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!
Free Hit Counter