Editorial: If At First You Don’t Succeed…
Eurovision this year felt just as much like a reunion as it did a Song Contest. Among the contestants, we had more than a small handful of performers who were returning to the Eurovision stage. From the Class of 2004, we saw the return of Iceland’s Jónsi and Serbia’s Željko Joksimović. Jedward’s return marked the first time that an Irish representative performed at the ESC back-to-back (or, in the case of the twins, would it have been back-to-back-to-back-to-back?). Macedonia’s Kaliopi was supposed to have performed in 1996, but we never got to hear her sing “Samo ti” during the main event, due to being knocked out during the not-televised pre-qualifying round.
However, a deeper look into this year’s roster shows that we had more “returning acts” than a first glance would reveal. If you delve into the National Finals, you can see that a full dozen of 2012’s performers had tried (and failed) to represent their respective nations before. While artists like Loreen, the Buranovskiye Babushki, and Anri Jokhadze made it through to the big dance on their second attempts, it took Moldova’s Pasha Parfeny four tries to succeed, and for Lithuania’s Donny Montell and Belarus’s Litesound, a full six entries were submitted before they finally broke through!
Viewers who think that the Contest is simply a bit of light entertainment on a few May evenings often miss out on finding the nuggets of gold hidden within the National Finals. So, in honor of those countless singers and bands that have tried multiple times to represent their homelands at Eurovision, I’d like to turn the spotlight on these “unsung heroes”, in the hopes that their efforts will finally pay off in 2013 and beyond. Here’s my first set in a list of “ones to watch”:
For the past three years, Albania’s Kamela Islamaj has continued to impress me with her performances at Festivali i Këngës. As a relative newcomer, she scored a bronze-medal with her debut in the contest, “Gjëra të thjeshta“, following it up with a 10th place in 2010 with “Jetova për të dy” and a 6th place this year with “Mbi yje“. Kamela’s got a more subtle voice than recent Albanian entrants Rona Nishliu and Aurela Gaçe, but it’s still quite versatile, and well suited to ballads, jazz, and rock. Albania has had the tendency to send female soloists over males (a ratio of 7 to 2), and unlike many other National Finals, the FiK is determined entirely by a jury, rather than by a public vote or split panel. With the right song and orchestration (such as one like her single “Jetoj pa ty”), Kamela’s Eurovision debut might be in the not-so-distant future.
For the past two years, the National Selection process in Azerbaijan has been more than a little complex. Stretching from mid-November until February (and not revealing an actual song until about a month later), a number of heats and semifinals whittle the list of hopefuls down from over 70 to a single victor. During the 2012 season, we heard the good, the bad, and the just plain awful, but one single performer really stood out to me. Singing in the same heat as eventual winner Sabina Babayeva, Erkin Osmanlı failed to make it through to the Semifinal level, despite capable, if not downright entertaining renditions of songs like Robbie Williams’ “Let Me Entertain You” and Serebro’s “Song Number One“. More than almost any other performer I saw during this year’s Milli Seçim Turu, his showmanship and his capability with the English language stood head and shoulders above the rest. A deeper look into his resume reveals that he was one of the five candidates for Azerbaijan’s debut in Eurovision back in 2008, but failed to make the top three.
Azerbaijan’s entries over the past few years, while very strong in quality, have all felt very polished, almost to a fault. Now that the Land of Fire has won its first Eurovision, maybe the powers that be will lower their reins a bit, and let someone get up there and have a little bit of rebellious fun. By giving bad-boy Erkin the keys to the car, I think that İctimai would do just that.
On the other side of the EBU’s geographic sphere, Iceland has continued to offer some truly fantastic, albeit often-underrated, talent in their National Finals. One of the best examples of “one that got away” is 33-year-old Magni Ásgeirsson, lead singer of Á Móti Sól and alum of “Rock Star: Supernova”, a singing competition that aired in the US back in 2006. Magni’s thrown his hat in the Söngvakeppni Sjónvarpsins ring a total of four times, coming as high as second place. In 2006, he submitted the rockabilly-tinged “Flottur karl, Sæmi Rokk“, followed two years later by “Núna veit ég” (a duet with 2003 ESC representative Birgitta Haukdal). After a bit of a hiatus, Magni returned to the National Selection in 2011 with “Ég trúi á betra líf“, which came in second to Sigurjón’s Friends. Undeterred, he came back in 2012 with “Hugarró”, grabbing a bronze medal at the national level.
Iceland’s population is only hovering at about 320,000 people. Not all of them are old enough to participate in Eurovision, and I assume that not everyone there can sing. By sheer percentages, it’s only a matter of time before we see Magni take his rightful place at the top of the Söngvakeppni Sjónvarpsins leaderboard, right? He’s just as good with a ballad or pop number as he is with a harder-edged rock song, and he’s got swagger for miles. (And, if you need any more proof, here he is with Hera Björk, covering Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure“. ‘Nuff said.)
There are more artists to come in future posts, so stay tuned!