ESC Countdown 3 days: Who will Shine at Semi 1?

Tonight is the first actual broadcast of Eurovision week, as the 18 contenders in the first semi are whittled down to ten finalists via juries and televoters. About eight of the finalists are pretty sure bets with Sweden, Portugal, Armenia, Finland, Cyprus and Australia the closest thing to certain qualifiers. Add in  perennial votegetters Greece and Azerbaijan and the qualifying list is almost full.Kyiv2017

Let’s look at the top three contenders tonight. Armenia has a striking stage presentation and great vocals.  Her votes from the East could put her at the top tonight, though of course the actual scores and rankings from the semis aren’t made public till after Saturday’s final.

Portugal should end up with their best placing ever this year. Working for them is their touching, charming singer and performance, with his sympathy-getting story of Salvador’s heart condition that prevented his from attending last week’s rehearsals (with his sister, the song’s composer, standing in before his Sunday arrival).  The question marks are whether votes turn out for a fine song that is in Portuguese and sounds like it could be 50 years old.

Sweden has been consistently near the top of the final scoreboards for the last seven years, and this year should keep up that record. Robin is goodlooking and a fine singer with a great modern song and stage package. If juries and voters prefer something that screams international radio hit, he could walk away from tonight with the highest score.

We are only a few hours away from tonight’s Kyiv semifinal broadcast, and as always in Eurovision, there will be surprises and disappointments when the top ten are announced. But if any of these three powerhouse entries somehow fail to make the finals, it will be a stop-the-presses shocker.

ESC Countdown 4 Days: I Miss Jury Rehearsals!

This is a little departure from recent posts, and is more of a personal rant.  Of all the wonderful things I miss from not attending Eurovision in person this year, the one I’m pining for the most might come as a surprise. I REALLY loved going to the three Jury Rehearsal shows, which are the first public dress rehearsals and take place the nights before semis and the Grand Final.

The Jury Rehearsals are watched by the professional juries from each of the participating nations, whose scores have a 50% bearing on the final scores each country awards.  So even though we can can these full show runthroughs a dress rehearsal, none of the artists give anything less than 100% in their performances (if they have any brains in their heads).

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The show is also the very first time anyone sees the full semi or Final as it was designed to be seen, in real time, no do overs, with all the bells and whistles and special effects in place, and before a cheering live audience. When you spend a week at Eurovision with tickets for all the shows, the excitement of the Jury Rehearsals and seeing every performance live on stage for the first time is probably what you remember most fondly.

Of course, there is nothing so much fun as watching the scores mount up on Finals night and hearing the roar as the winner is announced and brought to the stage for their victory lap performance, but the relatively calm and yet focused energy on rehearsal nights is something I will always treasure and look forward to sharing again, maybe next year?

Countdown to Eurovision 2017: 8 Days

A Cheat Sheet to Get American Viewers Up to Speed

This year’s Eurovision Song Contest takes place May 9th, 11th, and 13th from the historic capital city of Ukraine, Kyiv (formerly known in the West as Kiev). This is the 62nd edition of the Contest, which was initiated in the post-World War II era to reunite the badly divided continent through the power of music, glamour, and television. From the seven countries that took part in the 1956 debut, Eurovision has grown to the most widely-watched television non-sporting event in the world, with 43 countries competing in 2017 to present Europe’s song of the year.

The world’s very first reality TV contest, Eurovision is often compared to shows like American Idol and X-Factor, but there are several big differences. First, Europe is voting to crown a newly-composed original song.  The artists performing the various countries’ entries range from 16 year old first timers to returning veteran superstars in their 50s and beyond. Solos, duets and groups are allowed, with a maximum of six onstage (including any backup singers or dancers).

Each nation’s entry is chosen by an official TV network in that country according to their own rules, via internal selection, or various televised contests to choose a song and an artist to perform it. And the song must never have been performed publicly before the national selection season which begins in the autumn before the next year’s May finals. The winning artist gets a lovely crystal microphone trophy, a great deal of publicity and continent-wide fame, and not a penny of prize money.

Since the winning nation of the last year’s contest is given the opportunity to host the next year, ESC 2017 has presented a very thorny path from conception to execution.  Last year Ukraine’s Jamala won with her historic (many say overtly political) ballad mourning the slaughter of Tatars by the Russian armies, 1944.  A bit on the nose, considering that the two countries are once more battling over the Crimea, which was part of Ukraine until Russia moved in to claim it as a rightful part of their own country. There is currently no love lost between the two nations, and Eurovision fans were left wondering how the situation would resolve itself this year.  Messily and bitterly, as it turned out.

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Russian Sergey Lazarov sees his popular 2016 entry fall short as Ukraine wins Eurovision.

Russia was already stinging over having presented the most-voted entry of last year and still reaching only a third place finish due to its unpopularity with professional juries (who award an equal number of the final scores). Australia was the big jury vote magnet, but fell to second place in the final scores when the televotes had singer Dami Im as fourth most popular. Ukraine was the consensus choice when their second place scores from both the televoters and juries vaulted them into the highest overall position. Did you get that (scoring can be a bit confusing in this contest)?

This winter, Russian media began a campaign to complain that the West was unfairly marking down their entries for political reasons, and that Russia should pull out completely. Their devious ultimate strategy, revealed at the last possible moment, was to send a pretty handicapped girl singer with a lovely song about unity and togetherness to get sympathy votes from everyone… But WAIT! Their innocent young wheelchaired songbird was also known for entertaining ethnic Russians and army troops occupying Crimea, in flagrant violation of Ukrainian law.  The host broadcaster in Ukraine complained to the contest organizers of the European Broadcast Union that no matter what the broadcasters’ desires for unity might be, they couldn’t disregard their country’s laws and allow the Russian entry to be performed in Kyiv. The EBU really bent over backward to accommodate Russia, and even offered to allow Yulia to compete from a home country studio in Russia via a live satellite hookup, but neither Russia nor Ukraine were happy with that compromise.  Russia pulled out of the contest and blamed Ukraine. See, there are Russian scandals in all kinds of venues this year.

So the major pre-Contest story this year was that major player Russia, which generally places in the top five or ten every year of Eurovision finals, would not be participating, voting in, or broadcasting the show in 2017. This creates a lot of ripples that will affect the voting and performance of many of the 43 entries that ARE performing and competing in this popular music extravaganza.

Postscript:

The European Broadcast Union and contest organizers are still trying to figure out who to punish for this mess, and hinted that both Ukraine and Russia could face penalties of being shut out of the competition for three years.

 

 

STUNNING News About This Year’s Eurovision in Vienna!

(When I saw this on my Twitter feed this morning, I had to check the date to assure myself it’s not April 1.)  EBU and the organizers of this year’s 60th Jubilee Eurovision Song Contest have confirmed that Australia has accepted an invitation to send an entry to participate in this year’s Eurovision Grand Finals.  It’s a one-time-only offer that is part of this year’s theme “Building Bridges”, to invite the land down under to take part in the contest they have loved for so many years.

Unlike the US, where Eurovision is barely heard of, Australia has a long tradition of friends and families getting up early in the morning to watch a local network’s live feed of Eurovision.  In recent years, that network has been SBS, which will be the Australian partner to choose and send an official entry by the cutoff date of March 16.

This may not NECESSARILY be the only time Australia gets to take part.  In the event that Australia’s entry actually wins this year’s competition, they have agreed to organize and present 2016’s event in a European host city.  But in that case only, the Australians will be invited back to submit an entry again next year as a winning nation.aUSTRALIA

The Amazing Eurovision 2014 Stage

Due to a little glitch in the ticket handout, I got to the Arena last night only to find that my ticket for that night had been mistakenly for the seated section, rather than the standing area next to the stage. Since I have the standing ticket for tonight, it was no big deal to see one night’s rehearsal from further back.

What I was most struck by from sitting back in the audience, was how spectacular the stage looks.  It is MASSIVE, but can be adapted for any kind of mood.  Here is an album of photos I took last night of the great transformations of the Danish Eurovision stage:

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Meanwhile, Sunday at the Euroclub

The Euroclub is a bit out of the way, over in Vesterbro a half hour walk and bus ride from my hotel in the Indre By (downtown area). So I had been a bit hesitant to bother–it’s a late night venue after the shows and events each day for the press and accredited fans to listen to DJs playing Euro-hits, and each night five or six of the competing artists will get up and do a mini-set. I caught a bit of the show on Saturday night, and when my friend Mathias from Germany mentioned that some of the biggest stars this year would be performing on Sunday I made an effort to get there.

Two performers really brought the house down. English/Spanish rock diva Ruth Lorenzo is representing Spain this year, and got up and did a lovely, polished version of her self-penned entry “Dancing in the Rain”. Then her backup girls sang a quick a capella version of “Amazing Grace” while Ruth went backstage to change into something flashy. She came back out in full Tina Turner shimmy dress and scorched the stage with her “Proud Mary”. Then France’s alternative/hiphop party boys TwinTwin came out and did a full set of four songs that got the crowd bouncing. Hersi from Albania performed an accomplished “I Will Always Love You” and then her contest entry.

But the next performer was the one everyone was waiting for and she did NOT disappoint. Conchita Wurst of Austria was the paparazzi’s darling on the red carpet earlier, and she is more and more the fan favorite this year. After she did a vampy version of Cher’s “Do You Believe” and then smouldered through her own “Rise Like a Phoenix”, the crowd simply would not let her leave the stage. She launched into “The Heart Will Go On” from TITANIC, and then had to perform “Rise Like A Phoenix” again a second time to keep the fans from rioting.
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When Greece’s Freaky Fortune and Riskykidd took the stage to perform “Rise Up” and then cover some of the past great Eurovision winners, it was time for me to head home–all that stage intensity left me spent.

Oh, one thing that also made my night! Host of the Euroclub stage is Tim Schou, the great-looking lead singer of Denmark’s 2011 popular Eurovision entry A FRIEND IN LONDON. I had met and chatted with Tim last week at LAX as we checked in for the flight to Copenhagen, and he was really cool and friendly. Last night he spotted me from the stage and took a minute to give me a shout out as his friend from LA, and recounted a conversation we had at the airport. So I got my own little moment in the spotlight among all the Eurovision stars.

First Photo Slideshow from Copenhagen 2014

Here is a glimpse of the beautiful sights of Copenhagen greeting me during my first few days in the Danish Capital and 2014 Eurovision Host City.  Even if the ominous weather reports hold true and we get a week of rainy days, I don’t think it will dampen my enthusiasm and love for this wonderful city and its cool, laidback and friendly populace.CPH13-stroget3