Category Archives: Iceland

Second Semifinalists for Iceland

After this past weekend’s exciting first Semifinal for Söngvakeppni Sjónvarpsins, Icelandic broadcaster RÚV has released the next group of five songs who will be in the running for the nation’s ticket to Baku this May.  The lucky semifinalists are:

Ellert Jóhannsson – “Ég kem með (I’ll Bring)”
Simbi og Hrútspungarnir- “Hey
Rósa Birgitta Ísfeld- “Stund með þér (A Moment With You)”
Regína Ósk Óskarsdóttir- “Hjartað brennur (My Heart Burns)”
Guðrún Árný Karlsdóttir- “Minningar (Memories)”

Fans might recognize the name (or voice) of Regína Ósk, as she was one half of Iceland’s performers from 2008, Euroband.  (Check out “This is My Life” to refresh your memory.)

Iceland’s Second Semifinal will be held this Saturday, January 14.

Iceland Picks its First Two Finalists

The first of Iceland’s three Semifinals for Söngvakeppni Sjónvarpsins took place today, and after five songs (all performed in Icelandic), we have our first two contenders for February 11th’s Final. Congratulations to:

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First Semifinalists Announced in Iceland

As expected, the first five entrants to this year’s Söngvakeppni Sjónvarpsins were announced late Sunday night/Monday morning in preparation for this weekend’s Semifinal.

As is to be expected of a country with a population about the size of Minneapolis, Minnesota, we have more than a few familiar names in the running: Íris Hólm was a finalist in the 2010 National Selection with “The One“, and her song for this year was co-written by Sveinn Rúnar Sigurðsson (composer of 2007’s “Valentine Lost” and 2004’s “Heaven“) and Þórunn Erna Clausen (lyricist of 2011’s “Coming Home“).  Jónsi (not to be confused with the lead singer of Sigur Rós) performed the aformentioned “Heaven” in Istanbul, and was a finalist in the 2007 National Selection with “Segðu mér” (he lost out to Eiríkur Hauksson that year, who performed…”Valentine Lost”).  Finally, Heiða Ólafsdóttir was a backing singer for Hera Björk in 2010.

Happy Holidays from the ESC Insider!

…and what could be a better song to represent a Eurovision holiday season than Gunnar Ólasson (who represented Iceland in 2001 and 2011) covering Tozzi and Raf’s “Gente di Mare”? Here’s “Komdu um Jólin (Come on Christmas)”:

This would be the perfect time to express my continued thanks to you, my readers, for sticking by the ESC Insider this year, especially through the site’s migration and facelift.  I appreciate every comment and every tick on my hit counter, and I hope you have as much fun reading this site as I do putting it together.  This year was a great (and often crazy) one here at the ESC Insider, and 2012 is shaping up to be just as wonderful, with your help, of course.  I have to thank my partners in Düsseldorf, ESCKaz, and my partners for 2012 (and beyond, I hope), ESCInsight.  From Minnesota to Azerbaijan (and everywhere in between), I look forward to bringing you my own personal spin on what’s going on in the world of Eurovision, and I hope to see you taking the journey with me.

Wherever you are, and whatever you might be celebrating this time of year, have a Happy, Healthy, and Loved Holiday Season!

Do you have any favorite ESC-related holiday songs?  Feel free to share them in the comments!

Eurovision 2011: The Best of the Rest (Part 3)

Skipping France and their internal selection, next on our list is:

Georgia: Eldrine’s “One More Day” was definitely one of the most divisive songs in this year’s Eurovision roster.  People either adored this nu-metal track or despised it with the passion of a thousand suns.  (Lucky for me, I was in the former camp, and relished the moment when Sopho and company held an impromptu acoustic jam session in the Press Center.)  Eldrine was my favorite act from the Georgian preselection, even with their previous lead singer Tako Vadachkoria, but my second favorite had to be Temo Sajaia, who performed “Jarisk’atsis Simghera (Soldier’s Song)”: 

Temo’s stage presence might have been a bit dry, but considering that there was a span of about three months to give his presentation a bit more “oomph”, it could have been a pleasant surprise.  Plus, none of the nation’s entries have ever been sung in Georgian, nor have any entries been performed exclusively by a male vocalist.  It took me until moderately recently to find an English translation for “Jarisk’atsis Simghera”, but it actually has a pretty strong nationalistic bent, with lyrics like “We believe in Georgian immortals/ In the hopes in your eyes and/ We believe in happiness, in beauty/ In no surrender and in victory”.  It’s maybe a bit more subtle than “I Love Belarus”, but not quite as easy to sing along with…

Germany:  With 79% of the final vote during “Unser Song für Deutschland”, there was no doubt that “Taken By a Stranger” would be the song that Lena would use to defend her Eurovision title.  Compared to the eleven other songs in contention, it was truly a standout, both in style and in quality.  While most of the also-rans (all available on Lena’s second album, “Good News”) seemed to be a general continuation of the bubbly and youthful motif we all saw in “Satellite”, “TBaS” seemed to be more of an evolution in who Lena Meyer-Landrut is, both as an artist and as a person.  I know a lot of people were fans of runner-up “Push Forward“, but for me, my second favorite was the sweetly simple “Maybe”, which was actually written by the same team (Daniel Schaub & Pär Lammers):

I was also a fan of the big, brassy “Mama Told Me“, which had Stefan Raab’s signature style written all over it (probably because he co-wrote the song with Lena herself).

Greece: Most devoted Eurovison fans were slightly bewildered when Loukas Giorkas and Stereo Mike’s rap/laiko fusion number “Watch My Dance” was pulled out of the envelope during the Greek National Final.  It even took me a while to warm up to it (although actually hanging out with Mike, Loukas, and the rest of the delegation from ERT, as well as seeing how epic the final staging turned out to be…by the time the semifinals rolled around, I was beginning to really enjoy this one).  Most people had tipped the Canadian-born X-Factor alumna Nikki Ponte to take the night with her song “I Don’t Wanna Dance”:

Looking beyond the two front-runners in this competition, I was also a fan of the bouncy “Hamogela (Smile)” by Trimitonio:

Hungary picked their song internally, so we move on to:

Iceland:  By now, we all know about the tragic story behind Sjónni’s Friends and the song “Coming Home“.  The six gentlemen on stage (as well as Sjónni’s wife Thorunn) were fixtures in the Press Center and Euroclub, and they were truly some of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet.  Their voices were heard harmonizing so often, you could nearly set your watch by it, and I proudly waved the Icelandic flag during the First Semifinal.  This song became such an integral part of my experience in Düsseldorf that it almost feels like a betrayal to even consider that another tune could have been in its place.  But there were, in fact, fourteen other entries in the running to represent Iceland this year, including fan favorite “Nótt (Night)” by 2009 runner-up Yohanna.  My other personal favorites, however, were Magni Ásgeirsson’s “Ég trúi á betra líf (I want a better life)” and Jógvan Hansen’s “Ég lofa (I promise)”:

Coming up next time: Ireland, Israel, Italy, and Latvia!

Just a thought…

Supposedly, there have been numerous problems with the audio and commentary feeds from many nations’ broadcasts last night.  Spain couldn’t hear Norway, the UK heard an unbalanced Polish performance, and many commentators were forced to use their telephones to get their point across.

I’m pretty disappointed in this, considering the reputation that Germany has for their technical prowess.  This being my first ESC, I can’t personally compare the issues here with things that have happened in the past, but this seems somewhat unprecedented.  The EBU and German Broadcaster NRD will have a joint press conference here in about 10 minutes to discuss what happened, and we’ll go from there.

But, if this is all true, I’m happy to say that it might have disproven my theory that the Icelandic entry’s success hinged on the commentary from the broadcasters currying a sympathy vote.  Hopefully, this means that “Coming Home” passed into the final through their own merit, which makes me a very, very happy Samantha. 🙂

More new versions and videos released!

As expected, Albania has revamped their entry for Düsseldorf.  What was once Aurela Gaçe’s “Kënga Ime” is now “Feel the Passion”:

I feel like I’m in the minority here, but I loved Aurela’s song the first time I heard it, and this revamp only solidifies my position.  Aurela is this year’s diva, and whether she wins or not, she is making this her show.  (It’s funny, though; I was talking with my friend Slavi yesterday before we saw the new video or heard the translation, and I told him how I imagined that the clip would somehow involve Aurela standing on top of a mountain or other high point, a wind machine fluttering around some epic dress, and an eagle soaring.  I should have placed money on it!)

On the other end of the Eurovision world (geographically speaking), the Icelandic representatives have released the English-language version of “Aftur Heim“, “Coming Home”.

It seems that “Aftur Heim” was, in fact, originally written with English lyrics, with the text eventually refined by the wife of the late Sigurjón Brink.  The song was performed in Icelandic for the National Final, as per the network’s rules, but the door was always open to have it performed in English.  We all know the story of Sigurjón and his tragic passing by now, but hearing this song in a language that I can understand just makes the whole thing even more powerful.  “Coming Home” is performed admirably, and is truly a celebration of Sjónni’s life and work.

Also releasing an official video clip is San Marino’s Senit, with her ballad “Stand By”:

(Sharp-eyed ESC fans might recognize some of the same landscapes and landmarks as seen in MiOdio’s video for “Complice“.  Then again, considering that San Marino is only about 24 square miles (61 sq km), that’s not too difficult.)

Only slightly bigger, at 121 square miles (316 sq km), is Malta, which coincidentally also released their official preview video today for Glen Vella’s “One Life”:

(It appears that half of Malta’s population took part in this year’s National Selection, and the other half appears in Glen’s video!)

Finally, Croatia’s new preview video has been released: Daria Kinzer’s “Lahor” “Break a Leg” “Celebrate”!

I’m sure more videos are coming down the pipeline within the next few days, as the official “Heads of Delegation” meeting is happening now in Düsseldorf.  We’ll also have the official draw for the running order tomorrow afternoon (or, for me, morning!).  Even though Preselection Season is officially over, there’s still lots to do before the First Semifinal on May 10th!

It’s Sigurjón’s Friends for Iceland!

The second of the trio of Nordic entries revealed this weekend came from the finals of the 2011 Söngvakeppni Sjónvarpsins in Iceland.  Out of all of the finals that happened this weekend, this was the one that I was looking forward to the most, not only for its quality of entries, but also considering the emotional force behind one of the entries, “Aftur Heim (Back Home)”.  It had been co-written by Sigurjón Brink, and was originally intended to be performed by him as well, but his sudden passing from a heart attack at the age of 36 threw the song’s participation into flux.  After a bit of time and soul-searching, Sigurjón’s family decided that a group of his friends would take up the mantle and soldier on in his honor: Gunnar Ólason, Vignir Snær Vigfússon, Pálmi Sigurhjartarson, Matthías Matthíasson, Hreimur Örn Heimisson and Benedikt Brynleifsson.

“Aftur Heim” went up against a very strong set of opponents in Iceland’s final, including Eurovision 2009 runner-up Yohanna, X-Factor winner Jógvan Hansen, and well-known rock singer Magni Ásgeirsson.  In the end, though, it was the song with the sunny melody and the tragic story that won the whole thing, with Magni’s “Ég trúi á betra líf (I Believe in a Better Life)” coming in the runner-up position.

Here’s the winning performance out of Iceland:

I’m not sure if the emotional impact that the Icelandic selection felt with this song will carry over in the same way in Eurovision as it did for the preselection, but standing on its own merits, I think that “Aftur Heim” is a beautiful song, and the singers’ voices work very well both together in harmony as well as individually.  Many Eurovision fans are still reeling a bit from the fact that the lovely Yohanna wasn’t selected to represent her country again, but as that shock wears off, and fans start listening to “Aftur Heim” in depth, I have a feeling that it will grow on people, and maybe become an underground favorite, as “No No Never” was back in 2006 for Germany.  Will it find success in Düsseldorf?  It’s very hard to say at this stage of the game, but at the very least, I think the guys did their late friend very proud.

One last comment, and it’s simply a personal opinion: I honestly hope that Sigurjón’s friends choose to honor his memory in one final way by keeping the lyrics in Icelandic.  Now, if Sjonni kept English lyrics on standby in case it won the National Selection, that’s one thing, but if that’s not the case, I think that it would honor the integrity of both the artist and the song to keep this version of the song as intact as possible.  Again, this is just me talking…er…typing, and I recognize how much of an advantage it can be to sing in English for Eurovision, but I think the song (and what it reflects) is beautiful and poignant as it is.

The Weekend Preview, 2/10

We’ve got another busy weekend ahead of us, so let’s dive right into what we can expect from all over the Eurovision world over the next few days!

On Friday, Azerbaijan will finally make their decision on who they’ll send to Germany this year.  Their preselection process started back in mid-November with 77 candidates, and they’ve finally been narrowed down to five final performers: Aynishan Qulieva, Ilgara Ibrahimova, Eldar Gasimov, Ilhama Gasimova, and Nigar Camal.  It’s still a bit unclear how the song will be selected; last year, the top three candidates sang three different songs, and while the winning performer was selected the night of the finals, the winning song wasn’t confirmed until over two weeks later.  Considering Azerbaijan’s penchant for flexibility on their preselection processes (their dates have been moved around many times, for example), who knows what answers we may find tomorrow night, or what questions will remain!

Also on Friday, Ireland will pick the artist and song that they hope will bring the nation to the top of the Eurovision heap for an eight year.  Brief snippets of the songs were released last week, but they were heard in their entirety for the first time just today.

Don Mescall – Talking with Jennifer (written by Ronan Hardiman, Don Mescall)
Nikki Kavanaugh – Falling (written by Christina Schilling, Camilla Gottschalck, Jonas Gladnikoff, and Hanif Sabzevari)
Bling – Shine On (written by Patrick Mahoney)
The Vard Sisters – Send Me an Angel (written by Liam Lawton)
Jedward – Lipstick (written by Dan Priddy, Lars Jensen, and Martin Larson)

Ironically, “Lipstick” is the only song that has been removed from YouTube for copyright reasons.  Why ironically?  Well, first, as its considered the frontrunner in tomorrow’s competition, and second, as a portion of the song was “accidentally” released on too early, prompting RTÉ to make the decision only one third in the hands of the audience’s vote, rather than fifty percent.  The remaining part of the decision will be in the hands of regional juries throughout Ireland.

Malta will hold their semifinal on Friday and their final on Saturday.  On Friday, the 24 candidate songs will be trimmed down to 16 by a 75/25 jury/audience vote decision.  On Saturday, those remaining songs will compete, and the winner will be decided by a 60/40 jury/audience split.  All the songs can be previewed, in their entirety, here.  For Malta fans, there are many familiar faces competing this weekend: Fabrizio Faniello made it to Eurovision in 2001 and 2006, and his younger sister Claudia has tried many times to make it to the event, but often falling just short of the ESC goal.  We also see the return of Wayne Micallef, who presented one of my favorite preselection songs from last year, “Save a Life“.  In fact, out of the twenty-three singers in this weekend’s competition, eighteen have attempted, at some point, to represent Malta in either Eurovision or Junior Eurovision in past years!  Will the victory go to a veteran, or to a new talent?  We shall see…

On Saturday, we’ll see what Belgium has to offer the growing Eurovision field.  In light of the difficult economic times, Walloon broadcaster RTBF came up with an interesting twist on an open call for songs.  Belgians were allowed to submit their songs (in French or English), and the public would be able to pledge money to the entries of their choice.  When a song received €20,000, they would be qualified to go on to the next round (all money donated to non-qualifying songs would be reimbursed).  That money would then go to the further production and refinement of their entry.  Thirty songs ended up making the monetary benchmark, and that was later pared down to fourteen final entries.  A 50/50 jury/televote split will decide the eventual winner.

We will also see Finals in Iceland, Norway, and Finland, continued semifinals in Spain, Lithuania, Latvia, Croatia, and Sweden, and the first semifinal in Estonia‘s Eestilaul.  Of course, I’ll try to bring you updates as often as I can!

Have a great weekend, Eurofans!

The (Nordic) Weekend Update, 1/30

We’ve had a lot happen this weekend from all over the Eurovision world, so I’m going to break my Weekend Update up into bite-sized regional chunks.  And away we go!

The last Finnish Semifinal was held on Friday evening, with three songs qualifying for the final via viewer votes, and one song saved by a jury wildcard.  (Makes me feel a bit sorry for the fifth performer that night, as he was the only one not to qualify!)

Voted into the Final: 

Saara Aalto – Blessed with Love (Remember what I said about Iceland’s Yohanna being the personification of a Disney Princess?  Forget it; this girl is so treacly-sweet that I became a diabetic just by watching her!)
Stala & So – Pamela (The lead singer, Sampsa Astala, is actually the former drummer for a certain well-known Finnish Eurovision legend…)
Image from
(Sampsa Astala as “Kita” from Lordi…ain’t he cute?)
Saved by the Jury’s Wildcard: 

The Finnish representative will be ultimately determined on February 12th.

As expected, the Icelandic semifinal on Saturday was not only full of talent, but also highly emotional.  After the sudden passing of Sigurjón Brink about two weeks ago, there was a bit of doubt whether or not his song Aftur Heim (Home Again)” would be performed.  Not only was it sung on Saturday night by a group of six of his personal friends, but it easily qualified for the final. 
Also qualifying:
Jógvan Hansen – Ég Lofa (I Promise) (This winner of Iceland’s version of the X Factor is actually a native of the Faroe Islands, a Danish territory.  This is his third attempt to represent his adopted homeland in Eurovision.)
Magni Ásgeirsson – Ég trúi á betra líf (I Believe in a Better Life) (This rock ballad, written by an Icelandic/Maltese team, really impressed me.)
As in Finland, the Icelandic final will be decided on February 12th.  There has been a lot of momentum behind Yohanna, but between Jógvan’s popularity and the sympathy vote behind Sigurjón’s final song, the field is more open than I think people give it credit for.  We’ll see in a few weeks!
The last of Norway’s semifinals happened this week, as well.  As per usual, two songs qualified directly to the final, and two will move on to next week’s Second Chance round.  And the winners are…

The Blacksheeps – Dance Tonight (This teen pop-rock group has quite a bit of experience on the song-competition front; they won the youth-based MGP Nordic competition back in 2008 with their song “Oro jaska, beana!“.  Agnete and Emelie come from the extreme north of the country, and often mix their Norwegian lyrics with both English and Sami.)

Stella Mwangi – Haba Haba (Stella infuses this song with her Kenyan roots.  She’s been active in the music scene in both Scandinavia and West Africa for a while, but this is her first venture towards Eurovision.)
Going to the Second Chance round are:
More news to come, of course!