ESC Wish List: Italy!!!!
Like many nations in Western Europe, Italy has had a sort of love-hate relationship with Eurovision over the past decade or so. However, unlike Portugal, who stays in the fight, keeping generally loyal to its own regional heritage and musical style (see Dulce Pontes, Lucia Moniz, Vânia Fernandes or Flor-de-Lis), or the United Kingdom, which often gleefully cannonballs into the ESC’s intrinsic ridiculousness and camp (see Gina G, Scooch, Daz Sampson, or infamous nul-pointer Jemini), Italian broadcaster RAI threw up their hands after the 1997 competition and haven’t entered a Eurovision since. From the standpoint of a loyal ESC fan, this is nothing short of tragic, as some of the true evergreens of the competition have come from Italy. In fact, Eurovision as an entity was inspired by the Sanremo Festival, a national song contest that had been established in 1951, and in turn was used to select Italy’s ESC entrants for many years. Sanremo is still going strong, but national interest in Eurovision has sadly waned.
One of the most famous songs to come out of Eurovision was a contribution from the Sanremo Festival, and although it never actually won the ESC that year, it’s familiar to ears worldwide.
Covered by the Gypsy Kings, Dean Martin, and basically everyone else on the planet, Domenico Modugno’s “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare)” might be one of the world’s most recognizable popular songs. Even if you don’t speak any Italian, you probably have heard this song at least once, whether it’s background music in a restaurant, or in a movie, or maybe you’ve sung it at a drunken karaoke night or two (it’s ok, you can admit it).
Italy participated in Eurovision a total of 36 times, with two victories (in 1964 and 1990), one runner-up spot, and four bronze positions. My three personal favorite Italian contributions come from RAI’s final years in the ESC. From 1987, there’s Umberto Tozzi and Raf’s “Gente di Mare (People of the Sea)”, which finished in a more-than-respectable third place:
Five years later, Mia Martini used her rusted, raspy emery board of a voice to sing “Rapsodia”, a melancholy ode to two former lovers, separated by time and circumstance. The song was heartbreaking and beautiful, and it landed up in 4th place in Stockholm that year.
Italy’s final submission to the ESC was 1997’s gorgeous “Fiumi di Parole (Rivers of Words)”, sung by duo Jalisse. Even though this song, like “Rapsodia” before it, took an impressive 4th place in a particularly competitive year, RAI withdrew from Eurovision soon after, and haven’t returned. (Jalisse, however, have not given up their hope for another shot at the ESC, and had at one point applied to represent San Marino.)
Die-hard ESC fans (like myself, obviously) would love to welcome Italy back into the fray. Their musical talent pool is exceptionally deep, and they already have the perfect preselection opportunity available to them: the Sanremo Festival. It has been rumored that the EBU wants Italy back in Eurovision badly enough that they would provide them a coveted spot in the “Big Four”, alongside the UK, Germany, France, and Spain, giving them an automatic pass into the finals. Former ESC Executive Supervisor Svante Stockselius had made it a pet project of his to try to bring back many of the former participants who had left over the years (including, Italy, Austria, Luxembourg, Monaco, Slovakia, and others), with some middling success. Slovakia returned in 2009, Austria will be returning in 2011 (I’ll write my normal piece on them soon), and Liechtenstein keeps playing around with the idea of debuting. But we’re all still drooling over the possibility of Italy coming back.
There is hope, however! Rumors have recently surfaced that the winner of this year’s Italian X-Factor will be eligible to enter the 2011 ESC, making it the first time in 14 years that we see il Tricolore. However, this early in the game, Eurovision rumors tend to fly around like hair extensions in a wind machine, so I’m still taking this all with a (hopeful) grain of salt.
My next entry will talk about a few Italian artists I’d love to see representing their homeland in the ESC…I’ve got a few in mind, but do you have any suggestions? Leave me a comment and let me know your favorites!