Sunday, November 27, 2011

Moving on...

Hi, everyone!  A few weeks back, I mentioned that I would be migrating over from Blogspot to Wordpress, and moving to the official address.  Well, I have officially started on the next chapter of this site, and I hope you'll come with me!  So, keep on following my news, views, and interviews on the Eurovision Song Contest, please update your bookmarks to find me at!  My Twitter handle (@escinsider) and Facebook page are staying just the way they are, so you can find me there, too.  To my loyal readers, thank you so much for coming with me on this journey, and I can't wait for 2012!

Hope to see you there!


Sunday, November 20, 2011

(FYR) Macedonia has decided: Kaliopi returns! (Sort of...)

It sometimes feels like the embers of Dusseldorf 2011 haven't even burned out yet, but it's already been a busy weekend for Baku 2012's plans!  In the past few days, we've heard about plans from Belgium, Serbia, and Slovakia (assuming that My.RO signs the contract they're rumored to be working on with's still a bit up in the air over in Bratislava, as per usual).  Yesterday, however, we got word that (FYR) Macedonia has made their selection for Azerbaijan: veteran performer Kaliopi.

The 44-year-old Kaliopi has been performing since the age of ten, and has recorded nine studio albums over the past two and a half decades.  This isn't her first foray into the world of Eurovision: in 1996, she was selected to represent Macedonia in what was expected to be the nation's debut at the ESC.  However, due to the then-rapidly increasing popularity of the contest, there were 30 nations clamoring for one of only 23 spots in the Final.  A non-televised pre-final occurred, and seven entries were cut before the public even had the chance to see them.  Unfortunately for Kaliopi, "Samo Ti (Only You)" was one of the unlucky ones, and Macedonia didn't fully enter the contest until 1998.  Here's a look at what could have been:

Kaliopi continued to flirt with the idea of Eurovision participation, and in 2009 she nearly made it to the stage in Moscow with her collaboration with Naum Petreski, "Rum Dum Dum".  However, the song eventually took second place in that year's SkopjeFest, falling behind Next Time's "Nešto što kje ostane".

For the first time since 2004, Macedonian broadcaster MKRTV has decided their candidate internally, and they will hold a small National Final early next year, as opposed to the SkopjeFest system we've seen over the past few years.  The last time the network picked their candidate internally, they chose Toše Proeski, arguably one of the biggest stars to ever come out of Macedonia.  The nation has never placed in the Top Ten at Eurovision, and they haven't made it out of the Semifinals since 2007.  Could Kaliopi break the streak?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Željko Joksimović returns for Serbia

Only hours after the announcement came in from Belgium about Iris's participation in Baku, Serbian broadcaster RTS surprised Eurofans everywhere by suddenly announcing their plans for ESC 2012.  To the delight of many, veteran singer and composer Željko Joksimović will be taking the stage at Baku Crystal Hall (assuming it's built in time, of course).  Eurovision followers are most familiar with Željko as the man behind 2004's stirring ethno-ballad "Lane Moje", sung for a then-united Serbia and Montenegro.  He might have come in second to Ruslana, but "Lane Moje" still remains a beloved modern classic in the eyes of many.

In 2006, Joksimović composed Hari Mata Hari's "Lejla", which came in third for Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Two years later, as the event made its way to Belgrade, Željko not only composed another gorgeous ballad, Jelena Tomasevic's "Oro" (which came in a respectable 6th place for Serbia), but he also co-hosted the event itself!  He has released five studio albums, two "best-of" compilations, and a live album, and he's sold out concerts all over the region.  He penned 2003's Beovizija winner "Cija Si" for Tose Proeski, and even recorded a duet with 2011's Bosnian representative Dino Merlin, "Supermen".  Needless to say, the 39-year old Joksimović has proven himself to be one of the Balkans' most prolific musicians, especially in the world of Eurovision.

For the first time, Serbia will have a completely internal selection, but details on Željko's song are still being hammered out (in fact, he's still composing it!).  We should hear the song in full early in 2012.  It's still incredibly early to start guessing how Serbia will do this year in the competition, but if Željko ends up winning the whole thing, he will be part of an extremely exclusive cadre of ESC performers who have come in second place, returned to the Contest at a later date, and won (the others being Ireland's Linda Martin and Russia's Dima Bilan).

What are your thoughts on the return of Željko Joksimović?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Belgium has decided: Iris to Baku!

Fresh on the heels of Wednesday's announcement form Slovakia, we have news from Belgium that Flemish broadcaster VRT has also made their internal selection for Azerbaijan.  Sixteen-year-old Iris (also known as Airis, real name Laura van den Bruel) will represent her nation this year, with a song to be determined later (VRT will soon hold an open call for songs, but it is unclear whether this means a second internal selection will occur or a small national final).  Iris is managed by SonicAngel, the same group that works with Tom Dice, who sang for Belgium in 2010, bringing the country their best result in years (and the Flemish their best result ever).  Will Iris have the same success?

Here's a little taste of what she serves up:

(So, looking over my notes, we've only got three names so far, but two of them are sixteen-year-old brunettes (the other being Ivi Adamou from Cyprus).  Quite a contrast if Lys Assia ends up representing Switzerland...)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Slovakia has decided: My.RO to Baku!

Unlike last year, when we had to wait until February for Slovakia to announce their representative at Eurovision (after months of hemming and hawing about coming to the party at all), today ESC fans got word that RTVS would not only definitely be participating in next year's event, but that they've decided to send Miroslav "Miro" Šmajda and his band My.RO (also known as "Rosemaid") to Baku (according to, however, a contract has not officially been signed yet, but the Slovak Head of Press is still confident enough to confirm the news). 

In order to save the network money, Miro, the runner-up from 2009's edition of Česko Slovenská Superstar (the Czech and Slovak version of the "Idols" franchise), will be a largely self-funded participant, much like the TWiiNS were last year.  There will be no National Final to decide what we'll hear from My.RO; more details on the song will be released soon.  Here's one of his more recent singles, "Baby", to hold us over in the meantime:

If "Baby" and his Superstar performances are anything to go by, I'm predicting that My.RO will give us something along the lines of Vukašin Brajić, Vlatko Ilievski, and Next Time...mid-tempo rock with a bit of an early-'90s vibe.  Brajić made it into the finals in 2010, but Vlatko and Next Time both fell at the Semifinal level.  It's tough to predict at this point without a song in hand (or information on any other participants aside from Cyprus's Ivi Adamou), but being a rocker at heart, I'm looking forward to Miro and My.RO.

(On another side note, similarly-named ventures have had irregular made it out of the semifinals and eventually to a 16th place in Helsinki, but was Eurovision's last nul-pointer...)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Onwards and Upwards!

Hey, everyone!

It's been a pretty wild year here at the ESC Insider.  As my loyal readers know, I've been working hard to share with you all my unique viewpoint on Eurovision past and present, all with a staff of one and a budget of nil.  My first trip (really, for me, a pilgrimage) to a live Contest, getting to hang out in the Press Centre and meet the artists personally...well, life doesn't get much better than that.  I hope you've been enjoying what I've been sending your way for these past two years, and I hope to keep it up for you all for a long time to come.

The ESC Insider isn't going to disappear anytime soon, but 2012 will be a year of change for me, and for this site, as well.  I'm currently doing a bit of jiggery-pokery on my web presence, and that means I'll probably be migrating to the official domain within the next month or so.  (No worries, though, as all the content that I've worked on here should come with me!)  I'm not an expert in web design, so please bear with me as I make the Insider the best it can be!  (If you have any suggestions on how to make it awesome, I'm all ears!)

Believe it or not, that's not even the biggest news from this end of things.  As many of you know, I had the pleasure of working with in Düsseldorf this year, and I am incredibly indebted to them for giving me the opportunity to work with them in Germany.  However, while I truly enjoyed reporting on breaking news and up-to-the-minute updates with Kaz, I've realized that my heart really does lie in more in-depth coverage.  Because of that, I am THRILLED to announce that I will be working in tandem with the folks over at during next year's event in Baku, Azerbaijan.  Fans who followed my goings-on in Germany may have caught a few of the lively morning podcasts that I participated in while I was out there, led by the irrepressible Ewan Spence...looks like I'll be participating in more of them!

In short, during the lead-up to Baku 2012, I'll be contributing to Insight by chipping in a number of articles, while maintaining the lion's share of my news and reviews here on Insider.  While in Baku itself, I'll be working hand-in-hand with Ewan, Sharleen Wright, and company in order to bring you the in-depth ESC goodness that you've come to expect from both of our sites (I'll still be contributing to Insider, though, much like I did while I was in Düsseldorf).  It'll be like chocolate and peanut butter, or like deep-frying and Mars Bars...two tastes that go even better together!

My first article is already up on Insight...check it out and let me know what you think!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

ESC Wish List: France 2012

Since 2008, France has chosen their Eurovision representatives and songs via an internal selection.  Over these past few years, broadcaster France 3 has given us genres ranging from ambient electronica to jazz chanson to afro-dance-pop to operatic bolero, with results generally bouncing around the middle of the scoreboard (often despite expectations or critical acclaim).  One thing is for sure: over the past few years, variety has been key.  You can't expect France to offer up the same thing twice in a row anymore, which leaves us with the question: what should we expect them to serve up in Baku next year?  Well, as a fan with way too much time on her hands during the off-season, allow me to come up with a few suggestions.  (Again, as I said when I did this series last year, these are only my opinions, and I do not intend to start any rumors.)

1) Caravan Palace: Following Raphael Gualazzi's surprisingly high result for Italy on 2011's scoreboard, I wouldn't be shocked to see a rise in the usage of jazz or other unexpected genres in future Eurovisions.  Continuing on with that trend, might I recommend taking a look at Caravan Palace, an electro-gypsy-swing combo:

They seem to be masters at crafting jazzy earworms that sound both classic and updated at the same time, and any band that can claim both Django Reinhardt and Daft Punk as influences is more than fine with me!  It's hard to find music that you can both dance to and chill out with, but this Parisian group has found a nice balance.  Plus, considering Baku's surprisingly avid fondness for jazz, this might be an interesting option for France 3 to consider...

2) Julien Doré: I have been a fan of Julien since blogger Perez Hilton featured him on his site a few years ago.  The winner of Season 5 of "Nouvelle Star" (the French equivalent of the "Idols" series), Julien is quirky, sexy, and unabashedly talented.  Here's his first single, post-"Nouvelle Star" (and. for the record, he's the one dancing in the background, not the one clutching the chicken):

The 29-year old singer from Languedoc-Roussillon has released three albums, including 2011 release "Bichon".  In all honesty, I've been unable to get that album's first single, "Kiss Me Forever", out of my head, and his oddly dark and twisted cover of Alizée's "Moi...Lolita" (which he performed on "Nouvelle Star" itself) raises the hairs on the back of my neck in the best possible way.  Having Julien representing France would hearken back to the lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek entries of 2007 ("L'Amour à la française") and 2008 ("Divine"): flirting with parody, but without delving into full-on Verka Serduchka territory.

3) Phoenix: Ok, now I know this one is a long shot.  One, they're a globally-known act (even in that ever-elusive American crossover market), and Eurovision might be an unexpected step for them.  Two, they sing almost exclusively in English, which as we might remember from Sébastien Tellier's "Divine", might have the potential to raise the hackles of many.  And finally, they're currently working on the follow-up to their highly successful 2009 album, "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix", so they've got a bit on their minds at the moment.  But lead singer Thomas Mars is currently married to Oscar-nominated film director Sophia can you imagine the promotional video we'd potentially have on our hands, people?  An upbeat alt-rock smash like "Lizstomania" or "1901" might be just the trick to get France to the top of the leaderboard for the first time since 1977.

(Plus, a participation by Phoenix might raise more interest in the ESC in the United States, a personal hope of mine...a girl can dream, right?)

Who would you like to see for France next year?  Let me know in the comments below, on Twitter (@escinsider), or on the ESC Insider's Facebook page; I love to hear from my readers!

Sunday, October 23, 2011


Switzerland has already kicked off their 2012 National Selection Process, and will be picking their official Eurovision entrant on December 10th (only a week or so after Junior Eurovision wraps up in Yerevan, so there's no time for withdrawal).  The country, however, being a land of four official languages, isn't making their selection process a simple one.  There are four official pre-Preselections representing German-language radio station DRS3 (who picked three songs via an internal jury), German-language television SF (who will pick six finalists via a 50/50 jury/web vote), French-based station RTS (who will pick 3 songs via an online/jury split vote), and Italian-speaking RSI (who is currently holding a Pre-Pre-Preselection...the public can vote on the two songs that will join five others already selected by an internal jury; only two of those seven will advance to the united Swiss Preselection).  Many of these voting windows will be closing over the next few days, so feel free to check them out soon!  (Non-Swiss votes are accepted, but the Italian and German polls require registration.)

Nearly 250 songs have been submitted to the four pre-preselections, and it's quite a lot to slog through!  Plus, some of the songs have been submitted to more than one selection in the hopes of making it through to the nationwide-rounds.  Adding to the confusion is the fact that Switzerland is one of the few places where non-Swiss singers can submit entries, regardless of citizenship, residency, or family history.  This year, singers from South Africa, the United States, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Malta, and other nations have submitted entries, hoping to be 2012's answer to Céline Dion.

Are you confused yet?  Yeah, me too.  In the hopes of clarifying the process, let me point out a few standouts, with a special eye on artists coming from abroad:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Eurovision 2011: The Best of the Rest (Part 8)

Ok, we're winding down to the end of our country-by-country list of 2011's also-rans: the songs that should-have/would-have/could-have gone to Germany if the people had voted differently/if the juries had taken their bathroom breaks at a different time/if the networks had been bribed by a different record company (just kidding!  I think...).

Sweden: As almost any self-respecting Eurovision Fan would know, Sweden's Melodifestivalen is considered one of the biggest events of the National Final calendar.  Its position in recent years as the last of the national selections means that it's basically the final stop before the big event in May.  It tends to get higher viewership numbers in its homeland than Eurovision itself does, and ESC fans the world over flock to the Globen each year in order to watch the final firsthand.  This year's Melodifestivalen certainly did not disappoint, with 32 songs competing over four semifinals and an "Andra Chansen (Second Chance)" round for the chance to redeem Sweden's Eurovision hopes after a tough crash-and-burn last year.  As we all know, Eric Saade not only came out on top this year with "Popular", but he gave the Swedes their highest placement on the ESC scoreboard since their victory back in 1999. 

Eric faced some stiff competition, however.  Danny Saucedo's runner-up "In the Club" got quite a bit of attention.  The track ended up as #2 on the Swedish Singles Chart, and Danny even got to read out Sweden's votes this year at Eurovision.  (Eric had that honor last year; maybe it's an omen of good things to come for Danny?):

In third place was the impossibly sunny "Oh My God!" by The Moniker (real name: Daniel Karlsson).  It's like Daniel stepped off of the Magical Mystery Tour, into a Hare Krishna robe, and started hanging out with the backup singers from "Čaroban".  I'll admit, I thought this song was absolutely ridiculous the first time I heard it, but it became an complete earworm, and I'd often randomly sing it with my friends in the Press Center, choreography and all.  (I feel incredibly fortunate that no video footage of those moments exist, as far as I can tell...):

Monday, October 3, 2011

Eurovision 2011: The Best of the Rest (Part 7)

Romania: Romania's National Selection was an hours-long affair that also doubled as a New Year's Celebration, with 2010 representatives Paula Seling and Ovi co-managing hosting duties. Guest stars Chiara and Niamh Kavanagh even stopped by to join in the fun.  At the end of the night, Hotel FM won the ticket to Germany with the peppy, optimistic "Change".  (British-born lead singer David Bryan provided quite a bit of fun for my friends and I at the Press Center, whether he knew it or not...David, if you're reading this, thanks for being so good-natured about all of it!)

The Romanian National Selection was pretty even-keeled, in the sense that none of the songs really strayed too far from the melodic pop mold.  Unfortunately, that means that it's somewhat difficult to point out a unique entry for the purposes of this blog!  That being said, I consistently smile whenever I hear "It's So Fine", the 7th-place finisher from the Blaxy Girls:

...and I was more than a little amused by the country tinge I heard from Dalma in "Song for Him", which came in 11th place:

Monday, September 26, 2011

Eurovision 2011: The Best of the Rest (Part 6)

The Netherlands: When the 3Js revealed the quintet of songs that would be vying for the ticket to Düsseldorf, in my mind there was no question that "Je Vecht Nooit Alleen/Never Alone" would take the title.  (The Dutch audience seemed to feel the same way; the song won with over 63% of the public televote!)  If there had to be a substitution, however, my vote would have gone to the upbeat "De Stroom (The Stream)", which was a more than worthy runner-up:

"De Stroom" is no slouch in itself; while "Je Vecht Nooit Alleen" topped the Dutch charts, "De Stroom" charted at a respectable #12 when it was released as a single in June, six months after the National Song Selection.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Eurovision 2011: The Best of the Rest (Part 5)

(Pardon the brief hiatus...I just started a new job, and I took a quick trip out to New York to see some family and friends. But now I'm back in full force!)

Lithuania: Evelina Sašenko shocked quite a few people when her dramatic ballad "C'est Ma Vie" qualified for the Finals.  (You could have heard a pin drop in the arena when the Lithuanian flag emerged from its little digital envelope the night of its Semifinal!)  Without a doubt, this was one of the true surprises of the 2011 Contest. 

There were a few other songs from Lithuania that I was hoping to see in Düsseldorf, with some being more guilty pleasures than others.  Donny Montell (real name: Donatas Montvydas) has tried many times over the past few years to represent his home nation, and he even had two entries in the National Final this year (including a duet with 2009 representative Sasha Song).  Donny's solo entry this year, "Let Me", came in 5th place this year, despite his attempted channeling of Justin Timberlake:

For fans of sweet throwback entries (like Serbia's "Čaroban"), Liepa Mondeikaitė's breezy "Laukiu (I'm Looking Forward)" might have done the trick.  This sixth-place finisher was the only song in the finals sung in Lithuanian (and I might be the only one who see this, but I think Kim Cattrall might have a doppelganger in Vilnius...)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Eurovision 2011: The Best of the Rest (Part 4)

Ireland: Like them or not, you simply can not deny that Jedward were an unstoppable force at Eurovision.  Even if they didn't take top honors this year with "Lipstick", they were really the talk of the Press Center.  From their knee-high Converses to their now-iconic hair, you couldn't resist this year's Irish entry.  Even I fell victim to their charms:
But despite the Grimes Brothers' popularity and infectious energy, they only made it to Düsseldorf by the slimmest of margins; only two points separated them from runner-up Nikki Kavanagh's R&B ballad "Falling":

Nikki sang backup for last year's Irish entry, and "Falling" was written by a team that included Jonas Gladnikoff, who was the composer of "Et Cetera" and "It's For You", Ireland's 2009 and 2010 Eurovision submissions.  Sadly, Jonas and Co. were unable to pull off the three-peat, but who knows what 2012 will bring?

Eurovision 2011: The Best of the Rest (Part 3)

Skipping France and their internal selection, next on our list is:

Georgia: Eldrine's "One More Day" was definitely one of the most divisive songs in this year's Eurovision roster.  People either adored this nu-metal track or despised it with the passion of a thousand suns.  (Lucky for me, I was in the former camp, and relished the moment when Sopho and company held an impromptu acoustic jam session in the Press Center.)  Eldrine was my favorite act from the Georgian preselection, even with their previous lead singer Tako Vadachkoria, but my second favorite had to be Temo Sajaia, who performed "Jarisk'atsis Simghera (Soldier's Song)": 

Temo's stage presence might have been a bit dry, but considering that there was a span of about three months to give his presentation a bit more "oomph", it could have been a pleasant surprise.  Plus, none of the nation's entries have ever been sung in Georgian, nor have any entries been performed exclusively by a male vocalist.  It took me until moderately recently to find an English translation for "Jarisk'atsis Simghera", but it actually has a pretty strong nationalistic bent, with lyrics like "We believe in Georgian immortals/ In the hopes in your eyes and/ We believe in happiness, in beauty/ In no surrender and in victory".  It's maybe a bit more subtle than "I Love Belarus", but not quite as easy to sing along with...

Friday, August 26, 2011

Eurovision 2011: The Best of the Rest (Part 2)

Continuing on through our tour of the 2011 Preselections, we move straight on from Bulgaria to...

Croatia: Few people who were in the Press Center in Düsseldorf will soon be able to forget Daria Kinzer's "Celebrate", complete with two costume changes and a special appearance by a creepy Willy Wonka impersonator.  But only the most hardcore of ESC fans remembers that the lovely Daria had some serious competition in this year's Dora: Jacques Houdek.  Daria and Jacques went head-to-head on three songs, with a public televote and jury vote selecting the best option for each singer.  The interesting thing about this, however, was that the scores were tied after the jury and televote was added together during the song selection, with the public favoring "Stotinama Godina (A Hundred Years)" for both Daria and Jacques (by a landslide), and the jury selecting "Lahor/Break a Leg/Celebrate" for the two.  Most national finals used the public vote as the prevailing factor, but Croatia deferred to the jury.   The uptempo number seemed better-suited for the lovely Daria, and so Jacques' fate as runner-up was sealed.  But we were tantalizingly close to having this, instead:

"Stotinama Godina" reminds me of the classic Croatian ballads of years past: songs like "Neka Mi Ne Svane", or "Nek' ti bude ljubav sva" (which, interestingly enough, Jacques performed during the national selection process).  It's hard to say if this would have made it into the Final (I'm sure that some would have argued that it sounded "dated"), but I personally preferred it to "Celebrate".  As for Jacques, I wouldn't count him out.  In a commercial for this year's UK version of "X-Factor", eagle-eyed viewers can catch a quick glimpse of Houdek auditioning for the show that introduced the world to Jedward.  Brace yourselves, my friends.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Eurovision 2011: The Best of the Rest (Part 1)

Like many Eurovision fans and fanatics (myself included), the period between the end of May and the beginning of December is often a melancholy bit of time while we wait for news on the next year's edition and constantly re-hash the events of the past.  For me, this is the perfect time to look back on the songs that didn't quite make it to Düsseldorf this year; some of these also-rans are just as entertaining or endearing as the tunes that made the journey to the main event.  Out of the forty-three nations that sent songs to Germany this year, thirty-four of them had national selections (and the rest, like France, Belarus, Turkey, et cetera, were internal selections made behind closed doors).  Needless to say, there's a lot of ground to cover!  So, starting alphabetically...

Albania: For me, the Albanian Preselection (or Festivali i Këngës) is one of the more underrated events of the Eurovision year.  It occurs early in the ESC cycle (generally falling around Boxing Day), and it tends to involve both young, fresh faces as well as veteran performers.  This year's FiK winner was Aurela Gaçe's "Kënga Ime", which eventually became the epic, aquiline "Feel the Passion".  However, in second place this year was the lovely duet "Ende ka shpresë (There is Still Hope)", written and performed by Alban Skenderaj and Miriam Cani.  

I don't know if this song would have been translated into English (as so many other Albanian entries have been over the past few years), but if it had, it could have possibly given Azerbaijan's Ell and Nikki a run for their money.  
(And, for the record, another personal favorite of mine was Kamela Islamaj's "Jetova per te dy (I Lived for Us)", which came in 10th place in the FiK.  While it might not have gone over as well in the ESC as "Ende ka shpresë", I absolutely love Kamela's soulful, bluesy, voice.)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Ivi Adamou picked for Cyprus

I don't know about all of you, but I'm still recovering from my post-Eurovision funk.  Coming down from the high that Düsseldorf provided is an arduous process, especially considering that ESC news goes so suddenly from a fire-hose to a trickle after the main event.  We've seen an occasional follow-up single (as I've highlighted in a few past entries), some speculation about who's in and who's out (still no confirmation on Armenia, as of right now, and it seems that both Morocco and the Czech Republic are still out for the moment), and fanciful rumors about our hosts in Azerbaijan (will a new venue be constructed in eight months, or will people just wise up and put a roof on the Tofiq Bahramov Stadium?), but little concrete news has been confirmed.

Until now, that is!

CyBC, the broadcaster from the island nation of Cyprus, has not only confirmed the country's participation, but they've also given us our first official name for the event in Baku: 17-year-old "X-Factor" alumna Ivi Adamou.  (And yes, that's the same series that brought us 2011 participants Loukas Giorkas, Kati Wolf, and Jedward, so take that as you will.)  Since Ivi's appearances on the show back in 2009 and 2010, she has released 2 EPs, a full-length album and a handful of singles.  Here is a link to one of her more popular hits, "Sose Me (Save Me)", and the video to her first single, "A*G*A*P*I (L*O*V*E)":

More details are still to come from Cyprus, but it seems that a small National Final will be held around the New Year, with Ivi performing somewhere between three and five songs. 

And for those of you who might be surprised that news is already coming in, just remember that the Netherlands confirmed the participation of the 3Js back in mid-July of 2010, and we knew Cyprus's plans this early, as well.  So much for post-ESC Withdrawal!  Once more unto the breach, dear friends...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Follow Up Single Time, Part 3

Over the past few weeks, we've seen a whole bunch of new and recent releases from all over the Eurovision world.  Let's see what we've got...

One of the more highly-anticipated songs from the post-Düsseldorf boom comes, of course, from the irrepressible Jedward.  The Irish twins, who are planning on releasing their new album, "Victory", in August, have already gone to the top of the Irish Charts with their new single, "Bad Behaviour".  Featuring Hollywood blogger Perez Hilton (who, incidentally, happens to be the namesake of the Grimes Brothers' parrot...), both the song and accompanying video keeps the high-energy, frenetic pop vibe of "Lipstick" going strong.  The pair are currently touring the UK, Ireland, and Germany.

Jedward - Bad Behaviour (Official Music Video) HQ from xeaaasy on Vimeo.

San Marino's Senit has also released her next track, entitled "Through the Rain".  At this point, however, it is only available through the Italian version of iTunes.  This upbeat, danceable track seems to be more in line with Senit's previous releases than the sweet, subtle "Stand By", and it even clocks in at less than the Eurovision-standard three minute mark.  Could this have been the mysterious other track that SMRTV had considered sending to Eurovision?

Following "Rusinka", (FYR) Macedonia's Vlatko Ilievski has just released his next video, for "Moja Tamna Rijeko".  Call me crazy, but I prefer this softer side of Vlatko over the man we saw in Germany.  It might not be as catchy as "Rusinka", but at least we can hear him singing this time around!  What are your thoughts?

Last, but certainly not least, Finland's Paradise Oskar (Axel Ehnström) has released his second single, "Sunday Everyday". 

Axel took home the Marcel Bezençon Press Award from the accredited journalists in Düsseldorf after his performance of "Da Da Dam", and if you were a fan of his sweet, introspective, acoustic-driven style, his album "Sunday Songs" might be just your speed.  It's hit the Top Five in the Finnish charts, and he's touring actively throughout the summer. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Catching up with Raphael Gualazzi

During my time at the Press Center in Düsseldorf this year, I had the great (and often surreal) pleasure to get to know a number of 2011’s Eurovision performers.  I sipped tea with the Greeks, chatted with the Icelanders, danced with the Armenians, practiced my Portuguese with Homens da Luta, and raised a few toasts with the Bulgarians.  However, one of my favorite artists to work with was Italy’s Raphael Gualazzi.  After having the chance to interview him for ESCKaz, we would often run into each other as he went from rehearsals to press conferences to interviews and back again, always sharing a quick smile and a “ciao”.  I sat in the second row during Raphael’s intimate showcase at “Jazz in der Alten Schmeide”, and saw firsthand how much he and his bandmates truly feel their music, a fantastic, soulful blend of old-school stride piano fused with modern blues, funk, and jazz.  When “Madness of Love” defied expectations and quietly climbed up the leaderboard on May 14th, ultimately making its way into a surprising (to some, anyway) second place finish, I may have been celebrating louder than the Italian delegation itself.  I had the chance to catch up with Raphael this week before his gig at the Teatro Tenda in Vascon, near Treviso.  Despite an often-fuzzy cell phone connection, I was able to get a few questions in.

ESC Insider: It’s been over a month since we’ve last talked…how has life been since Düsseldorf?
Raphael Gualazzi: Well, we were very busy before [Eurovision]…a lot of gigs around Europe.  And now, after that, we are in a lot of different countries, so a lot of work on promotion. And at the same time a lot of concerts around Europe, like Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, France, Germany, all around.  You can check [the tour schedule] out on the Internet, for sure.  Also, there’s been some television in Munich, Hamburg, and Berlin, and we’ll have also a tour in October, from the 1st to the 15th in Germany that will start in Stuttgart, through Berlin, Hamburg, and it will stop in Frankfurt on the 15th.  And now, I’m just doing a lot of work, touring around festivals in France…

Monday, June 20, 2011

Follow Up Single Time, Part 2

As the weeks progress, more of Eurovision's Class of 2011 are continuing on with their careers and releasing their next singles.

Bosnia and Herzegovina's Dino Merlin has followed up his 6th-place finish in Germany with his new single, "Undo".  Despite the title, the song is in Bosnian, unlike his ESC-entry "Love in Rewind".  Dino is actively touring this summer, and will likely release his next album in early 2012.

Albania's preeminent diva, Aurela Gaçe, has collaborated with local rapper MC Kresha to bring the world their new single, "Cash".   It might not harness Aurela's epic vocal prowess in the same way that "Kënga Ime/Feel the Passion" did in Düsseldorf, but it's still a fun listen, and any video that has echoes of "Tron" gets a thumbs-up in my book:

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Jury vs. Televote...the Saga Continues

There’s been a lot of chatter from fans (both casual and obsessed) about the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of a 50% Jury, 50% Televote split at Eurovision.  Call me crazy, but I actually kind of prefer having the two sides.  A jury might be less inclined to vote for a song based on geographical or cultural distribution, while a public vote might be a better divining rod of what’s actually popular.  Juries also have the benefit of having a few hours to digest their thoughts and register their votes, while televoters have a smaller window to decide where to spend their hard-earned cell-phone minutes. (Granted, until the full votes from each nation are released by the EBU or by the broadcasters themselves, this is a lot of speculation.)

What *does* bother me a bit, however, is the fact that the juries and the public vote on two different performances.  The Juries give their scores based on the final dress rehearsal from the night before the actual event.  As many have said over the past few weeks, Blue's vocals simply didn't do the song justice during the Jury Final (which pains me to say, since I loved both the song and the boys themselves, as my readers knew). 

I think it all boils down to what makes a Eurovision Winner the "best" song.  Is it the composition?  The showmanship?  The personality?  The actual vocal performance?  The potential for a song to become a commercial hit?  The public will look for one thing, while the juries might look for something else.  When it comes to actual musical talent, I sincerely think that the juries got it right when they favored Italy.  In terms of showmanship, the Azeris put on a great performance that was visually stunning (with a bit of eye candy for all).  Was "Running Scared" my personal choice or prediction for the winner?  Not by a long shot.  After watching the semifinals and a slew of rehearsals, I was hoping for Rome, Reykjavík, Copenhagen, Athens, Sarajevo, or Tblisi, and I predicted it would go to London, Dublin, Paris, or even Belgrade.  But even though “Running Scared” wasn’t my personal taste, I can sit back and understand how it took the crown.  Düsseldorf was full of impressive songs and performances, and when enthusiasm is spread out over a number of different nations (a total of 20 nations out of 25 ended up with at least one “douze points”, with only Estonia, Russia, Switzerland, Germany, and Serbia missing out), an entry can easily fly under the radar and take a victory.

It’s possible to go on about this topic for pages and pages, and you might never come up with a true consensus of how to find an ideal winner.  My friend John Kennedy O’Connor wrote a really in-depth and incisive piece on this topic for, and I recommend that you all check it out, if you haven't already.

Ok, everybody...let the (hopefully civil) debate begin!  What would you like to see, in terms of the voting?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Follow Up Single Time!

As is customary in the days following Eurovision, many of the artists that we have come to know and love from their participation on the ESC stage realize that there is, in fact, life after the world's largest musical competition.  (Granted, the same can't necessarily be said about the bloggers you have come to know and love, who still cling to every fiber of their time in the Press Center!).  Whether an artist is a newcomer on the scene or a professional with an established career, it's only natural that new singles follow on the heels of the Grand Final.

Italy's representative Raphael Gualazzi released his album "Reality and Fantasy", and since its release in February it has reached #1 on the iTunes Jazz charts all over Europe.  (It's also available on iTunes in the US, and I give it my personal ESCInsider seal of approval!)  Raphael's keeping the momentum up releasing the follow-up single to "Follia d'Amore/Madness of Love", "A Three Second Breath".

We also have a pair of releases from Greece's artists.  Rapper Stereo Mike is currently working on a radio edit for his song "Μπορώ/Mporo (I)".  Taken from his new album "Ανέλιξη (Evolution)", Mike actually decided to release "Μπορώ" after asking his Facebook and Twitter followers what his next single should be.  He's currently in the studio remixing the track, but here's the full album edit: 

Not to be outdone, Loukas Yiorkas also has a new single out.  Teaming up again with composer Giannis Christodoulopoulos and lyricist Eleana Vrachali (the pair behind "Watch My Dance"), Loukas has unveiled his next track, "Για Πρώτη Φορά/Gia Proti Fora (For the First Time)".

Saturday, May 14, 2011

::Drumroll please?::

And the winner is...Azerbaijan?!?!?

It's not a bad song by any stretch, but in my opinion, it benefited from a pretty good draw and the fact that Turkey wasn't competing in the Final that night.  It's too early to tell if I'm going to Baku next year or not; I might need a few days to decompress!  (Lucky for me, I fly to Israel tomorrow to board a cruise with my parents!  If you don't hear much from me over the next few days, that's why!)

On the happier side of the coin, I'm absolutely THRILLED that Italy's Raphael Gualazzi came in an incredibly respectable runner-up position.  It wasn't because of the fact that Eurovision fans missed Italy, and it wasn't because of some hyped-up production...I like to think that it was because the music was real, heartfelt, and well-performed.  I've met with Raphael a few times over these past two weeks, and, bar none, nobody else that I had met with here in Germany feels the music running through his veins as much as he does.  If someone asks him to sing acapella, he closes his eyes and moves his fingers as if a piano were in front of him.  He's fantastic, and he has an amazing career ahead of him.

Sweden came in 3rd, which is a pretty remarkable contrast from the train-wreck that his first few rehearsals displayed.  Early fan favorites Hungary and Estonia came in 22nd and 24th, respectively, and Jedward beat Blue in the scoreboard.

I don't know about you guys, but I'm exhausted, and I've got an early flight to catch.  My voice is gone, and my feet hurt from the three-inch stilettos I'm rocking tonight.  But I've never been happier.

I'll catch you guys soon!

Personal Highlights from these past 2 weeks

Well, like I've mentioned before, tonight's the Grand Final of the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest.  For the past two weeks or so, I've had the honor and the pleasure of writing not only for ESCInsider, but also for, the official website of the OGAE Rest of the World fan club.  My work with ESCKaz (and the press accreditation that comes with it) has afforded me the incredible opportunity to meet equally incredible people, from the fraternity of journalists here to the hardworking volunteers to the EBU staffers to the delegations and artists themselves.  I cannot express my gratitude deeply enough to the ESCKaz team for not only giving me the chance to work with them, but also taking me under their wing and helping me learn on the fly as I was tossed into the Deep End of the Eurovision world.

I had the chance to interview 20 of this year's artists, and I got to meet nearly all of the performers either at the Euroclub or one of the myriad other events here over the past few weeks.  I got particularly close to the Icelandic delegation, the Greeks, Raphael Gualazzi from Italy, Finland's Paradise Oskar, and the Sanmarinese staff.  Even the biggest divas here were sweet and welcoming; Albania's Aurela Gaçe always greeted me as we passed each other in the hall (especially after I told her that I was from New Jersey).

Raphael Gualazzi's Epic Showcase

I've mentioned before how much I love Italy's entry this year.  Raphael Gualazzi, who'll be performing "Madness of Love" on Saturday, is a brilliant jazz musician who takes his cues from both the old school beginnings of the genre as well as newer styles and techniques.  (His album "Reality and Fantasy" is already out, so definitely give it a listen!)  I had the chance to attend an exclusive press conference and showcase with Raphael and his band, with a special cameo from the boys in Blue (and France's Amaury Vassili was seen in the audience).  The venue was a tiny, intimate little space, and I was sitting close enough to the action to see the sweat dripping from Raphael's brow as he pounded away at the piano.  At times, his hands were absolute blurs (you should have seen his rendition of "Caravan"!), and there were a few instances where the sheet music sitting on the piano flew off of the rack and onto the keyboard, but he kept on playing with gusto.  Blue stopped by and performed "I Can" and "Sorry Seems to Be The Hardest Word" while Raphael tickled the ivories behind them...unbelievably cool.

Who knows?

Wow, Blogspot couldn't have crapped out on me at a more inconvenient time...

Anyway, as some of you figured out, I went 9 for 10 on the Second Semi's results, but I promise you that that is where my lucky streak will end.  I honestly have no idea who will take tonight's Eurovision crown, and I'm not the only one here in the press room who's up in the air!  People are guessing Azerbaijan, Ireland, the UK, France, Iceland, Denmark...I think Serbia might surprise us a bit and come up to the Top 5, but this year's draw really put a damper on the pundits' predictions.  Some of this year's strongest songs are being performed in the start of the running order, with former underdogs now in the sweet spots in the lineup.  Then again, there are many who say that with the re-inclusion of the Jury's vote and televoting now allowed throughout the entire show, running order matters less, but Dino Merlin still grimaced when he drew #2.  Only time will tell, my friends...

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Semi 2 Predictions and Favorites...

Ok, I went 6/10 for Semifinal 1...let's see how Semi 2 turns out!

My Personal Favorites:
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Netherlands, Moldova, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Romania, Latvia, Denmark, Ireland. (Austria as honorable mention!)

My Predictions:
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Romania, Denmark, Ireland, Ukraine, Estonia, Austria, Sweden, Israel.

...let's see what happens in a few hours!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Just a thought...

Supposedly, there have been numerous problems with the audio and commentary feeds from many nations' broadcasts last night.  Spain couldn't hear Norway, the UK heard an unbalanced Polish performance, and many commentators were forced to use their telephones to get their point across.

I'm pretty disappointed in this, considering the reputation that Germany has for their technical prowess.  This being my first ESC, I can't personally compare the issues here with things that have happened in the past, but this seems somewhat unprecedented.  The EBU and German Broadcaster NRD will have a joint press conference here in about 10 minutes to discuss what happened, and we'll go from there.

But, if this is all true, I'm happy to say that it might have disproven my theory that the Icelandic entry's success hinged on the commentary from the broadcasters currying a sympathy vote.  Hopefully, this means that "Coming Home" passed into the final through their own merit, which makes me a very, very happy Samantha. :-)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I mean...where do I start? I had the honor of sitting in the very first row, within spitting distance of the catwalk and the stage, and right in front of a group from the Icelandic delegation. I was proudly waving the Icelandic flag for a few reasons:
1) They have no OGAE Club of their own, so they fall under the auspices of the Rest of the World division.
2) Iceland is geographically closest to my home country, the United States.
3) They have a great song, simply put!
I was sitting close enough to the action that I could make eye contact with some of the artists and feel the heat of the exploding pyrotechnics. The venue felt vast and intimate at the same time, and I doubt I'll ever have another concert experience quite like it!

Ok, now on to the results:
Some of these winners are not a surprise. We all expected Finland, Russia, Azerbaijan, and Greece to make it through. Opinions were divided on Serbia, Iceland, Georgia, and Hungary. But Lithuania and Switzerland were complete blindsides, with most people expecting Norway and Turkey to possibly pass through to the Final. All bets seem to be off for the Second Semi...expect the unexpected, my friends!

My personal thoughts on Semi 1...

Well, tonight's the first Semifinal, and in a matter of hours, we'll have nine acts cut from the rosters and thrown into the bin of Eurovision History.  This doesn't necessarily mean that the songs are bad, or that the performances have left anything to be desired, but some might either be edged out via political voting, jury vs. televoting choices, or even something as arbitrary as running order or costume.  I had the chance to check out the first Dress Rehearsal yesterday afternoon (a few hours before the "Jury Final", where the professionals give their verdict).

Here are my thoughts on what you might see tonight:

Una conversación con Lucía Pérez

I do speak Spanish fluently, but it's really pretty awkward to do the interviewing and the translation at the same time, so major thanks go out to the volunteer who helped us out on this one!  :-)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Getting to know Amaury Vassili...!!!

Hanging out with Raphael Gualazzi

Very quiet and unassuming, very humble, and immensely talented.  I had been looking forward to meeting him for a few weeks, and I'm so thrilled to have finally shaken his hand and gotten to take a peek inside his head.

A fantastic interview with Blue!

Wonderful, professional guys, and even more so when someone brought their cappuccinos! :-)

::insert fangirl "squee!" here::

Friday, May 6, 2011

A few quick words with Dino Merlin...

Greetings from Portugal and Hungary!

I love my life...

Loukas Yiorkas singing "Lane Moje"?  Yes, please!!!

Another chat with Paradise Oskar...

If you're a fan of "Da Da Dam", go and check it out!  :-)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

By popular demand...

...Here's ESCKaz's interview with the lovely Dino Merlin.  He's singing "Love in Rewind" for Bosnia and Herzegovina, first up in the Second Semifinal. I was behind the camera on this one, so I apologize in advance! ;-)

My interview with Serbia's magical Nina!

She was just as sweet as anything, and I'm LOVING the Serbian costume choices this year!  Toggie, sorry to keep you so jealous...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Some humble observations...

I've been sleeping an average of four hours a night, my shoulder is aching from carrying around my laptop every day, and the buses and metro stop running to the part of town where my apartment is way too early, so I have to spend about 25 Euros whenever I want to get back from the Euroclub.  And yet, I can't remember when I've been this happy!

I'm part of a great team here at ESCKaz.  We're a pretty unique site, with two generally autonomous subunits: English and Russian.  On the English side, we've got Drew and Tam (who I haven't actually met yet, but they should be joining us soon), Mike, Daniel, and little ol' me.  The Russians generally keep to themselves, with the exception of our Fearless Leader, Editor-in-Chief Andy, who bridges the gap and often acts as a translator for the Russian-speaking delegations that we interview.  My day is generally spent running between my computer, press conferences, and artist interviews, with occasional jaunts to the Arena itself, the cafeteria, or my "pigeonhole", where I pick up promotional material like CDs or postcards from the delegations. 

Business cards are flying out of my hands so quickly, I almost feel like Gambit. 

Here in the MPC (Main Press Center), the atmosphere is universally welcoming.  Watching the interactions between people here reminds me almost of the first few days of summer camp (only without the wedgies and bug juice).  Everyone here has war stories: how bad the food was in Moscow, how cheap the beer was in Tallinn, how tiny the venue in Jerusalem was...I'm wondering what they'll say about Düsseldorf in five years' time...I know I'll be wishing that my apartment had been closer to civilization.

So far, I've been really impressed with the acts I've had the chance to speak to personally.  Everyone's been sweet and accommodating (but, then again, the ones who wouldn't be sweet and accommodating probably aren't doing many one-on-one interviews!).  It's always a bit surreal to meet these artists and find out that they're completely humble, normal people.  Getting to have decent, human conversations with these guys kind of gives you a whole new perspective on the idea of "celebrity".  Someone hugely popular in Country X might be completely overshadowed in Eurovision.  Someone completely huge in Eurovision circles might be unknown outside of Europe.  And little ol' me gets to hang out with all of them!

Chatting with Poli Genova and crew

I met Poli and her posse back at the Euroclub a few nights back, so I already knew how awesome they are, but I'm loving the backup performers' costumes! 

Chatting with Cyprus's Christos Mylordos

And the aforementioned rehearsal...EPIC!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A quick peek into my night at the Euroclub...

Had the chance to chat with Aurela from Albania, the Bulgarian delegation, Axel (aka Paradise Oskar) from Finland, and Armenia's Emmy, and saw Malta's Glen Vella and Alexey Vorobyov from Russia (dancing on the bar!).  Drinks were plentiful (gotta love Altbier!), the music was great (ESC from then and now...any surprise there?), and everyone was having a fantastic time.  Can't wait to go back!

"Watch My Dance"? Watch my Interview! ;-)

These guys couldn't have been nicer...I'm going to Greece (among other places) after the Final, and everybody had suggestions on places to check out.  I definitely hope to run into these guys at the Euroclub sometime over the next few weeks!

(And yes, if you were wondering, these guys are just as gorgeous in person as they are on screen!!!)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Hey, Stefanos! Check this out!

Again, you can always find more news and reviews from my friends at ESC Kaz!

Any Suggestions?

I've been interviewing a few of the artists (as you've already seen), but I'm also slated to work with a number of other artists over the course of the next week.  I've got a lot of questions at the ready, but I thought I'd open up the floodgates for suggestions from you guys, my lovable readers!

Today, I've got Croatia (Daria Kinzer - Celebrate), Lithuania (Evelina Sasenko - C'est Ma Vie), and Greece (Loukas Yiorkas and Stereo Mike - Watch my Dance) on my roster.  Tomorrow, I've got Ukraine (Mika Newton - Angels) and Cyprus (Christos Mylordos - San aggelos s'agapisa).  Wednesday, I have Bulgaria (Poli Genova - Na Inat), Romania (Hotel FM - Change), Belarus (Anastasiya Vinnikova - I Love Belarus), and Latvia (Musiqq - Angel in Disguise).  Thursday's Switzerland (Anna Rossinelli - In Love for a While), Saturday might be Serbia (Nina - Caroban), and Sunday I've got Spain (Lucía Pérez - Que Me Quiten lo Bailao) and Italy (Raphael Gualazzi - Madness of Love).

Any burning questions you'd like me to pass along? :-)

And, again, thanks for following me on this journey!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

What I've Been Doing Today So Far...

You can see more details on my experiences here in Germany at , but I've been thrilled to do a handful of interviews today! 

Eurovision Report: Day 0-1

I can't even tell what day it is anymore, all I know is that it's been a beautiful one...

I woke up at about 4am Minnesota time to watch the Royal Wedding, lusted after the Duchess of Cambridge's dress for a few hours while I finished my packing, and shuffled off to MSP airport for my long journey to Düsseldorf.  After thanking my lucky stars that I missed the tornadoes that have been plaguing the Southeastern part of the United States, I took off for Atlanta, and, eventually, Düsseldorf. 

I normally sleep peacefully on flights (possibly because I have pilots in my family, so I've been airborne since I've been in utero), but I was way too wired to rest.  I've been dreaming of attending a Eurovision for a few years now, and I've had my passage booked for months, but taking the approach into Düsseldorf, flying right over the arena where everything was actually going to be happening in two weeks' all became so very real.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

New Videos from Norway and Finland

Norway's Stella Mwangi has just released the preview video for "Haba Haba" and, as expected, the fun, bouncy atmosphere in the song carries over perfectly to the parade-meets-beach-party setting in the clip:

Also in Nordic Eurovision news, Finland's Paradise Oskar has released a second video for "Da Da Dam" (granted, the first version wasn't bad!).

Sunday, April 17, 2011

New Videos from Serbia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom

Adding to the list of new videos for this year's ESC competitors are new clips from Serbia, Sweden, and the UK. 

Although Serbia's Nina will be singing "Caroban" in Serbian, a new video has just popped up with her singing the English-language rendition, "Magical".  The swinging-60's vibe remains vibrant and sweet, and Nina's just cheek-pinchingly adorable!  (Very Twiggy-meets-Edie-Sedgwick!)

Next up, Sweden's Eric Saade has released an official preview video for "Popular":

The lesson in this clip?  All of life's problems can be solved via a dance-off. 

And finally (for now, at least), the United Kingdom's representatives, Blue, have unveiled a new video for "I Can":

It's not a secret that I love this song, so having the boys release a second video was an unexpected treat!  Furthermore, the BBC aired a special on Blue's preparation for Düsseldorf, "Eurovision: Your Country Needs Blue".  With appearances by Cliff Richard, Lulu, and others, it's a pretty cool peek into what goes into putting a Eurovision entry together.

Until next time!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

New Videos from Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Latvia (plus, new versions for France and Croatia!)

Over the past week, a number of new videos have been released for this year's Eurovision hopefuls.  Let's have a look, shall we?

First up, Armenia has revealed the official clip for Emmy's "Boom Boom", featuring German-Armenian boxer Arthur Abraham:

Well, at least the Armenians are probably realizing just how kitschy their song is...having Emmy and her pals dance around in a ring, wearing bedazzled boxing gloves and randomly turning into comic book characters is a pretty decent sign that they're taking "Boom Boom" with a grain of salt (and I, for one, could use a margarita after watching it.  Oy...)

Next up, we've got Armenia's cross-Caucasus neighbors (and perpetual rivals) Azerbaijan, who released a second clip for Eldar and Nigar's "Running Scared":

Compared to previous years' entries from Baku, "Running Scared" is elegant, subtle, and sweet.  The video is visually beautiful (not only because of the landscapes, but also for the copious shots of Eldar and Nigar!).  I'm not quite sure why Azerbaijan insisted on recording a second video for "Running Scared", as their first version was definitely not unpleasant, but considering the country's penchant for Eurovision excess, they probably just figured that any money spent was money well spent.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

New Videos/Versions for Bulgaria, Russia, Slovenia, Poland, and Belarus

Over the past few days, a number of official videos have been released for some of this year's entries (and we're still expecting ones from Israel, the UK, Armenia, Sweden, and Azerbaijan).  Plus, we've got new translations for a few entries!  Let's get right to it:

Starting off, Bulgaria's Poli Genova released the official clip for "Na Inat (For Spite)", and I must say that I'm really impressed!

This new video blends the anthemic pop-rock vibe of Poli's National Final performance with the universal message of "we can change the world together" that is all-so-prevalent in Eurovision.  Those who don't understand Bulgarian (like me, for example) will be able to hone into Poli's meaning pretty easily (if Miss Genova releasing a dove at the end doesn't hammer it home, you might need your head checked). 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Breaking News from the Czech Republic!!!

...and the surprises never end in the world of Eurovision!  It seems that within the past few moments, the Czech Republic has decided to put aside their differences with Eurovision, suck up the heavy late-registration fees and penalties, and submit an entry for Düsseldorf!  The Czechs have been absent from Eurovision since their nul-points placement back in 2009 with's "Aven Romale", and their highest placement ever was 2008's "Have Some Fun", which only received nine points in its semifinal and failed to qualify.

After the jump, check out the just-revealed entry for the Czech Republic!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Just to tide us over...Eurovision, By The Numbers!

Here we are, a month or so before delegations, journalists, and fans alike all descend on Düsseldorf, awaiting the spectacle that we've been fantasizing about since Lena took the Eurovision crown in Oslo last year.  This month, however, is generally seen as "the calm before the storm".  All of the songs have been released, and while an occasional promotional video or tour might pop up here and there, and bookies might argue amongst themselves over who will win, there's really not a lot of major news that arises between the unveiling of the final song and the start of rehearsals. 

So, what's an ESC blogger with too much time on her hands going to do?  (The same thing she does every night, Pinky...tries to take over the world!)

No...wait.  That's not it.  Tempting as it might be, I have no plans for world domination.  Yet.  What I will do, however, is crunch some numbers and try to come up with some interesting bits of trivia for you all!

- As we all know, we've got 43 nations competing against each other this year.  Out of those 43, twenty-two have previously won the competition at some point.  The nations that have competed the longest without a victory are Portugal (44 songs since 1964, never cracking the Top 5), Malta (23 entries since 1971, with two runner-up placements), and Cyprus (28 entries since 1981, with three 5th-place finishes).  The only nations to have taken a victory on their debut entry are Switzerland in 1956 (although this could be argued, as everybody was a debuting entrant that year, and "Refrain" was the second of two Swiss songs presented that night), and Serbia in 2007 (which could also be argued, as Serbia had performed in conjunction with Montenegro in the past).  Other nations to have recently won an ESC title while in their Eurovision infancy were Ukraine (winning on their second attempt in 2004) and Latvia (with a victory on their third try, in 2002).

- Out of the 43 competing nations, 10 debuted during the 1950s, 5 in the 1960s, 4 in the 1970s, 2 in the 1980s, 11 in the 1990s, and 11 in the 2000s.  Ten nations entered for the first time between 1993 and 1994 alone!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A New Version from Israel (plus, Couture!)

As anticipated, Israel has released a new version of Dana International's self-penned entry for Eurovision, "Ding Dong".

I was never fully sold on "Ding Dong" to begin with.  It paled in comparison to "Diva" and the rest of Dana's solid catalog of work.  Unfortunately, this new version doesn't inspire me to change my mind.  It will most likely be a hit at the Euroclub, but I'm underwhelmed as I listen to it at home.  It feels like the producer decided to throw every audio trick in the book at it, and it makes it feel somewhat dated.

On the bright side, though, Dana and the rest of the Israeli delegation has decided to put one major decision in the hands of her fans: her onstage ensemble.  She has picked a series of off-the-runway designs from renowned couturier Jean Paul Gaultier, and the public is invited to choose their favorite.  (The site is in Hebrew, but it's still pretty intuitive.  Just scroll down to see the eight options, and vote for the one that flips your switch!  I was a fan of the green woven number, personally...)  Fans might remember that Dana has worn Gaultier designs earlier in her Eurovison career; she famously delayed her victory reprise in 1998 as she changed into a fabulous feathered number:

No matter how the song turns out, Dana will definitely bring a great show to the ESC this year, and letting the audience determine a major factor in the performance just goes to show how much the fans matter to the artists that perform at Eurovision.  Todah, Dana!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Maja Keuc's "No One" presented for Slovenia

After a nice, long, dramatic pause, Slovenia has finally revealed the English version of Maja Keuc's "Vanilija", entitled "No One".  Maja unveiled the translation on the popular Slovenian program "Spet Doma".

Musically, there are few, if any, changes in the arrangement from "Vanilija" to "No One".  Lyrically, however, there are some differences.  While the original Slovene lyrics seem to have Maja dealing with her feelings of pain and jealousy over a straying lover, the English lyrics have more of an air of "I'm kicking your worthless ass to the curb, and you'll be sorry!"  I'm happy to see quite a few songs with this sense of empowerment (similar themes come up in the songs from Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Norway, among others).

Between the Slovene and English versions of the song, I personally preferred the original text.  There are a few errors in pronunciation in the new version that could definitely be smoothed out, but it's nothing too insurmountable.  As I've mentioned before, I'm a language nut, so whenever a song as beautiful as "Vanilija" switches to English, it tends to lose a bit of luster in my eyes.  But in general, "No One" holds up to its predecessor's standard, and as it's not being performed right before or after another ballad in the Second Semifinal, it definitely has a strong chance of bringing Slovenia to the Finals for the first time since 2007.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sam's Unranked Rankings, 2011!

Ok, I fold.  Some of my readers (I'm looking at you, Jack!) have been asking me for my personal ranking of this year's Eurovision songs.  Out of all of the articles I've written, this might be the toughest!  I've been putting it off, hemming and hawing about how to organize my thoughts.  It's really quite difficult to chew up and spit out 43 songs from 43 nations, stretching from Iceland to Azerbaijan to Malta and back again.  Complicating the venture even further is the knowledge that my opinions change as often as the weather (and in a Minnesota spring, that says quite a lot!); I can barely pick out an area rug for my apartment without second-guessing myself eleven thousand times.

So, in order to make my "ranking" somewhat easier (as well as to cover my ass when I invariably change my mind), I've decided to break the songs down into groups.  With the songs in my "favorite" group, my absolute favorite can morph and change with my mood: if I'm feeling wistful and philosophical, it's Dino.  If I'm channeling my inner dramatic diva, I reach for Aurela.  When I'm craving a night out at my favorite wine bar, curling up with a taste of Pinot Noir, I'll queue up a little Gualazzi.  And for those time when I want a full-on, hands-in-the-air, sing-into-my-hairbrush dance-fest, I turn on "What About My Dreams?" (and I hope nobody's watching!).  As an officially accredited journalist for this year's Eurovision, I know that I'm going to have to choose a favorite when I eventually give my nomination for a Marcel Bezençon Press Award.  I might just have to wait and see how the rehearsals hit me...

Anyway, after the jump, I'll give you my own personal ranking/groupings, as of the night of Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011!  (Ask me again on April 22nd, and you might see a completely different list...)

And remember...all songs are available here: Eurovision Song Contest - Düsseldorf 2011 Preview Player

Monday, March 21, 2011

Eurovision 2011: A Trail Guide

For those readers who are either completely new to Eurovision or just picking up the 2011 trail now, it can be a bit overwhelming to pick through 43 countries' songs without a bit of guidance.  To help with the journey, I'm taking the liberty of breaking up the songs into loose categories and themes.  Some songs might fall into more than one category (and others seem to defy all logic and reason!), and some of these definitions are a bit loose and floppy, so take them with a grain of salt.  But if you're just getting into the contest, and aren't sure what to listen to first, here's a quick primer on this year's offerings (and if I've overlooked anything, please let me know!):
All of the songs can be heard through the Eurovision Song Contest - Düsseldorf 2011 Preview Player

Friday, March 18, 2011

New Videos from Ukraine, Turkey, Moldova and Macedonia

As is customary after the Semifinal Draws, many ESC nations are rolling out their entries' videos.  Over the past few days, we've seen the official debuts of the Ukranian, Turkish, Moldovan, and Macedonian videos...let's check them out!

The Ukrainians, as per usual, have revamped their entry and officially submitted their song "Angel".  Who knows if it will continue to evolve by the time it hits the stage in Germany?  I'm half expecting an unfortunate flat tire to hit Mika's car on the way to the venue, with Zlata Ognevich or Jamala just serendipitously hanging out in the arena...

Regardless, I do prefer this edit a bit to the original, as it has a somewhat stronger beat and isn't quite as sleep-inducing as the ballad that we originally heard in Kiev.  That being said, it's still not one of my absolute favorites; Mika's English is often tough to parse.  I am, however, looking forward to the onstage presentation of "Angel"...with all of the circus themes in the video and the National Final performance, and considering Ukraine's history of over-the-top staging (Svetlana Loboda, anybody?), things could definitely get interesting. 

Next up, the Turks have presented their video for Yüksek Sadakat's "Live it Up":

Not really sure what to say about this one...the song's fun, with a bit of an 80's Hair Band throwback feel (despite the lead singer's baldness) and a touch of an ethnic sound from the string section.  It's Turkey, so chances are pretty good that it will qualify for the Finals, but there are other pretty good rock songs in this competition that might give Yüksek Sadakat a run for its money if more than one makes it to the show on the 14th.  Turkey has made the Top Ten every year since 2007, and has never failed to qualify for the's a lot for "Live it Up" to live up to!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Running Order for Semifinals and the Big Five

In a press conference held today, the running order for both of the Semifinals was held, as well as the singing positions for the Big Five nations automatically qualified for the Final (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom).

Monday, March 14, 2011

More new versions and videos released!

As expected, Albania has revamped their entry for Düsseldorf.  What was once Aurela Gaçe's "Kënga Ime" is now "Feel the Passion":

I feel like I'm in the minority here, but I loved Aurela's song the first time I heard it, and this revamp only solidifies my position.  Aurela is this year's diva, and whether she wins or not, she is making this her show.  (It's funny, though; I was talking with my friend Slavi yesterday before we saw the new video or heard the translation, and I told him how I imagined that the clip would somehow involve Aurela standing on top of a mountain or other high point, a wind machine fluttering around some epic dress, and an eagle soaring.  I should have placed money on it!)

Anastasia Vinnikova: "I Love Belarus"

Getting their entry into the EBU right before the deadline, Belarus has just released their official replacement for the disqualified "Born in Bielorussia" and "I am Belarussian".  Imaginatively, it's called "I Love Belarus". 

Now, I love a dulcimer just as much as the next girl, but even that can't save this one.  I don't mind a song with a touch of national pride (as we see with the revamped Albanian entry), but when it's coming from the last dictatorship in Europe, it comes off as forced.  This is a bit of an improvement over the songs that it replaced, but I can't shake the indelible aura of "Stockholm Syndrome" that surrounds it.  Anastasia's voice isn't bad, and if given the right song, she could have done something really special, but I would personally be shocked if this qualified for the finals.

Hopefully, this means that the Belarussian soap opera will be least, until ESC 2012!

Ell & Nikki - "Running Scared" for Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan has been competing in Eurovision since 2008, when the over-the-top "Day After Day" came in a respectable 8th place.  The next year, the fiery, uptempo "Always" snagged the bronze in Moscow, with Safura's diva-licious "Drip Drop" coming in 5th place the year after that.  Ever since entering the contest, Azerbaijan has made a considerable effort to make a splash, using everything in the traditional ESC arsenal: pretty girls, costume changes, explosions, gowns with LED lights, ear-splitting high notes, million-dollar promotional campaigns, Beyoncé's choreographer, even going so far as to have the police question people voting for rival Armenia (I'm not kidding!).  After such a series of entries, I was bracing myself for an equally epic spectacle from Eldar Gasimov and Nigar Jamal, who had won Ictimai TV's preselection a few months ago.  And boy, was I wrong...

Never in a million years would I have expected to write "Azerbaijan" and "subtle" in the same sentence, but Baku has completely proven me wrong.  Eldar and Nigar (who will be going by "Ell and Nikki" for the purposes of this competition) really pull off this sweet R&B-kissed duet.  It's got a nice hook, and they don't seem to have the same issues with English pronunciation that some of their predecessors struggled with at times (I still can't understand half of the lyrics in "Day After Day, even three years after the fact...).  This is also the only romantic duet in the competition, and it offers a nice bit of eye candy for everybody.  All in all, this should be a pretty solid lock for the finals, especially considering that constant allies Turkey are in their semi.

(UPDATE: Due to EBU restrictions, Eldar and Nigar will be using their real names for this year's ESC.  It's possible that the same restriction will apply for Russia's Alexey Vorobyov/Alex Sparrow, but as "Sparrow" is the actual translation for "Vorobyov", the final decision is still unclear.)

Russia's Alexey Vorobyov ("Alex Sparrow") - "Get You" released

After weeks of speculation, Russia's 2011 Eurovision contribution has been officially presented to the public.  Written by international hitmaker RedOne and performed by Alexey Vorobyov (who will go by the stage name "Alex Sparrow"), "Get You" was premiered on the opening night of a Russian reality show:

On a first listen, I kind of enjoyed "Get You".  It's the kind of sexy, catchy pop entry that Russia has had some pretty major success with in the past (like what we saw with Alsou, tATu, and Serebro).  It will, undoubtedly, be a big hit in the Euroclub!  However, when I listened to it the second time around (when I generally try to pay more attention to the lyrical content, as opposed to my first impressions of the music), I got almost immediately creeped out.  I know, as a woman, that I generally like a guy with some measure of confidence, but the song sounds as if the Big Bad Wolf were being interrogated on an episode of "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit".  "I'm coming to get you...I know you want me to...If you really want to have fun tonight, just scream!"  I know that's not Alex and RedOne's intent, but for me, the fun of the song has now been overshadowed by some sketchy lyrics.  I admit that I'm probably being just overly sensitive here, and reading too deeply into the words of a pop song, but I'm a bit too skeeved out to really enjoy this song for what it is.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Eric Saade's "Popular" for Sweden

Melodifestivalen (a.k.a. the Mother of All Preselections) just wrapped up from the Globen Arena in Stockholm, after four Semifinals, a Second Chance round, and a Grand Final.  Tonight, we saw classic schlager (in both English and Swedish!), rockabilly, and even a song that may have, in fact, been a lost track from the Magical Mystery Tour.  But after votes were tabulated from eleven international juries and the Swedish public, the winner was 20-year-old Eric Saade with "Popular":

Eric, despite his age, is already a pretty well-established performer.  He actually placed third in last year's Melodifestivalen with "Manboy", which then proceeded to reach #1 on the Swedish Singles chart.  Fredrik Kempe, the songwriter behind "Popular", has contributed two songs to Eurovision in the past: 2008's "Hero" and 2009's "La Voix".  However, Sweden has seemingly underperformed over the past few years.  They haven't made the Top Ten since 2006, and failed to reach the Final last year for the first time in their history of Eurovision participation.  Eric is undoubtedly adorable, and might take away a small handful of the "screaming pre-teen fangirl" vote from Blue, but I wouldn't personally count this as a major player in this year's event.  At the very least, though, it's an entertaining three minutes, and knowing Sweden's recent penchant for barely changing the Melodifestvalen staging for Eurovision, I'm looking forward to seeing if the Swedes are able to bring their show to Germany, shattered windows and all.  (I'd hate to be the singer that goes after "Popular"...or the cleanup crew, for that matter!)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Blue's "I Can" finally revealed

After months of waiting, the United Kingdom's entry "I Can", performed by veteran boy band Blue, was revealed tonight after a performance on the BBC's "Graham Norton Show".  Graham is not only an avid Eurovision fan, but he's also been the network's commentator on the ESC finals since Terry Wogan's departure after the 2008 event.  The song's studio version was leaked yesterday, but it wasn't until tonight that we saw Blue perform their entry live:

I normally am not a huge fan of boy bands...I grew up surrounded by screaming hordes of Backstreet Boys and N*SYNC fans, and I generally just rolled my eyes and put on my Dave Matthews Band or La Ley CDs.  Plus, while Blue was huge in the UK, Ireland, and parts of continental Europe, they never really made much of an impact on the charts here in the US.  So, when people started flipping out over Blue's reunion and the fact that they'd been chosen to represent the UK in the ESC, I was interested, but skeptical.  Frankly, I had been unimpressed by many similar acts in Eurovision over the years.  When I saw Lena Meyer-Landrut's adorable reaction to Blue's participation (which has unfortunately been removed from Youtube...bummer!), I was intrigued.  But after seeing "I Can" performed live, I'm completely convinced.  This might be the UK's best hope for a Eurovision win since Katrina and the Waves.  It's instantly memorable and performed well by a group with a decade of experience under their belts (displaying strong harmonies, and Lee Ryan's high notes are golden).  Also, the fact that they already have an established fan base all over the continent gives them a major leg up, even over nations in a larger voting bloc.  I have a very difficult time imagining this not hitting the Top Five, and may very well bring the UK their first victory since 1997.

I might not go running out and tattooing Duncan James's face on my right bicep, but if "I Can" wins the whole thing this May, I won't feel the need to hide under my bed in a fetal position with my Ben Folds Five albums and Foo Fighters t-shirt, rocking back and forth and whimpering.  And for a staunch former hater of boy bands, that says a lot.  Very well done, UK!
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