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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

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Eurovision 2011 Preview: United Kingdom

So, after nearly three weeks of previews and nostalgic archive trawls, we reach the 43rd and final song to be given the once-over in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. And, in the tradition of those preview shows with Ken Bruce that used to be shown on the two Sunday afternoons leading up the contest, we’ve left the United Kingdom until last. The story is one we know all too well – dominant for so many years, we’ve spent most of the last decade scrabbling around for votes (and of course getting none at all in 2003). When Jade Ewen finished 5th with Lloyd-Webber-penned ditty It’s My Time in 2009, it looked as though we might have remembered how to do this Eurovision malarkey. But then last year, as if scared that we might be in danger of winning the contest, we reverted back to form with a miserable excuse for a selection contest won by Josh Dubovie – winner by default in the end, as he was the only one on the night who could sing vaguely in tune or remember the words. The song, That Sounds Good To Me (rivalled in the hostage-to-fortune stakes only by the 2000 effort, Nicki French’s prophetic Don’t Play That Song Again) came a resounding last and our briefly rescued reputation was once again in tatters.

So this year, the BBC decided they couldn’t be arsed with a Song For Europe/Your Country Needs You-style jamboree and instead went down the internal selection route. The result of this is that boyband Blue have got back together and penned this effort, called I Can. I pretty much critiqued this, along with the intelligence-insulting “documentary” about the entry broadcast last Saturday, so I’ll say no more and let you hear for yourselves:

I’m still finding it hard to locate my pulse after listening to it, but that hasn’t stopped it being installed as one of the bookies’ favourites – you suspect that might be something to do with Blue’s prior reputation, and that for once we’re sending an act that other parts of Europe have heard of, although they have by all accounts been touring the song doggedly. However, whilst I think this will do much better than most recent UK efforts (and, let’s face it, it would be hard for them to do much worse), I think France, Estonia and Sweden are all better bets. Indeed, these, the UK and Hungary are the top five favourites to win. Latest odds would suggest that Azerbaijan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Denmark, Norway and hosts Germany are all also worth a punt. However, if you fancy throwing all caution to the wind and backing a total outsider, then you can always go for Portugal, with odds as much as 400-1. But I really wouldn’t contemplate banking your life savings on that one.

And so our preview of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest has come to an end on this very warm Good Friday. I’ll be live-tweeting both semi-finals and the final (the latter from a party in Manchester, so my tweets may become steadily more incoherent as the night progresses) – you can follow me @crispeater. And I’ll provide a more in-depth analysis of all three live shows on this blog, including some number-crunching when the semi-final voting results are released after the final. So to round things off, it’s time for one final classic. And it’s one that’s a personal favourite of mine out of all the songs that have represented Royaume Uni since 1957. Furthermore, it was the late, great John Peel’s personal favourite (he loved Eurovision, so go rationalise THAT, indie snobs). It’s the 1982 entry, One Step Further performed by Bardo, aka Sally Ann Triplett (who had also represented the UK as one-sixth of Prima Donna two years prevoiusly) and Stephen Fischer. I’ve chosen their performance from Cheggers Plays Pop (no, really), as their performance in the Contest itself was ill-served by some heavy-handed orchestral backing – with nerves getting to the vocals not helping matters. Here, however, they’re just great:

And let’s face it: Stephen Fischer, in those trousers. You SO would. Or Sally Ann in that dress and those white boots, if you’d rather. Something for everyone. Which, in my mind, sums up the Eurovision Song Contest itself. Enjoy the rest of Easter – including, of course, a certain TV show that returns tomorrow night at 6pm on BBC1. I’ll be blogging that too. See you then!

Chris x

Eurovision 2010 – Some numbers and a rant

Well, that’s it for another year. I decided not to blog about the semis or the final in the end, leaving that to my tweets. However, with all the voting figures now available, I thought it’d be mildly interesting to have a look at how things panned out. Here are the full scores:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurovision_Song_Contest_2010

There were some interesting variations in terms of scores between the semi-finals and the finals. Most striking was Iceland, who qualified comfortably on Tuesday night in 3rd place with 123 points, yet crashed to 19th place last night with a mere 41 points. Of course there are plenty of explanations for this. On Tuesday night, Iceland performed last (always a big advantage in any competition like this), whereas in the final they performed in the middle of the running order. Countries that voted for Iceland on Tuesday night may have switched their allegiance in the final to an act they weren’t able to vote for due to being in the other semi-final, and this may have been the case for juries as well as viewers. Furthermore, the public votes for Iceland on Tuesday may well have come from a very different, weeknight audience than the one that tuned in on Saturday. There are all sorts of variables at play that can really affect people’s chances – often, as has been demonstrated on shows like Strictly or X-Factor, from one week to the next. For instance, when the voting patterns for the latter were released at the end of the last series, they showed that, in the one week when Rachel Adedeji wasn’t in the bottom two, she came top in the vote. Of course it can work the other way in Eurovision: 2008 winners Russia only qualified 3rd in their semi-final, behind Greece and Armenia, but finished comfortably ahead of both in the final.

I also thought I’d have a look at how the final would have panned out if only the countries that made the final were allowed to vote. Here’s how the scoreboard would have looked, with actual positions and scores in brackets. The percentage figures after the scores indicate what percentage of each country’s actual score came from votes from fellow finalists.

1 (1) Germany – 122 (246) – 49.6%
2 (3) Romania – 119 (162) – 73.5%
3 (8) Greece – 112 (140) – 80%
4 (2) Turkey – 107 (170) – 62.9%
5 (5) Azerbaijan – 106 (145) – 73.1%
6 (7) Armenia – 106 (141) – 75.2%
7 (9) Georgia – 86 (136) – 63.2%
8 (6) Belgium – 78 (143) – 54.6%
9 (10) Ukraine – 78 (108) – 72.2%
10 (4) Denmark – 76 (149) – 51%
11 (12) France – 64 (82) – 78.1%
12 (11) Russia – 61 (90) – 67.8%
13 (15) Spain – 44 (68) – 64.7%
14 (14) Israel – 37 (71) – 52.1%
15 (16) Albania – 35 (62) – 56.5%
16 (13) Serbia – 31 (72) – 43.1%
17 (17) Bosnia & Herzegovina – 31 (51) – 60.8%
18 (18) Portugal – 31 (43) – 72.1%
19 (22) Moldova – 27 (27) – 100%
20 (19) Iceland – 26 (41) – 63.4%
21 (20) Norway – 18 (35) – 51.4%
22 (24) Belarus – 17 (18) – 94.4%
23 (23) Ireland – 15 (25) – 60%
24 (21) Cyprus – 13 (27) – 48.2%
25 (25) United Kingdom – 10 (10) – 100%

So, as you can see, Lena is no longer the runaway winner – in fact, she scrapes home by just three points in what would have been the closest finish since 2003 (coincidentally the last year before the semi-finals were introduced and non-finalists were able to vote in the final). Only Cyprus and Serbia got a lower proportion of their votes from other finalists. Likewise, without the support of non-finalists, Denmark slide from 4th to 10th place; conversely, things improve markedly for Greece, who move up from 8th to 3rd. However, the only other countries to get a bigger percentage of their votes from fellow finalists – Belarus, Moldova and the United Kingdom – had such low scores overall that they still end up in the drop zone.

As I mentioned earlier, it would also be interesting to see how voting allegiances changed between the semi-finals and the final, and that would be a good starting point for further analysis of the voting figures. However, no amount of analysis can obfuscate the fact that the UK entry came a resounding last, and I’m glad about that. Not because of Josh Dubovie, clearly a very nice, personable lad who behaved impeccably throughout (even when stood next to Pete Waterman, who had the nerve to accuse others of being a bit rubbish) – but because of the can’t-be-arsed attitude that installed him as our representative in the first place.

After the progress we made last year – having a proper competition, getting big industry names involved and heavily promoting the winning song all over Europe in order to guarantee exposure and, therefore, votes – this year felt like a total regression. A half-baked affair stuck on a random Friday night, with a bunch of stage school rejects and Butlins redcoats stumbling their way through old Stock, Aitken & Waterman hits, before the three least worst were handed a hackneyed, lifeless number written by two-thirds of the above, a song that might have done moderately well about 15 years ago, but which was only ever going to be in serious contention for last place in 2010. Josh was the best of a bad bunch on that night, but up against a girl who couldn’t sing to save her life, and forgot the words to boot, that’s not saying very much.

Or perhaps we were a bit scared by last year. We realised that, actually, if we start taking Eurovision seriously again, there’d be the danger that we might even win, and that we’d then have to cripple our economy even further by staging the whole shebang the following year (some other countries allegedly sent poor entries for the same reason, but even they managed to be better than us). You can’t help feeling that it suits our mentality, bolstered through years of Terry Wogan’s rants about political voting (granted it does exist, just not to the game-changing extent that he suggests), to be the perennial, bottom-feeding underdogs, pointing and laughing at other countries for taking it all so seriously and then muttering dark words about voting blocs when they vault ahead of us.

And they vault ahead of us because they hold big, Pop Idol-style selection events, use top songwriters, producers and choreographers, promote their representatives throughout the continent for weeks before the big night and generally establish a major presence. We did that last year and it worked wonders. This year the lazy, amateur hour approach, the one that begat Jemini, Daz Sampson, Scooch and Andy Abraham, meant we were back to square one. Shame on us, and shame for Josh, whose moment of glory turned into a moment of humiliation that had been inevitable from the Friday night in March that he was chosen as our musical ambassador. Here’s hoping next year we make an effort and send something to Berlin that sounds good to everybody.

Chris

Eurovision 2010 Haiku #39: United Kingdom

Should crash as quickly
As a UKIP light aircraft –
That sounds bad to me

And on that topical, election-oriented note, we end the haiku for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Personally, my favourites are Finland, Azerbaijan and Albania. We’ll find out who wins through on 29 May – with the semi-finals on 25 and 27 May. But whilst we won’t get to vote on Eurovision for another three weeks, there’s still about another hour-and-a-half in which to vote on a rather more important matter. Make sure you do vote, or else you can’t complain if you end up with something you don’t like. Like this year’s UK entry, for instance…

Chris

Eurovision Haiku #42: United Kingdom

British hopes rest on
Jade’s big Moment and Baron
Greenback’s ivories