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.

Eurovision 2016 — the Little Songs

In compiling my last post of 2016 Eurovision entries, modern songs category, I finished and realized several songs that fell through the cracks.  And then I realized that every year brings a new batch of small, unobtrusive entries that tend to be forgotten.  But most years some of these songs are the ones that go on to surprise fans and sneak through into the finals, and often achieve high scores. Last year Cyprus and Hungary were not on anyone’s radar to succeed, but both made it to the Grand Final.

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This year there is a batch of little songs, some of which are likely to break through anedd do well in the voting. Most of these are performed my solo female vocalists, with a few male-artist songs as well.

Poli Genova of Bulgaria entered Eurovision for her home country before and failed to make the finals, though fans remember her and her previous entry fondly.  This year’s Bulgarian entry by Poli is a strong, catchy little song that most of us hope will succeed for her this year, “If Love Was a Crime”.

Croatia has entered ESC2016 with an entry that was hotly tipped for top ten at least, though some of the enthusiasm has already cooled down. Here is Nina and “Lighthouse”, which should be popular enough to at least make it through to the finals.

Germany has a recent history of doing very well or very badly in the Grand Finals (as a member of the Big Five, they proceed directly without competing in any semis). This year, Jamie-Lynn and “Ghost” is a fine little singer-songwriter entry that is held back by a rather silly look for its artist, a 17-year old who loves performing in a kooky Japanese street-fashion getup.

Israel has not had many entries succeed past the semifinal stage in r local recent years until last year’s party hit “Golden Boy”. This year they have gone for an androgynous boy with a well-performed but rather anonymous ballad, Hovi Star and “Made of Stars”.

Italy has done well since its return to Eurovision in 2011, mustering up a second and a third-place finish. This year’s entry is lovely and small, and may not be enough to catch voters’ attention when it counts Saturday night. Here is the pretty bi-lingual “No Degree of Separation”.

Poland returned to ESC two years ago and made the finals both years since then. This year they have a fine singer and pretty ballad, but will it be enough to keep up their string of qualifications? Here’s Michal Szpak and “Color of Your Life”.

Switzerland have not had an easy time reaching the finals lately, and don’t seem likely to this year with their Canadian singer Rykka. “The Last of Our Kind” is a pleasant song, but with neither a strong singer or big impact they might get lost in the shuffle this year.

The United Kingdom has bombed out in the finals for several years after choosing their entry internally, so this year they added a selection show and public vote. Joe and Jake are not likely to get anywhere near the top five this year, but their results shouldn’t be the embarrassing bottom that the UK has reached in the last five years or so.

Are we likely to see a winner from this group? Not likely, though at least one or two dark horse surprises are likely to emerge Eurovision week in Stockholm.

Filling in the Blanks

As in most years, you can’t really get an idea of the quality of a Eurovision before the last weekend of national finals. And as in most years, the fans have been crying “worst Eurovision ever” since the very first entries were chosen or announced. But in the last two weeks the national entries chosen have drastically raised the quality of this year’s contest. So let’s play “catch-up” and listen to some of the recent entries.

Yesterday San Marino unveiled their song for KBH, and it’s fine (if a bit dated). Valentina’s third try in a row, with her third song by veteran ESC composer Ralph Siegel, is a great “grand lady” ballad in the style of 1970s Shirley Bassey. If this were 1994 this would immediately be in contention to win, but I think it skews a little old for today’s Eurovision voters. Here’s the Italian version, which is a bit more distinctive.

Also yesterday we found out the song for previously announced artist Aram MP3, and it is surprisingly strong. Armenia has skyrocketed up in the betting odds to the top 5, and may even win their semifinal. A gritty midtempo ballad, here is “Not Alone”:

France used a real selection show this year, after internal selections that didn’t make much impression with ESC voters in the last three years. They have a quirky indie-ish party song by Twin Twin, and most fans are glad they chose the riskier entry that could get them back up into the top half of the voting board.

Greece had a couple of ethnic ballads in their selection, and most fans figured that the Greeks would choose local heartthrob Kostas Martakis. But instead they are sending Freaky Fortune featuring Riskykidd and “Rise Up”, a poppy rap hiphop with a Balkan beat. Not the strongest entry I have seen, but no doubt Greece will get its usual top ten placing

Georgia is another country that usually does well. This year they paired up an established band with a jazzy guest vocalist, and came up with a polished entry that might be too free-form for first time viewers to warm up to.

Germany had a great group of contestants to choose from, but I don’t think Elaiza was their wisest choise. Here is the German entry for 2014.

This weekend or early next week the remaining question marks should be filled in, as Azerbaijan, Russia, Norway, Belgium and Portugal complete their selections or announce their songs. It’s starting to look like a good year for Eurovision in spite of it all!

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.

Is ESC2013 Turning Into ‘Ladies Nights’?

All the most recent countries to select their entries for ESC 2013 have made the same choice, a female singer.  Especially if you look at the top of the betting boards right now, where the top three are female singers from Norway, Denmark and Germany.  Germany chose their entry Thursday, and it is nominally a band, Cascada, though no one much sees anyone but Natalie onstage.

Cascada’s “Glorious” featured here on the blog a few weeks ago when I remarked on its similarity to last year’s triumphant “Euphoria”.  That being said, the song is a powerhouse that will be at the top of the charts across Europe by the time that Eurovision rolls around in May.

Slovenia announced another dancefloor stomper as the song for its previously chosen artist, American-born Hannah Mancini.  “Straight Into Love” is catchy and powerfullyy voiced by Mancini, and should get Slovenia back into the finals this year.

Meanwhile, a third Central European nation chose its entry Friday, when Austria decided its strongest choice is Natalia Kelly (yet another American-born singer).  Earlier I had dismissed “Shine” as a bit too Idol-winner’s coronation song to go far in Eurovision, but Kelly’s contest performance far outpaced her competition.

And little Cyprus also unveiled its entry, as Despina Olympiou’s song for ESC was revealed to be anthemic mid-tempo ballad “An Me Thimase”.  Well-sung and powerful, it remains to be seen if a ballad in Greek still has the appeal to voters Cyprus needs to reach the finals.

Latvia will be choosing its entry tonight, and has some strong entries from bands and solo singers male and female.  I think their national final is the strongest they have offered in years, so I am hopeful for their final choice.

And finally, Italy revealed which of the contestants at San Remo would be the choice for Eurovision, and the winner is a talented and very photogenic 24-year old MALE singer, Marco Mengoni.  His Eurovision song has not yet been decided, but here is his San Remo prize-winning competition song “L’Essenziale”.

Big 6 qualifiers throw a curveball!

Now all the semifinalists have been through two rounds of rehearsals, and the picture becomes a little clearer. BUT!… Today ALSO marked the first rehearsal for the six automatic qualifiers: last year’s winner, Azerbaijan, and the Big 5, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK. Most years the Big 5 (or 6) add only an asterisk or footnote to the predictions and prognostications the reporters and bloggers have so carefully amassed during the week. This year presents a big problem–all the Big 6 are good! Suddenly a blogger who has been carelessly tossing around accolades as to who will be automatically a top three or top five finisher in next week’s finals realizes that after today, there are ten or eleven in their “top five”.

First to rehearse today was GERMANY. The entries were meant to rehearse in the same order as their songs’ positions in the running order, but Engelbert Humperdinck would not be ready for the first rehearsal and so the UK switched with Germany for today. Germany’s young contest winner, Roman Lob, proved to be note-perfect, camera-ready, young and attractive. His Jamie Cullen-penned entry, “Standing Still”, is poised to move effortlessly into the world’s pop charts no matter what his placing in the contest. But there’s no reason to suspect that he won’t do well in Baku.

FRANCE has opted to internally select one of their nation’s top recording artists, Indonesian-born songstress Anggun, with a song she co-wrote “Echoes (You and I)”. Anggun’s stage presentation is a bit busy and not camera-ready yet, but there is no worry that she will not be up to the task of impressing viewers next Saturday.

ITALY is widely seen as one of the few true rivals to Sweden for the victory this year, and though Nina Zilli and “Out of Love” didn’t knock it out of the park today, there is no denying her catchy song and fresh appeal. Can she raise her game enough to take home the prize in 7 days?

This year’s host country, AZERBAIJAN has returned to their winning formula of the past three years of turning to the pop geniuses of Sweden to supply a ready-made top entry. “When the Music Dies” is written by a team headed by Swedish Idol’s top judge, Anders Bagge, and presented by the knockout beauty Sabina Babayeva. If the Azeris don’t repeat with another top five entry for the third consecutive year, they won’t be far away…

SPAIN has suffered with poor results the last several years, and responded by choosing a home-grown superstar in Pastora Soler, and a song penned by Thomas G:son, Tony Sánchez and Erik Bernholm, “Quedate Conmigo (Stay with Me)”. Today Pastora knocked the crowd dead with an amazingly strong, pitch perfect rendition of her soaring ballad that left no doubt that she will bring home Spain’s finest result in years.

This year the UK hinted that they were presenting a world-famous star of the music scene with their 2012 entry, but few were ready for 76-year old Engelbert Humperdinck and “Love Will Set you Free”. Will their gamble pay off? In the rehearsal today, the Hump started off in shaky vocal form, but built to a solid performance by the end of his allotted session. Will Engelbert join the Russian grannies as the senior contigent atop the scoreboard for 2012?

Tomorrow I will run down the second rehearsals of the semifinalists and whose ratings have risen, or taken a fall…