Friday, December 31, 2010

It's Hotel FM for Romania!

After a MARATHON of a preselection, spanning over five hours (and technically, two years!), the Romanians have come up with their representative to Eurovision for 2011.  After coming in 4th place during last year's Selecţia Naţională with their song "Come as One", Oradea-based band Hotel FM will go to Düsseldorf with their song "Change".

It's a light, poppy song that reminds me a bit of Simon Mathew's "All Night Long" for Denmark from a few years back.  It's got a light, happy message that often fits nicely into Eurovision, and it's completely inoffensive.  (Plus, it seems that the lead singer is British, which would explain why his English is so flawless!)  I'm not sure if it's as much of a standout as Paula and Ovi's "Playing with Fire" from last year, which took Romania to a 3rd place finish.  But this will likely crack into the finals, with 12 points from Moldova, as per usual. 

This is likely my last message to you all in 2010 (although it's already past midnight in Europe!)...I just want to wish all of my readers the happiest, healthiest, and most prosperous year for 2011!  I hope to continue bringing you all the best in news, opinions, and predictions...and I hope you're along for the ride with me!


This just in: Yüksek Sadakat for Turkey

Within the last few moments, Turkish network TRT has announced that rock band Yüksek Sadakat (literally, "High Fidelity") will be representing the nation in Germany.  The group was formed in 1997, but really hit the big time in early 2006.  They're known for blending pop-rock with traditional Turkish sounds.  This selection not only defies the rumors of either Atiye Deniz or Tarkan's participation in the contest this year (then again, rumors surround Tarkan nearly every year), but it also goes against the recent trend for the Turks to alternate between rock and hip-shaking pop!

More information is coming...but from all indications, this is not a bad way to kick off the New Year!  (You know how I love it when the Turks rock the house!)

43 Nations in Düsseldorf

We all knew that the EBU would be releasing the official list of participating nations sometime after Christmas, and, as anticipated, they came through for us on New Year's Eve!  After the dust has all settled, it looks like we will, in fact, have 43 nations competing in Eurovision 2011.  Slovakia, after hemming and hawing over their decision, has decided to join the party in Germany, along with the aforementioned returns from San Marino, Hungary, Italy, and Austria.  Also, this will be the first ESC since Kiev in 2005 where there have been no withdrawals!  Furthermore, as Italy has been such a major financial contributor to the EBU, they automatically qualify for the final as a member of the newly-minted "Big Five", alongside France, Spain, the United Kingdom, and hosts Germany.

The complete list of participating nations, along with their national broadcasters, is after the jump:

Monday, December 27, 2010

Another country returns to Eurovision!

...And the good news continues to come in!  Adding to a string of nations returning to the ESC stage, today brought news of Hungarian broadcaster MTV (no, not that MTV...we're talking Magyar Televízió!) confirming that they will, in fact, be represented in Düsseldorf!  That makes the 4th nation returning to the competition (including Austria, Italy, and San Marino).  Hungary's last participation was back in 2009, with stage performer Zoltan "Zoli" Ádok's disco-pop number "Dance with Me", which didn't qualify for the finals.  (Zoli's performance did, however, win the infamous "Barbara Dex Award", a dubious honor presented to the evening's worst-dressed performer.)

The jury is still out on Slovakia, so to speak.  They had said back in early December that 2011 was a no-go, but rumors of their participation still hovered around them.  Supposedly, they had applied to be on the provisional list of participants, with the option of withdrawing their names by Christmastime.  We haven't heard any confirmations one way or the other, so we'll have to wait for the EBU's official verdict on who's in and who's out, which should come any day now.  If Slovakia rejoins the competition, that means that the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest will be tied with 2008 for the record as the biggest event ever, with 43 participating nations!  Unfortunately, applications from Liechtenstein and Qatar to join the EBU were rejected for the time being, so we won't see any debuts from them (or any other nation) at the moment.  But there's always 2012!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Look for the ESC Insider on Facebook and Twitter!

Just a quick note: I've just created a Facebook page for the ESC Insider.  Look us up, "like" us, and join in the fun!  Start a discussion, ask questions, and write up reviews and opinions of your own!  I also just created an account on Twitter (@escinsider), which I'll try to sync up with the facebook updates.  (I'm new to the world of Twitter, so bear with me as I learn the basics!)

I look forward to seeing you there!  Spread the word, and join the party!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

It's Aurela Gaçe for Albania!

Well, the 2010 Festivali i Këngës has just wrapped up, and with a commanding victory, Albania has decided that their representative in Düsseldorf will be Aurela Gaçe, with her song "Kënga Ime (My Song)".  The 36-year old Aurela is no newcomer to the Albanian music scene; she won the FiK in 1999 and 2001, soon before her nation took part in Eurovision.  Albania, in the past, has taken advantage of the long time frame between their National Selection and Eurovision itself to edit, remix, and even translate their song into English (which shouldn't be difficult, as Aurela currently resides in New York), so it's hard to say what Albania's final version will look and sound like.  As it now stands, the song is over the 3 minute time length that Eurovision rules enforce, so something will have to change from the original version to the one we'll see on stage in Germany.

(I'd normally post the video of the song here, but it seems that most of the versions of "Kënga Ime" that were on YouTube or DailyMotion have either been removed or have disabled embedding...but here's a link!)

What do you think?  How does it stack up to last year's entry, "Nuk Mundem Pa Ty/It's All About You" from the lovely Juliana Pasha?  It came in 16th place in Oslo's final, after a 6th place semifinal finish.  Do you think Aurela will be able to best Juliana's benchmark, or even the national-record 7th place, set by Anjeza Shahini's "The Image of You" back in 2004?  I like the drama that Aurela brings to the song (not to mention her incredibly strong vocal prowess), and I'm still looking for lyrics to connect to the powerful melody.  Let's see what the future holds for this one!

Happy Holidays!

I just wanted to take a quick moment to wish all of my readers a Merry Christmas, Happy (Belated) Hanukkah, Festive Yule, and best wishes for every other holiday that I might be missing.  I still feel so honored and touched to see my flag counter grow, adding another country to my list.  (I'd still love to know more about you, my readers...feel free to leave comments!)  No matter where you are, or who you are, I hope the joy and spirit of the season reaches you.

Albania will be giving us their customary Christmas gift in a few hours with the announcement of the winner of the 49th Festivali i Këngës, which has become their national preselection for Eurovision.  As soon as it's announced, I'll pass along the news to you all!  (And I know that I'm supposed to be impartial, but if you must know, I'm supporting Kamela Islamaj all the way!  She rocked the FiK last year with Gjëra të thjeshta, and she's following it up with more rock...I'd love to know more about her, so if anyone from Albania or Kosovo has more information on her biography or singing career, please share it with us!  Any album out, possibly?)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Welcome Back, San Marino!

I hope you can pardon the bit of a pause between my last post to now (what can I say...between my full-time job and the craziness of the Holiday season...).  But I'm back in full force, and thrilled to deliver some wonderful Eurovision News to you all.  As of today, Eurovision 2011 will welcome at least 41 competing nations to the stage in Düsseldorf, as we've just heard that San Marino will return after a two-year absence.  The tiny nation made their first (and, until now, only) appearance on the stage in Belgrade back in 2008, with local band MiOdio's slinky, sexy "Complice (Accomplice)", a song that I could easily imagine being played over the opening credits of a James Bond movie.

"Complice" was incredibly underrated in Serbia that year, ending up in dead last place (having only received five points in total, split between the Andorran and Greek audiences).  San Marino, therefore, joined the ignominious club of last-placed Eurovision debuts, alongside Portugal, Turkey, the Czech Republic, and Lithunania.

MiOdio has had continued success in San Marino and Italy, having competed in the San Remo festival with their song "Perdo Contatto" and releasing quite a few great singles beyond that, including the catchy "It's OK" and "Oltre e Nuvole", a take-off of Romania's debut Eurovision entry, of all things.  But we haven't seen a representative from SMRTV since the Belgrade contest.

Now that Italy is back in the game, San Marino will finally have an ally in the competition.  Time will tell who the Sanmarinese representative in Germany will be, but considering that the entire Republic has only about 30,000 residents, they may be prone to scouting out foreign artists, like the Swiss, Luxembourgish, and Monegasque have done in the past.  If they do, that might bring in even more foreign points to the microstate.  As soon as I get more information on the Sanmarinese selection, I'll serve it up to you!

Interesting point of trivia: unless the Vatican joins up, which is highly unlikely, San Marino is the smallest nation, by population, that can possibly take part in Eurovision.  By area, however, Monaco is still smaller (about 1/30th of the size)!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Major news from Armenia!

Another day, another confirmation...

Armenian broadcaster ARMTV announced that an internal selection process has chosen Emma Bejanyan (better known to the Eurovision world as "Emmy") as their representative in Düsseldorf this May.  I've mentioned Emmy in an earlier post; her duet with Mihran "Hey (Let Me Hear You Say)" came in second place in last year's National Final to Eva Rivas's "Apricot Stone".  While Eva did perform well in Oslo, coming in 7th place, it seems that Armenia didn't want to let Emmy go by the wayside.  A public call for songs has been established, and we should know what she will perform within the next few months.

In the meantime, here's a little sampling of some of Emmy's other work:

So, what do you think?  Does Emmy have a shot at besting the 4th-place finish set by Sirusho back in 2008?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

We Have a Winner!

...And, it starts!

The first official Preselection of the year has just finished in Switzerland, and so the first official entry for Eurovision 2011 has been hammered down.  Out of twelve songs, sung in English, French, Italian, Swiss-German, and even Albanian, with genres ranging from teen-pop to country to rock to acapella and back again, one winner reigned supreme:

Congratulations  go out to Anna Rossinelli and her song "In Love for a While"!

Following my hypothesis that last year's winner creates next year's trend, Anna's sweet, youthful brand of pop isn't a far cry from Lena Meyer-Landrut's carefree style from last year (and, come to think of it, this year, as well!).  "In Love for a While" reminds me of Colbie Caillat's monster hit "Bubbly" (which, incidentally, hit #11 on the Swiss charts).  Honestly, this might be a bit of a strike against her; whenever I try to think of this song, "Bubbly" pops into my head instead.  This 23-year old native of Basel seems to be unsigned at the moment (which I doubt will stay the case for much longer).  Let's see if she can finally crack back into the Finals, a goal that the Swiss have missed since 2006 (when they automatically qualified for it).

Best of luck, Anna!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Even Bigger Breaking News than What I Told You Yesterday!!!

More details are to come, I'm sure, but it looks like the wishes of Eurovision Fans for over 13 years have finally come to fruition...

Welcome back, Italy!!!!!!

The EBU has announced within the last hour that Italian broascaster RAI has received a bid to participate in Düsseldorf.  While they reserve the right to withdraw before Christmas with no penalty, this is a much bigger step towards ESC participation than they have taken in many, many years.  Furthermore, as RAI is one of the largest financial contributors to the EBU, they have clinched a spot in the Finals as a member of the newly-minted "Big Five", along with France, Spain, the UK, and hosts Germany.  This means that the 2011 Final will have 25 participants, instead of 24 (the host gets an automatic bid to the Final, but because that's Germany this year, they were down one entrant).  Remember, the last time we saw Italy was in 1997, with Jalisse's "Fiumi Di Parole", and they have two victories under their belt: 1964'a "Non Ho L'eta" and 1990's "Insieme: 1992".

More information to come, as the EBU is having a huge meeting over the next few days to hammer out details (including the possible admission of channels from Hungary, Liechtenstein, and Qatar...more debuts, possibly?), but I'm so happy to share this bit of news with you all!

Baci e benvenuti, Italia!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Quick Breaking News from Bosnia-Herzegovina!

Within the last half-hour, Bosnian broadcaster BHT-1 announced that this year's representative for Eurovision will be:

Dino Merlin!

It looks like Germany's Lena won't be the only ESC veteran on stage in Düsseldorf; Dino was the composer and co-lyricist for BiH's debut entry, "Sva Bol Svieta (The Whole World's Pain)", back in 1993, and he performed onstage in Jerusalem in 1999 with the beautiful ethnic-infused "Putnici (Travelers)", a bilingual R&B song sung with French singer Béatrice Poulot.  "Putnici" gave Bosnia and Herzegovina their second-highest result ever, a very respectable 7th place out of 23 entrants.  Here's their performance (with a bit of German commentary).

Over the past few years, Bosnia has become one of my personal favorite ESC contributors.  The song will be revealed at a later date, but with the recruitment of Dino Merlin to the fray once again, we might see echoes of Bosnia's best-ranked song, 2006's stunning "Lejla".  By bringing back a veteran of the local music scene (and of the ESC), and the hope of reviving the ethnic flavors that nearly brought the country victory, it seems that Bosnia-Herzegovina is more serious than ever about taking the trophy to Sarajevo in 2012.  I can't wait to see what Dino serves up!

(EDIT:  The plot thickens...Hari Mata Hari, who sung "Lejla" in Athens, was originally supposed to have sung for Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1999.  However, because their entry had been released to the public too early, they were disqualified, giving Dino and Béatrice their ticket to Jerusalem with "Putnici".  Furthermore, Dino has worked with and produced songs for Hari Mata Hari.  Even more, he has collaborated with Željko Joksimović, who was the Serbian & Montenegrin representative to the 2004 ESC with "Lane Moje", host of the 2008 contest, composer of Serbia's entry that same year...and the author of "Lejla"!  If things keep connecting like this, we might end up seeing Kevin Bacon as a backing singer...) 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving from the ESC Insider!

Well, for our American readers, I'd like to wish you all a Happy Belated Thanksgiving!  I hope you've all had your fill of your favorites, especially turkey!  Chatting back and forth with my friends Tarkan and Roy (a Turk living in Germany and a South African, respectively), I realize that I've sort of taken Thanksgiving for granted over the past few years.  I mean, I love getting together with my family over the traditional holiday meal, devouring the turkey, stuffing, green beans, cranberry-flavored-everything, and pie, and washing them all down with generous glasses of Riesling and Pinot Noir.  To me, it's become very much a family gathering, but I've forgotten over the years how much of an American holiday it truly is.  (For our non-US readers, it's basically the recounting of the story of how some of the first European settlers arrived on the Continent from England, made it through a harsh winter with the help of the local Patuxet tribe, and celebrated their endurance and survival the next year by sharing a feast with the Native Americans.  It's a bit more complicated than that, but that's sort of a "Thanksgiving 101".)  I'm not proud of everything that my country has done over the last few centuries.  Heck, I can barely watch an episode of the news nowadays without suppressing the need to roll my eyes every once in a while.  But I am proud of who I am, and where I come from. Thanksgiving, more than any other holiday, in my opinion, honors the idea that the United States is a nation made up mostly of immigrants (and their descendants), blended together over the years.

So, what does this little commentary have to do with Eurovision, anyway?

Well, in honor of Thanksgiving, one of the most American of Holidays, I'd like to dedicate this entry to the U.S.-born performers who have graced the stage across the pond.  Some carried the banner of their family's homeland from generations ago, and others simply found their niche and opportunity when it arose.  (And please note: when I say "American", I mean "from the United States", rather than from the American continent as a whole.  I might honor Canadians in a separate posting!)

The earliest example of an American singing at Eurovision that I could find seems to be from 1979: Jeane Manson, an Ohio-born former Playboy centerfold, represented Luxembourg with "J'ai Déjà Vu Ça Dans Tes Yeux (I've Already Seen It In Your Eyes)", coming in 13th out of 19 entries that year.  Jeane was living in France at the time, and had already established a pretty decent singing and acting career in the Francophone world.  I believe that this was the first (and, so far, only) time that an American has performed in Eurovision using a language other than English.

The most successful American to grace the ESC stage was Topeka, Kansas-born Katrina Leskanich, the lead singer of Katrina and the Waves.  Their 1997 victory with "Love Shine a Light" was the most recent win for the United Kingdom, the country where Katrina had been living since she was 16.  Otherwise best known for their global hit "Walking on Sunshine", Katrina and her band not only clinched the win, but did so with the biggest margin of victory in ESC history, a record that would stand until Lordi's win for "Hard Rock Hallelujah" in 2006.  Here's the winning performance (with a bit of Dutch commentary; skip to 1:15 for the start of the song.)

In 2006, New York-born, Greek-American singer Annet Artani (birth name: Annette Denise Stamatelatos) represented Cyrpus with the song "Why Angels Cry", a well-sung, yet completely forgettable ballad that failed to break out of the semi-finals, even though she had the benefit of performing in Athens.

Two years later, Seattle-born Isis Gee (aka Tamara Wimer) took the stage for Poland with "For Life", another big-voiced ballad.  Isis, once a participant in the Miss America pageant system, moved to Warsaw in 2004 after marrying into a Polish family.  She soon released a pop album, and entered the Polish ESC preselection, winning by a pretty major landslide.  Although she made it out of the semifinal in Belgrade that year, she only won 14 points in the final, tying for last place with Germany and the United Kingdom. 

More successful that year was another New York-born Greek-American, Kalomoira Sarantis, and her song "Secret Combination".  She had previously won the Greek edition of Star Academy and was riding a wave of popularity in her adopted homeland, despite the fact that she barely spoke Greek when she arrived in Athens for the first time.  She took the Belgrade event by storm, with her Britney Spears-meets-bouzouki mashup coming in a very respectable 3rd place (after winning her semifinal).

2009 brought a double-whammy of American representation: Germany not only brought in Californian singer Oscar Loya to sing "Miss Kiss Kiss Bang", but they brought in the lovely Dita von Teese (a native of Michigan) to perform during the song itself.  Sadly, Oscar and Dita only came in 20th place out of 25 (although Germany more than made up for it the next year...)

So, to all of those Yankees who have crossed the ocean to try their luck at Europe's biggest music festival, I salute you!  Whether you took home the gold or didn't even crack into the finals, you've made us proud!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Congratulations and Condolences...

I've only got a quick moment to write, but I just wanted to cover two quick points...

1) On November 20, the 2010 Junior Eurovision Song Contest was held in Minsk, Belarus.  I mentioned the JESC briefly in the past, but for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, it's a smaller-scale contest for performers under the age of 16 (the minimum age to compete in the full Eurovision).  This year, 14 songs were submitted, mostly from Eastern Europe.  Despite all indications that Georgia's Mariam Kakhelishvili would with with her Lady Gaga-inspired "Mari Dari"(which, in my opinion, toes the line between cute and terrifying), the eventual winner was Armenia's Vladimir Arzumanyan with "Mama", beating Russia's "Boy and Girl" by a single point.  Here's the winning performance:

This is Armenia's first victory in any of the EBU-sanctioned competitions (the ESC, JESC, or Eurovision Dance Contest), and while I was personally rooting for Belgium, Lithuania, or Sweden, I can't deny that 12-year-old Vladimir really worked it out on stage, and while many might grumble about political votes or diaspora support, I do think that the little guy from Stepanakert earned his victory.

2) On the more solemn side of things, however, I'm saddened to report the passing of Ladislav "Laci" Demeterffy, better known to the ESC world as "75 Cents".  In 2008, he performed alongside Croatian representatives Kraljevi Ulice with their song "Romanca".  The elderly Laci (who picked his pseudonym as a reference to his age at the time) waxed poetic, flirted, and even did a bit of scratching on an old gramophone while on stage, and he holds the record for the oldest Eurovision contestant ever.  He passed away peacefully on November 19th in Zagreb at the age of 77.  This was one of my favorite performances of that year, due in no small part to Laci's contribution.  May he rest in peace, and may his loved ones be comforted by the fact that he made so many people happy with his most famous performance (seen below).

Until next time!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Best of the 2010 Preselection (Part Two)

Continuing on where I left off...

From Russia: "Senza Respiro (Without Rest)" by Antonello Carozza

Remember what I had said earlier about Eurovision fans practically begging Italy to come back into the fray?  Well, every once in a while it seems that an Italian artist will take the initiative and apply for another nation's Preselection (or, alternately, a country will sing in an entry in Italian, even if there's no real reason to.  I'm looking at you, Romania!).  This happened in Russia this year, with singer Antonello Carozza (who I really can't find much more information on, other than a 2006 San Remo Festival performance) coming in a respectable 8th place with his fun, bouncy, sexy, half-spoken, half-sung pop number about the fickle nature of fame and celebrity.  Can you imagine if this song had made it to Oslo?  Between the catchy song, cute singer, the former-Soviet Bloc voting that somehow propelled "Lost and Forgotten" into 10th place in this year's Final (yeesh...), and the desire to see Italy return to Eurovision...we could have had a major ESC hit on our hands with this one.

 From Finland: "Annankadun Kulmassa (On the Corner of Anna Street)" by Heli Kajo

Ok...if the French film character Amelie were a jilted lover in Helsinki, I imagine she'd be a lot like the impossibly cute Heli Kajo.  The first line of the song translates to "Why do you pass out alone, on Sunday nights, pants down, on the corner of Anna Street?"  Her pain and anger, blended with the innocent sweetness of the song as a whole, gives this fantastic contrast that I know I had to listen to a few times.  By the time the tune builds to its understated climax, translated to "Why do you only say 'I love you' after a double whiskey?", you just want to give Heli a hug and tell her to kick her boyfriend's worthless ass to the curb.  "Annankadun Kulmassa" came in 6th place in this year's Finnish preselection.

From Israel...the entire Kdam!
We all know how much I raved about Harel Skaat's "Milim (Words)" this year, and how I think he was basically robbed (although winning all three of the Marcel Bezençon Awards mitigates the blow a bit).  In the Israeli preselection (or Kdam) this year, there were three other songs that could have easily gone to Oslo.  The four tunes presented were all crafted for Harel, and there really wasn't a bad one in the bunch.  I think I've already mentioned the gorgeous "Le'an (Away)" and its incredible final high note, but the ballad "Le'hitkarev (Closer)" and the more uptempo "Elayich (Towards You)" were also fantastic songs that really highlighted Harel's range and showmanship.  Israel really has a tough act to follow for the 2011 event; they set the bar incredibly high with this past year's Kdam.

From Sweden: "Kom (Come)" by Timoteij
As I've mentioned before, bits and pieces of a previous year's winner often come through in the entries vying for the next year's Eurovision crown.  In the case of Alexander Rybak, we were given a string-heavy, yet upbeat number that balanced folk and pop.  One of the best examples of that in this year's Swedish Melodifestivalen was Timoteij's "Kom".

This fun, summery pop number only came in 5th place in this year's Melodifestivalen, but it was selected as the Swedish representative for the OGAE Second Chance Contest, where ESC fans from all over the world select their favorite "also-rans".  "Kom" won by a pretty heavy margin.  Considering that Sweden didn't make it to the Eurovision Finals this year for the first time since 1976, should Timoteij have represented them, instead?

What were some of your other favorite preselection entries?  Let me know what you think!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Best of the 2010 Preselection (Part One)

I don't know about all of you, but all of this talk recently about the 2011 ESC season has really kicked my Eurovision appetite into high gear.  It's sort of like how a person might say that they're not hungry when dinnertime is coming up, but once they walk past a kitchen and detect the tiniest wafting scents of meals cooking, they realize that they're absolutely famished.

Yep, that's me.  Now that we know where Eurovision 2011 will be held, and we're getting a better picture of which nations will be participating and how their entries will be chosen, I'm getting really excited to see how Düsseldorf will compare to Oslo (and Moscow, Belgrade, Helsinki, etcetera, before it).  But since it will be another few months before we get to hear the lion's share of candidate songs, I thought I'd give you all a blast from the not-so-distant past, and serve up a list of a few of my favorite Preselection songs from last year.  These are the ones who didn't quite make it to Oslo, but they made a bit of an impression on me, at the very least.  (By the way, I'm specifically skipping mention of the fantastic Albanian and Estonian preselections, as I had made pretty heavy mention of them in their nation's individual postings...but feel free to backtrack and check them out!  Estonia, in particular, put on a fabulous National Selection this year, and there are about a half-dozen songs from Eestilaul 2010 on my iTunes right now.)

Anyway, in no particular order:

From Greece: "Enjoy the Day" by Katherine Avgoustakis.
Katherine, who is actually a Belgian citizen born to a Greek father, was strongly favored to go to Oslo with this danceable summer song, but a clause in the national preselection banned any of the candidate songs from being released to the public before a specified date, or else risk disqualification.  A remix of "Enjoy the Day" was leaked to YouTube early, and Katherine was left out in the cold.  There are rumors that she's going to try to represent Greece again, and if she can duplicate the popularity of her 2010 song, I wouldn't count her out of the running to go to Düsseldorf.

Fom Denmark: "Breathing" by Bryan Rice.

Coming in second place in this year's Dansk Melodi Grand Prix was this modern ballad, which always seems to remind me a bit of Leona Lewis's "Bleeding Love".  I personally preferred this entry over Denmark's eventual winner, Chanée and N'evergreen's "In a Moment Like This", but since I can't vote, I can't complain!  In a way, it's almost a good thing that Bryan missed out in 2010, as Denmark's 2008 and 2009 entry, Simon Mathew's "All Night Long" and Brinck's "Believe Again", respectively were both male-driven, mid-tempo numbers, and maybe it was time to switch things up a bit.

From Malta: "Save a Life" by Wayne Micallef.

Although I know that Malta is more or less obsessed with Eurovision, I am generally not a massive fan of many of the songs that the island nation submits (Sorry!  Nothing personal, I promise!).  However, I really liked Micallef's entry this year.  It has the hopeful, positive message that many Maltese ESC songs tend to have, without sounding like a track ripped from a 1995 Disney film.  His voice is strong, and "Save a Life" kind of reminds me of something that Snow Patrol or The Fray would come out with, and it might have stacked up pretty well against Tom Dice or Jon Lilygreen this year.  He also gets points from me for performing his own song, as only three self-penned tunes made it to the Maltese final this year, out of 20 songs.  Wayne came in 6th place in the 2010 preselection, and 7th the year before that.  If he keeps writing songs like this one, we might see him on the big stage sometime soon.

From Moldova: "Amintirele Dor (The Memories Hurt)" by Leylla
When I first introduce Eurovision to my friends who aren't quite familiar with the contest, many imagine imagine a contest full of ethno-techno-disco pop like this.  The Moldovan preselection this past year was packed, with over 80 songs vying for a shot at Oslo.  Those 80-some-odd songs were all released to the public, but only 30 made it to the semifinal level (25 picked by a jury, and 5 by local SMS voting).  When the dust settled, Eurofans from all over were stunned to see that Leylla had missed out, especially considering that crap like this went through.
But, on the bright side, if Leylla had gone to Oslo, the would never would have gotten to know the glory of the saxroll.  Brings a tear to your eye, doesn't it?

From the Ukraine: "Emotional Lady" by Dazzle Dreams.

Ok, this one is a total guilty pleasure.  I love it when songs in other languages randomly slip in a line or two in English, and combining that with Depeche Mode-inspired synthpop makes me a happy Samantha.  Granted, though..."Dazzle Dreams"?  The band name sounds a bit like something that a five-year-old girl would come up with while trying to name her pink My Little Pony.  Great song, though...

From Russia: "Dlinnaya-dlinnaya beresta i kak sdelat' iz nee aishon (Long-Long Birch Bark and How to Make a Headdress From It)" by Buranovskiye Babushki  (whew!)

This song is an obvious departure from any other tune in this year's contest (or almost any year's contest, for that matter).  It's sung in Udmurt, which is a minority language more closely related to Finnish and Estonian than Russian, and was performed by the Buranovskiye Babushki (literally, "The Grannies from Buranovo).  Believe it or not, this was a serious contender to go to Oslo, coming in third place in the Russian national final!
And I don't care what anybody says.  This song makes me happy.  Just try to listen to it and not smile!  I dare you!
...Yeah, that's what I thought.

(More coming up in the next entry!)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

All the latest...

Well, we finally have an answer!  After months of speculation from fans and press alike, it seems that the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest will be held at the Esprit Arena in lovely Düsseldorf!  This will be the first German-hosted ESC since reunification of the former East and West, and the third overall (after Frankfurt in 1957 and Munich in 1983).  The arena will be able to hold about 24,000 spectators, which seems a bit strange, considering that there are only about 23,000 hotel beds in the city.  However, it seems that riverboats on the Rhine will be employed as floating hotels during ESC Week, and the city is a major air and rail hub for the area.  Knowing that Düsseldorf is a moderately quick train ride from Amsterdam, Cologne, and other cities in the region, I'm seriously pondering making my first official Eurovision pilgrimage!  (Readers from Germany...what do you think of the news?)

In other news, Cyprus has kicked off their ESC pre-game.  It had been decided that the winner of the "Idol"-like show "Performance" would represent the island nation in 2011 (although the song will be selected at a later time).  After all of the votes had been cast, the winner was announced as Christos Mylordos, a virtual unknown.  Here's his winning cover of Robbie Williams' "Supreme":

Frankly, after Cyprus's success with John Lilygreen and the Islanders this year, I'm somewhat disappointed in Christos.  Granted, he's got until May to improve his stage presence, and he might be better served singing in his native Greek, so all is not lost!

Next topic: Austria is officially back in the game!  We haven't seen participation from ORF since the 2007 Contest, where Eric Papilaya's HIV-awareness-anthem "Get A Life/Get Alive" came in a painfully undervalued second-to-last place.  When they officially select their song, I'll do a full report on their history.

And, continuing on the theme of nations entering or withdrawing, we had a close call for next year.  The 2011 Eurovision Song Contest's dated have officially been set for May 10, 12, and 14.  However, there is a major Israeli holiday (Memorial Day) on May 9th and 10th, and performers would not be allowed to rehearse or perform on those days.  So, in a special exception, the EBU has decided to allow Israel to have a reserved spot in the Second Semifinal (May 12) in order to avoid any scheduling conflicts that would result in their withdrawal.

All in all, it seems that things are progressing nicely for 2011; Albania, Switzerland, and Romania will decide their entries by the end of the year, and more plans are being revealed by the day.  Record numbers of entries have been submitted in some of the public calls for songs...all in all, a good sign for what I'm sure will be a great year for Eurovision.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

ESC Wish List: Arisa

Over time, I've noticed that one year's winner becomes the next year's Eurovision trend.  For example, the year after Ruslana won with the energetic, folk-inspired "Wild Dances", we saw Hungary's "Forogj, Világ" and Greece's "My Number One".  After Lordi's victory with "Hard Rock Hallelujah", there was an explosion of rock (or at least more pop-rock) from nations like Moldova, Finland, Andorra, Iceland, Estonia, and the Czech Republic.  And after Russia used a Stradivarius for their winning performance of "Believe" in 2008, the next year saw a heavy use of strings from Norway, the United Kingdom, Estonia, Slovenia, Slovakia, and the Czechs.  So, now that Germany has taken home the victory with fresh-faced Lena Meyer-Landrut (and we know that she'll be returning to defend her title next year), it might not be a stretch to assume that we'll see a bit of an upswing in sweet, low-key, youthful pop.

If Italy does return to Eurovision, I've got just the girl in mind for them.

The Sanremo Song Festival, which I mentioned in my last entry, has a section made just for newcomers.  This sub-contest has introduced the world to such famous names as Eros Ramazotti, Laura Pausini, Paola & Chiara, and even Andrea Bocelli.  In 2009, the Newcomer's Trophy went to Arisa (real name: Rosalba Pippa...her stage name comes from the first initials of every member of her family), with her song "Sinceritá (Sincerity)". 

Once you get past Arisa's strong resemblance to Rachel Maddow (which I personally think is a good thing!),  you get into her general sweetness and, for lack of a better word, sincerity!  Like Lena before her, Arisa is fresh and unpolished...a neophyte with genuine talent.  She may seem somewhat wooden in her live performance of "Sinceritá", but her full music video, shown here, shows how engaging she can be.  Her first full-length album made it to #5 on the local charts, and has gone platinum (which, in Italy, means that over 60,000 copies have been sold).  She's already released her second disc, "Malamoreno (But-not-love)", to general acclaim and success.  Here's the title track:

I mean, how cute is she?  Between her general accessibility and the fact that major ESC fans are practically begging Italy to jump back into the game...with the right song (probably something with a decently high level of energy, like "Malamoreno"), I think that Arisa could do pretty well in Eurovision.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

ESC Wish List: Italy!!!!

Like many nations in Western Europe, Italy has had a sort of love-hate relationship with Eurovision over the past decade or so.  However, unlike Portugal, who stays in the fight, keeping generally loyal to its own regional heritage and musical style (see Dulce Pontes, Lucia Moniz, Vânia Fernandes or Flor-de-Lis), or the United Kingdom, which often gleefully cannonballs into the ESC's intrinsic ridiculousness and camp (see Gina G, Scooch, Daz Sampson, or infamous nul-pointer Jemini), Italian broadcaster RAI threw up their hands after the 1997 competition and haven't entered a Eurovision since.  From the standpoint of a loyal ESC fan, this is nothing short of tragic, as some of the true evergreens of the competition have come from Italy.  In fact, Eurovision as an entity was inspired by the Sanremo Festival, a national song contest that had been established in 1951, and in turn was used to select Italy's ESC entrants for many years.  Sanremo is still going strong, but national interest in Eurovision has sadly waned.

One of the most famous songs to come out of Eurovision was a contribution from the Sanremo Festival, and although it never actually won the ESC that year, it's familiar to ears worldwide.

Covered by the Gypsy Kings, Dean Martin, and basically everyone else on the planet, Domenico Modugno's "Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare)" might be one of the world's most recognizable popular songs.  Even if you don't speak any Italian, you probably have heard this song at least once, whether it's background music in a restaurant, or in a movie, or maybe you've sung it at a drunken karaoke night or two (it's ok, you can admit it). 

Italy participated in Eurovision a total of 36 times, with two victories (in 1964 and 1990), one runner-up spot, and four bronze positions.  My three personal favorite Italian contributions come from RAI's final years in the ESC.  From 1987, there's Umberto Tozzi and Raf's "Gente di Mare (People of the Sea)", which finished in a more-than-respectable third place:

Five years later, Mia Martini used her rusted, raspy emery board of a voice to sing "Rapsodia", a melancholy ode to two former lovers, separated by time and circumstance.  The song was heartbreaking and beautiful, and it landed up in 4th place in Stockholm that year.

Italy's final submission to the ESC was 1997's gorgeous "Fiumi di Parole (Rivers of Words)", sung by duo Jalisse.  Even though this song, like "Rapsodia" before it, took an impressive 4th place in a particularly competitive year, RAI withdrew from Eurovision soon after, and haven't returned.  (Jalisse, however, have not given up their hope for another shot at the ESC, and had at one point applied to represent San Marino.)

Die-hard ESC fans (like myself, obviously) would love to welcome Italy back into the fray.  Their musical talent pool is exceptionally deep, and they already have the perfect preselection opportunity available to them: the Sanremo Festival.  It has been rumored that the EBU wants Italy back in Eurovision badly enough that they would provide them a coveted spot in the "Big Four", alongside the UK, Germany, France, and Spain, giving them an automatic pass into the finals.  Former ESC Executive Supervisor Svante Stockselius had made it a pet project of his to try to bring back many of the former participants who had left over the years (including, Italy, Austria, Luxembourg, Monaco, Slovakia, and others), with some middling success.  Slovakia returned in 2009, Austria will be returning in 2011 (I'll write my normal piece on them soon), and Liechtenstein keeps playing around with the idea of debuting.  But we're all still drooling over the possibility of Italy coming back.

There is hope, however!  Rumors have recently surfaced that the winner of this year's Italian X-Factor will be eligible to enter the 2011 ESC, making it the first time in 14 years that we see il Tricolore.  However, this early in the game, Eurovision rumors tend to fly around like hair extensions in a wind machine, so I'm still taking this all with a (hopeful) grain of salt.

My next entry will talk about a few Italian artists I'd love to see representing their homeland in the ESC...I've got a few in mind, but do you have any suggestions?  Leave me a comment and let me know your favorites!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

ESC Wish List: Şebnem Ferah

From Greenland, we take a trip to the other distant edge of the Eurovision sphere: Turkey.  As I mentioned in my full piece on Turkey in the ESC, I absolutely love it when they turn to rock for their entries.  Between maNga, Mor ve Ötesi, and Athena, these songs have not only proven to be major hits in their homeland, but they've had pretty strong impact on the Eurovision scoreboard.  However, most of these songs have been male-fronted (which, I suppose, is somewhat indicative of the rock scene as a whole...but that's another issue...), while women in these Turkish songs have been relegated to belly-dancing eye candy or disco-pop divas (not that I'm knocking Sertab Erener, who has had an extensive and highly successful pop career, and gave the Turks their first ESC victory). 

And so, I humbly introduce to you, my readers, the incomparable Şebnem Ferah.  She released her first solo album, "Kadın (Woman)" in 1996, and has been cranking out stellar rock songs since then.  Her style has ranged from soft, traditionally-Turkish-inspired pop to acoustic-guitar-driven alternative to searingly dark hard rock, and she has drawn comparisons to Amy Lee, among others.  While it's tough to wrap one's arms around such a varied and deep catalog, I'll hook you all up with a few of my favorite Şebo tunes.

Her first major hit, off of "Kadın", was "Vazgeçtim Dünyadan (I Grew Tired of the World)", which followed seamlessly down the angry-girl path that Alanis Morrisette had created the year before, with the release of "Jagged Little Pill".  "Bu Aşk Fazla Sana (This Love is Too Much for You)" soon followed, taking a more pop-forward turn.  

Around the time of the release of her second album, "Artık Kısa Cümleler Kuruyorum (I Form Short Sentences Now)", Ferah was rocked by two personal tragedies.  She first lost her older sister to cancer, and in August of 1999, her father was killed in a 7.6-magnitude earthquake that had struck east of Istanbul.  Her song "Bügün (Today)" acted as a broken-hearted love letter to those who had left her far too soon. 

As time passed, she solidified her reputation as one of Turkey's top artists with hits like "Sigara (Cigarette)", "Mayın Tarlası (Minefield)", "İyi-kötü (Good-Bad)" and my own personal favorite, "Çakıl Taşları (Pebbles)":

Şebnem Ferah's most recent release, "Benim Adım Orman (My Name is Forest)" came out late last year, and it's a fantastic listen.  If you're into Evanescence at all, give her a shot!  As time has passed, and her style has matured, Şebnem's status as the grand dame of Turkish rock has only become stronger.  Her following is huge, and with good reason.  

Now, since broadcaster TRT has been selecting candidates internally for Eurovision participation, it seems like rumors have come up every so often that Ferah will carry the Turkish flag for the Contest.  So far, however, they have only been rumors, and considering that TRT has been alternating rock and pop over the last few years or so, it might be another little while before we see Şebo.  But if she did ever take the leap onto the pan-European stage, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that she'd rock the house (and probably wear something kick-ass to go with it).

Oh, and just as a little bonus, I've found a recording of one of her very first gigs as a solo singer...enjoy this little trip back into our collective childhood!  (Or mine, at least...)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

ESC Wish List: Nanook

Going from Thomas Holm, my next suggestion for Eurovision, while technically still citizens of Denmark, couldn't be much further from Holm's synth-pop sensibilities.  Quite literally, in fact: there's a distance of over 2,200 miles between Copenhagen and Nuuk, the capital city of Greenland.  That's about the distance between Los Angeles and Orlando, or Lisbon to St. Petersburg!  Greenland is an autonomous nation that is still partially governed under the Danish crown.  They have their own Parliament, but spend the Danish Krone and are protected by the Danish military.  It is the world's largest island, and as a standalone nation, Greenland is the 13th-largest country (by area) on the planet, larger than Saudi Arabia, Mexico, or Indonesia.  Despite their massive size, only about 56,000 people call Greenland home, making it by far the least densely populated country.

So, why am I telling you all of this information on Greenland?  Well, that's because it's where today's ESC Wish List artist hails from.  I don't quite remember how I came across Nanook, but I'm incredibly glad I did.  They sing exclusively in Greenlandic (Kalaallisut), which is related to other Inuit languages like Inuktitut, Aleut, or Yup'ik.  Being generally interested by foreign language, the moment I heard brothers Frederik and Christian Elsner singing in a tongue that I had never heard before, I was fascinated.  Nanook (Greenlandic for "polar bear") released their first album, "Seqinitta Qinngorpaatit (Our Sun is Shining on You)" last year, and I've been pretty much hooked ever since.  Luckily, it's available on iTunes here in the US.  Here's the title track from their first album, with a translation available here:

The intimate, garage-band quality of the video, coupled with the rolling gait of the me, this is absolutely beautiful.  Sadly, it doesn't look like they have many other videos out (it's hard enough being an independent artist out here in the Twin Cities area, with a population of 3 million in the metro.  Can you imagine being a musician in a market of only a little over 50,000?), but if you appreciate beautifully-written alt-rock, with echoes of Britpop, you might want to give these guys a listen.  I was able to find a brief sampler of some of their other songs, including "Kisimiinneq", "Timmissat Taartut", and "Seqinitta Qinngorpaatit", among others.

Their chances of getting to the Danish Melodi Grand Prix are slim, sadly, even if they did decide to take the long trip to Copenhagen.  But these guys are working their butts off, making beautiful music in one of the most starkly beautiful and desolate places on the planet.  I feel like more people should hear Nanook, and have their sun shine on us, even if it's completely dark there from November through February.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

ESC Wish List: Thomas Holm

As I'm basically killing time between now and when further Eurovision News pops up (which might start rolling as soon as next month, when we might have an official confirmation on next year's location), I figured I'd play a bit of "Fantasy ESC".  As I've been learning more about pop and rock music from abroad, I've encountered quite a few great artists who I'd love to see on the Eurovision stage one day.

(Disclaimer: I'm NOT trying to start any rumors here...I'm just sharing a few great singers with you, my readers!  Let me know what you think, or if you have any suggestions that you'd like to send my way; I'm always on the prowl for great new music to add to my collection.)

We start our tour in Denmark, home of Thomas Holm.  This 31-year-old singer-songwriter recently released his first full-length album, "Middelklassehelt (Middle Class Hero)", and has been performing actively throughout his native country.  His album is a mix of self-deprecating wit, soul-searching introspection, and head-bopping electronic pop, and I've been enjoying it thoroughly!

Here's his first single, "Nitten" (while it literally means "Nineteen", it basically translates to "The Short Straw"), which has become my go-to "bad-day-song", despite the fact that I don't speak any Danish. (Don't worry, English captions are available!)

Now, don't you just feel better about your crappy day after watching Thomas getting pummeled?  I know I do...

His next single, "Selvmord på Dansegulvet (Suicide on the Dancefloor)" is another immensely catchy pop song, and while I can't find a video with the English lyrics embedded like I could with the video for "Nitten", I can say that this song speaks to the awkward partygoer in all of us...the clip is pretty self-explanatory (and a lot of fun!)

Even if he's not depending on electronic beats or high production values, Holm's voice is undeniably beautiful, and it pairs wonderfully with a single guitar, as in the case of this acoustic version of "Byens Bitreste Mand (The City's Bitterest Man)".  It's in a performance like this that shows his versatility, that he's not just a comedian with musical ability, but a well-rounded singer-songwriter who's able to capture heartbreak just as effectively as exasperation or well-intended awkwardness.  I have no idea if he's even considering entering Denmark's preselection, the Dansk Melodi Grand Prix, next year.  If he is, however, and he enters an upbeat number like "Selvmord På Dansegulvet", he very well might be able to take it all the way to Germany in 2011.  However, Thomas tends to sing exclusively in Danish, and no entry has been sung in that language since 1997, so the odds might be slightly stacked against him.

But a girl can dream, right?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Rumor Mill...

Hey, everyone!  Pardon my lapse in posting over the past month or so...what can I say?  I was a bit burnt out after this year's Eurovision Final.  It's sort of like having a massive holiday dinner, full of all of your favorite foods, surrounded by friends and family...after it's all done, all you want to do is curl up and take a nap.  But I'm back on my feet, and looking forward to dishing up more ESC-tastic goodness for all of you!

(Oh, and by the way...650 readers?  Thank you all so much for stopping by!  Feel free to leave me a note in the Comments section, and let me know what you think of my little piece of the Internet.)

Anyway, even though it's only July, and the 2010 Eurovision Song Contest is barely cold, we're already hearing news of the 2011 edition!  Here are two confirmed bits of news (and one juicy rumor that I can only hope is true):

1) OFFICIAL:  Lena Meyer-Landrut will be defending her title for Germany in 2011.  This has been confirmed by broadcaster NDR, but no other details have been provided yet.  This will be only the third time that a winning performer returns the very next year to defend their title; the other two singers were Lys Assia coming back in 1957 and Corry Brokken in 1958.  Sadly, Lys came in 8th place out of 10 that year, and Corry came in last place...will Lena fare much better?  We have nearly a year to see...but while we wait to hear what Deutchland's plan is, Lena's been keeping very busy.  She just released her fourth single, "Touch a New Day" (written by Stefan Raab), and her album "My Cassette Player" has already been certified Double Platinum in Germany.

In the meantime, Germany has yet to decide where the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest will take place.  The official announcement will likely happen in December, but there are about eight cities vying for the honor, including Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, and Lena's hometown of Hanover.

2) OFFICIAL: The Netherlands, after their disappointing performance in Oslo, have finally washed their hands of Pierre Kartner and have decided to send the Volendam-based band 3Js to Germany next year.  They've had quite a few Top-10 Hits in their homeland, and sing almost exclusively in Dutch.  Here's their most recent single, "Geloven in het Leven (Believe in Life)":

Not bad at all!  And, at the very least, a lot better than the most recent Dutch entry.  Even better, 3Js will have their entry selected in a much more open and fair system than last year, when the song had been written beforehand, and only a small jury and in-house audience could vote, with songwriter Kartner eventually deciding the outcome.  The band will submit a number of new songs, and the best will be selected by a jury and an open televote.

3) RUMOR: According to credible sources, the BBC is in talks with pop singer/songwriter Mika to have him compose the UK's 2011 Eurovision entry.  After the debacle of this year's "That Sounds Good To Me", bringing in a fresh, current, and globally-appealing figure like Mika would be an absolute masterstroke.  He was born Michael Penniman to an American father and Lebanese mother in Beirut, but moved to Paris and then London at a young age.  He has had his name batted around before in ESC circles; there were rumors a few years ago that when Lebanon was considering a return/debut into Eurovision (they were due to enter in 2005, and even had their song selected, but a refusal to show the Israeli entry not only forced their withdrawal from the show, but also had the broadcaster slapped with a three-year ban), Mika would carry their banner.  As this has not happened, we're left hanging! 

Despite his young age (only 26), Mika is a prolific and highly talented artist.  His breakthrough hit, "Grace Kelly", was a global smash, reaching the Top Ten in the UK, Turkey, Spain, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and many other charts.  It made it to #12 in Canada, and #13 on the US Pop 100. 

If these rumors actually pan out to contain an iota of truth, this could be absolutely huge for British Eurovision hopes.  While "It's My Time" was a beautiful song, and performed very capably by Jade Ewen back in 2009, the UK really hasn't sent a successful up-tempo number since 1998's "Where Are You".  Mika could help bring back some measure of credibility to Eurovision in the United Kingdom.  Now we'll just have to see if this is actually true...

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Post-Script to the Post-Mortem...

Just when you think the competition's over and done with...when all of the lights have gone down, the last bit of confetti has been swept off the floor, and the last fan has vacated the Telenor of the quiet highlights of the Eurovision Song Contest takes place, unnoticed by many casual fans.

Every year since the 2002 ESC in Tallinn, Estonia, the three Marcel Bezençon Awards are presented to singers or songwriters who have made themselves and their nations proud.  Named for the man who originated the Eurovision Song Contest, these awards are often awarded to songs were overlooked by televoters or juries.  Although they might not have the flash or publicity that the Grand Prix gets, the fact that these awards come directly from the press, the composers, and past Eurovision royalty means just as much, if not more, to those who are lucky enough to receive them.

As I've mentioned, there are three awards given.  The first is the Press Award, voted on by all of the accredited members of the media who gather to cover the ESC.  In recent years, it's been given to Serbia and Montenegro for "Lane Moje", Finland for "Hard Rock Hallelujah", Portugal for "Senhora do Mar", and last year's winner, Norway, for "Fairytale".

The second award, the Artistic Award, was previously decided by a poll of previous Eurovision Winners.  However, as time has passed, many past participants either were unavailable or unwilling to vote.  Starting from now on, this prize will be decided by a vote from the individual networks' commentators, many of whom are rabid fans of the ESC, and have listened to the songs many times.  Previous winners have included Ukraine's "Wild Dances" and "Shady Lady", Greece's "My Number One", Serbia's "Molitva", and France's "Et S'il Fallait Le Faire".

The final award, the Composer Award, is voted on by the individual composers competing in that year's competition.  It's gone to Bosnia and Herzegovina for "Lejla" and "Bistra Voda", and Hungary for "Unsubstantial Blues", among others.

Until now, no single song has ever won more than one of these prestigious awards.  This year, one song has taken all three of the Marcel Bezençon Awards, and it didn't even place in the Top Ten of this year's Eurovision Final.

Congratulations are in order for Harel Skaat from Israel and his song "Milim (Words)", a song that nearly made me cry when I watched it being performed live yesterday.  Here's the live performance from the ESC Stage:

Post-Mortem: 2010's ESC

So, after two Semifinals and a Grand Final (in both senses of the word), we have a winner!

Huge congratulations to Lena, who brought the Eurovision gold back to Germany for the first time since 1982 (nine years before Lena was even born).  Not only that, but this will be the first time that they will host the competition as a unified nation, as their previous hosting gigs took place in West Germany alone.  "Satellite" won a resounding victory over second-placed Turkey, with 76 points separating the two.  Romania's "Playing with Fire" took a surprise bronze, and there was a complete logjam for 4th through 9th, with only thirteen points separating Denmark, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Armenia, Greece, and Georgia (basically, if a juror had gone to the bathroom at the wrong time, it could have made a difference in the scoring).  And, rounding out the Final, the United Kingdom took last place (their second in three years) after Georgia gave a shocking maximum score to Belarus.

Other highlights from this year's show?  Well, Spain, who was performing second with "Algo Pequeñito", was given a rare opportunity to perform their song for a second time (after the 25th song had been sung) due to a stage invasion by Jimmy Jump.  Known previously for running onto the field during European soccer and rugby matches, Jimmy (real name: Jaume Marquet Cot) once tried invade the court during last year's French Open final and put a traditional Catalan hat on Roger Federer's head.  He was arrested (Jimmy Jump, not Roger Federer), and faces possible jail time.

The results of the Semifinals were also shocking.  Despite strong performances, highly favored entries from Slovakia, Sweden, and Croatia didn't even make it into the Final, while unexpected songs from Russia and Belarus sailed through.  Because of this, a total of seven former Soviet-bloc nations made it to the Finals, possibly dissipating votes enough amongst themselves to such an extent that former front-runner Azerbaijan had to settle for 5th place.  Considering that Azerbaijan is rumored to have spent over a million Euros in publicity for the song (including advertising on some other Eurovision blogs, which I just find distasteful), I don't think their result has made Baku very happy.

I had a few friends over yesterday to watch the show (it's not shown here in the U.S., sadly, but I was able to hook up my computer to the TV and watch the international feed from "thank you" to the EBU for providing it!), and here were our favorites:

1) Georgia (Sofia Nizharadze, "Shine"), 30 points
2) Israel (Harel Ska'at, "Milim"), 25 points
3) Spain (Daniel Diges, "Algo Pequeñito"), 24 points
4) Turkey (maNga, "We Could Be the Same"), 22 points
5) France (Jessy Matador, "Allez! Ola! Olé!"), 18 points

So, while we had fun keeping our own score, the American Televoters (or at least the ones in my living room) weren't really in line with the European audience.  (Maybe an unbiased non-EBU-member jury should be added to next year's scoring system?  That would mix things up a bit!)

So, how were my predictions, in terms of the eventual results?  Let me go back into my archive and see what I've said...
1) Germany: "Satellite" is a fun, catchy, upbeat, simply adorable number that has obviously made a massive impact on the European market already.  Considering that Germany (like France, the UK, Spain, and Norway) already has a pass to the Finals, and that Lena will be performing close to the end of the roster, this might be the one to beat in Oslo." - Sounds about right!
2) Turkey: "Because of this [international] support, and the high quality of "We Could Be The Same", I'm almost positive that they'll sail through to the finals, and will possibly make it to the Top 5" 
3) Romania: "Although "Playing with Fire" is in the tough second semifinal, I'd be surprised if they didn't make it through, assuming that Paula's high note doesn't cause her throat to explode or the jury's ears to bleed."  -Paula hit her notes, and they came in 4th in their semifinal after an explosive performance.  I don't think anyone believed that they would do as well as they did, but I think it was well-deserved.
4) Denmark: "It's not my personal favorite this year (although I'd definitely put it in my top dozen or so, and it's growing on me quickly), but the bookies seem to favor it, and ESC fan clubs all over the continent are definitely supporting it, with or without the Scandinavian Voting Bloc advantage.  I'd be surprised if it didn't hit the Top 5 in this year's Finals!"
5) Azerbaijan (keep in mind that I wrote this entry a while ago, before their official preview video came out...): "Don't get me wrong, though; Safura looks beautiful, and Azerbaijan's currently riding a wave of popularity in Eurovision, so she will likely pass through to the finals. Furthermore, Azerbaijan's sharing their semifinal with ally Turkey, so votes from one will likely go to the other, and vice versa. However, I don't see this gaining the universal appeal of "Always", so I think that Baku 2011 might be out of the question." - "Drip Drop" fell just short of the third-place finish that AySel and Arash held last year.
6) Belgium: "Tom's voice isn't perfect, and he isn't as drop-dead gorgeous as some of the other participants in this year's competition, but Tom has the sort of sweet, earnest, and genuine "everyman" quality that appeals to me. We've all known a Tom Dice or two. He's the acquaintance you sat next to in High School Trigonometry, or the dude you sometimes see at the coffee shop you always go to, or the quiet guy four cubicles down from your desk at work. You might not know much about him, and you might have walked by him a thousand times without even realizing it, but you still want him to succeed at whatever he's going for. That's why I'm pulling for Tom to at least break into the finals." - I loved this song, and didn't want to get my hopes up that it would do as well as it did.  But it thankfully exceeded my expectations, and not only won the First Semifinal handily, but it ended up as the highest-placed Flemish song since 1959, when there were only eleven nations competing, not 39.

Not all of my predictions came out well, though:
1) Croatia: "My prediction for the ladies from Feminnem?  Well, they'll be performing in the difficult Second Semifinal, but if they pass, then they'll have the benefit of a beautiful song, performers who are no strangers to the Eurovision Stage, and the fact that they're a member of the often-advantageous Balkan voting bloc.  If they make the finals, and they put together a good staged performance, you can expect a Top Ten, if not a Top Five position."  - The lovely ladies from Feminnem came in 13th place in their semifinal, and didn't qualify.
2) Sweden: "Anna Bergendahl is only eighteen years old and will be performing "This Is My Life" in her trademark red Chuck Taylors on the Eurovision Stage.  It's the first ballad to represent Sweden in over a decade, and it's favored to reach the Top 10, if not the Top 5.  Anna's voice is very unique, almost reminiscent of a Shakira-type throatiness at points.  As Sweden can truly do no wrong in Eurovision's eyes (and it's in the heart of the Scandinavian voting bloc), the song is a lock to sail through to the final."- Anna's song came in a heartbreaking 11th place in her semi, only five points behind Ireland and Cyprus.  This was the first time since 1976 that we didn't hear a Swede in the finals.
3) Slovakia: "It's being performed in the first semifinal, and I would be shocked to not see this qualify.  I predict that Slovakia will not only beat its own personal best placement of 18th, but it might crack the Top 5 or 10, if she performs as well on the ESC stage as she did in her National Final a few months ago."  -Kristina came in second-to-last in the First semi after a performance fraught with nerves.
4) Israel: "I can almost guarantee that this will not only qualify for the final, but it may be in the running for the win."  It qualified for the Finals, but "Milim" only made it to 14th place in the end.
5) Russia: "This song's awkwardness is all intentional.  Be that as it may, many ESC viewers are hearing these songs for the first time when they vote...will the joke go over their heads, or will bloc voting carry them through to the Final?"  It looks like votes for Mother Russia saved this one, which came in 11th place in the end.
6) Belarus: "I make no guarantees, but I don't see Belarus breaking back into the Finals with this one. It doesn't matter much to me if Belarus submits pop, a ballad, rock, or folk...I think I'm most upset by the absence of mullets."  They might not have had mullets, but they made it through to the finals by the skin of their teeth, and came in an eventual second-to-last place.  So maybe I got this one half-right?

Anyway, just because the 2010 Eurovision Song Contest is over doesn't mean that I'm calling it quits.  There's still a lot of ground to cover!  To keep me busy until the first announcements are made starting in December, I'll be writing little essays here and there about the ESC's history, politics, language...whatever strikes my fancy!  I may also mention other great songs that I think deserve our attention, even if they never made it to Eurovision.  If you have any suggestions, feel free to send them my way in a comment!

I just took a look at my hit counter, and I see that I'm over 300 readers.  I just wanted to thank you all for taking the time to read what I have to say.  I only set this blog up as a way to get my geek out on Eurovision, and to know that we've got a little community really warms my heart.  I know that some of you know me personally, and others live halfway around the world from my little flat in Minnesota, but I truly appreciate you all.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Cheers until the next time,

Friday, May 28, 2010

ESC 2010 Reviews: United Kingdom


After 38 other countries, we're finally up to #39, the final entry (alphabetically, anyway) from this year's Eurovision.  The United Kingdom has been participating since 1957, and they hold the half-impressive, half-dubious record of having the most second-place finishes.  In fact, in their first 20 years of competition, they came up just short ten times!  Some of those runners-up ended up becoming just as famous as the songs that defeated them; I've mentioned Cliff Richard's "Congratulations" (1968) in earlier entries, for example.  But nine years earlier, the UK overdosed on saccharine for their entry "Sing Little Birdie" by Teddy Johnson and Pearl Carr.  The song's got a bit of personal history for me: the first time I ever heard the words "Eurovision Song Contest" was while listening to the audio recording of this Monty Python sketch:

Now, despite the US's close cultural relationship with the UK, the vast majority of the songs and singers that represent Britain in Eurovison don't really encounter any measure of success across the pond.  Of course, there are a few exceptions to the rule, however.  In 1974, the year that ABBA trounced the competition and took the crown for Sweden, Olivia Newton-John carried the Union Jack with "Long Live Love", an incredibly cheesy ballad that Olivia now admits she couldn't stand.  The UK's first winning song, 1967's "Puppet on a String", was sung by Sandie Shaw, better known in the US for her cover of "(There's) Always Something There To Remind Me".  In 1969, Lulu tied for the victory with "Boom-Bang-A-Bang", but she's better known here for "To Sir, With Love". Skipping a few decades, 1996's representative Gina G did actually score a bona-fide hit here in the US with "Ooh, Aah...Just a Little Bit", a fun and frothy pop number that made it to #12 on the Billboard Top 100.  Finally, the UK's most recent win was 1997's "Love Shine a Light", sung by Katrina and the Waves, best known here for "Walking on Sunshine".

Sadly, over the past few years, the UK's reputation in Eurovision has fallen into a steep decline.  It might be due to the change in language rules, where a country can now sing in any language they choose (when the song from Turkey can now be sung in English, it's more easily understood and acceptable to a wider voting audience).  It might be the influx of more Eastern European nations to the contest, so their odds are naturally longer.  Or it might just be that the UK isn't taking the thing as seriously as they used to, and are more likely to laugh at the ESC than to send their biggest stars (check out the 2007 example, Scooch's "Flying the Flag For You").  Last year, though, the BBC decided that enough was enough.  They drafted Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Diane Warren to pen "It's My Time", and held a reality show to find the perfect singer for the song.  Twenty-one year old Jade Ewen stepped up to the challenge and delivered a beautiful performance that brought the UK a 5th place finish, including a full 12 points from Greece.  It was their highest placement since 2002, and it received the highest number of points since Katrina and the Waves' victory twelve years earlier.

This year, the UK decided to continue the nearly-winning selection formula from 2009.  They picked pop songwriters Pete Waterman and Mike Stock (best known for their work with Kylie Minogue, among others) to write "That Sounds Good To Me", and held yet another reality show to find the perfect voice for the tune.  That voice belonged to teenager Josh Dubovie, and here's the result:

Sad to say, it doesn't quite look like lightning has struck twice in a row for the UK.  It might have worked fifteen years ago, but the entry sounds dated and out-of-touch with what ESC voters go for today.  It's sort of like my feelings on the Dutch entry this year: the singer's not bad, but if you take a young performer and put them in a song that feels dated, it will just feel even more awkward.  But, what do you expect from a pair of songwriters whose biggest worldwide hit was this?
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