Kiev 2017?!

Last night in a nailbiter that proved Sweden’s idea to separate out the televote and present it from lowest to highest scores was the right way to energize the final portion of the show,  Australia clobbered everyone in the jury vote, Russia topped the televote, and then Ukraine won by coming second in both categories.

Ukraine’s song is emotional, heartfelt, and very dark, recounting the feelings of loss Ukrainian Tatars suffered when Russia attacked in the throes of WW2. It’s not a song that people will get down to on the dance floor, sing along with at Eurovision parties, or probably even buy mp3s of online.  It’s a worthy winner, but not a fun one.  If Australia or even Russia had topped the scores, the crowd in the arena would have been jumping and bopping to the final reprise. Instead they watched and applauded respectfully.

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Sergey and Jamala have two different reactions to his voting score and her victory.

But Ukraine must be respected and applauded for her commitment and artistry.  Let’s wait and see how the hosting gig for next year plays out, since the Ukraine government and tv network are not exactly flush with cash to mount an event like Eurovision 2017.

Is it Anyone’s Race This Year?

Last night my LA friend and I attended the dress rehearsal of the Grand Final, and the high quality of the entries makes it hard to pick a winner. Russia, Australia, Ukraine, France, Sweden and Armenia are crowded at the top of the betting, and a credible case can be made for any one of them to win the contest.

Meanwhile, Eurovision is making news this year for this year’s surprise interval act, Justin Timberlake debuting his new Max Martin-composed single.  Although for arcane reasons this segment is the ONE part of the show that will be blocked out from the US telecast, American JT fans can watch him on the eurovision.tv internet streaming version of the show.  I am also sure that after the show his song will be burning up YouTube.

The Final Lineup for Saturday is Clear

Thursday’s semifinal provided no great surprises, but added the rest of the favorites to Saturday’s Grand Final roster.  Sweden goes from strength to strength, and the talented and goodlooking Måns Zemerlöw, though he doesn’t require bravura vocals for “Heroes”, could certainly give a master class to Eurovision artists on broadcast skills, camera angles, and connecting with the audience.  I think he is most likely to be the hero of Eurovision this year and take home the crystal microphone trophy to Stockholm.  the other strong possibilities for the win are Italy and Australia, with Russia and Estonia being the outside favorites to take home the victory.

Here is the lineup in performance order for tomorrow night’s final.. In the US, watch the show streaming live via eurovision.tv or YouTube at 3pm EDT / noon PDT on Saturday afternoon.

The running order for the Grand Final

  1. Slovenia
  2. France
  3. Israel
  4. Estonia
  5. United Kingdom
  6. Armenia
  7. Lithuania
  8. Serbia
  9. Norway
  10. Sweden
  11. Cyprus
  12. Australia
  13. Belgium
  14. Austria
  15. Greece
  16. Montenegro
  17. Germany
  18. Poland
  19. Latvia
  20. Romania
  21. Spain
  22. Hungary
  23. Georgia
  24. Azerbaijan
  25. Russia
  26. Albania
  27. Italy

(The show runs about three hours or slightly more, with the performances taking up the first two hours, then the voting, interval acts, scores and victor’s reprise taking up the remainder.)

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My ESC2015 Top Ten So Far

It’s been less than a week since the final entries have been revealed, but time enough to make some quick favorites. Until the reports come in from the rehearsals in Vienna the first week in May, these are my favorites for top ten:

10th place – Russia – A Million Voices

In a perfect world, this would be in my top five, or even top three.  The group of songwriters who came up with Russia’s entry in 2013 are back and better than before.  Gabriel Alares, who placed highly in Swedish Idol 2013, is an excellent songwriter and he may be back as backing vocal again this year too.  But following the trends of the last three years, Russia is presenting a highly suspect plea for international peace and love.  Coming from any other country, it wouldn’t have the same air of hypocrisy, so this otherwise great entry JUST squeaks in to my personal top ten:

9th place – Belgium – The Rhythm Inside

Belgium are following the path of the Netherlands, and going from annual laughingstock to serious contender in Eurovision.  This song is presented by Belgium’s French-language broadcaster, who two years ago brought us Roberto Bellarossa and his his 2013 success. This year THE VOICE BELGIUM brings us another male vocalist, Loïc Nottet, who has a fine, modern pop hit in “The Rhythm Inside”.  It’s a grower, and could be top five come May.

8th place – Spain – Amanecer

Spain is another “laughingstock” that has rehabilitated their image with a couple of top placings in recent years.  This year follows the 2012 formula and gives us an entry featuring a strong female vocalist, this time Edurne, and an anthemic ballad by Swedish powerhouse Thomas G:Son.  “Amanecer” could be the them to an epic fantasy film, and doesn’t get played out on repeated  listening.

7th place – Azerbaijan – Hour of the Wolf

Elnur was part of the first Azeri entry in Eurovision, and hes back with a superb anthemic ballad.  This year no one will need to speculate that Azerbaijan might be buying its way to a top placement in the contest.

6th place – Slovenia – Here for You

Slovenia has had an up and down history in Eurovision, but has been on a recent upswing.  They could have their highest placing in years with Maraaya’s modern radio-friendly “Here for You”. Her entry reminds me a little of Germany’s 2010 winner, “Satellite”.

5th place – Norway – “Monster Like Me”

This is the year of male/female duets in Eurovision, with at least a half-dozen in the running.  One of the best is this touching and strange love song from Mørland and Debra Scarlett, which should easily reach the top five in May.

4th place – Australia – Tonight Again

This is the 60th Jubilee year, and Eurovision had a little trick up its sleeve.  Offering a final slot to faraway Australia was a publicity stunt that could end up with Australia coming tantalizingly close to winning ESC2015.  Guy Sebastian, the first Australian Idol, has a great voice and a fine entry in “Tonight Again”.

3rd place – Italy – Grande Amore

A week ago, this was so firmly at the top of the betting odds that I’m sure many Eurofans already started reserving hotel rooms in Rome for next May  But the announcements of the last batch of national entries shook things up quite a bit, and I now have them only in the top three, but probably not atop the winner’s podium in Vienna. Opera always promises more votes than it ends up delivering at the end (I believe).

2nd place – Estonia – Goodbye to Yesterday

Another modern hit, one that rocketed Estonia up in the betting odds before it was even selected, is this sly duet from Stig and Elina.  It has a cool country-tinged sound that fits well in current international pop charts, and a good stage performance should bring it close to the top in Vienna.

1st place – Sweden – Heroes

This felt like a winner from the start, and reports from the Heads of Delegations meeting this week to kick of the final phase of Eurovision found that a huge number of countries already view Sweden as top contender for the win this year. It’s current, clever without being cloying, and has a strong, secure singer with a great presence on camera.  It’s the one to beat in my book…

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Europe, Do We Have a Winner?

As the second-most successful country in Eurovision history (and rising quickly) every year Sweden’s entry is near the top with fans and bettors.  But with tonight’s LANDSLIDE victory at Melodifestivalen by Måns Zermerlöw and his radio-ready “Heroes” fans everywhere are considering that Sweden may have its second victory in four years. Stockholm 2016, anyone?

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Yes the song is fun and ear-worm catchy, the singer is good-looking and personable, but the clever and unique stage performance is what puts the whole package over the top.  Cute and charming without being cloying, it’s going to be memorable when it comes time to vote in Vienna. There are still five or six more songs to be revealed, but this will certainly be in the top five, if not straight to the top of the scoreboard.

Photos from last night

Of course the Jury Final is incredibly important, and it was a great show. I still think this contest is Denmark’s to lose unless something horrible happens to Emmelie between now and the voting, but the other top ten positions could go to almost anyone. I am just looking forward to watching the show at HEAVEN and cheering on whoever wins!

Here is my slideshow, mainly of the contestants on stage. Being in the standing room area right next to the stage certainly added to the excitement and immediacy of the entertainment!

The Automatic Qualifiers (Big Six)

Well, we can be sure of six of the entries in the Saturday ESC finals. The Big Six = France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK, plus last year’s winner Sweden. A few years ago, back when it was the Big 4, you could almost be guaranteed that none of them would take the contest seriously. But recently everyone has upped their game (more or less, and I am looking at you, UK) and at least deserved their place in the finals.

France has had a few years since they got a great result (Patricia Kaas, 2009). This year they are sending reality show star Amandne Bourgeois with “L’Enfer et Moi”. She seems to be a great live performer, and we think she should find herself somewhere in the middle between Kaas 8th place finish and 2012’s 22nd place for Anggun.

Germany has come back to life in Eurovision after winning the contest in 2010. This year they have turned to international dance music superstars Cascada, whose song is unfortunately a paint-by-numbers response to last year’s winning “Euphoria”. Even so, they stand a good chance at top ten.

Italy has come back to the contest with a bang, placing 2nd in 2011 and9th last year. 9th seems to be about right for Marco Mengoni this year, an excellent and charismatic singer, saddled with a song that won’t stand out enough to push him to the top.

Spain was absolutely GREAT last year, with the second song that year by Thomas G:son propelling them to a top ten finish. This year they apparently wanted to enter with something fully home-grown so they chose locally popular band ESDM. Unfortunately “Contigo Hasta El Final” is pleasant but anonymous, and will probably leave Spain back in the bottom five this year.

The United Kingdom don’t seem to want to do well in Eurovision, lately choosing acts that would have been fine in the contest decades ago, but well past their “sell by” dates in the 2010s. Last year Engelbert was far outside the sweet spot of what Eurovoters are looking for nowadays, and this year they have done a LITTLE better with sexagenarian Bonnie Tyler. Her gently countryfied “Believe In Me” won’t embarrass British fans, but won’t end up near the top.

Sweden has taken the “lagom” approach to this year’s entry. Robin Stjernberg is an excellent vocalist, and “You” is a good song that fits well in the modern pop scene. It will do moderately well, probably somewhere between 5th and 10th place, which is just where Sweden is aiming this year (they don’t want to be the host that hogs the party).

And there we have it, all 39 entries. By the weekend we will have a far better view of how they will all fare, once everything has been presented and rehearsed on the big stage at Hyllie. Far from being the boring, low-quality contest many were predicting, I think that 2013 will shape up to be one of the best Eurovisions in many ways.