Weaver's Week 2008-05-25
So, it's come to this. All the predictions we've made – the map we drew in May last year to show the recent pattern of reciprocal voting, the more detailed work we published in March to predict who will qualify – all comes down to seven hours of television from Belgrade. The last time we saw live television from Belgrade, last August, it was a tedious 0:0 draw as Rangers played Crvena Zvezda. Let's hope for some action tonight.
Eurovision Song Contest - First Semi-Final
RTS for EBU (broadcast on RTE Radio 1 and others), 8pm 20 May 2008
The rules of engagement are that we're giving a stream-of-consciousness impression of each song, subsequently edited only for style, spelling, and space.
The 53rd instalment of the Eurovision Song Contest began with a tribute to the most controversial winner, the traditional Te Deum sung to "la la la" by a choir of children, followed by a group of trumpeters and trombonists playing a medley of hits. Our hosts, Mr. Show and Miss Business, briefly explain the night's format – vote for ten of the next nineteen songs, unless you're watching on BBC3, in which case it's for entertainment only.
In rehearsals, Stefan Filipovic for Montenegro suffered from sound problems, so that the media centre saw him perform in silence. In tribute, RTÉ's radio commentators (yes, we've given O'Connell and Flack the night off) kept quiet during the first postcard. The song itself is a blast of soft rock, the sort of thing that we might have expected to hear in the early-90s. No danger of hearing this again on Saturday, we reckon.
Boaz is performing for Israel, in a shiny silver vest. The song was written by Dana International, the slightly lucky winner of the contest in 1998, There are five blokes mooching around the side of the stage, looking slightly menacing before breaking into something approximating a sideways conga. The whole effect is reminiscent of Westlife on a good night.
Is no-one going to invite Larry Gogan to speak? We're happy just to have the sound, especially after seeing Kreisiraadio for Estonia. The presentation begins with three scantily-clad women parading flags, and continues with a Rick Astley look-a-like doing The Walk from the "Amarillo" video. It's all very entertaining. Actually, no it's not entertaining; even the frantic waving of flags can't help us thinking that we're watching a children's show, and that the Wiggles will be on next.
Surprised to see that the festival hall is almost empty: clearly, a lot of people chose Estonia to grab a pint. Moldova are up next, Geta Burlacu is dancing on top of a sofa, while clutching a teddy bear. She's clearly tapping into the smoky jazz vibe that the Hungarians mastered last year, and works well with a trumpeter clad in bright orange. It's the first song we can see coming back.
Hello, San Marino! The first of this year's two debuts is sung by Miodio, a young bloke with a hedgehog on his head. Unlike the last two entries, he's dressed in black and white, as are his backing band, apart from the woman in a swirly dress behind them. It's another soft rock power ballad, it's another song somewhat less than memorable, but there's more to this than Montenegro's song. Just might surprise us.
Song six is Belgium. Like Urban Trad in 2003, Ishtar are performing in a language they made up. There, the comparisons end; the lead singer is dressed in a red-and-white striped puffball skirt, her backing band are dressed in shades of grey, and the backdrop is pretending to be one of those Edwardian-era patterns, very curly and formal. It's quirky, but not the sort we'd want to see again, and that was the selling point five years ago.
The stage is the usual video wall and backdrop, with risers at the side of the stage that can form part of the backdrop, but can also be coloured independently. Viewed from above, it's like two rivers flowing into one, represented by a small path a little way into the crowd. And hello Larry Gogan, whose microphone has finally decided to work.
Azerbaijan are our last debut country this year, and first up after the commercial break. Elnur and Samir are dressed as an angel and a lounge lizard; one has two backing angels, the other has some black-clad girlies fetch a goblet of red water, and a chair that's got fire coming out of it. A great spectacle, and with a half-way decent song to go with it. Some have said that Azerbaijan are only here to learn how to hold the Middle East and North Africa-Vision Song Contest next year, but they might have this contest first.
Miss Slovenia 2001, Rebeka Dremelj, has designed her own range of underwear, and begins her performance in a cage, surrounded by leather-clad, whip-wielding hunks, who we later find to be wearing bovver boots with wheels in the heels. Inevitably, her coat's coming away, and we have to wonder how much of the vocal is being provided by the three backing singers at the left of the stage. It's Euro-disco, which is unusual; it's rubbish Euro-disco with faint S&M overtones, which is regrettably common.
Norway are up next, and Maria provides a complete change of pace. Clearly, thought the squad in Trondheim, what this contest needs is a soulful ballad sung by a pretty young lady. And even if seven of the previous eight performances hadn't tended towards the drek, they would be right. Going through to Saturday, surely.
Half-way through, with Poland represented by Isis Gee, from that well-known suburb of the country, Seattle. It's the sort of really luxurious soul ballad that was popular about ten years ago, but fell out with too much R&B beat. There's a bit too much wobble in her voice, but this is the first song that's really sounded like a winner.
Now, the presenters have quickly been explaining the voting, giving Ireland's entry a chance to take the stage. Dustin the Turkey has had a dozen hit singles, made a star of people like Brian Dowling, and has brought along a couple of topless dancers, and a woman wearing a very large feather boa. That's topless male dancers. Mr. the Turkey sits in his DJ booth at the centre of the stage while all sorts of nonsense happen around him. The madcap camera direction only adds to the sense of nonsense, and while the Estonians were wrong from the start, Dustin might, just, possibly, be the right sort of silly.
To Andorra, where Gisela is taking the stage. If Poland sounded like Christina Aguilera's ballad, Gisela here is wearing the dress from the Moulin Rouge video clip. Four other dancers are wearing short white dresses, flowers are coming out of the video wall, and it's more Eurodisco-by-numbers. If Anonymous couldn't get out of the semi last year...
Unlucky for some, song 13 from Bosnia and Herzegovina, where Laka won the award for Best Rock Song of the year. Owing to a slight mix-up, the band have forgotten to do their laundry, and feature four brides knitting for no adequately-explored reason. There's a male singer in a green-and-yellow suit, and he hares around the stage while his female companion shows equal energy. The closest we've yet had to the White Stripes on stage, it's another great spectacle, and the song is one people will be able to hum in the bus queue tomorrow. In short: A Hit.
Armenia send their first female competitor, Sirusho, and what sounds like a simple ballad turns into an energetic workout with three backing dancers. It's got enough of an ethnic beat to appeal to their disapora vote, but enough of a good beat to appeal to the general voter.
Who's next? The Netherlands, with Hind, who appeared on Pop Idle NL in 2003, and is from the town where they make Gouda cheese. We've not had a Turkish beat since about 2005, even from Turkey, and it's part of a strong song, though the fact that she's using three backing singers limits the presentation opportunities.
Four to go, and it's Finland, sending Terasbetoni, another semi-fake heavy metal band with big hair and no shirts. Unlike Lordi two years ago, there are no masks involved, and all the energy of the stage performance isn't going to alter the fact that the song is weak. That said, the guitar solo is the best we've heard at Eurovision.
Romania have sent Nico and Vlad; he's a singer with the national opera, she's been voted Voice of the Year four times, and doesn't enter for the first minute. When she does, it transforms a ballad that's showing signs of fatigue into a proper duet. A better sloppy song than Poland? We'll see on Saturday.
Our first returning performer is Dima Bilan, who would have won in 2006 for Russia if it wasn't for those pesky Finns. They've also brought in a champion ice-skater, who will skate around the back of the stage. If this contest were between countries that really, really wanted it, Russia would be up against Malta, perhaps Croatia and Iceland, but that's it. He's got the moves, he's still got the white shirt, but even the gimmicks can't hide the fact that this is a terribly weak song.
And that's that, nineteen songs have been sung, and there's now a short intermission before the voting begins. (Checks back.) Actually, we've only had eighteen songs, and the intermission is while the ice rink used by the Russians is removed, and a large prop is brought in for the final entry.
Greece is represented by Kalomira, whose massive prop is a giant book, laid flat on the ground behind the stage, from which she and her backing dancers dismount. This column will freely admit to a blind spot concerning songs from the eastern Med, and will only point out that the book opens to reveal a heart-shaped arch.
Right, that really is it. Lines were opened by the tennis star Novak Djokovic: readers in Ireland have fifteen minutes – that's until 9.41 last Tuesday night – to dial 1513 71 72, then append the two-digit code for the song of your choice, or send an SMS containing that number to 53125.
While the BBC showed Paddy hob-nobbing with the fans, viewers to the international feed saw the presenters larking about, and plugging the CD. What works better in the reprise? Slovenia grew on us, still can't tell between Romania and Poland, and Ireland rather grew on us.
The interval act, chopped out by the BBC so that they could show Caroline Flack exploring Belgrade with the visitors, and plug some (but not all) of Thursday's competitors, was a performance by Serbia's leading ethnic choir, and a virtuoso performance of Serbian music. Much as we love Paddy O'Connell, we'd rather have had eight minutes of Serbian coolness than his yammering on.
Now, the moment of truth. Back in March, we predicted the qualifiers from a model based only on historic voting.
- "Our model predicts that Armenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Finland, Greece, Romania, and Russia are certain to qualify. Poland and Moldova are very strongly favoured to get through. Norway and the Netherlands are set to be in the frame for the final spot, with Slovenia and Andorra somewhat more long-shots to progress."
Judging by these performances, those top ten would not be surprises. The qualifiers were: Greece, Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Finland, Russia, Israel, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Poland, and Norway. We won't officially find out which song came through from the juries until Sunday morning, but odds say it was Israel. And that's how to make Larry Gogan get off air in ten seconds flat. Credits on the radio, but not on the telly.
This Week's Other News
Not a tremendous amount happening this week, so straight to the viewing figures for the week to 11 May, including a bank holiday Monday and a very warm weekend. Britain's Got Talent still led, though 8.15m is well down. The Apprentice held on to 7.15m, I'd do Anything had 6.15m, and One Versus One Hundred hit a new peak of 5.15m. The Apprentice You're Fired led on BBC2, a new peak of 3.55m, and only a sneeze behind the snooker final. Britain's Got Talent continued to lead the digital tier, 1.12m seeing the Sunday night repeat; Pop Idle US had 535,000. Come Dine With Me had 600,000, though. BBC Young Musician on BBC4 had 283,000 viewers, beaten by QI on Dave and Britain's Next Top Model on Living.
RTS for EBU (broadcast on BBC3 and others), 8pm 22 May 2008
What have we got for the opening performance this time? A bloke pretending to be a centaur, half-a-dozen blokes in green who break into "Riverdance" for no adequately explored reason, some women playing fiddles, the red-and-blue folk again. Er, yes. The hosts! She's a handball champ, he's big on the accordion and has written this year's Serbian entry. Oh gawds, they're flirting already.
We should mention the postcards, which are people from Belgrade performing, usually in the colours of the flag of the country they're representing. The performer gets to write on screen, and it all ends with a stamp containing this year's Eurovision logo in the top-right.
Euroband are the first euro band up, they're from Iceland and performing a song written by Paul Oskar, the lounge lizard who followed Katrina in '97. There's a him, there's a her, there's a beat, there's not much of a song.
Sweden's up next, with Charlotte Perelli; she won the whole shebang in '99. Terribly sorry, our set seems to have developed a fault, she's all in blue for the first verse. It's typical Scandinavian pop, lots of upwards progressions, and a key change. Going through, obviously, but it doesn't quite sound like a winner. Yet.
Another turkey next. Sorry, Turkey next. Mor ve Otesi are a Turkish rock band, very earnest, and reminding us of The Alarm. Rather shows our age. The diaspora vote will come out for Turkey, but there won't be many casual voters, and it may not suffice to reach the automatic qualifiers.
Following the progression of former winners, Ani Lorak for Ukraine. There's some nonsense with four dancers who start in a perspex box then burst out. The combination of neighbourly voting and performance quality (yep, including the very short silver dress and mounting the wardrobe) will see this through tonight.
Jeronimas Milius for Lithuania, a bloke with long hair, a deep voice, and a deep-throated ballad. No gimmicks, no dancers, no tune; he sings completely off key. Even the leather strides (think Ed Tudor-Pole's hair on Richard O'Brien's costume) won't help. Earplugs will. Might get a point from Latvia, but don't bank on it.
Olta Boka from Albania is the youngest contestant in this year's final, she's singing a song that starts all ethnic, but grows into a properly Big Tune. Can't understand a word of it, and she might have a vocal range of about three notes. Effective, but might not be enough.
And that brings us to the first commercial break, and Caroline Flack is talking turbo-folk with the folk of Grand Show.
Back to the winners, and Switzerland are sending Paolo Meneguzzi, the first Italian entry in (checks calendar) 48 hours and 5 minutes. Moody bloke, using the walkway to the front of the stage while four drunks stand around the piano. The crowd love it, and it survives a transition to a tubthumping anthem without blinking. It's sounding like it could be a winner, got that certain something we saw in the Olsens and Marija.
Last year, the Czechs scores precisely one point. Tereza Kerndlova and her backing dancers are wearing dresses that go no lower than they must, and there's a bloke spinning records. It's all very silver, but the sort of thing we found a bit rub circa 2002. Maybe she should work with Mr. the Turkey, put all that foil to good use. It'll be their best result yet.
Ruslan Alehno from Belarus next; "Hasta la vista" shares a name with Ukraine '03 (the one with the contortionist), and also relies on a gimmick (this time, moving mushrooms) to distract attention from an entirely average song.
To Latvia, and Pirates of the Sea. We like Latvia; with about one exception, they've always sent three minutes of fantastic entertainment, and this is well-executed bonkers. Doesn't matter that it's a bit off-key, it's great entertainment and entirely memorable.
And back to the hosts, via an overhead shot showing that the auditorium is almost full tonight. Apparently, tickets for the broadcast were only sold as a package, and many fans found they could only be there later in the week.
"Take note of the number" advises Paddy O'Connell, as Croatia send us Kraljevi Ulice and 75 Cents; the latter is a rapper of many years, the former a bloke in fedora. There's a dancer on a podium, a double-bass, a wind-up gramophone, and some glass bottles to play, but attention is on the song, a traditional Balkan beat with a battling duet between the vocalists that picks up speed towards the end. A dark horse for Saturday and no mistake.
Deepzone and Balthazar represent Bulgaria. We did warn readers in the Game Show Times that this presentation contains flashing lights; O'Connell and Flack felt it more important to babble on about someone's goldfish. We're amazed that this one got through the scrutiny group; it's nothing more than four lines of song repeated over a techno beat. Even "Get ready for this" had more lyrics.
Simon Mathew of Denmark next, clearly tapping into the default winner of good times, upbeat tunes that powered Estonia to victory in '01. This won't win, there are far more good songs this time round, but it'll be in the reckoning.
Six to go, and Diana Gurtskaya represents Georgia. A black and lime-green set, and a song that reminds us of something Maroon 5 put out a few months back. Not bad, not bad at all, but might get lost in the mix. The trick involving the bedsheet is a very good one.
Hungary have a good record, Csezy will be looking for a third consecutive top-ten place. Bloke, piano, candlesticks, female vocalist, and some backing singers. No gimmicks, great performance, and it feels like it's going through. Or turning up on next year's Westlife album.
Morena for Malta, they're desperate to get out of the semi, and have sent the dancing diva. It's more Ruslana than ABBA, and rather goes on too long. Can't they send Chiara again, we like her?
Cyprus should get a decent score from the UK, with Kadi Evdokia singing a very ethnic song while wearing a 1930s long dress, complete with ruff collar, that you just know isn't going to last to the second minute. Our interest ends shortly afterwards.
Before the final two, another intermission, with Mr. the Turkey and Mr. O'Connell. He blames Bono, threatens to come back with his bits removed, and is backing Turkey. That's Mr. the Turkey, mercifully.
Song 18 is, according to the caption, from Tamara, Vrcak, Adrijan of F. Y. R. Macedonia. So far, played four semi-finals, qualified for four finals, but never finished in a top ten position overall. The record is threatened by another anodyne performance; it's an inoffensive song, and our limited enjoyment is ended when the cable signal briefly drops out. A metaphor for the song?
Finally, Portugal, with Vania Fernandes singing. They've been sending songs since about 1300, without ever threatening victory, and are this year taking a leaf out of the Maltese playbook, sending the female singer with a very large pair of lungs and a soft song. Unlike Chiara of Malta, there are some backing performers, and it's sung in Portugese. And it's going through, no doubt about that. What's Lisbon like at this time of year?
Viewers in the UK! Call 09015 2220, then your preferred song's number; calls cost 15p from a BT landline, other operators may vary and calls from mobiles will be considerably higher. You'll have fifteen minutes from when Lys Assia, winner of the Eurovision Song Contest in 1956, opens the voting. Which she eventually does. Viewers have until 9.41, and viewers in the UK cannot vote via SMS, because the BBC believes that it's impossible to receive, count, and verify all of the votes in time. The EBU disagrees, though the Beeb will continue to badger on this point.
Are we going to get to see the interval act this time? No, just the inevitable chat with Andy Eighteenthplace. While they're doing that, we'll skip ahead to the results: 2-0, 0-1, 0-2. And if we put this into a basket, have it delivered by Red Riding Hood, we find that Ukraine, Croatia, Albania, Iceland, Georgia, Denmark, Sweden, Latvia, Turkey, and Portugal progress to the final. Wouldn't care to say who got the jury nod. We said:
- Our model predicts that Bulgaria, Georgia, Hungary, Macedonia, Turkey, and Ukraine are certain to qualify, Sweden and Belarus very nearly so. Two of Latvia, Malta, and Cyprus will take the last two places, with Albania and Croatia outsiders to progress.
In fact, Bulgaria, Belarus, Hungary, and Macedonia all fell short from our eight certainties or near-certainties, with Iceland, Denmark and Portugal progressing. Why did this happen? Because they had the better songs. The voting here is not political, it's based on the quality of the song.
We did say we'd repeat our effort to predict the UK vote, because it's the first up. Based on voting patterns over the past four years, and with no regard to the quality of the song, here's the top end of the typical British vote:
- 12 – Greece
- 10 – Turkey
- 8 – Sweden
- 7 – Denmark
- 6 – Ukraine
- 5 – Finland
Greece is a mile clear for first, there's not much between the next two, and Denmark is clear in fourth; after that, we're heading rapidly to statistical insignificance. The main thing is that if the big points go to anyone outside the top six, they'll have caught the attention of a country outside its comfort zone, and we can expect them to do very well indeed.
The programme for the final is as follows:
- Opening act, introduction
- 01 – Romania, UK, Albania, Germany, Armenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina
- Commercial break
- 07 – Israel, Finland, Croatia, Poland, Iceland, Turkey
- Commercial break
- 13 – Portugal, Latvia, Sweden, Denmark, Georgia, Ukraine
- Commercial break
- 19 – France, Azerbaijan, Greece, Spain, Serbia, Russia, Norway
- Interval act
- Announcement of the UK results by Carrie Grant
- Ceremonial muting of the sound
- Presentation, reprise
For those worried about gratuitous flashing lights, we recommend caution around Croatia, Iceland, Sweden, Azerbaijan, and probably Spain. We also recommend caution around Germany, for reasons that will become apparent.
Dr. Derek Gatherer, who devised the reciprocal voting model we've been exploring this year, predicts Ukraine to pip Serbia in the final, with Russia in a close third. Turkey and Greece are to round out the top 5. We'll find out tonight, and just have the feeling that none of those will win.
In addition to the song contest, it's the beginning of the end for Britain's Got Talent, which moves to weeknights from Monday. After two weeks when it's been beaten as badly as British sides in European football, The Apprentice finally vacates to Tuesday, so that the BBC can screen their last home England game for some time on Wednesday.
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