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.
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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.

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.

 

 

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 Running Order for the Grand Final!

Saturday night Europe will choose its song of the year, and here is the order of finalists:

  1. Belgium
  2. Czech Republic
  3. The Netherlands
  4. Azerbaijan
  5. Hungary
  6. Italy
  7. Israel
  8. Bulgaria
  9. Sweden
  10. Germany
  11. France
  12. Poland
  13. Australia
  14. Cyprus
  15. Serbia
  16. Lithuania
  17. Croatia
  18. Russia
  19. Spain
  20. Latvia
  21. Ukraine
  22. Malta
  23. Georgia
  24. Austria
  25. United Kingdom
  26. Armenia

Contest organizers took the randomly drawn slots that each artist drew which placed them in the first or second half of the show, and placed them in a running order that makes sense technically and also makes for a good experience for viewers.theme_eurovision_2016_small

Two of the top entries, Belgium and Armenia, have been placed at the beginning and end. The remaining strong contenders have generally been spaced out through the evening.  There used to be a certain superstition about which places in the running order were lucky and unlucky, but recent years has mostly disproved such speculation.

Tonight’s dress rehearsal will tell us more about the running order and its progression when we see and hear it all in action!

We have our last group of Finalists

Tonight’s semifinal was a tough one, and many good entries got left behind. We have ten more finalists now, and Saturday’s running order will be published shortly.  Here are the remaining ten finalists:

Latvia

Georgia

Bulgaria

Australia

Ukraine

Serbia

Poland

Israel

Lithuania

Belgium

Of these ten I think the top rank are Australia, Belgium and Ukraine, with Serbia and Latvia close behind.finalists