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.

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