ESC Countdown 5 Days: Bottom of the Heap

Cheat sheet for American viewers of ESC 2017

Some Eurovision entries are just bad in a WTF-sort-of-way. Some entries are great songs with the wrong singer, or vice versa. And some are just too anonymous to find a voting audience.  Pick a few from all these  possibilities, and you have the bottom of the fan lists and betting odds for 2017.  There’s a very good chance that the home viewers won’t see any of these entries more than once, since they will either fail to qualify out of their semis, or they are automatic qualifiers you will see only in the Grand Finals before they ignominiously drop like a stone in the final voting.

Valentina-and-Jimmie

Little San Marino’s disco mess with Valentina and Jimmie

This year we have two of the Big Five automatic qualifiers that are destined to fail. Spain is recent years has been alternately VERY good or very lame.  Unfortunately  Manel and his summer beach disco reggae falls in the latter category. He is young and attractive, but the song is so repetitive and filler-ish that it is hard to see this as anything but bottom three in the Saturday night scores.

Germany, despite a recent win in 2010, has more often presented poor-quality entries that scrape the bottom of the barrel in the last decade. This year “Perfect Life” is a nice-ish little song that is okay and inoffensive, but it is hard to see who (if anyone) will pick up the phone and be moved to vote for poor Levina.

Czech Republic has struggled since it joined the ranks of Eurovision nations, only last year qualifying for the Finals (and landing with a thud in last place there). This year they tried to recreate their formula from 2016 with an attractive, competent singer and a big ballad, but this time the magic just isn’t there. Without any history of neighboring countries voting to help them, the Czechs seem destined to fail in the semi and fail to qualify.

Lithuania did well last year, even cracking the top ten with handsome and athletic Donny Montell and a Swedish-composed entry. This year their home-grown alternative rock is sinking like a stone, and there is almost no scenario that sees them getting past the semi with “Rain of Revolution”.

And tiny San Marino is the little country that could–one time only in 2014, after several failed attempts at qualification. Returning for a 4th go-round is local jazz vocal star Valentina Monnetta and her favorite composer Ralph Siegel (creator of a dozen ESC entries in the last four decades). The song this year, with duet partner Jimmie Wilson, is a disco mishmash that has camp appeal. But that alone doesn’t seem enough to save this throwback from the lowest ranks of semi non-qualification.

ESC Countdown 7Days: The Wild and Wacky

Cheat Sheet for American Viewers of Eurovision

The multitudes of gay Eurovision fans around the world are of course in love with the glamour, big hair, choreography, involved sets and bizarre costumes in each year’s new edition of the Contest. But they share another appreciation with the kids, grannies, bar patrons and everyday viewers that make up the worldwide viewership, and that is for the circus spectacle of wild, over-the-top and frequently hilarious entries that spice up the annual broadcasts.
rumania

This year doesn’t disappoint. Where else but Eurovision can you revel in such antics as a rapping paean to yodeling (from Romania), a reggae tune from Moldova with a backup dance chorus of brides and an overenthusastic Epic Sax Guy, or a pop/opera hybrid featuring one plump singer doing two voices as a duet with himself? Welcome to this year’s crop of wacky and ridiculous attentiongetters vying to rake in the votes.

Montenegro has had a tough time getting noticed and voted into the finals in the past, and this year’s approach seems to be centered on appealing to a campy homoerotic sensibility. Slavko is outfitted with a huge braided ponytail that he whips around madly while projections of hunky male dancers strut and pose to make sure no one forgets their dancey “Space”:

Croatia has a highly regarded history in Eurovision, and rarely goes out on a limb to present a thick slab of Eurovision cheese.  Until this year. Jacques Houdek’s “My Friend” has the portly singer emoting as a light pop tenor and a barrel-chested operatic baritone on the Kyiv stage.  Well-performed, and Croatia have thrown in everything including fireworks showers to make this cheesefest unforgettable. Here’s the official video, but you’ll have to wait to catch the OTT stage presentation:

Moldova has a long history of adding crazy fun to the ESC mix, including a group called the Sunstroke Project and their Epic Sax Guy that took the internet by storm several years ago. Now they are back for another crack at the competition, and the press is salivating at their antics onstage (first rehearsal snippet):

Romania is another Balkan powerhouse that has never shied away from presenting such refined entertainment as flaming pianos and a preening Dracula-like countertenor swirling around stage in a gigantic cloak.  This year they’ve brought us a yodeling duet that should mop up telephone votes (and might scare off jury professionals).

Azerbaijan is one of the most successful recent additions to ESC, having consistently placed near the top of the board and winning the whole shebang in 2012.  This year they’ve gone arty and weird, with the extremely theatrical Dihaj singing about her personal “skeletons” while being glared at by a menacing man with a horse head from the top of an onstage ladder:

And to top it off, the big favorite to win this year is Italy’s Francesco Gabbani with his satire on Westerners’ search for Eastern sprituality, “Occidentali’s Karma”.  His final chorus finds him dancing a kooky duet with a man in a gorilla costume.  If it’s musical, big and wacky on your tv, it must be time for Eurovision again.

Wacky Eurovision Covers, Topless Hunk Edition

From South African topless hunk Tiaan Grundling comes the first wacky cover from the 2012 crop.

Tiaan Grundling

South African hunk Tiaan Grundling

Grundling, who has recently done a cover of Swedish 2011 ESC entry “Popular”, follows it up with this slightly less kitsch and a bit sexier (unless you have a thing for Russian grannies) version of the Buriyanovski Babuschki party anthem, Russia 2012’s “Party for Everybody”.

Jedward release official “Waterline” video

The Irish twins with the sky-high hair just can’t stay out of the Eurovision news. Though it seems mostly like a nice chance for them to walk around Tokyo and dance in their underwear, the new official video of Jedward’s 2012 entry “Waterline” has just been released. They look good in the hairdos they are styling (more mature and yet younger at the same time). Good luck to John and Edward, and I am sure you will make Baku a lot more fun!

2012 Baku: Senior acts in top five

Unlike AMERICAN IDOL (which US news media insist on comparing Eurovision to) ESC showcases not only young talents trying to make it, but sometimes old veteran performers showing they still have IT. Along with the hotly tipped Burianovskiye Babushki from Russia, who range in age from 70 to 85, there is one more grizzled entertainment veteran (who is here for more than joke value). After the past few up and down years in the Contest, the United Kingdom this year has made the bold choice of signing 75-year old lounge and concert hall veteran Engelbert Humperdinck. Humperdinck, born Gerry Dorsey in 1936, has been setting the ladies’ hearts aflutter for almost half a century, so he has learned a thing or two about selling a song.

Humperdinck 1960s

Humperdinck almost half a century ago

And a fine song it is! “Love Will Set You Free” comes to Eurovision from an esteemed group of songwriters. Grammy winner Martin Terefe (previously worked with James Morrison and KT Tunstall) and Ivor Novello Award-winning Sacha Skarbek (who collaborated in the past with Adele and James Blunt) have crafted a slow waltz ballad that feels familiar and comfortable for the still vocally confident crooner. It has a pleasant easy-going quality that should go down well with older viewers, which is the main reason Eurovision betting parlors currently have the UK at around fifth or sixth in the finals.

That target audience is certainly the limiting factor as well. A cute joke entry like the babushka grannies can draw upon some of the young viewers who appreciate the zany silliness of watching ancient crones hopping around the stage to celebrate the joys of partying if you’re 19 or 99. But to put forth a nicely presented SERIOUS entry from an artist who looks every day of his 75 years is more of a challenge. The under-18 set who pick up the phone again and again to call or SMS in their televotes may not know what to make of a ballad of lost love among the pensioners. The final fate of the UK in Eurovision 2012 will be interesting to watch play out!…

The Dreaded Nul Points

When an entry to Eurovision is so universally detested that not a single country ranks it highly enough for a single point, it joins the infamous court of nul points. In the past when fewer countries voted, there were statistically more chances to come out of the contest with a score of zero. Even in the past decade, three entries were so rank that nobody wanted to be seen associating with them in a public place.

In 2009 Gipsy.cz represented Czech Republic with a Romani hiphop number called “Aven Romale” with its lead singer clad in a Gypsy superhero costume. Amazingly enough, it scored zero in its semifinal and led to the Czechs leaving Eurovision completely after the contest. In 2004, the Swiss Piero and the Music Stars struck out with their lame singalong “Celebrate”. And the year before, the United Kingdom’s Jemini were utterly tone deaf through their excruciating “Cry Baby” and reached the magic nul points as well (their performance is so rotten that the youtube clip has banned all comments).

What are the chances of a nul points stinker in May’s 2012 contest? About average, though the betting pages at oddschecker.co.uk have offered up a few possibilities via the reader comments. The likeliest suspects are three joke entries (at least I hope they are meant to be jokes). In the case of Georgia, the singer owns up to being a joker in the song’s title:

Montenegro has yet to qualify for a Eurovision final since its split with Serbia, and “Euro Neuro” is pretty certain to NOT break that series of failures:

San Marino actually has a decent singer in Valentina Monetta, but she has been saddled with an inane song that was originally called “Facebook (Uh Oh Oh)” until contest organizers forced them to change it (to “The Social Network Song”, with just a few trademarked company names replaced with “oohs” and “ohs”):

With these standouts, do you think that we may have another winner of the dreaded nul points trophy?

Great Years of Eurovision: 2006

Some years the Song Contest is good, others just ok.  But a few times a decade it really comes through on all fronts and rises to the LEGENDARY level.

In 2006 I ordered TV Espana on satellite because it was the only international channel that was cheap and easily available without installing a custom dish that carried the semifinal and final shows of Eurovision Song Contest.  Back then I had high-speed (haha to that claim!) DSL from AT&T, but the internet feed was still not too reliable and was prone to breakups and buffering.  So armed with a strong television feed (with Spanish announcer) and the weaker internet stream from eurovision.tv, I watched and was totally mesmerized!

The plotlines the various entries added to the mix were worthy of a screenplay.  The prime battle appeared to be the war of the Eurovision comeback divas between host country Greece’s Anna Vissi and Sweden’s former ESC winner Carola, who both had strong songs with clear winner potential. Meanwhile Romania was hot off a third place showing in 2005, and presented a modern international dance club stomper that threatened to climb the podium. The mighty former Yugoslav republics had a top winner candidate in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s “Lejla”, written by Balkan heartthrob Zeljko Joksimovic (who had just been a Eurovision runnerup in 2004).

Another “young gun” came out of nowhere and into the top rank of contenders.  Dima Bilan was a well-known pop star in Russia, but had not yet broken out into international stardom.  His goofy mulleted quiff attracted attention, and his number was definitely a Eurovision classic “too much is never enough” moment (especially when a ballerina rises out of the onstage grand piano). Dima stormed into second place and then came back in 2008 to win the whole contest!

Then into this heavyweight championship mix strode one of the oddest and most beloved entries seen on the ESC stage in many years.  Finland’s monster metal band Lordi were an UTTER dark horse going into the contest.  They charmed the crowd in Athens by never being seen out of their monster costumes and makeup the entire competition week, and by the final night people were just starting to ask, “Is Europe ready for THIS as the song of the year!?” When the scores were counted and Lordi achieved a crushing victory, that question was answered!