A Swede who lives in Finland and who is lost in Euroland - the wonderful world of Eurovision
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Saturday, May 30, 2015

ESC 2015: booing and censorship

Let me say it like it is: now and then during the voting sequence of the final in Vienna I didn't really understand what was going on. I didn't get why the presenters and Conchita suddenly looked so stern, even less why the Russian singer was reduced to tears every time we saw her in the green room.

The next day it all fell into place as I understood the audience had been booing heavily from the moment Russia took the lead and on. On the request of Russian television, apparently, EBU and ORF had foreseen this, muted the sound of the audience and added pre-recorded cheering and applause instead.

I can agree with the live audience on one thing. Russia wouldn't be my dream choice of host under the current circumstances. I'm not convinced it would even be possible to combine this event with the present Russian legislation. But that's another thing.

Polina Gagarina had spoken up for equality, vaguely but still. She had told her social media feeds what an admirable and exceptional performer Conchita is, and defended her when people wrote nasty comments. For a singer representing Russia abroad today, this is about as far you can go. Polina Gagarina was not playing it safe and yet the audience would boo her.

Could anything she said or did have made a difference? I doubt it. She could probably have wrapped a rainbow flag around her and ended her career and still get booing in return.

I'm no big fan of booing but I enjoy censorship even less. I don't know what is the official EBU line on this, but at least SVT - next year's host - often pride themselves with being "free television" and underline the importance of trustworthy public service broadcasting.

Muting booing on political grounds, replacing it with cheerful applause, is definitely crossing a line. Altering an event, pretending that what you show is the real thing, is propaganda. It doesn't matter that this is just an entertainment show. If you start airbrushing reality in entertainment it won't be long until you change things in other areas too. To please somebody. To make somebody look better.

If public service is going to mean anything to anyone, I sincerely hope we will have more backbone and a whole lot less fake applause in the future.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Eurovision on radio

Today it was back to work and I found myself sitting in a café, finishing some texts that really needed finishing, and listened to this year's Eurovision final on radio.

First I listened to the Norwegian radio broadcast, then to the BBC radio broadcast. Just to compare. And hear the songs twice. Then I decided I want to be a radio commentator when I grow up.

I actually have been a radio commentator twice - in 2009 and 2010 my tv commentary was simulcast on radio - but that's not the same thing as my script was meant for the people who could see for themselves what happened on screen.

Radio commentators are cooler, can allow themselves softer voices, don't have to care about the images shown to the audience. Instead they can paint their own picture of what is coming up, what it looks like, what to expect.

I am also much more aware of the entries. I suddenly know exactly who sang well and who didn't. I heard new instrument in the orchestrations. It is baffling how much the images distract from what you hear. Despite being a show designed for television, hearing Eurovision on radio only adds new dimensions to the experience.

Not too long ago, the juries were only allowed to hear - not see - the dress rehearsal. They got an audio tape, listened a few times, then watched the performances on the live show after already being familiar with the songs. I am not saying we should go back to that but it would most certainly make for pretty different points being given.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

ESC 2015: the return of the nul points

When the current points system was implemented in 1975, one of the important things about it was that it was thought to make it impossible for any country not to score.

They should have seen flashing lights of warning in 1975 and 1977 when Turkey and Sweden, respectively, only received points from one country each.

In 1978 Jahn Teigen made his grand entrance and made sure once and for all that it was fully possible to cling on to your zero all the way through. In 1981, Finn Kalvik did the same.

There is no shame in ending on nul points, that must be said. You might have a better average result than other songs that happened to slide into top ten in one or two countries. You had bad luck, that's all.

The responsible people back in 1975 must have felt happy lately as there was no country leaving the final without any points for twelve years, but this year the big zero returned with a vengeance. Not only did we have a double nul-pointer - like in 1983 and 1997 - but this time the host country left the voting without a single point. This has never happened before.

It also puts Austria in some kind of lead if you so wish - together with Norway - after having finished without any points three times since 1975.

It only makes sense to count nul-pointers since 1975, since the voting systems changed a lot before that. Some years it was very easy not to score, some years impossible. So here they are: all that songs that failed to score under the current system. Any personal favourites among this bunch?

1978 Norway – Jahn Teigen / Mil etter mil
1981 Norway – Finn Kalvik / Aldri i livet
1982 Finland – Kojo / Nuku pommiin
1983 Spain – Remedios Amaya / Quién maneja mi barca?
1983 Turkey – Cetin Alp & The Short Wave / Opera
1987 Turkey – Seyyal Taner & Grup Lokomotif / Sarkim sevgi üstüne
1988 Austria – Wilfried / Lisa Mona Lisa
1989 Iceland – Daniel / Það sem enginn sér
1991 Austria – Thomas Forstner / Venedig im regen
1994 Lithuania – Ovidijus Vysniauskas / Lopsine mylimai
1997 Norway – Tor Endresen / San Francisco
1997 Portugal – Celia Lawson / Antes do adeus
1998 Switzerland – Gunvor / Lass’ ihn
2003 United Kingdom – Jemini / Cry Baby
2015 Austria - The Makemakes / I Am Yours
2015 Germany - Ann Sophie / Black Smoke

ESC 2015: the juries did what they should do

Moments after Måns Zelmerlöw had won the Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna, the full detailed voting was made public by the EBU.

I was too tired to dig into it myself but the people who did soon discovered that Italy won the televote by a landslide - had there been no juries, we would be headed for Rome next year.

In the televote Italy won, Russia came in second and Sweden third, but the jury vote reversed the top three and swung things around.

There is nothing wrong with this as such. That's in fact what the juries are there to do. To counterbalance certain things (diaspora votes, for instance) and strengthen songs that are good (and hit friendly) but not instant enough to hit home on one listening.

It is just remarkable how much the juries kept Italy down. (The same goes for Estonia, another entry one would expect be jury candy rather than a general audience favourite.) The Italian offering was relatively original, it was well sung, it had proved to have hit potential. Maybe professional jury experts don't want to be associated with anything as shameless and common as popera.

But I still have two main objections to the current jury system.

Each juror ranks all the songs in the running instead of just rewarding its favourite songs. You don't only pick your favourites - you can effectively give minus points by placing a country last, especially in the final. We saw last year how tempting it can be for some to disregard the entries in question and put countries in low places due to political preferences. What little I've seen so far this year points in the same direction.

The jurors are all hand-picked by people inside the ESC bubble and are probably not selected at random. Many of them are selected for having a history with the ESC rather than being contemporary or relevant. In some cases there seem to be very close ties between the selected jurors and the broadcasters they represent.

These jurors have an awful lot of influence on the voting, given there are just five per country. I'm not sure how I would revise this system - if at all - but if I was an EBU executive I would at least examine it thoroughly and evaluate how well it is working.

There seems to be flaws here in there, at least. Last year, the Georgian jury was disqualified - this year the same happened in Montenegro and FYR Macedonia. Following the rules without trying to bend them seems to be more difficult than you'd think.

ESC 2015: the results

Just for the heck of it - here are the full results of the 2015 Eurovision final:

01) Sweden 365 points
02) Russia 303
03) Italy 292
04) Belgium 217
05) Australia 196
06) Latvia 186
07) Estonia 106
08) Norway 102
09) Israel 97
10) Serbia 53
11) Georgia 51
12) Azerbaijan 49
13) Montenegro 44
14) Slovenia 39
15) Romania 35
16) Armenia 34
17) Albania 34
18) Lithuania 30
19) Greece 23
20) Hungary 19
21) Spain 15
22) Cyprus 11
23) Poland 10
24) United Kingdom 5
25) France 4
26) Germany 0
27) Austria 0

The division of placings is the one performed by the scoreboard. What the algoritm to divide the songs with nul points is? No idea. Ask the maths geniuses in Vienna. But it is nice of Austria to take the last place on themselves instead of pushing it on Germany...

Victory for Sweden! (It's nice to be right)

I felt it in my bones ever since I heard the first snippet of "Heroes" in early spring - and now it happened. Måns Zelmerlöw wins the Eurovision Song Contest and Sweden grabs its 6th victory.

The voting was the most exciting for many years - even better than the one last year in Copenhagen. Tight and with many twists and turns until Sweden finally headed out ahead of the others.

My prediction from earlier today worked out quite well too. I had predicted Sweden, Italy and Belgium as the top three. Russia ended in second place and pushed the others down on step, but that's all.

Russian Polina Gagarina was really taken by the whole situation which resulted in a very emotional but not totally perfect performance. She deserved her second place, but I guess the EBU heaved a sigh of relief.

The big break of the night is the fourth place of lovely Loïc Nottet from Belgium. What a fantastic talent, what a star. If he lands on the right people who give him the right tools and enough space to grow, he will turn into something sensational.

I am also very happy for the success of Latvia, Estonia and Norway. Most deserved. I had hoped for more love for Slovenia, but you can't have it all.

Austria became the first host country in Eurovision history not to score a single point. I had predicted a possible triple nul-pointer - instead we had a double. Neither Austria nor Germany deserved it but didn't manage to sneak into any country's top ten. Some other countries got more anticipated support from neighbours and friends, while Germany and Austria seem to have none.

The sea of ballads in the last half really took its toll on quite a few contestants. Out of the last thirteen songs, only Italy, Latvia and Russia managed to distinguish themselves, while everyone else failed.

More analysis tomorrow, these were just a few thoughts at once. I'll go to bed very happy and content and think to myself that it's nice to be right.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

ESC 2015: Tobson top 27

Here is comes - the awkward moment when you have to put your money where your mouth is and try to predict some kind of outcome.

When you try and predict the placings of 27 songs - many of which disturbingly similar in style and content - you are bound to make a lot of arbitrary choices.

Just like the juries did last night when they had to rank all songs in order to get a result. Hasard and co-incidence will have a big finger in the pie that is the final result.

But if they can do it, so can I. Here is my vain attempt of foreseeing the future. In a few hours we will know how wrong I was.

01. Sweden
02. Italy
03. Belgium
04. Russia
05. Australia

06. Slovenia
07. Estonia
08. Norway
09. Israel
10. Latvia

11. Spain
12. Azerbaijan
13. Cyprus
14. Lithuania
15. Romania

16. Serbia
17. Germany
18. Georgia
19. Montenegro
20. Armenia

21. Greece
22. Albania
23. Austria
24. Poland
25. Hungary
26. United Kingdom
27. France

When was the last time you saw this amount of wishful thinking in the same place? In still think there is a risk/chance that there will be someone left without a single point, I think several songs in the region of 06-15 could swap places, but I stand by my top five.

Good luck to everyone and vote until your fingers go numb!

ESC 2015: maybe our winner is Sweden

I remember thinking to myself the first time I heard the very short snippet SVT made available of "Heroes" when it was about to compete in the last semi final of Melodifestivalen: This sounds good enough to win the whole thing.

There was something dark and moody about it that I was instantly attracted to. A melancholy, a darkness, an edge. Happy but not cheerful. Slightly sad but hopeful. I loved it at once.

I still think it is the best song out of all forty, with the added bonus of being performed by somebody who really comes alive on stage.

Måns Zelmerlöw was born to do this. When the camera lands on him it is easy to think this is his sole purpose in life - to deliver a song in the most perfect way. He adds gravity, soul and a playfulness this song really needs. The song and singer is a match made in heaven.

The back story isn't necessary but adds an extra layer to the whole thing. Måns has spoken in interviews about a time when he felt lost and alone and needed someone to guide him right. The animated man in the background is a teenage Måns in search of someone to look up to.

If Conchita was the message we needed last year, maybe this is the message we need now. If we just do our best to be good people others can see that, look up to us and follow our example. I'd be very happy if that message was strong enough to win.

Dream placing:
Sweden only have one silver medal through the years, but nevertheless - the dream placing is #1.

Måns Zelmerlöw - Heroes (Sweden 2015)

ESC 2015: maybe our winner is Belgium

Suddenly there is quite a buzz surrounding Belgium and Loïc Nottet. Only a few days ago I was still slightly worried that he wouldn't survive his semi and here we are a couple of days later with a real hype sitting in our lap.

If Belgium would win it would be the most cutting-edge winner since Loreen and one of the most avantgarde winners ever. It probably means it is just a tad too difficult to break into and that it won't win. But anyway.

If you are looking for good omens, it is worth pointing out that also Sandra Kim sang as 13th when she won in 1986.

If Belgium wins, it will be very interesting to see if RTBF and VRT would manage to co-host it this time. Would they even make an effort to do it together? Last time they tried - for the 1987 ESC - they had a fall-out and the whole project stranded already before they could decide on a host city.

And if they don't win but get really close it will be interesting to see what RTBF does. When Urban Trad almost won in Riga twelve years ago, rumour has it the people in charge got scared stiff and for years sent in entries that were surely chanceless. I hope that won't happen again. I like Belgium when they are good.

Regardless - win or lose - Loïc Nottet could be a huge star and the best thing since bread came sliced. A winner no matter what happens tonight.

Dream result:
if a victory is out of reach I would at least be very happy and pleased if Belgium got into the top 3

Loïc Nottet - Rhythm Inside (Belgium 2015)

ESC 2015: maybe our winner is Italy

The Austrian team was joking after the second semi final and suggested they might put a bit favourite to sing as number two in order to see if there really is a curse of performing second. Instead they seem to have gone for trying another curse.

For the last two years it really hasn't been an advantage to be the last one on stage either. Ireland ended last in 2013, UK flunked in 2014 despite being one of the favourites.

But can anything stop this tropical storm of emotion, operatics and passionate love? Is there any way this one could lose, being the last one the audience will hear? (Or will the audience be exhausted by then and turn their ears off? Not an impossible scenario either.)

It would be most interesting to see how Italy would take on the task of organising this event. Not least since Rome 1991 forever will stand out as the most perfect realisation of televised chaos.

The question is how much momentum the ESC managed to gain in Italy since their comeback. How much funding would RAI estimate the contest to be worth? Maybe an Italian victory would result in a really low budget contest next year? Preferably a slick, good-looking and visually appealing low budget contest.

That alone would be worth a victory.

Dream placing:
top two. Maybe RAI officials would prefer another second place but it's not for them to decide.

Il Volo - Grande Amore (Italy 2015 rehearsal clip)

ESC 2015: maybe our winner is Australia

Australia takes to the stage for the first time as an active participant in the ESC after having followed the contest closely since the early 1980's.

Australia is a unique participant as it doesn't fulfil any of the basic criteria for eligible countries: it is not an active member of the EBU and it is way outside the European Broadcasting Area.

The EBU have explained that they participate as a guest - that's why they go directly to the final - and that they will take part only once and never again. Unless they win, then they'd get to send another entry 2016 and co-organise the contest somewhere in Europe.

Few people were surprised when, the other day, the EBU bosses started hinting at Australia possibly becoming a steady participant after all. That's at least what I've been suspecting all along. So why all this nonsense about being a guest and all the pampering and special treatment?

Even though their status as a hot favourite may have gone done a bit during rehearsals, the extra attention and the easy-going nature of the song could still carry a long way in tonight's voting.

The most interesting thing if Australia wins is the process how to select the actual host country. According to Christer Björkman Germany has already been chosen, something the EBU were quick to deny. But why not? Germany would be the obvious choice in my book.

I would prefer for them not to win. For the EBU to have to stand up and say that they made a decision to give Australia special status. And maybe to draw a line somewhere. Or we could end up with a final consisting of 35 songs, eight of which come from "special guests".

Dream result:
a 4th place wouldn't look bad at all for a debuting country.

Guy Sebastian - Tonight Again (Australia 2015 rehearsal clip)

ESC 2015: maybe our winner is Russia

Tonight is Judgment Night when Europe will finally decide which one of the twenty-seven finalists will be the winner. One of the most likely winners is Russia, given a performance slot close to the end, in theory one of the best places you could get in this running order.

I have been critical of this entry but mainly due to the horribly cheesy lyrics. A load of clichés stacked onto one another in a way I hoped we had left behind somewhere in the early 1990's.

But the song itself has a very strong chorus, which is enhanced even further by the terrific performance by the glimmering Polina Garagina. She is clearly one of the best singers in the running and makes her song come alive. I even almost forget the horrid lyrics because she is so good. Warm and likeable.

If Russia wins, it will be a real headache for the EBU in the coming year. Is it even possible to host this event in Russia under the current circumstances? And if they decide that it's not: what rule in the rule book could be used to explain why Russia wouldn't be offered the right to host? Expect a lot of nervous tip-toeing around a number of questions if Polina wins tonight.

I hope none of this would matter tonight. Russia is not my dream winner for a number of reasons but if they don't win at least I hope it won't be for political reasons. Judge the songs, judge the performances and then we deal with the rest later.

Dream result:
somewhere between 3rd and 5th place, a dignified result not too close to the top

Polina Gagarina - A Million Voices (Russia 2015)

Friday, May 22, 2015

3 x nul points

When watching the 1994 Eurovision I remember a strange feeling emerging when, almost halfway through the voting, as many as seven countries were still clinging onto nul points.

(Then came Malta and punctured no less than four zeros on that scoreboard. By an extraordinary co-incidence they also went on to receive high marks from all of the countries in question. Lucky break.)

In the end, only Lithuania was left with a no points score and that felt unfair. I'm not really a fan of nul-pointers, I tend to feel mainly sorry for the people involved. It's a little bit of a relief that nobody ended pointless in a final since UK's Jemini in 2003.

This year - when every country will leave sixteen countries out in the cold - the risk is greater than ever that an entry will not make it into the top ten of any country. Especially as so many entries are similar to each other. Nineteen slower songs fighting for more or less the same attention - it is obvious that a couple of these will fall through.

France. UK. Austria. Poland. Hungary. None of these should feel particularly safe tomorrow.

If there has to be nul points anywhere at the end of the voting I am hoping for an old dream of mine to come true: the multiple nul-pointer. Since the introduction of the current voting system, we twice had two countries sharing last place with no points.

I'd like to see a three-way zero: three countries (or more) left with no points. Just for the sake of it.

When we finally get somebody failing to score in a final after this long time, it would be easier if several delegations shared the fate instead of one single performer standing there in the negative spotlight. And if we get several countries left with nothing as the voting is coming close to the end, the bottom of the scoreboard could well be more interesting to follow than the top.

Molly is Ireland's own Pernilla

Ireland's Molly Sterling didn't make it to the grand final of Eurovision which is a shame for a very pretty little song. Given how overwhelmed she seemed to be - both on stage and when interviewed in the green room - maybe it was all for the better.

Maybe she'll be happier to go home now, let the experience sink in and then keep on making music.

Regardless, her song reminds me of a very young Kate Bush sitting at her piano, singing something not violently different from The Man With The Child In His Eyes.

But it also reminds me of Finland's Pernilla Karlsson in Baku 2012. There is some sort of sisterhood between these two entries. Neither one made it to the final but both were a chance worth taking. And both will have their loyal fans for years to come, regardless of the result.

Pernilla - När jag blundar (Finland 2012)

ESC 2015: the final running order

A eurovision producer's nightmare? Let me try to explain. Like Oslo 1996 - when you have one single up-tempo, happy, chart-friendly hit in an endless row of ballad and it gets drawn to perform as number two.

Or in Düsseldorf, where the final lineup was really good until hasard decided to put basically all favourites together in the first half of the show without spreading them out the slightest.

To avoid things like these, there was a change of rules in 2013. The draw was reduced to deciding what half of the show you perform in, then the host producer gets to sequence the running order instead.

But what does it help? Out of the 27 songs in the final - I'm repeating myself but TWENTY-SEVEN? Who thought that was a good idea? Did nobody watch the horror that was the 2007 semi final? - only eight are uptempo. And seven of them are drawn in the first half. After the commercial break in the middle all songs but Georgia will be ballads or mid-tempo offerings.

The running order:
01. Slovenia, 02. France, 03. Israel, 04. Estonia, 05. United Kingdom, 06. Armenia, 07. Lithuania, 08. Serbia, 09. Norway, 10. Sweden, 11. Cyprus, 12. Australia, 13. Belgium, 14. Austria, 15. Greece, 16. Montenegro, 17. Germany, 18. Poland, 19. Latvia, 20. Romania, 21. Spain, 22. Hungary, 23. Georgia, 24. Azerbaijan, 25. Russia, 26. Albania, 27. Italy.

What does this mean, then? It means that most people that are not hardcore ESC fans or didn't hear the songs several times already will have a very long evening. A very very long evening where most of the songs in the second half will turn into one big heap of similarity, regardless if your song is good or not.

What strikes me is how this running order probably hugely diminishes the chances of both Russia and Italy - they are still convincing but the average viewer will be very tired  when they come on and will have a harder time to give yet another ballad a chance. I won't count them out just yet but it isn't doing them any favours.

My guess is that the songs in the first half will find themselves with an advantage and I find it likely one of them is our winner. Estonia. Sweden. Australia. Belgium. Anything is possible.

Semi 2: A slight improvement

We did better in the second semi, both me and ORF. I think the show looked better already and we finally had a decent qualifier sequence. Very nice and the least we can expect, really.

As for me, I got eight out of ten and I can just blame wishful thinking for not getting all ten.

I had both Lithuania and Poland on my qualifiers list up until the last moment when I decided they were too lightweight and too un-dynamic respectively to impress the viewers.

I predicted Iceland in the final but don't miss them. I'm happy that their playing-it-safe formula finally didn't work and expect something with claws and attitude from them next year.

I also predicted Ireland in the final and am genuinely sorry that their playing-with-the-numbers formula didn't enthuse the audiences.

The biggest growers for me on the live show were Norway and - above all - the sheer wonder that is Aminata. I am so happy that the new ambitious approach was rewarded and that Latvia is back in the final for the first time since 2008. Very well deserved.

We have all the qualifiers and what will the results mean for next year? Hopefully the likes of Denmark, Iceland, Portugal and Ireland will take a long hard look in the mirror and try to do something about their national selections. Let Latvia lead the way, they showed us all how it can pay off to do that little bit extra.

I am going to bed while the producers will sit all night and try to make a good running order for the final. I am not jealous. There are almost no ballads in the second half at all. Most of the big favourites are drawn in the first half. Poor producers, they must by crying.

My guess? United Kingdom will have the misfortune of opening the final, Georgia will sing last. When I wake up I guess we will already know.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Hats off to Ralph Siegel, part 2

Ralph Siegel producing entries of dubious quality is nothing really new, I have to say that in the defence of San Marino. Maybe they are waiting for this Schlager Hen to hatch another golden egg if they let him try enough times.

They should have a look at this little... whatever it should be called... let's say song, just to make things easier. This little song opened the 1986 German final and is in some weird way a tribute to the 1957 German entry "Telefon Telefon", written by Ralph's own father.

This little song - is it even a song? I'm not even sure - ended in last place and I can't help but wonder who selected it in the first place. And why?

Why is it part of this series, then? I guess it just goes out to prove that back in the day, Ralph Siegel seemed to have a sense of humour and not take himself as seriously as recent interviews suggest he does these days.

Not good but whimsical in a sort of entertaining way. Way to go.

That's Life - Telefon (Germany national final 1986)

Semi 2: Tobson top ten

I will admit it and say it openly: prediction went so-so this Tuesday. I got seven out of ten qualifiers right, which isn't really any greater sign of having the Midas touch.

But in my defence, I still think that the results will prove very tight once revealed and that there might have been pretty close margins between who made it and who didn't.

It's the same for semi 2, perhaps on an even larger scale this time. One little positive thing could suddenly be decisive in making one song break through to the audience while another one fails. And the ballads and duets are likely to eat each other.

I also review all the songs for EILE Magazine and made my pick already yesterday. Having cold feet about one or two already but here goes. Tonight's ten qualifiers are (in an almost random order):

Because Måns is sensational, the song is in a league of its own tonight and, as predicted earlier, this is one of the top contenders for overall victory comes Saturday.

Being bold and different and thinking outside the box paid off for Belgium and should do the same for Latvia. Wonderfully odd and divisive. Not everyone's cup of tea and I love it when somebody dares not to be.

The audience will find themselves longing for something upbeat and reasonably contemporary by the end of the song presentation and then Slovenia brings relief. Catchy and with distinctive hooks, both musically and visually.

This is the dramatic duet that will blow all other similar attempts out of the water. Stylish, suggestive and with a very accessible chorus. Hard cheese for the others, especially the Czech republic. This is where all their potential points will wander.

Just like Denmarks packet-full-of-sunshine-formula suddenly stopped working, there will come a day when Europe no longer wants this type of Balkan ballad. But that day is not today, this will surely make it to the final without making any bigger splash there.

Among the ballads this one will stand out by being sparse, modest and sensitively performed by a male solo singer. And it might trigger severe nostalgia among the people who loved the Backstreet Boys back in the day.

Also a male ballad but without anything sparse or modest about it. Just like Azerbaijan last year, it could prove a little too demanding to do really well but if it doesn't make it to the final the expression "shock non-qualifier" will gain new frightening dimensions.

I had some harsh comments about this one in my preview review and I still partially stand by my critique. But Israel comes dancing onto stage after seven songs that are relatively slow and similar. It can't go wrong. Welcome back to the final, Israel.

One of my personal favourites that I hope I share with the juries at least. Reportedly, Molly has been shying away from the cameras during rehearsal which is clearly not a good thing. But I cross my fingers very hard for this one to go through.

This one is the one I am the least sure of and finds itself among my ten qualifiers mainly because Iceland always seem to sneak in somehow. This is safe and inoffensive but one day also that formula will fail.

That means that my seven non-qualifiers tonight are: Poland, Switzerland, Czech republic, Portugal, Malta, San Marino and Lithuania.

I would gladly have Lithuania in the final but I think it is too light-weight to be remembered by the end of the show. I would gladly have Poland in the final, but ultimately the song in itself isn't dynamic enough to make people pay attention to yet another ballad. I would gladly have Portugal but I see that isn't going to happen.

But what I want most of all is a change of pace for the second semi final and a qualification sequence that will allow excitement to build up. That and Ireland in the final would make my night complete.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

ESC 2015: making television isn't easy

After the first semi final it is easy to conclude one thing. Making television isn't easy. The ESC always aims at being state of the art tv and therefore it's audience is hard to please, but there were a number of easy mistakes to spot last night.

I wouldn't blame ORF for all of them, they are inexperienced with hosting the ESC. Erika Vaal is no longer around to sort things out for them, they are excused. But the EBU are not inexperienced, however. This is what they do. And they should have paid more attention to a few things regarding the show.

The camera work has upset quite a few people watching the show. I thought it was pretty fine, but some of the cameras kept wobbling up and down. That's not nice and gives a cheap impression.

Another problem is the abundance of flags in the audience. They are fun and create an atmosphere but they keep getting into every shot, obstructing the way, blocking out what is supposed to be seen. Isn't there a way of placing the cameras so you can get clear flag-free shots?

The structure of the show was an even bigger problem. Two hours is a long time to fill and most of the filler material really wasn't good enough. The chat with Australia and France went on forever and added precious little of value. That clip where pets discover Vienna was a bit cute but far too long. That idea would have worked for a maximum of 90 seconds or so.  Conchita was great in the green room but she did have a lot of time to fill. We saw more of her than of our actual hosts.

Speaking of our hosts, I am sure they are all three lovely people with great personalities. But there was no room for them to develop any roles. Like a three-headed monster they just stood together, reading one line each from a script that one single host could have handled brilliantly alone. Like three girls at school, reading their project work straight off the paper.

But the biggest flop of the first semi was - undoubtedly - the complete lack of excitement and circumstance when the qualifiers were revealed. All that non-content had been allowed to take up so much time that there was no time left for what we had all tuned in to see.

I hope there have been meetings in the Eurovision headquarters today, addressing these issues. It would be so easy to tweak things still. Make them better. Make more appealing television. I really don't mean to whine or trash Austrian tv here but there are people who work all year round with this very show. Why didn't anyone perform any quality control before the first semi went on air?

Semi 1: and the results came in

The first results are in, the first ten envelopes are opened and it for a while it felt like I got half of the finalists wrong. In the end I got seven countries right.

I had to count back to get that. The sequence were the finalists were revealed was the single weakest point in the entire show.

You have two hours to stage a semi final of 16 songs. The entries are done with quite quickly and then you throw in everything and the kitchen sink in order to fill the rest of the show.

You fill and you fill and you fill and suddenly you filled a bit too much and what should be the climax, full of suspense, is something you rush by with no time for any excitement to build. Nul points for that. It must change for the second semi. Be a bit professional.

Albania, Armenia and Greece made it to the final while I thought they would be out. What can I say about that? Arbitrary, like I said in my prediction earlier. It could have gone either way. Albania delivered a fine vocal performance but Armenia was messy and Greece dull. It's a mystery to me how either one made it.

Finland, Moldova and Netherlands are out while I predicted them to be in. Already yesterday I was on the verge of predicting a Dutch flop, during the broadcast I felt sure it wouldn't work. Static and without a trace of charm.

Also Moldova came across as really charmless and probably lost all their chances by performing first. And by selecting a performer as void of radiation as this particular one. As for Finland - Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät didn't quite shine when their big moment came. For them and their career it doesn't matter.

It doesn't matter for me either. After seeing all 16 entrants tonight, only two things stood out as truly important to me: to have Belgium and Estonia in the final. I was never really worried, I guessed they would save Belgium for one of the last. Being the very last could very well indicate that Loïc did very well tonight indeed.

I won't start chanting for Bruxelles 2016 just yet. I'll just conclude that all is well that ends well, and with Belgium in the final it ended very well from my point of view.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Big up for Belgium

The first semi final of the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest is about to begin soon but whatever happens result-wise the best entry of the night is Belgium.

You already knew this, I've been praising this madly talented little Loïc ever since last winter. Of course he is my favourite.

But I also enjoy stating it since it's not quite every year that Belgium shows their better sides and enter something good or convincing. Very much like Austria, I tend to enjoy their entries but very rarely have them on my first place.

So just because I can, I'd like to share a couple of times when Belgium really got it right.

They had their moments already before the ESC went in colour. I don't know what kind of heartless creature you must be not to melt for Tonia and her fool-proof recipe for love. (She does get the guy in the end, you know.)

Tonia - Un peu de poivre, un peu de sel (Belgium 1966)

Louis Neefs is something of a monument to entertainment in his home country of Flanders. He competed twice at the ESC and while his first song turned into a real evergreen, it's the second one that is a minor masterpiece with it's wonderfully suggestive arrangement, complete with the kind of lazy trumpet that I love.

Louis Neefs - Jennifer Jennings (Belgium 1969)

Just like Louis Neefs, Ann Christy left the world far too early and with far too few commercial successes under her belt. This wonderfully breezy little song - according to the songwriter a tale of lesbian love - is one of my all-time favourites.

Ann Christy - Gelukkig zijn (Belgium 1975)

All hell broke loose at the Flemish final when Pas de Deux and their minimalist pop experiment beat all the pre-contest favourites and the debacle in Munich was possibly inevitable, but I wish more countries dared to this kind of thing. Think of this while you hear a number of pretty but mind-numbingly dull ballads in tonight's semi.

Pas de Deux - Rendez-vous (Belgium 1983)

There are more wonderful songs in Belgian song-book than this one, but if we talk favourites this jaunty yet aggressive plea for world peace must be included. A touch too much of everything and that's what I love the most about it. Liliane for president!

Liliane St-Pierre - Soldiers of Love (Belgium 1987)

Hats off to Ralph Siegel, part 1

People are a bit harsh on Ralph Siegel these days. So am I. I'm afraid it will continue all through this week and also for the next couple of years unless he retires from San Marino anytime soon.

To counter-balance all of this, I'd like to introduce a little mini series to highlight some of the really good things Herr Siegel has done in his career.

I'd like to stress and underline that he was a gifted composer and producer that managed to make his glossy and shiny schlager stand out and sparkle and feel more like pop.

In 1980, he produced the album "Glashaus" for Katja Ebstein and it is a masterpiece from start to end. Full of tastefully arranged songs - original material as well as carefully selected cover versions - and Katja really shines throughout the whole LP.

This song, for instance. "What does she have that I don't have". Can't be much. This is fun, likeable and very well conceived. Too bad the Sammarinese entry in Vienna sounds nothing like it.

Katja Ebstein - Was hat sie daß Ich nicht habe

Semi 1: Tobson top ten

It is time to commit to the worst and hardest thing there is in Euroland. The time has come to predict the qualifiers from the semi finals - a task I find increasingly difficult with time.

Perhaps it's just a growing realisation of how unpredictable life is and how little I really know.

Perhaps - and more likely - the standard of songs has become more streamlined and you can't really know out of five standard ballads which one the audience will warm to. It feels totally arbitrary.

I am reviewing the ESC also for the terrific EILE Magazine and when I sent them my prediction for the first semi final, I couldn't believe what I had written. It was pretty much what I thought and still it just looked so... wrong.

I'd still like to blame this more on too many entries lacking an edge or attitude or a genuine will to win, which makes it arbitrary to guess which one will be lucky enough in ninth place and who will cry in twelfth.

But here goes, my ten qualifiers tonight are (in almost random order):

Everybody loves a classy superstar that belts out a big ballad. Everybody loves peace. The Russians love their children too. This one can't lose.

Simply too good not to make it. Fresh, different, intriguing. And Loïc is arguably the most interesting performer in this entire line-up.

Because quality works. A solid, tuneful and moody offering that feels real and trustworthy.

Romania always makes it to the final and this happens to be their best song in many years. Will also stand out for using mainly their own language in a sea of Bad English.

Being the last one on stage is really going to help this one make it. The aggressive tone also sets it apart from the sweeter female solo entries on offer.

I still have a hard time judging this one properly, but it will stand out of the crowd like a naked guest at a Nobel Prize reception. Like it or dislike it, but at least you'll remember this one once the phone lines open.

Despite the lazy songwriting, I hope Trijntje will make it to the final at least on the merit of being commercial and radio-friendly. And to keep the Dutch happy and make a tiny bit more of an effort next year.

People judge not only what they hear but very much what they see. This explosion of ESC kitsch is probably right at the border of relegation tonight but will amuse just enough people to sneak into the final.

I feel it in my bones that Boggie will manage to convince quite a few members of the audience on charisma and presence alone. This one also stands out by being slightly out of place and fashion and anything that sets you apart in this semi might work to your advantage.

Being the opener could really wreck it for this one, going for shock value and provocation, which would have worked much better later in the running, when people would have had a bunch of more well-behaved entrants to compare to.

So that would mean Greece, Armenia, FYR Macedonia, Belarus, Denmark and Albania are out. It makes more sense when I see it now, in all fairness.

I think Denmark and the Netherlands are fairly interchangeable, not all hope is lost for Denmark, but I'd prefer the greater radio hit potential of the Dutch entry.

Armenia could make it in case the points are all over the place and a low average is enough to make it into tenth place. So could Greece or Albania, but both feel like too much technique and too little emotion. Either one could easily snatch Hungary's place, though. Belarus and Moldova fight for the same points, somehow. I think Belarus makes too little of what they have, while the Moldovan bad taste overload will at least leave an impression.

I feel absolutely certain about four out of my ten qualifiers. That is the lowest possible amount of correct guesses you can have. I hope I will do a bit better than that.

It's just a lot easier to predict when you really enjoy songs, find them strong and convincing and want them to do well. This semi is full of competent but slightly indifferent entries and the guess is rather who will underwhelm more than the others.

But I am looking forward to a very good show tonight either way. Bring it on, Austria.

Interview: Christer Björkman

I had absolutely no time for blogging today, which is weird considering the ESC kicks off with it's first semi tomorrow. But let me at least offer you something.

During the recording sessions of the Swedish preview shows in April, I had a chat with Christer Björkman - in charge of most things regarding Sweden's Eurovision entries.

That interview is online now and can be seen here at EILE Magazine. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

UK and the car crash entries

Up until now I managed to stay under the impression that Electro Velvet could turn out to be a bit of a positive surprise in Vienna. That they could add a bit of humour and cheek and perhaps even have a shot at top ten on a good day.

Today they had their first rehearsal and got the most uniformly negative reception of the year from people on location. So much for hoping, I guess.

The problem is - as usual - that the performance isn't good enough. In a parallel universe "Still In Love With You" could have been a modest radio hit if sold well but these singers are nowhere near good enough to deliver like they should.

Very much like Jemini back in the day. I remember calling it the niftiest little pop song the UK has entered in a while, but then came that outrageously amateurish performance that still makes me shiver. Where hardly a single note hit home correctly. Where the over-excited shouting of "Come on, Latvia!" was only the last of an impressive numbers of nails in the coffin. And then some people had the nerve to blame the final result on politics.

After Jemini, no UK entry has felt really professional. At least not as professional as we would have the right to expect. Some years there has been an absence of failure but not the huge amount of talent we would have the right to expect. UK is the King of Pop in Europe. We all know what they are capable of. We all wonder why we have to put up with sub-standard like this.

Honestly, the last time the UK really showed their muscles were in 1998 where Imaani really shone and made it look very easy to be better and classier than most. The rest of us wanted to cling to that illusion. We didn't want the dream to shatter. We wanted the UK to be superior, someone to look up to, someone to admire and be a bit jealous of.

After the nul points in Riga we just couldn't close our eyes anymore. We want pop perfection and we get Electro Velvet. And that surprise top ten placing feels way out of reach.

Jemini - Cry Baby (United Kingdom 2003)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The art of sounding expensive

Maybe Italy is going to win Eurovision this year after all. I've been sure that Sweden would walk it by quite a margin but this week I started doubting. There really is something about that trio.

And their greatest asset wouldn't even be the opera part. I admit that it is effective and adds a certain gravity, but it's not the strongest part of the presentation.

What really does it for me is instead the irresistibly elegant verses, where the young gents perform in their deepest and lowest register. It gives a very sensual and masculine touch and makes the whole thing vibrate with emotion.

The best image I can think of comparing it to is deep, dark chocolate of the most expensive kind melting all over the note sheets. It feels luxurious, it feels exquisite and it feels exclusive. People tend to like things like that.

Sweden also feels lavish and expensive, although in another way, less prone to chocolate comparisons. My guess is that these two will fight it out between them in the end.

Unless Europe suddenly changes its mind and decides it wants something Nice and Quick and Easy instead. Something instantly accessible and totally common. A Mars bar or a Snickers. Then the winner is anyone's guess (Electro Velvet, anyone?) and I will sit there surprised, overwhelmed and longing for my exclusive pralines.

What good are strong vocals?

The reports are pouring in from Vienna, where the contestants of the second semi final are going through their second rehearsals today. I must admit I miss being there. Seeing the entries slowly unfold in rehearsals (or gradually collapse, in some cases) is among my favourite things when on location.

One thing following rehearsals could do to you is however that you may turn deaf and blind to other things. You will watch the rehearsal of Country X and think it is much better than you expected it to be. And you start thinking that if they sing this well, they must be a qualifier.

I have done it so many times myself. Or even kept repeating the mantra: "If they just get this right in the camera work, it will be fantastic."

How easy it is to forget that if an entry lacked a proper strong song to start with, no amount of fine singing or staging tricks will help that. (Unless the country in question is Ukraine. But they're not even in it this time.) If you have no song the viewers can connect to, you're toast.

Reading all the updates on rehearsals is amusing and entertaining, but it's in no way sure that the people on location will have a better guess than us at home in the end.

And to prove my point: back in 2009, when I was doing the commentator job from a tiny studio in Helsinki, I was convinced this one would make it to the final since they sang so well. Oh, bless.

Kamil Mikulčík & Nela Pocisková - Let' Tmou (Slovakia 2009)

Lena and the attitude

I surfed onto German site Queer.de the other day to read their review of Conchita's new album. I've been looking forward to Conchita making more music and was curious to see how it landed with the critics.

They liked it quite a lot and I had a listen to a few tracks and decided I have to listen in full some day.

Then I couldn't help but see that they also reviewed the new album by Lena Meyer-Landrut, so I decided to have a peek at that as well. Only it wasn't much of a review, more like a big plea for Lena to give up on music altogether and do something more useful with her time.

I haven't heard her new album, I must admit as much. Maybe it is disappointing. I've liked Lena's later output in general but that's really beside the point.

I doubt the reviewer would have taken that kind of attitude towards a singer that hadn't won the ESC. I know nothing of this reviewer - this is not aimed against him or that particular review - but often winning the ESC means the press will be nice with you for a while and then tear you down.

I suppose many winners would agree that at some point in their career, people seem to have held their victories against them. Like their victories would diminish their work, somehow. Conchita is everyone's darling now, but what will it be like in a few years?

Björn Ulvaeus of Abba has said in many interviews that the Eurovision victory was a door opener at first but soon made people assume they would fade away, since that was what ESC winners were supposed to do.

Personally I love Lena. Both her entries are among my favourites of recent years - especially "Taken By A Stranger" is a masterpiece - and I hope she'll stay in the business for as long as she pleases. Regardless of what reviewers and others might say.

Lena - Taken By A Stranger (Germany 2011 preview)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Israel won me over (sort of)

If you read my preview review about Israel, you might have been perceptive enough to realise it's not one of my favourites of the year. It's still no fave but I am definitely warming to it.

Already then, I had decided not to be annoyed or a sore loser would it make it to the final. Israel has flunked in the semi four years in a row and would deserve some happiness.

The Golden Boy himself is very young but confident and in good voice. Let him have the success.

But in all fairness something about the song itself really annoyed me. The tempo changes. Some of that same clumsiness in the lyrics that probably contributed to Israel's downfall last year. The feeling that the whole thing didn't sound trustworthy coming from a performer this young.

Seemingly the Eurovision brainwash did what it is supposed to do and by now it doesn't annoy me anymore. I can sing along and clap along and enjoy these three minutes even if they are silly.

I don't think we will be going to Jerusalem next year or anything, but at least I can cross my fingers for Israel to make it to the final. And mean it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Denmark and the bad surprise

When I wrote my preview review I was pretty convinced Denmark would dance into the final with ease, just thanks to being catchy, happy and easily accessible. By now I start to realise I'm pretty alone in assuming that.

Not that I don't really care what others predict - I prefer clinging to my own conclusions - but let's just say I'm amused that everybody suddenly grew tired of this ever-smiling Danish style of Eurosong. Why now?

I thought the style was tiresome already back in "Twist of Love" was a typical song written only for Eurovision and with no chance of a life outside the contest. "All Night Long" was even more tedious but made it to the final anyway. This year, for me, at least felt a little bit more real and enjoyable.

It does seem to follow the Danish pattern, though. Find a formula, stick to it for years, and when it seems to be working its best then suddenly the whole thing collapses. Denmark did the same after their last victory - two years later their package didn't work and flunked mercilessly in 2002.

Just like "Haba Haba" in 2011, this song feels like it is too long. By the end it just keeps going and going, and maybe Denmark is in for a bad surprise. It's been a long time since they last failed in a semi final.

I still think the risk is even greater for another country that grew used to doing well. Unless Greece can work up a close to life-threatening amount of radiation, their ballad should be in real danger of elimination. Maybe both Greece and Denmark will have a sweaty night before the tenth envelope has been opened in the first semi.

Malene - Tell Me Who You Are (Denmark 2002)

Monday, May 11, 2015

King Loïc of Belgium

Today the rehearsals started in Vienna and I decided to pull the same stunt as I've done for the last two years, following the contest from home instead of on location: I don't watch rehearsal videos.

However, I had to make a tiny exception to see what Team Belgium were up to. Some reports said their rehearsal was very good, some said it was very shaky. Business as usual, first rehearsal reports often reflect expectation more than actual performance.

Also - a first rehearsal is just that. A first encounter with the cameras, where angles are more important than perfect notes.

A thirty second clip with no real camera work doesn't leave any substantial clues at what the song will be like, but I choose to think Loïc will impress come Tuesday and the first semi.

He's growing on me more and more, this young talent. So creative, so bursting full of ideas. I was really knocked over by the really arty dance performance clip to his Eurovision entry that he not only starred in but also directed and designed the outfits for. Wow.

Unfortunately, Eurovision isn't always the best place for talent like that. If you are too ambitious people might snigger and make fun of you. Who does he think he is and that line of thinking.

I think he's the king, arguably the most promising and intriguing performer of all forty acts this year. I'm very much looking forward to what he will come up with in the future.

And I'm also waiting for Europe to make sense and vote Belgium into the final on May 19.

Loïc Nottet - Rhythm Inside Official Dance Clip (Belgium 2015)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

All my 2015 reviews in one place

The deed is done - I reviewed all of this year's forty Eurovision hopefuls on the basis of their preview versions. One song per day for forty days - in some cases I already had time to change my mind a little bit.

My most read review so far is Sweden and if you think that is any indication as to how the final result will be, let me tell you the second most read post is the one about Finland. But it was a nice theory.

If you missed something, here they all are gathered in the same place. I'd love to see your comments while I turn my attention towards the preparations and rehearsals starting in Vienna.

Semi 1
MoldovaArmeniaBelgiumNetherlandsFinlandGreeceEstoniaFYR MacedoniaSerbiaHungaryBelarusRussiaDenmarkAlbaniaRomaniaGeorgia

Semi 2
LithuaniaIrelandSan MarinoMontenegroMaltaNorwayPortugalCzech republicIsraelLatviaAzerbaijanIcelandSwedenSwitzerlandSloveniaPoland

AustraliaAustriaFranceGermanyItalySpainUnited Kingdom

Finalist: United Kingdom

When the mighty and powerful finally fall it won't be pretty. It will be merciless and brutal. And nobody had a higher fall than the UK.

They have the most impressive string of placings any country has ever had in the ESC. They have made top two on no less than twenty occasions. It means they have won or ended in second place in every third contest to date if we include Vienna.

The last time it happened was in 1998 - brace yourselves but it will soon be twenty years ago - and since then the BBC lost their path in the most spectacular way and placed among the ten best only twice in the last fifteen years.

This year's effort looked like a tremendous fiasco already from the word go. The initial public reaction was negative - to use a real under-statement - and the press ripped it to shreds, labelling it the worst UK entry to date.

Let's be honest about things. It's really quite far from the being the worst UK entry. It is however a novelty song, quite far removed from any musical trends going on now, performed by a new act nobody had heard of prior to their selection. Easy to rip to shreds in other words.

But it's also a fun, happy, uplifting, whimsical uptempo number among far too many slow songs that the audience won't be able to tell apart, and that alone could do it a big favour in the end.

A potential winner:
No, far from, but given the polished and convincing performance the little voices in my head keep suggesting it will lack, this could score surprisingly well in the end. First top ten since Jade Ewen? Not impossible.

My grade: 3/5

Electro Velvet - Still In Love With You (United Kingdom 2015)

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Finalist: Spain

If my memory doesn't deceive me, I wasn't too impressed in 2013 when Georgia called last year's winner Thomas G:son and asked him to write them a hit.

I liked the song but thought it was the cheapest of tricks in the book to play a safe card like that instead of trying to produce something of your own. And playing it safe seldom brought anyone victory in the end.

Spain will see that the same applies to them when they enter a song written by G:son. It is already his third Spanish entry, so maybe he has developed special ties to the recording industry over there.

But this time I can't shake the feeling that also Spain ordered a hit the way Georgia did and this particular piece - although atmospheric and catchy - feels far too much like a calculated re-hash of things previously heard to be taken seriously.

Also it doesn't develop much. It stands still in its place without ever reaching any climax, making three minutes feel slightly longer than they really are.

A potential winner?
No. And that's probably what RTVE wants as well: a song the fans will like and that doesn't run the risk of forcing them to take on this event next year.

My grade: 3/5

Edurne - Amanecer (Spain 2015)

Friday, May 8, 2015

Finalist: Italy

Three charming young men with a rousing ballad - mixing pop music and opera - that won the Sanremo festival by a landslide. Is that this year's winner?

It's not impossible at all. In fact, it is even pretty likely. The only thing that seems to talk against it is that opera never did well at the ESC before.

We have heard more traditional approaches to opera as well as operetta (especially in the early days of the contest but also from France 2011) as well as more pop-based attempts with operatic ornaments, like Sweden 2009.

Arguably Italy provided the best popera entry ever in the history of the ESC in the form of the magnificent "Fiumi di parole" from 1997. The 4th place of that particular song was a bit disappointing back then but it also shows that operatic notes can have a wider appeal as long as they are delivered in an attractive manner.

These boys surely deliver and come across as very likeable. My guess is several people will vote for them just because they are adorable, not even paying attention to their song. The question is if these can counterbalance for the people who break out in a rash as soon as they sense a pop aria coming on.

Personally I like it better before it breaks into the opera register - those verses are gorgeous - but can't deny this is a most effective and catchy belter.

A potential winner:
Yes. Alongside Australia and Sweden the most likely winner. Without saying too much, I still secretly hope RAI got their organisation skills together since 1991.

My grade: 4/5

Il Volo - Grande amore (Italy 2015)

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Finalist: Germany

Nothing livens up a national final quite like a good old scandal does and Germany provided one of the bigger ones of recent times. German tv had to reject winners in the past - Tony Marshall and Corinna May both had to go - but never before had a winner rejected himself on live television.

If you can't have a happy ending, then an expected one will do nicely too. Just a shame that these events made many people unable to see what a catchy little song the Germans were left with once the original winner was gone.

I was perfectly pleased with the selection but there are clouds on this sky. Ann Sophie isn't highly experienced with performing in front of tv cameras and you can tell. She doesn't really know where to look and how to move in order to make herself look appealing on-screen.

That's fixable with a fair share of coaching. Later performances suggest this could have been taken care of. Unfortunately her voice tends to go a bit sharp and screechy here and there. Is that fixable too?

A potential winner?
I really don't think it is. A good radio song that could hopefully pick up some good points from here and there, but a top ten showing would be a good outcome for this one.

My grade: 3/5

Ann Sophie - Black Smoke (Germany 2015)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Finalist: France

Eurovision is a lovely contest in the sense that doing your best can carry a very long way. Tiny nations like Luxembourg and Monaco have won, Iceland and Malta have been very close. Just do your best and you will be rewarded sooner or later.

Or you can do whatever the French think they are doing. I wish I knew how a country with a vibrant and happening music scene could end up internally selecting a song that could just as well have competed forty years ago.

Being one of the Big Five - with a given spot in the final every year - should add a bit of pressure, methinks. It should inspire these countries to use their privilege wisely and send in bold and interesting entries that could push the limits a bit.

The French Ballad doesn't push a single limit. It is pretty and well written. Lisa has a strong voice with a warm timbre that is pleasant to listen to. But it feels like not even she connects with this song.

For crying out loud: she is singing about a village wiped out at war but sounds more like she sings about cotton candy or what dress to wear to the upcoming cocktail party or what kind of sandwich to prepare for her mid-morning snack. Where is the emotion?

Some people say this is the Grand Return of the Big Ballad. I say it is a snoozefest. I say France is about to have yet another dismal result coming their way.

A potential winner?
Definitely not. If this one makes top twenty, the French should celebrate for a week.

My grade: 1/5

Lisa Angell - N'oubliez pas (France 2015)

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Finalist: Austria

Ever since I started watching other countries national finals regularly in the late 1990's, I have longed for Austria to win and for ORF to finally get to host the event.

Add to that my fondness for Austrian entries through the years - I often enjoyed many of those odd numbers that were consistently ignored by juries and televoters alike. I also believe it is good when generally unsuccessful countries get to win. (Come on, Portugal!)

The best thing - besides Conchita's tremendous breakthrough of course - is that the Austrian national final seems to have been injected with some new life force and vitality. There were several entries there that could have represented Austria gracefully on home ground.

The winner wasn't even my favourite, but singled out like this it feels like a solid and well performed little soul ballad. Clean-cut and enjoyable, encumbered only by the fact that there are already a million songs in the world that sound exactly like this.

It will prove to be an oasis for the viewers who like soul, though. And given by the abundance of this type of music on the radio, they could be quite a few.

A potential winner?
Most probably not. A solid song with a solid performance but hardly exciting enough to capture enough attention to win. But if it gets surrounded by the right kind of songs, it could at least have a shot at making the top ten.

My grade: 3/5

The Makemakes - I Am Yours (Austria 2015)

Monday, May 4, 2015

Finalist: Australia

In all fairness it was a bit of a surprise learning that Australia would participate with an entry in Vienna. But it was almost equally surprising to hear the song selected by SBS.

The first reports suggested we would have one more ballad coming from down under. Maybe they listened through the other songs on offer and had a change of heart. Thank heavens for that.

Instead Australia is sending us a proper dose of uptempo, an infectious beat and some very happy moods. Guy Sebastian is a star and performs like one. The song is impeccably produced and sounds just like a hit.

It sounds good enough to fool almost anyone. At closer examination, it proves to be more of a good mood and a nifty production than an outstanding song. Good but not outstanding.

According to what the EBU has said, Australia's only chance of taking part again next year is to win in Vienna. The big question is what is more important in the end - the song or the uptempo?

A potential winner?
Absolutely. In a year with such an abundance of ballads and mid tempo any song with as much temper as this must stand a good chance. Add the novelty of Australia being Australia and you will have loads of focus on this one. If you also add a potentially brilliant spot in the running order, this could prove to be unbeatable. Even when the song isn't stronger than it is.

My grade: 3/5

Guy Sebastian - Tonight Again (Australia 2015)

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Semi 2: 17 Poland

The running order can really make or break you in the ESC. If you get a too early spot or if you get drowned in a row of similar entries you can have your chances pretty much ruined. And the other way around.

Poland should buy the Austrian producers chocolate and flowers for giving them the golden spot of performing last in this semi.

Their entry is pretty but not exceptional but that together with Monika's gripping back story, visual appearance as well as the advantage of being the last of many standard ballads will work in its favour.

Maybe it sounds like I'm no bigger fan of it, but I actually quite enjoy it. It sounds like a very nice album track, something that the fans can love at a concert. But it doesn't sound like a hit single and had it swapped starting positions with Ireland it wouldn't stand a chance.

Yes, thanks to the starting position. And I really don't mind.

My grade: 3/5

Monika Kuszyńska - In The Name Of Love (Poland 2015)

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Semi 2: 16 Slovenia

Sometimes it is so easy to deceive yourself when you try to predict the results in the ESC. Sometimes you just want something so much that you will believe almost anything. And I would really really want Slovenia to have some success now.

I have always had a soft spot for them ever since they made their debut as an independent country and some years I really thought they had their big time coming. And every time I was left a tiny bit disappointed afterwards.

This is all just in my defence in case Slovenia would happen to crash and burn in Vienna but I really think they are on to something. In this line-up, their entry stands out as pretty contemporary and has quite a few things to distinguish it from the rest. The piano part, the violin. The dancer doing an air-violin routine.

Even the headphones. I don't know if it is peculiar or plain silly but neither will anyone else and they will stay in people's minds. And then the chorus is really rather good too.

Yes. That's a no-brainer. The question is how far it will carry in the final. I have a feeling in my old bones that this could result in Slovenia's best placing to date, but I've been wrong before.

My grade: 4/5

Maraaya - Here For You (Slovenia 2015)