Leaders of the pack?

I often get asked why the UK doesn’t have to go through the process of qualifying each year. Automatic qualification is given to the members of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) who are known as the “big four”. You see it’s these countries – France, Germany, Spain and the UK – who put the most money into the operations and innovations that the EBU develop for broadcasting around Europe. I do quite a lot of work with my students in relation to what the EBU do for us – and most of it is the invisible technological and telecommunication frameworks that have shaped our everyday experience of television, for well over 50 years. Without starting to actually sound like a media lecturer here, that is part of what is fascinating about the operations of the EBU and the importance of this media event to Europe.

I know some will roll their eyes when they think of some of the dreadful songs and laughable entries that go to Eurovision each year (and the semi-final last night) but that, for me, is the charm of the Eurovision. The invisible innovation that the EBU introduce each year largely goes unnoticed (see previous point).

If nothing else, participating European broadcasters demonstrate their strengths as public service broadcasters by throwing their hats into the ring each year. For many countries it would be too expensive without the financial investment in the technological infrastructure that the “big four” provide – and it is for this reason that they are given a by into the final.

There have been grumblings for sometime that this is unfair, but each year the EBU steering group recognize the investment that they provide, for all our enjoyment.

That’s the science bit over. Simple pimple.

So, with that in mind, here are the automatic finalists, whom we shall see perform on Saturday night.

FRANCE: Et S’il Fallait Le Faire – Patricia Kaas

GERMANY: Miss Kiss Kiss Bang – Alex Swings Oscar Sings!

SPAIN: La Noche Es Para Mí – Soraya

And finally, 12 points goes to

UNITED KINGDOM: It’s My Time – Jade Ewen

We’re off to the UK delegation press conference on Friday afternoon, where we will see Jade Ewen (singer), Graham Norton (presenter), Dianne Warren (songwriter/lyricist) and Andrew Lloyd Webber (‘Lord’). See if I can snag my mum some tickets to see Oliver! …

…add them to the million Russian dolls that I have been asked to bring back, for pretty much all the female friends and family I have seen in the last month!

It looks like the “big four” countries have got their acts together this year, after an embarrasing run of terrible songs and terrible positions at Eurovision.  The buzz is building around Germany and the UK particularly.  You might already have heard that world renownded burlesque performer Dita von Teese will be joining the Germany entry on stage to shake her ‘marakas’ – now that’s got *everybody* talking and it’ll make it pop on stage (no pun intended) .

😀

Here we go – semi-final predictions…

Kindly reproduced from “Boom Bang A Blog” – for which I am also corresponding (please visit – link on the right of this page!), here are your jury in Moscow predictions (Eurovision experts?)… see how we get on!

* * *

Stand for nothing, or fall for everything…

Last year when I was in Belgrade for Eurovision Karen, Milija and I voted on who we thought were the runners and riders to make it to the final from each of the semi-finals. 

Who this year will fall at the first hurdle and bring shame to their country, and who will enjoy an extended vacation in Moscow and go through to the pan-European votes on grand prix night.

Tonight, as we ready ourselves for all the excitment of “round one”, we have cast our votes for the BBAB bloggers, and here is what out “expert” jury think will make it though tonight…

MONTENEGRO                                                      

Karen, Phil and Toni: NO! Apostolos: YES!

 CZECH REPUBLIC                                                           

Karen, Phil and Apostolos: NO!  Toni: YES!

 BELARUS

Karen and Toni: YES!  Phil and Apostolos: NO!

BELGIUM

We all say: NO!

SWEDEN     

Phil and Toni: Yes! Apostolos and Karen: NO!

ARMENIA

Karen, Phil, and Apostolos: YES!  Toni: NO!

ANDORRA

Karen, Phil and Toni: YES!  Apostolos: NO!

 SWITZERLAND

We all say: YES!

TURKEY

We all say: YES!

ISRAEL                                                                    

Apostolos: YES!  Phil, Karen and Toni: NO!

BULGARIA

We all say: NO!

ICELAND

Phil, Karen and Toni: YES! Apostolos: NO!                                              

FYROM                                                        

Apostolos: YES! Phil, Karen and Toni: NO!

 ROMANIA

Phil and Karen: YES!  Toni and Apostolos: NO!

 FINLAND                                         

Phil and Apostolos: YES!  Toni and Karen: NO!

 PORTUGAL

Karen, Toni and Apostolos: YES!  Phil: NO!

 MALTA

We all say YES!

 BOSNIA

We all say YES!

 See how well we get on this year.  BTW: I am rushing to get this done before I head for the Arena, so I hope I have noted everything down correctly!  See if you agree with what your Moscow-bassed BBAB jury think.

 

Will Chiara hold her nerve?  Will you gasp at Iceland’s toilet roll holder of a dress?  Will you throw the television out of the window when your hear Belgium’s “Copycat” – I’ll be screaming “COPYRIGHT?!” (you’ll know what I mean when I see it!).  Will these songs rain on the Lord’s parade (that’s Andrew Lloyd Webber, you understand) or will they do nothing to prevent the UK romp to victory.

 

Vodka at the ready, people… here we go…

 

FACT OF THE DAY: always drink responsibly does not apply when watching the Eurovision…

Dress to impress – volume one…

Today (Monday) I have registered at the Olympic Arena so that I can now provide you with the action as it happens.  The stage is only feet away from me – but getting through the ultra strict security makes it impossible unless you have delegation accreditation.  Here’s the view of the venue as I arrived…

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This was an unplanned visit to the dress rehearsal – but Karen and I feel like we’ve beenhere for 24 hours, and we have had no contact with what’s going on, first hand.  So we snagged some tickets and I was in my seat (sound of harps) as Sweden took to the stage…

24-sweden

It is still mad as a box of frogs, but I’m still a fan – and hopefully not the kiss of death that I was last year?! 

Doesn’t the stage look stunning?  The set design for Armenia certainly makes the song sound better, for me…

25-armenia

Andorra offered us a perky performance…

26-andorra

Meanwhile, Switzerland rocked-out and used the dynamic set to stunning effect…

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Just in case you don’t know where we are (the stage during an ad break)…

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Again, Bulgaria used the stage to amplify an otherwise bizarre song (see what you think on Tuesday evening)…

30-bulgaria

For Karen, Apostolos and me the performance of the night was from Iceland.  A strong song with impressive stage presence.  I’ll be unkind about her frock on Boom Bang A Blog, so I’ll let the music do the talking until you see this song (and that dress) on stage…

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Portugal were the sleeper of the Contest last year, and they might just repeat that in 2009.  My friends over dinner last night all love it – and they think that this is a sailing through to the final.  Once again, the art direction for this song uses the stage to full effect and really does add a little magic to the song…

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 And finally from the first semi-final, keep an eye and an ear out for Chiara – a longtime fave of mine – and as you have heard earlier on this blog – let’s hope that Chiara does well on her third attempt. 

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So, you might see me in the arena when the first semi-final is broadcast on BBC3 at 8.00p on Tuesday.  See if any of these songs tickle your ears and delight your eyes.

 😀

A bit of television tourism…

Day Two in Moscow.

The three hour time difference is playing with my body clock (we are 3 hours ahead) but despite this we were up and out of the apartment by midday.  Karen and I headed for Red Square and the Kremlin, as it is on our doorstep.  The location of our apartment is worth every penny/cent/euro/ruble. When you turn the corner and this is what you see…

 

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Here are some images of the day yesterday afternoon (Monday) as we headed for the Press Centre. It really is stunning…

  

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17-me-saint-b

 

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But what of the Song Contest itself?  News as it occured next…

It’s her time, finally…

jade-e

Well, it’s time for Jade Ewen to start her Eurovision campaign for real as she has arrived in Moscow.  Today (Saturday) provided us with the footage of her first rehearsal.  The buzz is building around the UK entry, and with Jade appearing on what seemed like every magazine programme on UK television last week, let’s see if she can live up to the hype…

I have just watched it with my bestest Eurovision friend, Rachel, and the Rolfe family posse – they are my Buckinghamshire stop-over before I am despatched to Heathrow Terminal 5 in the morning.  Overall we think that this is a positive start, despite the shaky and somewhat breathless vocals at the start.  That said, she more than rises to the challenge of the key change and the vocal gymnsatics.  Given that we’ve seen some rather ropey vocals over the course of the rehearsals so far, I think that this has the potential to give the UK our best finish since 2003.

No sign of Andrew Lloyd Webber tickling the ivories for this rehearsal – rest assured that he’ll be on stage with Jade, one week from today.

Greece is the word…

greece2

Here is the hot, hot, hot second favourite this year (at the time of writing) – Sakis Rouvas. When he first represented Greece in 2004 he had an infectious song (8/10) and weak vocals (4/10). That was only good enough for 3rd place. There have been concerns about his vocals this time around – so let’s see how he did in his first rehearsal…

Personally, I would put this way ahead of Norway at this stage – it has great stage presence and the choreography is as dynamic as the song.

Estonia

estonia2

I’m thinking of my good friend Paul Jordan at this point – who is an expert on all things Ukrainian and Estonian – he’s in the process of completing his PhD in that area. I think this is in contention…

(warning – this footage contains a Lilly Allen copycat fringe, in the absence of any strobe lighting)

Paul has arrived in Moscow and was gushing about the magnitude of the stage – I can’t wait to see it on Monday. Paul also said that this performance is strong – and so he’ll be waving his Estonian flag with pride. One to watch, and surely it will make it to the final.

Azerbaijan

azer2

I quite like this (“when I listen to it on my iPod” ©), but I think I have listened to it too many times over the last few months and so I’m a little bored with it now. My eurofan friends have warned me that the performers can’t deliver us a quality live vocal, so lets see…

I think that they can deliver – it’s just a shame that they have removed the crucial middle eight into the key change. Eurovision songs are well renowned for a key change, so it is more than noticeable that they have removed it. This song does remind me of the Greek entry from 2001…

Quartissimo & Martina’s first rehearsal for Slovenia

Poor Martina – trapped in a sleeping beauty’s glass coffin for half of the song…

And no vocal until half way through the song? You might think that’s rather odd for a song contest, but no – in 1995 Norway won the grand prix with a largely instrumental song…

 Is this ‘Love’ at first sight for Lithuania?

 sasha2

 Lithuania have sent the love child of Alicia Keys and Justin Timberlake to the Eurovision this year…

The piano refrain sounds like “Falling” by Alicia Keys, and Sasha Son is styled like JT. Is it me or can you start singing “we are the champions my friend” at some point in the melody – see if you can pick up that thread in the song.

Finally for now – from the bottom to The Toppers

Here’s what The Netherlands are offering this year…

Like a group of dads at the family disco, anyone? They’re massive stars in The Netherlands, apparently… but why is that backing singer selling cornettos on stage?

Let’s hear it for the Boy…

Here is the hot, hot favourite for the Contest this year – Alexander Ryback singing for Norway…

 

 norway

 

 

I wonder if Alexander has a signed letter from his mother to be there… he looks very young!  My good friend (and euro scholar) Professor Brian Singleton informs me that the Maltese singer thinks that he looks like Harry Potter – the early years.  I guess there is a touch of Daniel Radcliffe to him, but still – a saucer of milk for Chiara!

 

norway2

 

I’m the kiss of death when it comes to backing a winner – but does it sound like a winner to you?  Get involved and let me know.  The staging is all a bit chaotic for my liking – although the Cossack inspired choreography will curry favour from Eastern European viewers, I’m sure. 

 

The odds have narrowed even further so the bookies must like what they see.

 

Tonight, Matthew, I’m Ronan Keating…

 

This is Danish singer, Brinck…

 

 

You’d have to agree with me that he sounds a wee bit like Ronan Keating.  He might even look slightly like him?

 

denmark

 

Well – and this is where it gets really interesting – the song is written by Ronan Keating!  We might ask ourselves why Ronan himself is not singing for Denmark, or indeed representing his home turf with this song.  Some Irish eyes were raised at Ronan’s involvement with the Danish delegation, but perhaps he didn’t want to be the second turkey to represent Ireland in as many years… Dustin the Turkey didn’t exactly wow Europe last time around.  I guess Denmark have found one way to get some easy votes out of the Irish jury and televoters – and it stands a good chance of making an impression in the first semi-final (Tuesday 12 May).  And with Ronan Keating in mind…

 

Will Irish eyes be smiling?

 

ireland09

 

Last year it was the rather odd choice of television personality and, erm, puppet “Dustin the Turkey” to fly the flag for Ireland.  He was always a controversial choice, and the viewers around Europe did not get the joke – mind you I struggled myself.  This year RTÉ (the Irish broadcaster) have sought to make amends by not sending a literal turkey… but is the song, performed by Sinead Mulvey and Black Daisy, set for a good stuffing?

 

 

Very derivative of P!nk and other female artists. It’s quite catchy, but I think it will struggle to get to the final.  Although I must be kind as Brian and myself have tickets for the final courtesy of the Irish Eurovision Fanclub.  I’ll have my flag ready for Sinead and the girls.

 

All the World’s a stage…

 

poland

 

And finally today we have the Polish entry – a song which I quite like when I hear it on my iPod (other portable audio devices are available!).  However, at this early stage of rehearsals Lidia Kopania’s performance is pitchy and nervous.  I think it’s easy for us as television viewers to forget that performing on the Eurovision stage is a daunting prospect, and some artists will need rehearsal time to build their confidence.  I’m also reflecting on the size of the stage this year – it’s massive.  It feels like this performance is being overwhelmed by the size of the space in which they have to perform.  I’ll be interested to see the later rehearsal footage to see how it progresses.  See what you think…

 

 

And I have the first curse of my media interviews!  No sooner had I said in a radio interview with Dune FM this afternoon that I thought there were fewer novelties and distractions for the viewer to absorb, the Polish rehearsal throws in pointless ballet dancers as a sideline to the main performer.  I find it distracting and irritating – and it seems at odds with the song.  If you look closely at the backing singers I’m sure you can see them chuckle slightly when the dancers start ‘throwing some shapes’… isn’t that what ‘the kids’ say these days.  I’ll check with Tanya Byron…

 

See you for other well regarded songs from Azerbaijan, Greece, Ukraine and Estonia in the next post.

What’s your favourite chocolate?

I know some people who love Maltesers.  I know loads of Eurofans who love one Maltese-er in particular – the representative for Malta, Chiara.

 

malta

 

Now, if it’s true that God loves a trier then Chiara must feel blessed. This year marks Chiara’s third participation in Eurovision.  In 1998 she came third, in 2005 she came second – will she go one better in 2009 and claim victory at the grand prix de l’Eurovision?

 

Chiara is a seasoned performer, and as you will see from her first rehearsal yesterday, she has a powerful voice. 

 

 

It’s interesting that the arrangement of this song has been improved since it was selected. This is quite important as there is a ‘battle of the ballads’ amongst the favoured songs – including our own Jade Ewen for the UK. I have contacts with the Maltese delegation so hopefully I’ll be able to meet Chiara for one of my many blatant attempts to be seen with the runners and riders at this years Eurovision!

 

A warm reception for Iceland…

 

iceland 

Interest in the Icelandic entry is building – and you can see why from the footage of the first rehearsal…

 

 

I have long believed that solo singers do really well when they are supported by excellent backing singers – and that is definitely what Iceland are doing here.  Last year Norway had an excellent song which was very well supported by powerful backing vocals and they snagged fifth place in the final.  Eagle-eyed fans might have noticed that it looks like Friðrik Ómar, lead singer on the 2008 Icelandic entry, is back at Eurovision – this time in a supporting role.  

 

The battle begins for Bosnia…

 

  bosnia

 

Bosnia and Herzegovina sent a slightly eccentgric entry to Belgrade last year. This year it is all more earnest and anthemic.  The group are Regina, and they are joined on stage by three drummers, for theatrical effect.  Choreography is effective but you will notice that there are some pitchy vocals at this early stage, and what sounds like someone dropping a drum…

 

 

One of my early favourites – and following the rehearsal yesterday it has jumped to fourth favourite with the bookies.  All eyes will be on the leading contender Norway at the rehearsals on Tuesday afternoon.  Let’s see if it can maintain its position…

 

Moscow magic gets underway…

It’s all go in Moscow with the first rehearsals underway for the semi-finals next week.  Some of my friends and Eurovision scholars are already in the city and in the Olimpiyski arena to watch the first rehearsals of all 42 countries.  Can you imagine!

By the time I get to Moscow next Sunday the majority of the rehearsals will be finished, although it was interesting last year to watch the dress rehearsals for the semi-finals and see that some of the performances and logistical transitions between entries were still a little rough around the edges.  That said, with the magic of television it all goes smoothly on the night.

I have no intention of subjecting you to the rehearsals of all the countries, instead I thought we could have a butchers at the cream of the crop – the favourites with the bookies – or some of the more interesting entries.  Here’s footage of what was going on on the first day of rehearsals…

 Hadise rehearses for Turkey…

Currently (and consistently) third fave with the bookies, behind Norway and Greece.  It’s a ‘Ronseal’ entry this year for Turkey – it does exactly what it says on the tin… very Turkish. Let’s not forget that Holly Valance did a cover version of “Kiss Kiss” all those years ago (which was originally a Turkish song), and there’s definitely a flavour of that here – as well as a little Shakira Shakira.  Neill Cockwill has put a few quid on this song after being subjected to it in our office since January!

Lovebugs get their campaign rolling for Switzerland…

 

Were you expecting that?  One of the more rockier numbers should hopefully get through the semis… Turkey did very well with a similar song last year.  Did you know that Celine Dion won for Switzerland in 1988 – beating the UK by one point?

Will you adore-a Andorra?

One for the Miley Cyrus/ Hannah Montana crowd?  A pleasant little ditty – with a catchy chorus. A friend of mine is convinced this will do rather well. I’m not completely convinced myself!

Viva La Diva for Sweden…

This will go one of two ways – the audience of Europe will love it or hate it. I know that Julie Climpson loves it – every time she passes my office and hears it she tells me that it’s her favourite! And you have to agree it’ll stand out for many reasons. 

At this early stage of rehearsals you notice things like the mike level for the backing singers isn’t strong enough in the mix – but it’ll get sorted as they refine the performance.

So there we are – day one of the rehearsals in Moscow. Last year I thought that the stage was stunning in the arena, and I think that the versatility of it this year is even more interesting… let’s hope that the performances will be just as dynamic.