ESC Countdown 6 Days: Rehearsal Week Shockers!

Cheat Sheet for US Viewers of Eurovision

Ok, I guess I have been watching too much social media clickbait.  Maybe this year’s first week of rehearsals in Kyiv has only produced one or two actual shockers, but there are definitely a host of surprises, good and bad. Some entries have turned out to be remarkably better than the press and fandom have previously judged, and a couple favorites have proved to be far WORSE.ukraine-stage

Let’s start out with some happy surprises. Slovenia’s Omar Naber is returning after 12 years, with a song called “On My Way” that would have sounded dated back in 2005. The bookmakers had this in absolutely last place of this year’s crop of 43, and no one considered it as any contender for the finals.  But Omar’s well-trained voice and stage professionalism, as well as a nicely understated stage production, have turned this “Meh” song into something that absolutely might qualify for Saturday’s big show.

Another entry that was supposedly dead in the water was Nathan Trent for Austria, who is a charming and attractive singer with a slight song.  Given its “death spot” of number two in the semifinal running order, its fate was sealed.  Until the first rehearsal, that is, when the press voted Austria as having the very best rehearsal and runthrough of the nine entries that day. Now t looks like he is a fairly certain qualifier. It’s cute, fun and well-performed…

Greece is a usual powerhouse when it comes down to the voting, partly due to the large number of Greeks in various countries across Europe who contribute to a powerful diaspora contingent across the continent.  This year they chose local pop superstar Demy, but unfortunately the Greek viewers also chose the worst and slightest of the five songs she was offered to use for her official entry. But the strength of her voice, stage presence and the beauty of the stage production propels this into an undeniable contender for the top ten at Finals.

Now for some of the bad news… Australia’s Isaiah Firebrace is a young man of 18 with a big deep voice, and bettors have compared his chances with hot favorite Kristian Kostov of Bulgaria who is only 17 and also competing with a modern, radio-friendly ballad.  But rehearsals this week by the Australian have failed to impress, and his chances have slipped to “borderline qualification”.

Iceland’s Svala also has a modern pop hit on tap for her entry. “Paper” was warmly welcomed into the Contest when it was chosen in March, and she was cautiously viewed as a finalist, providing that the stage production was warmer and a bit lighter than the dark weirdness she showed in the national selection show. Well, from all reports she has become less engaging and more offputting, so her fine song looks to be headed into obscurity after Tuesday’s Semifinal 1.

And the big shocker… Belgium’s Blanche is a reality show winner with a deep, mysterious voice and a surefire chart-ready song in “City Lights”. Her prospects were unlimited, not just as a certain qualifier, but as the 4th-place favorite to take home the trophy as this year’s winner. A case of nerves at London’s Eurovision party put a scare into fans, and then Blanche took it easy and bowed out of the next few public appearances. But this week’s shambolic rehearsals have confirmed her paralyzing stage fright, dropping Belgium out of the top ten in betting odds, and ESC press now see her as an almost certain casualty in the first semifinal.

Ahh, Eurovision… you never know what you are going to get till you see all the entries up on the same stage battling it out for real!

Eurovision 2016 — Jazzy Girls and Pretty Boys

I realize this might be something of a “catch all” category, but there are a bunch of entries this year that don’t fit comfortably into the other posts I have put up or planned, so here is a motley group of swingy/retro girl singers, and pretty boys in groups or solo performing anthemic, pure pop or country-tinged entries.theme_eurovision_2016_small

Belgium is represented by 17-year old Laura who has a gutsy style reminiscent of classic Lulu or young Wiktoria from this year’s Melodifestivalen.

Belarus often sends somewhat “left-field” kooky entries, and this year Ivan has expressed his wish to perform on the big Eurovision stage naked and surrounded by live wolves. Since both of these options are a clear violation of Eurovision rules, we can look forward to some bizarre staging to make it appear in line with his vision.

Denmark seems to have a weak spot for goodlooking boybands, and this year Lighthouse X fulfills that Nordic need. “Soldiers of Love” is competent and catchy, but will it strike a chord with Eurovision voters?

Finland also follows its own heart when choosing entries (as last year’s Downs Syndrome punk band can attest to) and this year they have a big band retro girl singer in Sandhja who just wants to help us “Sing It Away”.

Ireland have mostly stumbled in recent years, after decades of being the powerhouse of ESC victories. This year Nicky Byrne of Westlife hopes to reverse that trend with lightweight pure pop and “Sunlight”.

Lithuania surprised fans in 2012 when Donny Montell took his unappreciated “Love is Blind” straight to the finals without any particular fan love. Goodlooking Donny is older, wiser, beefed-up and better-looking than ever this year, with his Swedish-penned anthem “I’ve Been Waiting for this Night”.

Netherlands have mostly upped their game in the last few years, and again for 2016 chose an authentic local pop star, this year Douwe Bob. This Everly Brothers-ish soft country pop goes down easy, but will it be memorable to tv viewers?

Spain chose Barei this year with jazzy singalong pop “Say Yay Yay”. The fans like it, but what about the Eurovision voters? Some reports say her staging is a little too close to the mood of Germany’s nul pointe entry from 2015.

Probably no winners among this group, though a few could strike a chord with the juries and voters in May.

First Two Entrants Announced for Vienna 2015!

It’s only November, and two participating nations have announced their artists for Vienna!  That may not seem like such a big deal, but keep in mind that last year the first artist to be announced was Austria’s Conchita Wurst, and we all know how well that worked out.

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Loïc Nottet is Belgium’s choice for Vienna 2015

Knez will represent Montenegro in ESC next May

Knez will represent Montenegro in ESC next May

First out of the gate was Montenegro, who got a new burst of excitement and energy last year in Copenhagen when they qualified for the first time since their nation split from Serbia. The country’s national broadcaster, RTCG, revealed the name of the artist, who is going to perform in Vienna. Nenad Knežević Knez, a very popular Montenegrin pop singer, will compete with a song that has yet to be determined.  Here is Knez with an upbeat Balkan stomper  from 2014, “Donna”:

Meanwhile, this year it’s RTBF, the French broadcaster in Belgium, that will choose the bilingual country’s entry for 2015.  In the past the Walloons have been less successful than the Dutch-speaking Flemish in ESC, but 2013’s Roberto Bellarosa achieved a respectable twelfth place in Malmö. And this year an internal selection chose the same route as 2013, anointing a winner from the network’s “The Voice” reality show as the Belgian artist for this year.  Loïc Nottet is a 17-year-old with a strong voice and great stage presence who could again bring home a fine result for Belgium in 2015.

Good luck to Montenegro and Belgium, and thanks for announcing two talented singers as the first artist for the 60th jubilee year of Eurovision in Vienna next spring!

Semifinal One, Second Half

After the VERY competitive first half of 2013’s first semifinal, the second half may seem a bit motley and random. Balkan hiphop followed by Baltic poprock, a dance stomper followed by a soft ballad in Greek. It is all very Eurovision. As opposed to the ladies club of the first half, this second half is more equitable, four male and four female-fronted acts. And I think there are a few more songs that we can rule out.

First up, Montenegro’s popular hiphop act, WhoSee. “Igranka” has made a big splash in the Balkan region, and after a long string of women singing ballads, it is sure to stand out. This is not the type of song that usually does well with voters, but having a modern upbeat chart-topping entry after a slow period will definitely give “Igranka” the best position possible.

Lithuania will be very hard to tip this year. Andrius has sometimes been fine on stage, and sometimes pretty bad. “Something” sounds like something The Killers might have put on an album a few years ago, only with a thick Baltic accent. Even though he has lost the top hat and tails look from the national finals and switched to something more mainstream, I think he could have a tough time reaching voters.

Alyona from Belarus made a smart move in switching songs to her faux-ethnic party stomper “Solayoh”. As the only song of this style in the first semi, with a good performance she should have no trouble reaching the finals.

The OTHER Aliona, Aliona with an “I”, comes next, with Moldova’s “O Mie”. She also switched her entry up a bit, and swapped out her indecipherable English for the Moldovan version that she seems more comfortable with. Despite Moldova’s excellent qualification record, I think “O Mie” is not a standout in this lineup, and might vanish when the televoters decide who to call in for.

Ireland chose someone other than Jedward this year. Ryan Dolan is bringing some upbeat dance pop to semi one, and that’s another welcome change. He’s pretty strong, and could be considered a contender for qualification. But coming up two entries later is Belgium’s “Love Kills”, which has a better position near the end, and if Roberto’s vocals hold up on stage he could siphon votes away from Ireland.

Despina Olympiou from Cyprus is an experienced singer, and should perform well on the Eurovision stage. But her soft ballad, “An Me Thimase”, may fail to make any strong impression. I think she will have a tough time reaching the finals in this field.

As previously mentioned, Belgium’s French broadcaster RTBF chose “The Voice” winner Roberto Bellarosa in an internal selection, and the public voted for him to perform “Love Kills”. At first this seemed really weak, but after a makeover it is a really fine radio pop song. The question is whether he can sing it well enough on stage to sell the song to the Eurovision voting public. He could not have had a better draw in the running order, so he is now in the “maybe” category.

Ending the show is Serbia with Moje 3 singing “Ljubav Je Svuda”. These three talent show winning girls have the pimp slot with an upbeat song. Even though they are singing in Serbian, the fact that Croatia, Slovenia, and Montenegro are all voting in this semi should mark them as easy qualifiers.

So there we have the first semi. Reports from the rehearsals could change everyone’s appraisals, but as of right now I would predict the following qualifiers. In the certain category, I would put Denmark, Russia, Ukraine, and probably the Netherlands (although Anouk may suffer for being last up in that string of contenders). In the fairly certain category I would put Belarus and Serbia. In the strong possibilities category I would put Slovenia (after Hannah put on a great performance last night in Amsterdam). Now we have 7 ladies and no men qualifying, so I think that we should put Ireland and Belgium in as borderline possibilities, with Austria, Montenegro and Estonia. With those 12 as possibilities, I think that makes it tough for Croatia, Lithuania, Cyprus and Moldova. We will see how the stage presentation shakes things up in just four weeks!

ESC Entries Play Extreme Makeover

In the last few years, we have had last-minute changes of entries from a few countries like Ukraine and Belarus. This year a whole slew of countries is changing their song just before the deadline or completely renovating the entry they are sticking with. Fortunately the ones announced so far have been met with positive responses!

Belarus was one of the first countries to decide this year, and many observers said at the time “Just wait, they will probably change this.” Guess what? They have, to an utterly cheesy dance-pop number that rocketed them up the betting charts to a firm top ten. “Solayoh” is an older song that has existed online as a demo for several years, but under the new qualification rules it still meets the rules. Alyona sounds quite enthusiastic in her performance–it’s amazing what taking a borderline qualifier and switching it out for a surefire fan favorite will do.

Ukraine kept its “Gravity”, but gave it a streamlining and made it more international-audience friendly. Already a top contender, Ukraine is obviously setting their sights very high for 2013 with an entry like this:

This WAS FYRO Macedonia’s entry, a grand pop number by Vlatko with wailing ethnic interludes by legendary Esma. “Imperija” was quite well-received by fans, but apparently not highly thought of in Macedonia. We are waiting for an announced new song that will feature Esma singing part of the entry in Roma.

Bulgaria is bringing back Elitsa and Stoyan, its 2007 artsts who had such great success with “Voda”. Last week their televised selection show chose “Kismet” as their entry, and yet this week it was withdrawn “due to problems in copyright negotiations”. Meanwhile internet rumors are flying that the new song “Samo Shampioni” was the choice of the artists all along, and when the TV vote that Bulgarian-tv insisted on for its own bottom line profit chose “Kismet”, Elitsa pitched a fit and hated the viewers choice. Here is the updated entry:

Meanwhile Belgium’s entry “Love Kills” has been reviled and consigned to the bottom dustbin of the betting charts since it was first performed in December. Now artist Roberto Bellarosa has returned from working with the song’s creator in Finland, and VOILA! The entry has been punched-up, speeded-up, and improved 1000%! If Roberto’s live vocal skills are better than the original song presentation, he could now have a genuine qualifier.

December Recap: First Six Entries Chosen

The first month of Eurovison National Finals is complete, and six of the 39 nations competing in ESC 2013 have chosen their entries. I don’t hear a winner yet, but with some preparation and production work, I could see three or four of these in the Saturday finals.

So far, these are the entries (in alphabetical order):

Albania:
High drama in an Eastern/ethnic style.  Well-performed, but I’m still not convinced.

Belarus:
Pretty Alyona sings a competent dance-pop song.  With work this could go over with voters.

Belgium:
For a winner of Belgium’s version of THE VOICE, he seems a little tentative on the vocals, Interested to see if this gets better.

Lithuania:
Pleasant song and singer, but bad accent and a bit monotonous.

Switzerland:
Probably the most immediate and catchy of the entries chosen so far.  With a good staging this could go far.

Ukraine:
Very pretty singer with a great voice, but the strident backing vocals take it down a notch.  If they rework this for Eurovision it could be really good.

“Love Kills” Chosen for Belgium

Sunday RTBF, the French broadcaster in Belgium, chose the song that artist Roberto Bellarosa will perform for his country at ESC in May.  Of the three finalists, an English rock/dance track called “Love Kills” was chosen by the televoting audience and jury.

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Here is the performance of “Love Kills” as presented in the live broadcast yesterday.  It’s not a bad song, but certainly it will benefit from several months of practice and performing.  Once Roberto gains a bit of experience and confidence in the song, Belgium’s 2013 entry could have a chance at making the finals.