Category Archives: Personal

Sam’s Unranked Rankings, 2012!

Well, it’s less than two weeks before I depart for Baku, and the lull of post-preseason-to-pre-Eurovision activity will be replaced with a veritable maelstrom of news, rehearsal footage, interviews, punditry, and behind-the-scenes gossip.  Sounds like a perfect opportunity to publish my own Unranked Rankings, don’t you think?

As some of you might remember from my list last year, it’s very hard for me to pinpoint an absolute favorite.  My preferences change with my mood, the direction of the wind, and whether or not Venus is rising in Scorpio.  In order to placate my often-indecisive streak, I put songs together in groups according to my general opinion of them.  Keep in mind, however, that this list is subject to change as we see the staging of the entries, or simply as time passes (for example, I couldn’t stand “I Love Belarus” at first, but now it’s a complete guilty pleasure that I dance around to in my apartment when I’m sure nobody’s looking).  Furthermore, these rankings are completely unrelated to how I think the songs will actually do on the scoreboard in Baku!

Let’s dive in, shall we? Read the rest of this entry

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Hosts and Venues and Clubs, Oh My!

Well, the calm before the storm still reigns in the world of Eurovision, as there is little news from delegations between the Allocation Draw and the first rounds of rehearsals.  There is, however, plenty of news coming in from our Azerbaijani hosts.  Let’s take a look at what’s been going on in Baku:

Read the rest of this entry

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!

Onwards and Upwards!

Hey, everyone!

It’s been a pretty wild year here at the ESC Insider.  As my loyal readers know, I’ve been working hard to share with you all my unique viewpoint on Eurovision past and present, all with a staff of one and a budget of nil.  My first trip (really, for me, a pilgrimage) to a live Contest, getting to hang out in the Press Centre and meet the artists personally…well, life doesn’t get much better than that.  I hope you’ve been enjoying what I’ve been sending your way for these past two years, and I hope to keep it up for you all for a long time to come.

The ESC Insider isn’t going to disappear anytime soon, but 2012 will be a year of change for me, and for this site, as well.  I’m currently doing a bit of jiggery-pokery on my web presence, and that means I’ll probably be migrating to the official www.escinsider.com domain within the next month or so.  (No worries, though, as all the content that I’ve worked on here should come with me!)  I’m not an expert in web design, so please bear with me as I make the Insider the best it can be!  (If you have any suggestions on how to make it awesome, I’m all ears!)

Believe it or not, that’s not even the biggest news from this end of things.  As many of you know, I had the pleasure of working with ESCKaz.com in Düsseldorf this year, and I am incredibly indebted to them for giving me the opportunity to work with them in Germany.  However, while I truly enjoyed reporting on breaking news and up-to-the-minute updates with Kaz, I’ve realized that my heart really does lie in more in-depth coverage.  Because of that, I am THRILLED to announce that I will be working in tandem with the folks over at ESCInsight.com during next year’s event in Baku, Azerbaijan.  Fans who followed my goings-on in Germany may have caught a few of the lively morning podcasts that I participated in while I was out there, led by the irrepressible Ewan Spence…looks like I’ll be participating in more of them!

In short, during the lead-up to Baku 2012, I’ll be contributing to Insight by chipping in a number of articles, while maintaining the lion’s share of my news and reviews here on Insider.  While in Baku itself, I’ll be working hand-in-hand with Ewan, Sharleen Wright, and company in order to bring you the in-depth ESC goodness that you’ve come to expect from both of our sites (I’ll still be contributing to Insider, though, much like I did while I was in Düsseldorf).  It’ll be like chocolate and peanut butter, or like deep-frying and Mars Bars…two tastes that go even better together!

My first article is already up on Insight…check it out and let me know what you think!

Personal Highlights from these past 2 weeks

Well, like I’ve mentioned before, tonight’s the Grand Final of the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest.  For the past two weeks or so, I’ve had the honor and the pleasure of writing not only for ESCInsider, but also for ESCKaz.com, the official website of the OGAE Rest of the World fan club.  My work with ESCKaz (and the press accreditation that comes with it) has afforded me the incredible opportunity to meet equally incredible people, from the fraternity of journalists here to the hardworking volunteers to the EBU staffers to the delegations and artists themselves.  I cannot express my gratitude deeply enough to the ESCKaz team for not only giving me the chance to work with them, but also taking me under their wing and helping me learn on the fly as I was tossed into the Deep End of the Eurovision world.

I had the chance to interview 20 of this year’s artists, and I got to meet nearly all of the performers either at the Euroclub or one of the myriad other events here over the past few weeks.  I got particularly close to the Icelandic delegation, the Greeks, Raphael Gualazzi from Italy, Finland’s Paradise Oskar, and the Sanmarinese staff.  Even the biggest divas here were sweet and welcoming; Albania’s Aurela Gaçe always greeted me as we passed each other in the hall (especially after I told her that I was from New Jersey).

As I’ve previously said, this entire experience has made me reevaluate the entire notion of “fame” and “celebrity”.  I’ve witnessed quiet moments of coffee-sipping, flirtation, personal breakdowns, musical jam sessions, and the panic of realizing that one is about to perform in front of 150 million people, not to mention YouTube clips ad infinitum.  Celebrities are people, too, my friends.  Treat them with respect (especially the newcomers on the scene).

I’m also still amused by the obsession with collecting the delegations’ promotional CDs.  I will happily accept the swag and goodies from countries that I either have a relationship with or enjoy the song of, but I’m not going to step over my own mother in order to get the promo material from Kreplachistan if I think the song is abysmal.  (That being said, the prize for the BEST promotional swag has to go, hands down, to the Georgian delegation, who provided selected members of the press corps with magnets, notebooks, pens, locally-produced teas, silk scarves, and even bottles of Georgian wine!)

Other things I have learned:
1) You catch more flies (and interviews) with honey than with vinegar.  By going out and simply being polite to the volunteers, heads of press, and other staffers here, one can make significantly more headway towards where you want to go than by going in charging like a bull in a china shop and making demands from the higher-ups.  The delegations don’t owe you anything.

2) Be more in charge of your own accommodation arrangements.  I left my housing to my colleagues in the OGAE Rest of the World.  While the housing was inexpensive and in a very safe location, I didn’t know until I arrived how distant my apartment would be from where the rest of the action was.  It took me nearly an hour every day to get to the Arena via public transportation, and the buses stopped running too early, meaning that I had to pay for a taxi home nearly every night, upping my daily incidentals by about 25 Euros per night.  Also, while my housemates were lovely people, I was the youngest of the four of us, and the only one who wanted to go out often and enjoy what the city had to offer.  Because of that dynamic, I feel like I’ve missed out a bit.

3) Never say “No”, and break down your own barriers.    I’ve been overwhelmed, stressed, and crazed at times, but I’ve never turned down an opportunity to shake a hand, do an interview, or smile for a random camera.  I’m also pretty shy by my nature, but I’ve overcome my own fears and put myself out there.  I don’t really like the way I look on camera or in audio recordings, but I recorded a handful of podcasts for ESC Insight and have been interviewed for Belarussian television.  I’ve felt my knees shaking as I got up to ask questions to Jedward, but I ended up creating a great moment (but, then again, with Jedward, aren’t they all?).  I often hate sitting alone, but I went on my own to Raphael Gualazzi’s showcase and it might have been the highlight of my time here.  I’ve made some great friends by keeping myself open-minded, and who knows where those connections will lead?

4) Enjoy every second.  There are about 2,500 accredited journalists here at the Press Center, and the vast majority of them are screaming Eurovision fanboys and fangirls.  We stress out, we freak out, we explode, but we love every moment.  The arguments, the punditry, the debates…we live for this.  We’re all hopelessly addicted, and we do this out of love.  Eurovision is our Summer Camp, our Prom, and our Bar Mitzvahs all rolled into one yearly event.  Veterans see old friends and make new ones year after year…often times, the question asked isn’t “who do you want to win?”, but rather “where would you like to meet up next year?”.  (That’s one of many reasons I’m hoping Iceland takes it…direct flights from Minneapolis to Keflavik!)

What else can I say?  I’m sure I’ll have quite a bit more to discuss in a few hours, once we figure out the results…but until then, you’ve got a bit more time to mull over the possibilities.

Catch you on the other side of Eurovision History, people!

Raphael Gualazzi’s Epic Showcase

https://picasaweb.google.com/s/c/bin/slideshow.swf

I’ve mentioned before how much I love Italy’s entry this year.  Raphael Gualazzi, who’ll be performing “Madness of Love” on Saturday, is a brilliant jazz musician who takes his cues from both the old school beginnings of the genre as well as newer styles and techniques.  (His album “Reality and Fantasy” is already out, so definitely give it a listen!)  I had the chance to attend an exclusive press conference and showcase with Raphael and his band, with a special cameo from the boys in Blue (and France’s Amaury Vassili was seen in the audience).  The venue was a tiny, intimate little space, and I was sitting close enough to the action to see the sweat dripping from Raphael’s brow as he pounded away at the piano.  At times, his hands were absolute blurs (you should have seen his rendition of “Caravan”!), and there were a few instances where the sheet music sitting on the piano flew off of the rack and onto the keyboard, but he kept on playing with gusto.  Blue stopped by and performed “I Can” and “Sorry Seems to Be The Hardest Word” while Raphael tickled the ivories behind them…unbelievably cool.

Who knows?

Wow, Blogspot couldn’t have crapped out on me at a more inconvenient time…

Anyway, as some of you figured out, I went 9 for 10 on the Second Semi’s results, but I promise you that that is where my lucky streak will end.  I honestly have no idea who will take tonight’s Eurovision crown, and I’m not the only one here in the press room who’s up in the air!  People are guessing Azerbaijan, Ireland, the UK, France, Iceland, Denmark…I think Serbia might surprise us a bit and come up to the Top 5, but this year’s draw really put a damper on the pundits’ predictions.  Some of this year’s strongest songs are being performed in the start of the running order, with former underdogs now in the sweet spots in the lineup.  Then again, there are many who say that with the re-inclusion of the Jury’s vote and televoting now allowed throughout the entire show, running order matters less, but Dino Merlin still grimaced when he drew #2.  Only time will tell, my friends…

Semi 2 Predictions and Favorites…

Ok, I went 6/10 for Semifinal 1…let’s see how Semi 2 turns out!

My Personal Favorites:
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Netherlands, Moldova, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Romania, Latvia, Denmark, Ireland. (Austria as honorable mention!)

My Predictions:
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Romania, Denmark, Ireland, Ukraine, Estonia, Austria, Sweden, Israel.

…let’s see what happens in a few hours!

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. 🙂

Wow…just…wow…

I mean…where do I start? I had the honor of sitting in the very first row, within spitting distance of the catwalk and the stage, and right in front of a group from the Icelandic delegation. I was proudly waving the Icelandic flag for a few reasons:
1) They have no OGAE Club of their own, so they fall under the auspices of the Rest of the World division.
2) Iceland is geographically closest to my home country, the United States.
3) They have a great song, simply put!
I was sitting close enough to the action that I could make eye contact with some of the artists and feel the heat of the exploding pyrotechnics. The venue felt vast and intimate at the same time, and I doubt I’ll ever have another concert experience quite like it!

Ok, now on to the results:
Some of these winners are not a surprise. We all expected Finland, Russia, Azerbaijan, and Greece to make it through. Opinions were divided on Serbia, Iceland, Georgia, and Hungary. But Lithuania and Switzerland were complete blindsides, with most people expecting Norway and Turkey to possibly pass through to the Final. All bets seem to be off for the Second Semi…expect the unexpected, my friends!