – the director of the play first discovered her music from her Tiny Desk concert – which she hopes will help bring disability culture into the mainstream. "Celebrating disability, rather than just accommodating it, is the next step in the journey to really valuing diversity," she says.

NPR's Tiny Desk video team recently met with our 2016 Contest winner during production on Macbeth to hear about her journey from the Tiny Desk to Broadway. We're proud to share that video here today.

It surely was a day of joyful tears. And those joyful tears for Alisa Amador, the winner of the 2022 Tiny Desk Contest, came at a time when she had been considering putting her music career on hold. For the staff of NPR and the Tiny Desk crew, it was our first Tiny Desk concert with an audience in over 800 days, and Alisa's captivating music surely intensified our spinning emotions.

Alisa Amador opened with her Contest-winning entry "Milonga accidental," a song about embracing your contradictions. It's a song that our judges — iLe, Big Krit, Michelle Zauner (of Japanese Breakfast), Raveena, Nate Chinen (of member station WBGO), Tiny Desk producer Bobby Carter and I — all found to be so filled with passion. I often fall for a song because of the lyrics, and this is the first Tiny Desk Contest winner whose winning song is in Spanish. Despite the fact that I don't speak Spanish, I felt the conflict, the yearning and the song's questioning.

Alisa grew up in Boston, Maine, Puerto Rico and Argentina, and was raised by Rosi and Brian Amador, her Latin-folk musician parents who play in the band Sol y Canto; they were also in attendance. She's been singing since she was four, and has been entering the Tiny Desk Contest every year since 2018. In fact, the song "Together," which closes this concert, was an astonishing entry from 2020. For COVID safety, we limited the audience to a small group of masked NPR employees, yet the sing-along for the closing track was still powerful.

Alisa also set her winning song to a lovely string arrangement performed by a Washington D.C. quartet and rehearsed for the first time just hours before the performance. The arrangements were originally done by Jamie Oshima after a recording session a few years back, and then Alisa's friend Noah Fishman transcribed the arrangement. For the next three songs, she's joined by Jamie Oshima (guitar, keys), Noah Harrington (bass) and Jacob Thompson (drums, keys).

"When will I know how to decipher my purpose? / When will I feel at home in my voice?" As Alisa sings those words to her winning entry in Spanish at the Tiny Desk, I'm thinking: Perhaps that moment is now.


  • "Milonga accidental"
  • "Timing"
  • "Slow Down"
  • "Together"


  • Alisa Amador: vocals, guitar
  • Jamie Oshima: guitar, keys
  • Noah Harrington: bass
  • Jacob Thompson: drums, keys
  • Kristin Bakkegard: violin
  • Nick Montopoli: violin
  • Paul Bagley: viola
  • Carol Anne Bosco: cello


  • Producers: Bob Boilen, Kara Frame, Lia Crockett, Elle Mannion
  • Audio Recording & Mix Engineer: Josh Rogosin
  • Series Producer: Bobby Carter
  • Editor: Joshua Bryant
  • Videographers: Kara Frame, Joshua Bryant, Alanté Serene, Estefania Mitre
  • Production Assistant: Jill Britton
  • Tiny Desk Team: Michael Zamora, Ashley Pointer, Dwi Partowardojo, Bill Wright, Stacey Foxwell, Maia Stern, Suraya Mohamed
  • Tiny Desk Contest Team: Jessica Goldstein, Devon Williams
  • VP, Visuals and Music: Keith Jenkins
  • Senior VP, Programming: Anya Grundmann

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.