Category Archives: Special Comment

Eurovision 2011: The Best of the Rest (Part 8)

Ok, we’re winding down to the end of our country-by-country list of 2011’s also-rans: the songs that should-have/would-have/could-have gone to Germany if the people had voted differently/if the juries had taken their bathroom breaks at a different time/if the networks had been bribed by a different record company (just kidding!  I think…).

Sweden: As almost any self-respecting Eurovision Fan would know, Sweden’s Melodifestivalen is considered one of the biggest events of the National Final calendar.  Its position in recent years as the last of the national selections means that it’s basically the final stop before the big event in May.  It tends to get higher viewership numbers in its homeland than Eurovision itself does, and ESC fans the world over flock to the Globen each year in order to watch the final firsthand.  This year’s Melodifestivalen certainly did not disappoint, with 32 songs competing over four semifinals and an “Andra Chansen (Second Chance)” round for the chance to redeem Sweden’s Eurovision hopes after a tough crash-and-burn last year.  As we all know, Eric Saade not only came out on top this year with “Popular“, but he gave the Swedes their highest placement on the ESC scoreboard since their victory back in 1999.

Eric faced some stiff competition, however.  Danny Saucedo’s runner-up “In the Club” got quite a bit of attention.  The track ended up as #2 on the Swedish Singles Chart, and Danny even got to read out Sweden’s votes this year at Eurovision.  (Eric had that honor last year; maybe it’s an omen of good things to come for Danny?):

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Eurovision 2011: The Best of the Rest (Part 7)

Romania: Romania’s National Selection was an hours-long affair that also doubled as a New Year’s Celebration, with 2010 representatives Paula Seling and Ovi co-managing hosting duties. Guest stars Chiara and Niamh Kavanagh even stopped by to join in the fun.  At the end of the night, Hotel FM won the ticket to Germany with the peppy, optimistic “Change“.  (British-born lead singer David Bryan provided quite a bit of fun for my friends and I at the Press Center, whether he knew it or not…David, if you’re reading this, thanks for being so good-natured about all of it!)

The Romanian National Selection was pretty even-keeled, in the sense that none of the songs really strayed too far from the melodic pop mold.  Unfortunately, that means that it’s somewhat difficult to point out a unique entry for the purposes of this blog!  That being said, I consistently smile whenever I hear “It’s So Fine”, the 7th-place finisher from the Blaxy Girls:

…and I was more than a little amused by the country tinge I heard from Dalma in “Song for Him”, which came in 11th place:

Russia and San Marino both had internal selections for their entries this year, so we move on to:

Serbia: Broadcaster RTS sent the impossibly adorable Nina and her Swinging-60s number “Čaroban (Magical)” to Düsseldorf, and the Belgrade-born Pharmacy student definitely made her mark.  In my opinion, the Serbian delegation had the best costumes this year, and anybody who gleefully admits she’s a nerd automatically wins points in my book! 

RTS put an interesting spin on their National Final this year: they pitted three members of the musical Kovac family against each other (father Kornelije against daughters Aleksandra and Kristina), and challenged each of them to compose a candidate entry.  In the end, it was Kristina who won out (getting nearly 15,000 televotes, compared to Aleksandra’s 6,000 and Kornelije’s 4,000), but let’s take a quick peek at what her dad and big sister put together:

Kornelije’s entry, “Ring Ring Ring” performed by The Breeze, was another ’60s-style number, taking more from the early Beatles than from Edie Sedgwick.  However, while “Čaroban” still sounded catchy and fresh, “Ring Ring Ring” seemed oddly stuck in the past:

Aleksandra decided to perform “Idemo dalje (Move On)” herself, and she served up a pretty respectable ballad that wasn’t too far removed from the formula that served Marija Serifovic well when she won Eurovision in 2007 with “Molitva”:

Slovakia chose their song internally, so we turn our attention to…

Slovenia: After missing out on the Final every year since 2007, Maja Keuc’s “No One” was a fantastic return to form for the country that brought us Alenka Gotar and Darja Švajger.  Maja was incredibly confident and capable in her performance, and I spent about half of my time in the Press Center wondering where I could buy her boots…

Coming in second place in this year’s Slovenian National Selection (or EMA) was “Ladadidej”, performed by the Lady Gaga-inspired April.  The song was catchy as anything, but I kept getting distracted by the gold-lamé soufflé perched atop her head:

Another entry taking her style cues from the Mother Monster was Tabu, with “Moje Luci (My Light)”:

After all of that, though, my personal favorite was Nina Pušlar‘s “Bilo lepo bi (It would be nice)”, a well-crafted pop confection from last year’s EMA runner-up:

Spain: This year’s Spanish preselection, “Destino: Eurovisión”, brought in twenty-four artists and had them performing ESC covers until the group was eventually winnowed down to three.  It wasn’t until the candidates had been narrowed down to soloist Melissa, boyband Auryn, and eventual winner Lucía Pérez that the audience heard the possible songs for Düsseldorf.  Each finalist performed three entries apiece, with a professional jury deciding the best song for each performer.  Finally, the top songs were compared against each other, with the public audience deciding the ultimate champion.  

Lucía’s “Que Me Quiten Lo Bailao” was selected for her by the jury, and eventually won the night, but it was almost not to be.  After the jury cast their votes, the song was actually tied with “Abrázame”, which Lucía had called out as her favorite of the night, and closer to the style that she tended to sing (and part of the audience vocally agreed with her).  However, as the jury had given more top marks to “Que Me Quiten Lo Bailao”, the upbeat number was picked.  Here’s what could have been:



It hasn’t been made public who came in second or third (although we know that Lucía won with 68% of the vote that night), but here is Auryn’s “Volver (Return)”:



…and here’s Melissa, performing “Eos”:



The next post concludes ESC Insider’s National Final series, where we take a peek at Sweden, Switzerland, and the always-dramatic Ukraine!

Eurovision 2011: The Best of the Rest (Part 6)

The Netherlands: When the 3Js revealed the quintet of songs that would be vying for the ticket to Düsseldorf, in my mind there was no question that “Je Vecht Nooit Alleen/Never Alone” would take the title.  (The Dutch audience seemed to feel the same way; the song won with over 63% of the public televote!)  If there had to be a substitution, however, my vote would have gone to the upbeat “De Stroom (The Stream)”, which was a more than worthy runner-up:

“De Stroom” is no slouch in itself; while “Je Vecht Nooit Alleen” topped the Dutch charts, “De Stroom” charted at a respectable #12 when it was released as a single in June, six months after the National Song Selection.

Norway: Melodi Grand Prix 2011 was a pretty big affair, with 21 songs split up into three semifinals.  As we all know, Stella Mwangi’s bouncy “Haba Haba” eventually took the crown, only to shockingly crash and burn out of the Semifinals.  (Subpar performance or technical errors?  You be the judge!)  Everyone seemed to have their favorites: fans of traditional Nordic sounds pulled for Helene Bølske’s beautiful “Vardlokk“, the sentimental among us loved Babel Fish’s “Depend on Me“, and fans of sweet pop sent their votes to Hanne Sørvaag’s “Like a Melody“.  As for me, my heart is divided in two.  The not-so-little part of me that loves danceable pop-rock fell in love with The BlackSheeps’ “Dance Tonight”…:

…while the other half of me still sings along to The Lucky Bullets and their rockabilly throwback “Fire Below”:

A tough decision, I know.  What were your favorites?

Poland: Much like the Dutch National Final, once the Polish candidates were revealed, there was definitely a runaway favorite.  Magdalena Tul’s “Jestem” might have come in last place during its Eurovision Semifinal, but it won its National Final with 44% of the public televote (which is pretty impressive, considering it beat nine other songs to grab the title).  With 22% of the public vote, runner-up Anna Gogola served up the fun, quirky “Ktoś taki jak ty (Someone Like You)”:  

And if you’re looking for something with a little bit more of an edge, there was 8th-place finisher Roan with “Maybe”:



Portugal: Homens da Luta’s unforgettable 70’s-era protest song “A Luta é Alegria” stormed to victory in this year’s Festival da Cancão on a wave of public support, getting 12 points from the national televote while the juries only gave them 6.  Inversely, runner-up Nuno Norte got the full 12 from the juries, but fell short when the public televote only gave him 5 points, missing out on the tie by the slimmest of margins.  (Granted, in the case of a tie, the public vote normally determines the winner, so Homens da Luta still would have gone!)  Nuno, the winner of the first season of the Portuguese edition of “Idol”, performed “São os barcos de Lisboa (They’re the Boats of Lisbon)”, a modernized fado:

Grabbing this year’s Portuguese bronze medal (and quite a few hearts) was Rui Andrade’s dramatic ballad “Em Nome do Amor (In the Name of Love)”, which got only five points from the jury, but ten from the televote:

(An interesting point of trivia: if Nuno or Rui had won the ticket to Düsseldorf, they would have been the first male soloists to carry the Portuguese flag since Rui Bandeira in 1999!)


In our next chapter, we’ll look at also-rans from Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, and Spain!

Eurovision 2011: The Best of the Rest (Part 5)

(Pardon the brief hiatus…I just started a new job, and I took a quick trip out to New York to see some family and friends. But now I’m back in full force!)

Lithuania: Evelina Sašenko shocked quite a few people when her dramatic ballad “C’est Ma Vie” qualified for the Finals.  (You could have heard a pin drop in the arena when the Lithuanian flag emerged from its little digital envelope the night of its Semifinal!)  Without a doubt, this was one of the true surprises of the 2011 Contest. 

There were a few other songs from Lithuania that I was hoping to see in Düsseldorf, with some being more guilty pleasures than others.  Donny Montell (real name: Donatas Montvydas) has tried many times over the past few years to represent his home nation, and he even had two entries in the National Final this year (including a duet with 2009 representative Sasha Song).  Donny’s solo entry this year, “Let Me”, came in 5th place this year, despite his attempted channeling of Justin Timberlake:

For fans of sweet throwback entries (like Serbia’s “Čaroban”), Liepa Mondeikaitė’s breezy “Laukiu (I’m Looking Forward)” might have done the trick.  This sixth-place finisher was the only song in the finals sung in Lithuanian (and I might be the only one who see this, but I think Kim Cattrall might have a doppelganger in Vilnius…)


(FYR) Macedonia: I had a bit of difficulty following Skopje Fest this year, partially due to a rough connection to the show’s stream, and partially because the show was interminably long and drawn-out.  When Vlatko Ilievski’s “Rusinka” took the crown, I basically shrugged my shoulders and turned to the Slovene selection, which was wrapping up at about the same time.  

That being said, there were two other songs that stayed with me after the Macedonian National Final, but for two completely different reasons.  This year’s runner-up was Martin Srbinovski’s “Ram Tam Tam”, a danceable, folk-tinged rock number that I immediately fell in love with: 



On the other side of the equation, however, was the nul-pointer Rok Agresori’s “Kukuriku”, which defies all explanation:

Now that I’ve completely destroyed your faith in humanity, let’s move on to: 


Malta: Even if you weren’t a fan of Glen Vella’s “One Life“, it was impossible not to get swept up in his absolutely infectious energy.  Whether it was him belting out gospel numbers during his press conference, living it up in the Euroclub every night, or his near-constant smile, even when he failed to qualify for the final by the razor-thin margin of a single point.  It had been Glen’s dream to sing at Eurovision, and his enthusiasm and sheer glee was impossible to resist!


The Maltese national selection was a family affair; runner-up Richard Edwards (here’s his “Finally“) and eighth-place Wayne Micallef (“Everybody Sing“) are brothers, and two-time Eurovision participant Fabrizio Faniello (“No Surrender“) went up against his little sister Claudia (“Movie in My Mind“).  (Fabrizio came in 4th, Claudia in 9th.)  My personal favorite, however, was the big-voiced ballad “If I Could Do It All Again” by Raquela, a song I could easily imagine over the ending credits of some big-budget Hollywood flick:

This 5th-place finisher could have gone toe-to-toe with Austria’s Nadine Beiler or Slovenia’s Maja Keuc…maybe next year!


Moldova: I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again next year: I love Moldova.  They come to the Eurovision Party every year with the intention of having a fabulous time and they generally succeed.  Whether they’re bringing someone’s grandmother, a big comfy sofa, an epic sax, or a unicycle-riding, kushma-wearing fairytale princess (as in the case of this year’s “So Lucky” by Zdob şi Zdub), you can’t forget them, even if you try.


Keeping in line with the manic, madcap, and exuberant style we’re used to seeing from the Moldovans over the past few years, my favorite selection from 2011 was Doiniţa Gherman’s “Viaţa (Life)”, an energetic turbofolk number that is basically in line with her National Final submissions from 2009 (Hei! Exploadează!) and 2010 (“Meloterapia“).



Next up: the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and Portugal!

Eurovision 2011: The Best of the Rest (Part 4)

Ireland: Like them or not, you simply can not deny that Jedward were an unstoppable force at Eurovision.  Even if they didn’t take top honors this year with “Lipstick“, they were really the talk of the Press Center.  From their knee-high Converses to their now-iconic hair, you couldn’t resist this year’s Irish entry.  Even I fell victim to their charms:

But despite the Grimes Brothers’ popularity and infectious energy, they only made it to Düsseldorf by the slimmest of margins; only two points separated them from runner-up Nikki Kavanagh’s R&B ballad “Falling”:

Nikki sang backup for last year’s Irish entry, and “Falling” was written by a team that included Jonas Gladnikoff, who was the composer of “Et Cetera” and “It’s For You“, Ireland’s 2009 and 2010 Eurovision submissions.  Sadly, Jonas and Co. were unable to pull off the three-peat, but who knows what 2012 will bring?

Israel: Speaking of return performances, Dana International was one of five lead artists coming back to Eurovision this year (the others being Dino Merlin, Lena, Zdob si Zdub, and Gunnar Ólasson).  Sadly, she was also the only one of those five to not qualify for the Finals.  “Ding Dong” might have not have been the triumphant return Dana might have been hoping for…

For me, there were two other true standouts in this year’s Kdam.  The first was Chen Aharoni’s “Or (Light)”, which may have had everything but the kitchen sink thrown into it:

Pretty face?  Check.  Slow, moving opening?  Check.  Tempo change?  Check.  Panflute?  Check.  Costume change by an unnecessary dancer?  Check.  A highly entertaining three minutes?  Check!

My other favorite from that night had to be Michael and Shimrit Greylsummer’s sunny French-Hebrew folk jam “Tu Du Du”:

My knowledge of French is pretty rusty, and my Hebrew is even worse (even though I’m pretty sure I hear the words “bottle of rum” and “Bob Dylan” somewhere in there…), but this song never fails to make me smile.  It’s this perfect blend of Middle Eastern tonal structure, danceable club beats, Rybak violins, and Woodstock joy!

Italy: Ok, so any devoted reader of mine probably knows by now that Raphael Gualazzi’s “Madness of Love” claimed the top spot on my own personal 2011 scoreboard, as well as a soft spot in the cockles of my heart.  If you haven’t read my post-Eurovision interview with Raph yet, by all means, check it out!  It’s ok, I’ll wait.

Raphael was chosen by an internal jury during the San Remo Festival to carry the Tricolore for Italy’s return to Eurovision, so we can’t really say who would have gone in his place had he refused.  That being said, San Remo 2011 was full of fantastic songs that would not have seemed out of place for Eurovision.  For example, there was Emma Marrone’s stirring collaboration with the rock group Modà, “Arriverá (It Will Come)”:

I was also a big fan of Anna Tatangelo’s “Bastardo (Bastard)“, Nathalie Giannitrapani’s “Vivo Sospesa (I Live Suspended)“, and Giusi Ferreri’s “Il Mare Immenso (The Immense Sea)“.  I don’t know what it is about these dramatic, female-led numbers, but Italy seems to have cornered the market on them.  Knowing the quality of the entries at San Remo, and seeing the high benchmark set by Raphael this year, I really can’t wait to see what RAI sends us in 2012 (assuming they don’t wait another thirteen years…).

Latvia: Hmmm.  Compared to the National Finals from Italy and Israel, Latvia doesn’t stick out to me as much.  It’s not that it was a bad preselection by any stretch, it’s just that the songs didn’t grab me by the heartstrings and eardrums in the same way that the Kdam and San Remo did.  That being said, Musiqq’s “Angel in Disguise” was a fun number, and possibly my favorite Latvian song since 2005’s “The War is Not Over“.

Speaking of “The War is not Over”, songwriter Mārtiņš Freimanis submitted an entry for this year’s National Selection, but passed away about a month before “Hop” could be performed.  Unlike Iceland’s Sjónni Brink, Freimanis was not going to be performing the song itself (rather, deferring to the group Blitze), but it was still a sudden and tragic loss to the Latvian music community.

“Angel in Disguise” was not the odds-on favorite to go to Düsseldorf; most people were betting on Lauris Reiniks’s “Banjo Laura”:

“Banjo Laura” is definitely enjoyable, but I do have to say that the line “La-la-la-la-Laura the banjo girl/ Who was she? What did she play?” bothers me to no end.  Lauris, you just answered your own question.  She’s Laura, and she plays the banjo.  ‘Nuff said, end of story.

In our next installment, I’ll pick out the best from Lithuania, Macedonia, Malta, and Moldova…stay tuned!

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!

Eurovision 2011: The Best of the Rest (Part 2)

Continuing on through our tour of the 2011 Preselections, we move straight on from Bulgaria to…

Croatia: Few people who were in the Press Center in Düsseldorf will soon be able to forget Daria Kinzer’s “Celebrate“, complete with two costume changes and a special appearance by a creepy Willy Wonka impersonator.  But only the most hardcore of ESC fans remembers that the lovely Daria had some serious competition in this year’s Dora: Jacques Houdek.  Daria and Jacques went head-to-head on three songs, with a public televote and jury vote selecting the best option for each singer.  The interesting thing about this, however, was that the scores were tied after the jury and televote was added together during the song selection, with the public favoring “Stotinama Godina (A Hundred Years)” for both Daria and Jacques (by a landslide), and the jury selecting “Lahor/Break a Leg/Celebrate” for the two.  Most national finals used the public vote as the prevailing factor, but Croatia deferred to the jury.   The uptempo number seemed better-suited for the lovely Daria, and so Jacques’ fate as runner-up was sealed.  But we were tantalizingly close to having this, instead:

“Stotinama Godina” reminds me of the classic Croatian ballads of years past: songs like “Neka Mi Ne Svane“, or “Nek’ ti bude ljubav sva” (which, interestingly enough, Jacques performed during the national selection process).  It’s hard to say if this would have made it into the Final (I’m sure that some would have argued that it sounded “dated”), but I personally preferred it to “Celebrate”.  As for Jacques, I wouldn’t count him out.  In a commercial for this year’s UK version of “X-Factor”, eagle-eyed viewers can catch a quick glimpse of Houdek auditioning for the show that introduced the world to Jedward.  Brace yourselves, my friends.
Skipping Cyprus, which chose its song internally, we move on to:

Denmark: “New Tomorrow” by A Friend in London brought the Danes their second consecutive Top Five placement, and may have given Jedward and Poli Genova a bit of competition in the “Best Spiky Blonde Hair” category this year.  But the runner-up at this year’s Dansk Melodi Grand Prix was no slouch, either.

Anne Noa’s “Sleepless” felt like a breezy blend of Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez, and could have easily been a worthy follow-up to the youthful puppy-love of Lena’s “Satellite”.

Estonia: Once again, some of the best songs this year came to us from Eestilaul, and it’s really tough to pinpoint an absolute favorite.  Getter Jaani’s “Rockefeller Street” was a fun, bouncy, vaguely surrealistic number that people in the press center either lauded or loathed, but there were definitely a handful of songs that could have gone to Germany in its place.  Fans of “Oida Taunz!” might have gone for the Argentinian-born Elmayonesa’s “Kes Ei Tantsi On Politsei (Whoever Doesn’t Dance is a Policeman)”, while on the opposite side of the musical spectrum, we have Marilyn Jurman’s sweet “Veel on Aega (There is Still Time)”.  This year’s runner-up, “I Wanna Meet Bob Dylan” by Outloudz, is a wonderfully wistful track that I am predisposed to love (both as a resident of Dylan’s home state of Minnesota as well as a fan of 80’s-style New Wave), but my personal favorite still remains 2011’s fifth-place finisher, Ithaka Maria’s “Hopa’pa-Rei!”:

How can you argue with those cellos, that attitude…that YODEL?  It’s exceedingly difficult to not sing in English at Eurovision, yet still have everybody singing along with your hook (just ask Magdalena Tul)…but I’m pretty sure that Ithaka Maria would have had Ruslana fans (and many others, for that matter) absolutely eating out of her hand.

Finland: Paradise Oskar may have “Da Da Dam“ed his way to Düsseldorf, but he had to defeat a fairytale princess and a former monster to get to the top of the heap.  Finland’s runner-up this year was Saara Aalto’s saccharine-sweet “Blessed with Love” (if Eurovision’s rules had allowed animals on stage, I’m pretty sure we would have seen Bambi, Thumper, and Tweety Bird singing backup…but then again, with the LED screen, I’m sure anything would have been possible).  If sweetness isn’t quite your thing, how about the glam-rock of Stala and So.’s “Pamela”?

Lead singer Sampsa Astala is the former drummer for Lordi, who famously took the Eurovision crown to Finland for the first time back in 2006.

Next up: Georgia, Germany, Greece, and Iceland!

Eurovision 2011: The Best of the Rest (Part 1)

Like many Eurovision fans and fanatics (myself included), the period between the end of May and the beginning of December is often a melancholy bit of time while we wait for news on the next year’s edition and constantly re-hash the events of the past.  For me, this is the perfect time to look back on the songs that didn’t quite make it to Düsseldorf this year; some of these also-rans are just as entertaining or endearing as the tunes that made the journey to the main event.  Out of the forty-three nations that sent songs to Germany this year, thirty-four of them had national selections (and the rest, like France, Belarus, Turkey, et cetera, were internal selections made behind closed doors).  Needless to say, there’s a lot of ground to cover!  So, starting alphabetically…

Albania: For me, the Albanian Preselection (or Festivali i Këngës) is one of the more underrated events of the Eurovision year.  It occurs early in the ESC cycle (generally falling around Boxing Day), and it tends to involve both young, fresh faces as well as veteran performers.  This year’s FiK winner was Aurela Gaçe’s “Kënga Ime”, which eventually became the epic, aquiline “Feel the Passion“.  However, in second place this year was the lovely duet “Ende ka shpresë (There is Still Hope)”, written and performed by Alban Skenderaj and Miriam Cani.  

I don’t know if this song would have been translated into English (as so many other Albanian entries have been over the past few years), but if it had, it could have possibly given Azerbaijan’s Ell and Nikki a run for their money.  
 
(And, for the record, another personal favorite of mine was Kamela Islamaj’s “Jetova per te dy (I Lived for Us)”, which came in 10th place in the FiK.  While it might not have gone over as well in the ESC as “Ende ka shpresë”, I absolutely love Kamela’s soulful, bluesy, voice.)
Read the rest of this entry

Follow Up Single Time, Part 3

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen a whole bunch of new and recent releases from all over the Eurovision world.  Let’s see what we’ve got…

One of the more highly-anticipated songs from the post-Düsseldorf boom comes, of course, from the irrepressible Jedward.  The Irish twins, who are planning on releasing their new album, “Victory”, in August, have already gone to the top of the Irish Charts with their new single, “Bad Behaviour”.  Featuring Hollywood blogger Perez Hilton (who, incidentally, happens to be the namesake of the Grimes Brothers’ parrot…), both the song and accompanying video keeps the high-energy, frenetic pop vibe of “Lipstick” going strong.  The pair are currently touring the UK, Ireland, and Germany.


Jedward – Bad Behaviour (Official Music Video) HQ from xeaaasy on Vimeo.

San Marino’s Senit has also released her next track, entitled “Through the Rain”.  At this point, however, it is only available through the Italian version of iTunes.  This upbeat, danceable track seems to be more in line with Senit’s previous releases than the sweet, subtle “Stand By”, and it even clocks in at less than the Eurovision-standard three minute mark.  Could this have been the mysterious other track that SMRTV had considered sending to Eurovision?

Following “Rusinka”, (FYR) Macedonia’s Vlatko Ilievski has just released his next video, for “Moja Tamna Rijeko”.  Call me crazy, but I prefer this softer side of Vlatko over the man we saw in Germany.  It might not be as catchy as “Rusinka”, but at least we can hear him singing this time around!  What are your thoughts?

Last, but certainly not least, Finland’s Paradise Oskar (Axel Ehnström) has released his second single, “Sunday Everyday”. 

Axel took home the Marcel Bezençon Press Award from the accredited journalists in Düsseldorf after his performance of “Da Da Dam”, and if you were a fan of his sweet, introspective, acoustic-driven style, his album “Sunday Songs” might be just your speed.  It’s hit the Top Five in the Finnish charts, and he’s touring actively throughout the summer. 

Catching up with Raphael Gualazzi

During my time at the Press Center in Düsseldorf this year, I had the great (and often surreal) pleasure to get to know a number of 2011’s Eurovision performers.  I sipped tea with the Greeks, chatted with the Icelanders, danced with the Armenians, practiced my Portuguese with Homens da Luta, and raised a few toasts with the Bulgarians.  However, one of my favorite artists to work with was Italy’s Raphael Gualazzi.  After having the chance to interview him for ESCKaz, we would often run into each other as he went from rehearsals to press conferences to interviews and back again, always sharing a quick smile and a “ciao”.  I sat in the second row during Raphael’s intimate showcase at “Jazz in der Alten Schmeide”, and saw firsthand how much he and his bandmates truly feel their music, a fantastic, soulful blend of old-school stride piano fused with modern blues, funk, and jazz.  When “Madness of Love” defied expectations and quietly climbed up the leaderboard on May 14th, ultimately making its way into a surprising (to some, anyway) second place finish, I may have been celebrating louder than the Italian delegation itself.  I had the chance to catch up with Raphael this week before his gig at the Teatro Tenda in Vascon, near Treviso.  Despite an often-fuzzy cell phone connection, I was able to get a few questions in.

ESC Insider: It’s been over a month since we’ve last talked…how has life been since Düsseldorf?
Raphael Gualazzi: Well, we were very busy before [Eurovision]…a lot of gigs around Europe.  And now, after that, we are in a lot of different countries, so a lot of work on promotion. And at the same time a lot of concerts around Europe, like Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, France, Germany, all around.  You can check [the tour schedule] out on the Internet, for sure.  Also, there’s been some television in Munich, Hamburg, and Berlin, and we’ll have also a tour in October, from the 1st to the 15th in Germany that will start in Stuttgart, through Berlin, Hamburg, and it will stop in Frankfurt on the 15th.  And now, I’m just doing a lot of work, touring around festivals in France…

EI: So, is there any possibility of you coming over to this side of the Atlantic?
RG: I really would like that!  We’re just building our way, and probably, I hope, soon…I think we will!
EI: It sounds like you’ve been so busy since Eurovision…well, really, since Sanremo!  Have you taken any time to take a deep breath and relax?  When you take time off, what do you do?
RG: Well, I’ve had not so much time and, you know, I like to compose, so I ask to bring in a piano to the hotel room, so I can practice or write down something…
EI: Thinking about the Eurovision experience itself: out of twenty-five songs in the Final, you came in second place, and the Jury put you in first.   The huge scale of it: the arena held over 30,000, and the night of the final had over 70 million people watching.  Has it sunk in, how huge of an experience it was?  When you look back on it, what do you think?
RG: Well, I think it was amazing…I’ve never believed in competition, but I think it was a great occasion to be in front of so many people and viewers.  Just three minutes to express yourself.  We worked very hard…weeks just for three minutes in front of so, so, many, many, many people.  And I just said to myself, ‘I just have to do my best for my music, and be thankful for the possibility to express myself in front of so many people.’  For three minutes, I had the possibility to bring back Jazz to its full popularity.  That’s what I think I did!  People around me were nervous…‘oh, we are in first, second, third’.  I didn’t really care; I just had a glass of wine!  For me, it was a game…the same atmosphere you can have with your parents after dinner in Italy, around the table when you play Tombola or Bingo or something like that. [laughs]
EI: You were at Eurovision for a little bit over a week.  What was your favorite memory from your time in Düsseldorf?
RG: Well, the memory of joy from seeing people from different countries joining together and making music.  I know that with popular music, you get different kinds…but to see more than forty countries just joining together…you see how much power can be with music.  I don’t believe in contests, but it can help people meet and cooperate with each other, like I did with the 3Js and some other people.  But it’s great, the most important thing!
EI: You mention working with the 3Js [2011’s representatives from The Netherlands].  I read on another website that you’re planning another collaboration with them; is this true?
RG: Well, why not?  I have no official news on that, partially because I’m so taken up by my work, I cannot say.  I have some things to talk about with my label, but I think so!  I think we’ll have some gigs together.  I don’t know what’s going on, but if I have some news, for sure I will communicate with you.
EI: Is there anything you would change about your experience [at Eurovision]?
RG: At the moment, about this experience in Germany, I wouldn’t change anything!  I was that everything was perfectly set and perfectly organized.  It was amazing…it’s certainly not so easy to work with so many people and their delegations, so I think that it was great.  It was all very good, and I wouldn’t change anything.
EI: Now, when you came from the Sanremo Festival and were selected to go to Eurovision, you didn’t know very much about the competition.  It’s not very well known in Italy, and even this year, only about a million viewers watched the Final.  But now, with the possibility of Italy taking part more often in Eurovision, what advice would you give other Italian singers and songwriters about your experience?
RG: What I can tell is, for sure, that we didn’t take this opportunity, and we didn’t have this choice for so many years, that many people probably, a little bit, forgot about it.  Today, one of the questions that people often ask me is ‘how many people waited for you at the airport [when you came back from Düsseldorf]?’  And the answer is ‘nobody’!  Very few people…they really follow Sanremo, so [Eurovision] is not so popular….I can say to the Italian people that the Eurovision Song Contest is a contest of pop songs, but it’s very good experience.  First of all, it gives you the possibility to express yourself in front of an amazing audience of viewers, and an amazing audience live.  At the same time, it’s an important occasion of collaboration.  I always say, like that song…[singing] ‘Always look on the bright side of life!’  [laughs] Like that, you know?  So big of an experience…people really need to know that.  If you have the possibility…it’s part of our business.  It’s a great occasion to…bring your music to so many.  It’s three minutes of magic.
Since the release of his album “Reality and Fantasy”, Raphael has topped the iTunes Jazz charts all over Europe, and has even made an impact on that chart’s Australian counterpart.  He’s touring all over Europe, booked almost solid at least until November, selling out venues from Berlin to Strasbourg to Rome and back again.  (For fans on the other side of the Atlantic, however, patience might have to be a virtue.  Raphael did, however, express a definite interest in coming to the US for a few dates, especially considering his successful performance at the “History and Mystery of Jazz” festival in New Hampshire and Vermont back in 2009.)
Some might think that such success, even in a niche market like the world of Jazz (or, for that matter, the world of Eurovision), might go to a man’s head.  But when Raphael and his delegation returned to the Press Center after the Final, with dozens of people crowding around the newly-minted silver medalist, the soft-spoken pianist from Urbino with the old soul and boyish smile took the camera flashes and sudden attention with the same quiet humility that he showed on the stage at Sanremo only a few brief months earlier.  For Raphael, it has always been about the music, not the fame or the spectacle.  At one point, when a small group of volunteers asked him for a photo, he quietly took their camera and pointed it at the four young women, seemingly unaware that they wanted him to be in the photo, as well.  After I took the camera from Raphael and snapped a group shot for his giggling group of fans, I gently reminded him that yes, he was the celebrity here.
(MAJOR thanks go out to Raphael and his team at Sugar Music, including his manager Francesco Pasquero, for their help in getting this interview arranged.  Grazie mille, ragazzi!)