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.

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!

Now It’s Time to Start Catching UP

Sorry guys, my work schedule has taken over my whole life the last two months.  But now I feel like that is caught up for now.  So now it’s time for catching up on  Eurovision 2014, which will be coming up faster than we think.

I plan to blog at least once a day on the latest developments in the Contest and the National Finals that are taking shape.  For example, the 32 contestants chosen for Swedish Melodifestivalen, the 15 chosen for Belarus, the six chosen for Switzerland (yawn!), the 24 chosen for Latvia (kinda Yay!), and the contestants for Montenegro, San Marino and the Netherlands who are just awaiting their songs.

New logo for the 2014 contest (copyright EBU)

New logo for the 2014 contest (copyright EBU)

Meanwhile a beautiful Eurovision Island is rising from the mists of Refshaleøen on the København waterfront, with more exciting ESC 2014 developments coming up daily as far as the seating layout, theatre configuration, location of the Euroclub, and plans for the Eurovision mile along Strøget.  Stay tuned and let’s get back up to date!

Second Semifinal, First Half

The second night of semis is harder to predict than the first this year. It isn’t really that the quality is higher (four of the top five contenders in the betting odds are in the first semi, after all). It’s more that there isn’t such a big distinction between the top contenders and the rest in this semi. With the right set of circumstances, you could make a case for almost any of these entries qualifying. Some of the borderline entries have also been helped by the running order, evening things out even more.

Kicking things off Thursday evening is PeR from Latvia, with their upbeat party anthem “Here We Go”. This is squarely at the bottom of the betting odds, but number one in the running order is the best starting position the boys from PeR could hope for. Could it qualify? I will be interested to hear the reactions from their first rehearsal onstage tomorrow.

Next up is fan favorite San Marino, also known as Valentina Monetta and Ralph Siegel 2.0. After last year’s ridiculous “Social Network Song”, it’s actually kind of heartwarming to see Ralph and Valentina come back with something so different and… GOOD! Currently at 10th to win the whole shebang in the latest odds, it’s a fairly safe bet that San Marino will finally break out of the semis this year.

On the other hand, F.Y.R. of Macedonia started out with a good song this year, but has slowly making things worse with every change. Esma even mentioned that Macedonia would have done better to pull out of the contest this year than switch to “Pred da se Razdeni”. Lozano has an honestly good voice, though his part of the song reminds me a bit too much of Donny Montell’s “Love is Blind”. But Esma’s wailing in Romany feels so inauthentic and grafted-on that I find it hard to imagine this qualifying.

Next up, the little country that could, Azerbaijan. Will Farid keep up his country’s flawless string of top ten entries? Probably so, though I think his English pronunciation really needs some work. “Hold Me” sounds a bit like a Dima Bilan cast-off, circa 2006, but it should definitely qualify.

The big fun change of pace in this half comes when we get this year’s only bit of harmless, silly 80s-style pop. Krista Siegfrieds bubbly “Marry Me” is definitely a breath of fresh, bubblegum-scented air in the second semi. Will she put in the girl-on-girl kiss and its implicit statement in favor of same sex marriage? Can’t wait to find out!

Malta’s simple singalong “Tomorrow” is sweet and harmless. Gianluca is pleasant and charming, and this year Malta’s fortunes could go either way. The right staging would do a lot to help sell a little love song like this; let’s hope they do something catchy to get viewers to remember “Tomorrow” come voting time.

Bulgaria brought back their only succesful artists, Elitsa and Stoyan, to hopefully bring back the fine placing they achieved in 2007. “Voda” was a lot better than “Samo Shampioni”, so it’s anyone’s guess whether lightning will strike twice for the percussive Balkan ethno-folk duo.

Iceland is serving up their first entry in Icelandic since Páll Oskar’s “Min Hinsti Dans” in 1997. This year it’s Eythor Ingi with the lovely unadorned ballad “Ég á Líf”. Eythor is a solid vocalist, and his native language is one of the loveliest to sing. The bettors don’t think much of Iceland’s chances this year, but I think it could surprise.

Greece chose an entry that I initially HATED, “Alcohol Is Free”. It’s the kind of manic zaniness that we expect to hear from Moldova, and makes not a lick of sense. But Koza Mostra have been one of the most popular acts every time they perform this song at any of the Eurovision concert showcases this year, and EVERYONE expects it to sail through to the finals. I am still not in love with it, but I grudgingly see its appeal.

From this group on Thursday, I expect Greece, Azerbaijan, Finland and San Marino, plus maybe Malta or Iceland to pass through to the finals. Latvia, Bulgaria, and F.Y.R.O Macedonia will have a tougher time.

OGAE Fan Clubs agree with the bettors on Denmark

31 OGAE clubs have voted

31 OGAE clubs have voted


31 of the OGAE Eurovision fan clubs have awarded points to the 2013 entries in their annual poll, and a few interesting developments have emerged. First, the fans are in complete agreement with ESC betting parlors on Denmark being the winning entry this year, with Emmelie taking an insurmountable lead comparable with the one Loreen had last year. The fans also agree with the bettors that Norway will be in the top of the final scoreboard, with OGAE and the betting odds both currently having Margaret in their third position. The second place is an area of disagreement, with the bettors second Ukraine only reaching 8th with the OGAE fans. Meanwhile the fans’ second place, San Marino, only reaches 11th in the betting odds. The final voting totals should be published in the next few days, but the current standings have enough space between the various places that there isn’t room for a lot of changes. Here are the total points from OGAE as they stand today:

1. Denmark – 305 points
2. San Marino -226 points
3. Norway – 223 points
4. Germany – 144 points
5. The Netherlands – 126 points
6. Italy – 111 points
7. United Kingdom – 107 points
8. Ukraine – 89 points
9. Sweden – 81 points
10. Russia – 75 points

Second day of rehearsals shakes up the odds

Another day finished in Baku, and the top ten in semifinal one became a lot tougher to figure out. The second batch of semifinal one contestants performed their entries, and were good enough that they forced me to modify the predictions I made yesterday.

First up was ISRAEL, and Izabo performing their 70s retro number “Time”. In many years this would be an easy qualifier, but so far on stage it is a bit messy and unpolished. And unfortunately (for modern ESC voters, anyway) the band members aren’t hot and sexy enough to carry the day on looks. Unless it improves, Israel is a borderline qualifier at best.

SAN MARINO‘s entry, Valentina Monetta’s “The Social Network Song” was surprisingly well-sung, but the song and its presentation are both so dreadful that there is little expectation that the tiny nation will finally proceed past the semifinals this year.

CYPRUS is a fan favorite that may surprise everyone by NOT crashing and burning onstage. Ivi Adamou and her catchy dance-pop “La La Love” were so good today that she overshadowed yesterday’s similar Greek entry. Ivi began with a vocal runthrough, and then surprised onlookers by sounding every bit as together and confident when the choreography and production elements were added in. Cyprus now seems certain to qualify.

DENMARK, Soluna Samay’s “Should Have Known Better” is a modern radio-friendly pop song, and had been expected to do well (possibly winning the first semifinal outright). Soluna didn’t disappoint, and now seems to be perched at the top of semi one contenders along with Iceland, Cyprus (and Ireland). A very strong performance with an easy confidence that should charm tv viewers.

Next up, RUSSIA‘s grannies, the Burianovskiye Babushki with “Party for Everybody”. This number doesn’t really appeal to everyone. The grannies are adorable, shambling around onstage, but their number is sloppy and the vocals are not exactly perfect. But the cuteness factor counts for a lot, and if they don’t make it through to the finals it will be a BIG surprise.

HUNGARY‘s rock-inflected entry, “Sound of Our Hearts” by Compact Disco, is up after Russia. Unfortunately for admirers of the radio-ready midtempo ballad, this rehearsal doesn’t point to any great success. A rather dark stage, often flat vocals and such thickly accented English that some bloggers assumed that the band was singing partly in Hungarian don’t add up to an entry that will pull in the votes. But it’s early in the game, and some of these problems can be worked out before the big night.

From rock to hiphop and rap, AUSTRIA‘s “Woki mit dem Popo” (Shake your backside) comes as a pleasant surprise. Catchy and apparently the raunchiest thing on the Eurovision stage in years, the boys from Trackshittaz put together an immediate bit of party fluff (complete with pole dancers) that viewers will certainly remember when it comes time to vote.

MOLDOVA is an even bigger surprise, and since I have already confessed that Pasha Parfeny’s “Lăutar” is my favorite “guilty pleasure” of this year’s offerings, I couldn’t be more pleased. Previously this was considered a barely possible qualifier, but Pasha’s rehearsal was vocally strong and pure fun. Combine this with the excellent position in the running order and now Moldova is an almost certain top ten entry in its semifinal.

Rounding out their semifinal in the “pimp slot” the boys of Jedward are back for a second year performing last. And IRELAND‘s entry is even more outrageous and eye-catching than they were last year. Taking their “Waterline” theme very literally with a spectacle of fountains, waterfalls and waves in the staging and projected backdrop. Jedward have gained fans over the last year, and with their prime position in the semifinals they are virtually guaranteed a place in the finals.

So today’s second half of the first semifinal brings with it a good FIVE entries that are almost certain qualifiers, Cyprus, Denmark, Russia, Moldova, and Ireland. Add in Iceland, Greece, and Romania from yesterday, and there are only two spots in the top ten left to fill. Albania, Switzerland, Austria and Israel will probably be fighting for those last two places, and Finland, Montenegro, Latvia, Belgium, San Marino and Hungary will have to improve a LOT for any chance to be in the running.

Tomorrow, the first glimpse of the second semifinal!

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?