Eurovision 2012 Preview Part 14 – Azerbaijan, Spain and Germany

Well here we are. One week to go until the final of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, and today it’s the last of our preview blogs for this year. As well as taking a look at the final trio of entries, we’ll also be seeing who the bookmakers reckon are in the running to take the title this year.

First up in the previews today are the hosts, Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan’s win last year was, in a way, inevitable, as they had gone all-out to win in previous years and had got closer and closer. Ell and Nikki’s victory has brought the contest to Baku, and hoping to impress the rest of Europe in front of the home crowd when she performs 13th on the night is Sabina Babayeva, singing When the Music Dies. Sabina goes for the full-on diva thing here, in a flat that’s clearly in need of new central heating.

There’s a tradition in Eurovision that the hosts present an entry that’s solid enough to perform respectably in the voting, but not so strong that they risk having to foot the bill for a second year (though of course Ireland in the 1990s, try as they might, never quite got the hang of this). The Azerbaijan entry definitely falls into this category – it’ll probably achieve a Top 10 finish, but the contest is sure to be headed West after 26 May.

Performing 19th out of the 26 in the final will be Spain. It’s getting on for a decade now since the Spaniards last had a Top 10 finish in Eurovision, their results in recent years having been poor-to-middling. They’re hoping to get back in the game this year with Pastora Soler, who gives a belting performance singing Quédate Conmigo, or “Stay With Me”. There’s lots of slow-motion dancing before, near the end and for no apparent reason, Pastora acquires a load of feathers and chucks a bucket of water over her dance partner.

Back in the mid-1990s, you could barely move for big ballads like that in Eurovision. It might get a decent amount of votes next Saturday, but will need a really strong, compelling vocal performance. And preferably no feathers.

And so to the very last country to get the preview treatment this year, Germany, who’ll be taking to the stage straight after Spain on the night. Germany of course got right back in the game a couple of years ago, as following on from a pretty dismal string of results they won courtesy of Lena. Lena then represented them again last year, this time just about scraping inside the Top 10. This year they’re represented by the puppy-eyed, check-shirted Roman Lob, performing Standing Still. The song, to be frank, is Matt Cardle-level dull, and viewers are best advised to amuse themselves by constructing some cub-based Eurovision slash fantasies involving Roman and Ott Lepland.

Mmm, Roman and Ott. I’m sure Germany and Estonia could do with finding new ways to strengthen diplomatic relations. Ahem, anyway. The song? Yes, well, bit balladed-out now to be honest. Again, I think Germany’s performance will probably be respectable rather than spectacular when it comes to the vote.

And that, girls and boys, is that. Forty-two countries all previewed and commented upon. So who’s going to win? As I’ve mentioned previously, Sweden are the hot favourites, followed by Italy and Russia. The bookies also seem to think Engelbert stands a good chance, with many having the UK as 4th favourite (although to be fair, our chances are always bigged up by the bookmakers). Serbia, Iceland, Romania and Denmark are all seen as likely contenders for a Top 10 placing at least, with slightly longer odds on Ireland, Spain, Germany, Norway, Greece and Cyprus. Down at the other end of the odds, those who are feeling particularly brave (or foolish) may be tempted to have a flutter on Montenegro, Portugal or San Marino. And frankly, if you put a bet on San Marino to win with the F***b**k song, you presumably want to lose money.

One final thing: where will you be watching the Eurovision final next Saturday? At your own place? Maybe at a friend’s? Or at a venue that’s showing the contest? If you’re not sure and at a bit of a loose end, then you could do a lot worse than come to the LGBT Labour Eurovision Party, which starts at 7pm next Saturday, at 2022nq on Dale Street, Manchester. There’ll be food, drink, a raffle and other fun stuff going on. Tickets are £10 and for more information, you can go to the Facebook (uh oh oh) page here.

It’ll be a fabulous evening – but then any evening involving Eurovision is guaranteed to be fabulous. I’ll be live-tweeting both semi-finals and the final – you can follow me @crispeater. And I’ll be reviewing the whole shebang on here next Sunday. Until then, have a fabulous Eurovision, whatever you’re up to (and wherever you’ll be)!

Chris x

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Eurovision 2012 Preview Part 13 – United Kingdom, France and Italy

Hard to believe, but we’re on to the penultimate part of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest preview. By this time next week, we’ll know the full line-up for the final, with twenty countries having qualified from the semi-finals. Meanwhile, of course, there are six other countries who are already in the final: hosts Azerbaijan and the so-called “Big Five” of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and, of course, the United Kingdom. Those countries have been allocated their places in the draw for the final, so we’ll be previewing them in the order that they’ll be performing. Starting with the United Kingdom, who’ll be opening proceedings next Saturday.

Last year saw the abandonment of the televised selection contest in favour of an internal selection that was then unveiled to the public. Blue put in a decent showing in the end, although they earned the dubious distinction of being the first-ever act to finish outside the Top 10 despite achieving a three-figure score – an indication of how spread-out the voting was last year. On 1 March this year, it was announced that our representative in Baku would be Engelbert Humperdinck, an announcement that led many (myself included, I’ll admit) to wonder if they’d accidentally slept through March and woken up on 1 April. But no, Engelbert, who’s just turned 76, will be representing the UK – although thanks to the Russian grannies, he won’t be the only septugenarian taking to the stage. Engelbert (I refuse to call him “The Hump” – it’s just not going to happen), always happiest with a waltz rhythm, performs Love Will Set You Free, with his hair resolutely stuck in 1972 and a giant shower curtain in the background.

Not just the hair stuck in 1972 – the song itself could comfortably have been a hit 40 years ago. Still, it has a certain class about it, although I’m really not sure about that strangled shriek that he ends on. The bookies have it as one of the favourites, although being drawn first isn’t great news: on only three occasions has Eurovision been won by the first act of the night – Teach-In in 1975, Brotherhood of Man in 1976 and Herreys in 1984. My suspicion is that we won’t be bringing Eurovision home this year, but nor should we disgrace ourselves.

Performing ninth in the running order on the big night will be France. Last year they started out as one of the hot favourites with a big operatic number, but in the final finished some way down the table. This year’s offering is more conventionally pop, with Anggun (an Indonesian-born recording veteran, albeit not of as many years as Engelbert Humperdinck) singing Echo (You and I). The video, with Anggun the sole woman surrounded by strapping butch men drowning in their own homoeroticism, is reminiscent of nothing so much as Total Eclipse of the Heart. With added gas masks. And some pink gas that has the pleasing effect of making the soldiers kiss each other.

A strong performance on the night (preferably with some male backing dancers who don’t wear too much, as in the video) could lift this one above mid-table. Finally today it’s Italy, who’ll be coming straight after France in the final. Last year saw the Italians return to Eurovision after a self-imposed exile of 14 years. And, as Italy always seem to do when they return to Eurovision after a break, they sauntered in nonchalantly and ended up finishing, rather surprisingly, in second place, courtesy of their answer to Jamie Cullum. This year they’re represented by Nina Zilli, who appears to be their Paloma Faith, singing L’Amore È Femmina (Out Of Love). The Italian bit translates as “Love Is Female”. She should certainly get the vintage vote with this one – in fact, the bookies seem to think she’ll get lots of votes overall, as Italy are second favourites behind Sweden.

It’s a catchy number and taps into a retro pop sound that’s been in for a few years now (although having said that, Serbia tapped into the same trend last year and only finished a modest 14th in the final), so it’ll be interesting to see how it does on the night.

So that’s three of the six countries who can sit back and watch the rest of the competition sweating it out next Tuesday and Thursday night. Tomorrow, it’s the final part of this year’s Eurovision preview, as we look at the 2012 offerings from hosts Azerbaijan, plus Spain and Germany. And we’ll take another look at the bookies’ predictions to see who their favourites are to host next year’s Contest.

Chris x

Eurovision 2012 Preview Part 12 – Norway, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Lithuania

We’re getting near the end of our series of Eurovision previews – today we’ve got the last three countries who’ll be taking part in the second semi-final a week today. Today’s blog not only previews them, it also takes a look at who the bookies have got odds on making it through to next Saturday’s final. We’ll start the previews today with Norway. It’s been a funny few years for the Norwegians: in 2009, they won with a record score; then in 2010 as hosts they finished near the bottom in the final; and then last year, somewhat surprisingly, the failed to qualify from the semis. This year one suspects they’ll be back in the game, as they send Iranian-born singer Tooji, singing Stay. There’s a bit too much farty noise going on the background early on. There’s also an Eastern trill riff nicked direct from Beyonce’s Naughty Girl. Which of course quoted the late Donna Summer. So, in a way, topical.

Fundamentally it’s the sort of power pop that the Scandinavians specialise in, and I’d be very surprised not to see Tooji amongst the contenders in the final. The penultimate country performing next Thursday will be Bosnia and Herzegovina. They’ve done consistently well in recent years, coming sixth last year. This year they’ve sent Maya Sar (who played keyboard backing on Dino Merlin’s entry last year), performing Korake Ti Znam, or “I Know Your Steps” (which sounds like reassurance given by a professional to their celebrity partner on Strictly). In one of those deeply inscrutable music videos, Maya performs on her piano in a factory and on the back of a train, whilst a random bloke with a couple of donkeys wanders about with a giant treble clef. Like you do.

It’s a solid, and very 1990s-sounding, ballad – it’s placing near the end of the running order should give it an extra fillip when it comes to qualification. As for Maya herself, she’s done a lot of really good work in the fight against cervical cancer, which in my book makes her a very good egg indeed.

On to the 36th and final semi-finalist in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, Lithuania. Lithuania still have only one Top 10 finish to their name, and that was with the joke entry We Are the Winners back in 2006. Since then, they’ve tended to alternate between not qualifying for the final, and qualifying, but finishing well down the running order. This year they’ll be pinning their hopes on Donatas Montvydas, or as he’s better known, Donny Montell. With a name that sounds like that of a 90s R&B artist, and the appearance of a 12-year-old, Donny spends the early part of this song (which keeps promising to turn into One Night Only, but doesn’t quite deliver) blindfolded. Because, you see, Love Is Blind.

There’s a decent disco number that never makes it out in that song. Frustrating, and again will need to rely heavily on its placing in the running order to make it through.

And that’s it for the semis. 36 countries previewed, of which 20 will make it through to the final. But which 20? You may well have formed your own opinions based on what you’ve seen and heard, but what do the bookies think? Well, currently the semi-final odds would suggest that the following countries will make it through:

1st Semi-Final – Denmark, Romania, Russia, Iceland, Greece, Ireland, Moldova, Cyprus and Albania, with a tight squeeze between Israel and Switzerland for the one remaining place

2nd Semi-Final – Sweden, Serbia, Norway, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Turkey, Estonia, Ukraine, Slovenia and Belarus, with a toss-up between Slovakia, Croatia and Macedonia as to who gets the other place.

Of course things rarely run to form, so expect one or two rank outsiders to win a place in the final (although possibly not San Marino).

But whilst we can’t be sure about twenty of this year’s finalists, we can be sure about the other six, as Azerbaijan and the “Big Five” – France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK – all have automatic places in the final. So for the last two parts of this year’s preview, we’ll be taking a look at their entries for this year, in the order in which they’ve been drawn. And that means next time we’ll have our own effort from Engelbert, plus France and Italy.

Chris x

Eurovision 2012 Preview Part 10 – Croatia, Sweden and Georgia

It’s Monday evening, the first day of another week is nearly done and dusted, and the first of this year’s Eurovision semi-finals is now barely more than a week away. This year’s previews, meanwhile, move on apace, and today we’ve got Croatia, Sweden and Georgia lined up for inspection. Starting with Croatia, who’ve missed the qualification boat in the last couple of years and will be hoping to put that right this year. Croatia decided to scrap their selection competition (fabulously called Dora) and go for an internal selection instead. Their representative is Nina Badrić (who herself has missed the boat when trying to get selected on a number of previous occasions), singing Nebo, or “Heaven”, from inside what appears to be a Dove advert. Complete with lots of gratuitously semi-naked men.

Random fact: Nina once did a TV job-swap with a zoo-keeper. That’s not a bad entry at all, but whether moving to an internal selection will improve things for Croatia as it did for the UK last year remains to be seen.

From a country that’s amongst this year’s rank outsiders, to the country that is currently this year’s hot favourite. Sweden of course are no strangers to success at Eurovision, although it’s now 13 years since Charlotte Nilsson (as she was then, and minus the ill-advised cosmetic enhancements) gave the Swedes their fourth Eurovision triumph with Take Me To Your Heaven. Last year it looked like Erik Saade’s glass-smashing efforts might come good, as Sweden led the voting for a while before being overtaken in the later stages and having to settle for third place. Hoping to take the lead and stay there to the end is Loreen with Euphoria, performed here using interpretative dance on a level not seen since the early days of Kate Bush.

It certainly has the sound of a potential Eurovision winner – start slowly, build up to a banging chorus and keep it up from there. She ends the performance being held aloft – whether she’ll end this contest holding the trophy aloft remains to be seen.

Last up today are Georgia. In the four Eurovisions they’ve competed in so far, the Georgians have been a model of consistency, qualifying each time and then finishing somewhere from 9th to 12th in the final. This year, they’ve sent Anri Jokhadze performing I’m a Joker. Anri, judging by this video, isn’t exactly a shrinking violet. In fact he makes John Barrowman look restrained. He also, one suspects, might be going all-out to make it clear to the world that he’s completely and utterly heterosexual.

Anri has apparently been doing showbiz since the age of 4 and is known as “The Georgian Golden Voice”. With hair colour to match. Completely OTT – if the stage performance is similarly excessive, and based on their previous results, this might make it through.

So, three very different entries, one of which could be this year’s winner. But there’s plenty more still to get through, and next time it’ll be the turn of Turkey, Estonia and Slovakia to get the preview treatment.

Chris x

Eurovision 2012 Preview Part 9 – Ukraine, Bulgaria and Slovenia

Off we go with a preview of three more countries who’ll be duking it out in the second Eurovision semi-final on 24 May. Ukraine are one of the most consistent performers of recent years, having only missed the Top 10 twice since winning in 2004 – and last year saw them achieve their fourth Top 5 finish. Their hoping to continue the good run this year, with Gaitana performing Be My Guest. A song which doesn’t even remotely sound like When Love Takes Over. The video, meanwhile, is pure sensory overload.

Gaitana, who, incidentally, performed at Barack Obama’s inauguaration in 2009, should probably qualify with that song – uncomplicated dancey pop like that always goes down well at Eurovision. Especially when it’s a Kelly Rowland away from a David Guetta lawsuit.

Whilst Ukraine have done consistently well, Bulgaria have consistently failed to qualify, having made it through to the final just once in seven previous outings (although they did manage to finish 5th on that occasion). This year they’re sending Sofi Marinova singing Love Unlimited. She goes to town with the Gaga-esque bits and the fireworks in this one.

Not bad, but she’ll have to be really fierce if she’s not to be overshadowed by the Ukrainian entry immediately preceding her – particularly as (the “I love you so much” aside) she’s performing in Bulgarian rather than English.

Last up today are Slovenia, who have also struggled to make the big night ever since the semi-final stages were introduced. Completing a trio of female soloists in today’s preview, their hopes this year rest with 16-year-old Eva Boto, who performs Verjamem, or “I Dream”. Her dream appears to consist of women wearing large scrunchies on their heads.

Not bad as big ballads go, and if she can overcome any big-night nerves (and get rid of the scrunchie women), then this could actually do pretty well.

That’s it for today. Next time, attentions will be turned to Croatia, Sweden and Georgia. Sweden are the current favourites to win this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, so this could be the trio that produces this year’s champion. We’ll know whether it does or not in just a fortnight from today…

Chris x

Eurovision 2012 Preview Part 8 – Malta, Belarus and Portugal

Time to preview three more countries all bidding to qualify from the second semi-final on 24 May. Unlike any of the other trios being previewed this year, none of today’s threesome have ever won the contest, although the first country, Malta, has come very close on a number of occasions, most recently in 2005. This year, they’re sending Kurt Calleja (who appears to have the same stylist and wardrobe as Marcus Collins), singing This is the Night. The video starts with what appears to be a resurrection of those grisly Doritos “Friendchip” ads from about a decade ago, in which Kurt and friends watch a home video of him somewhere very cold. It then turns into a riot of quiffs, bow-ties, floodlights and Tulisa on drums. Really it just needs the shouty voiceover man to go “KURT CALLEJA!”

It even has the vibe of an X-Factor runner-up’s debut single (i.e. okay but fairly unmemorable). On now to everyone’s favourite European dictatorship, Belarus. Last year, they sent someone telling everyone how much she loved her home country. The rest of Europe wasn’t buying that one, but undeterred Belarus are sending another self-aggrandising entry, as boyband Litesound (who appeared to have pilfered from will.i.am’s wardrobe) perform We Are the Heroes.

A testament to the perils of overusing straighteners (apart from the one with the blond hair, who’s testament to the perils of using eyeliner). Incidentally, they actually came second in the selection contest, only for the winner to be disqualified after it was discovered there had been shady dealings in the voting process. Ironically, this was uncovered by the country’s president.

Last up today are Portugal. The Portuguese are arguably the greatest under-achievers in the history of Eurovision – they’ve been entering almost every year for nearly half-a-century, and have still yet to achieve a Top 5 finish. Indeed, it’s 16 years now since they last made the Top 10. This year they’re hoping to restore their fortunes with Filipa Sousa, who sings Vida Minha, or “Life of Mine”. Potentially this is quite a powerful ballad, but unfortunately it’s serially undermined by backing singers who look like they’ve stepped out of the Apprentice boardroom; a pair of dancers whose peripheral presence keeps forcing the cameras away from the singer; and by increasingly enthusiastic deployment of a wind machine towards the end.

Given the rule about not having more than six people on stage at any one time, something will have to give at the Contest itself between the backing singers and the dancers. As that performance stands, you get the feeling there’s a lack of confidence in the song and the singer in themselves being enough to get Portugal through to the final.

And that’s it for today. Next time, the 2012 efforts of Ukraine, Bulgaria and Slovenia will be getting a thorough examination. See you then!

Chris x

Eurovision 2012 Preview Part 7 – Serbia, Macedonia and Netherlands

We’re at the halfway point in this year’s Eurovision preview blogs, and we’re now on to the countries who will be battling it out in the second semi-final, which will be held a fortnight today on 24 May. As with the first semi-final, there will be eighteen countries competing for ten places, and the line-up for this second semi includes the current bookies’ favourite – however, more on them in a few days’ time. Today’s preview starts with Serbia. Since winning in 2007, the Serbs have had results that have been modest rather than spectacular. This year they’re sending Željko Joksimović singing a song called Nije ljubav stvar, which translates as “Love is Not an Object”. This is clearly the winner’s reprise from the national selection, replete with the ticker-tape and mass finger-clicking.

Feels very much like they’re channelling that vibe of a few years ago, with the large ethnic flute and all. Might do quite well, but probably not as well as it would have done in about 2006.

Next up and just a short hop away are Macedonia. They’ve sent Nancy Dell’Olio-a-like Kaliopi, who performs Crno i Belo, or “Black and White”. There’s a caged bird and a spiral staircase in the video, which practises a level of subtlety not seen since the glory days of Heart. There’s even a screechy bit reminiscent of THAT bit towards the end of Alone.

Rawk. Incidentally, Kaliopi represented Macedonia in 1996 when they had their first tilt at Eurovision, but failed to get through the (unscreened) qualifying competition. Which doesn’t bode well as they attempt to make it to the final for the first time in five years. Mind you, the wait to return to the final of Eurovision has been even longer for the Netherlands, who haven’t managed to qualify for the big night since 2004. In a bid to try and break the dry spell, they’ve decided to send Joan Franka, wearing Native American headdress whilst singing You and Me. Watching this, you may be left wondering if you had an accident, and when you woke up it was 1973. Are you mad, in a coma, or back in time?

Not sure that raiding the Cowboys and Indians section of the fancy dress shop will do them any favours, particularly as the song isn’t terribly strong. I suspect it could be another year in the wilderness for the Dutch. Next time, we’ve got Malta, Belarus and Portugal, three countries who’ve never won Eurovision. Will any of them come close to scoring their first-ever win? Find out soon…

Chris x