Weaver's Week 2009-05-17
The subtitles said "Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaling!" And, yea, there was Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaling!
The Eurovision Song Contest 2009
Semi-final 1, 12 May
Baah-daa-baah da-da de ... what, they're not playing the anthem? We've got to provide our own Te Deum these days? Well, no, because we're going to hear a terribly long fairytale, and that's quite enough of tedium for one night. Instead, let's meet the winners of Junior Eurovision from a few years ago. Cor, remember Junior Eurovision?
A brief editorial note: for ease of understanding, competitors are denoted by their country, rather than their broadcaster. Blatant fictions are marked by asterisks. Welcome to Leningrad*.
|First up are Montenegro, and they've sent a woman whose dress clearly shrunk in the wash, and a bloke in a vest that met the same fate. It's the Inevitable Ralph Siegel number, it's Eurodisco by numbers, it's going nowhere, and we're far more impressed by the staging. It's a bunch of back-projection screens, stretching just about all the way around the stage, the floor is another giant video projection screen, and there are more screens above the stage. It looks absolutely brilliant, and clever countries will use their backdrops to their advantage. Montenegro was all pink-purple.|
|Czechia comes next, and they've sent a bloke in a very dubious false moustache and superhero cape. The backdrops show cartoons, and the lyric goes on about Super Gypsy. It's quite clearly trying to be Bosnia last year and failing miserably. The direction here was abysmal, if not worse, and has quite possibly cost the song a place on Saturday.
At this point, we were due to hear Stephane and 3G performing "We don't wanna put in". The organising committee deemed that this was a blatantly political song, and hence should not be performed on the Eurovision stage. Are we now to ban the director of the Czech performance for racism against Roma? Will there be a retrospective disqualification for Dustin the Turkey on the grounds that it spreads avian flu? Can we have Jemini expunged from the Eurovision record, purely because it was a terrible song?
|Belgium! A warning about flashing lights, and that becomes a personal best for the O'Connell. Belgium! It's a shonky Elvis impersonator, and (oddly enough) one that didn't feature in The World's Greatest Elvis a few years ago. Copycat is 1970 fat-Elvis performing in the style of 1957 gospel-Elvis, and gives up part-way through for an instrumental break. Remember, song contest.
Belarus are up next, and they've sent a big rock anthem, sung by a bloke in a white suit, and features a Metal Axe and dancers who couldn't find their way out of a bedsheet in the wind. Highlight is one of the camera angles, which goes from the back of the hall to the stage - it takes about ten seconds, and the singer's still on the same line. Might, just, be coming back. Something has to.
|Sweden are up next, they've sent Ulrika Jonsson*, and she's surrounded by five dancers who have diamante theatre masks. It's the sort of bizarre light opera that might just work, but it's not the usual obvious winner from Sweden. In fact, it reminds us of Tutti alla Monde, ITV's theme to the 1990 football world cup. Rather eclipsed by Nessun dorma on the other side.
Armenia come next, and we've frankly got no idea what's going on here. There are a couple of women on a small podium, warbling on in almost mirror-images of each other, while on the main stage there are people dancing around and showing as much leg as possible from their long skirts. It's very exotic, though we're far from convinced by the laser show. And was that the first key-change of the night? It'll be back, the expat vote sees as much, and the song did get better when we re-viewed it on Wednesday.
And now, a commercial break. Only seeing as how we're on the BBC, Sarah Cawood talks with Jade Ewen, the UK entry. We see footage of her rehearsals, during which the piano seemed to catch fire. Not promising.
|Andorra are up next, and they've invited us to "Get a life". Look, it's the Eurovision Song Contest, it's the UK Gameshows page, we *have* no life, otherwise we wouldn't be reviewing this ditty by Geri Haliwell*. Just when we thought it was going nowhere, the chorus arrives, and it's one we'll be humming for ages if only to work out what the hell it reminds us of. Transvision Vamp, maybe??
Switzerland come next, and they've sent some lovebugs. It's a quasi-emo act, somewhere in the space between Brainstorm and Fightstar. Highlight is when the cityscape falls off the bottom of the back-projection screens, an effect that was only entirely ruined when the director showed it in a really wide shot. The big problem? Vocals buried way, way too deep in the mix. It deserves to come back, but the presentation's messed up their chances.
|Turkey come next, and Paddy reminds us that the UK always gives huge points to Turkey. And the UK are voting tonight. The act is a woman in red, backing dancers in red, a backdrop in red, and with some pyrotechnics off the front of stage. They're orange. Going through more from the fact that it's Turkey and it's an entertaining show than from any tremendous quality of the song.
Israel has two women belting out "There must be another way" at the top of their barks. This can easily be interpreted as another overtly political song, seeing as how one of the women is Jewish and the other Arabic. We have the image of Céline Dion and Barbra Streisand singing this one, and that's the sure mark of a loser.
And now, a message from our hosts, a man in an ill-fitting white suit and obvious wig, and a taller woman in a smarter black suit. Backstage is The Bloke in the Purple Green Room, biggin' it up and makin' some noise.
|Bulgaria, and another warning about flashing lights. It's Woman in Low-Cut Dress shouting at Man in Dubious Cape from a distance of about two inches, then holding a Bulgarian Screeching Contest. Oh, and there's a couple doing unspeakable things on stilts in the background there, for reasons that are never going to be adequately explored. Very exotic. Very bizarre. Very not coming back.
Iceland come next. Ah, this is a bit quieter. Johanna is the princess wearing a layercake skirt, singing a really far too nice soft song. Nothing threatening, this'll slip straight onto the Radio 2 playlist if Saturday's host... what? Hurray! The key change fits, and if there's any justice, this goes through.
|Macedonia, if we're not mistaken. Good grief, it's the Europe revival only twenty years too late, all hair and soft-rock. We had planned a gag that Iceland promised much in the way of interest, but couldn't sustain it and had to be bailed out with 40 seconds to go. We couldn't use it for their song, but it fits right into Macedonia: the verses are tedium, the choruses are properly loud and almost the right sort of silly. Given the paucity of opposition, this might yet return.
Oh, they're quietly sneaking the national flag into the postcards. Very, er, sneaky. From Romania, it's The Balkan Girls: four ladies dressed in blues and greens, Rachel Stevens* rising from a wooden throne to sing, and a second vocalist as far back in the shadows as they can legally put her. A shame that the song was conspicuous by its absence: high-kicking female flesh can only cover so much.
|Finland, Finland, Finland. They look like rockers, all dressed in black and with real blokes throwing real fire sticks around the stage. The song itself is a rapped verse with a proper sing-a-long chorus. The fire sticks look brilliant on television, and the whole package has done enough to qualify, and isn't going to be disgraced on Saturday.
We smell another commercial break, and rather than going backstage with the bloke, we've got Paddy wearing the old Countdown set and being refused admission to the Purple Green Room.
|Portugal's performed on the set of Rainbow* by a girl in a flamenco dress, there's an accordion, and an overhead shot that is the most dayglow thing we've seen since Cbeebies closed for the night. The song? Traditional rural Portugese stuff, a welcome change from the banging gimmicks, and it does sound like it's going places. What's Lisbon like at this time of year?
Right, Malta. Chiara came third in 1998, second in 2005, and has since recorded with Justin Timberlake and Enrique Iglesias*. It's another wonderful power ballad, the sort of song that would soundtrack a Hollywood blockbuster and clog up the top 40 for months. It suffers from being slap-bang next to Portugal, and we're not feeling it that much, but if this doesn't qualify, we'll eat our hat.
|And finally! Bosnia and Herzegovina, as they're called these days, and the song that's causing the bookmakers sleepless nights. It's six people dressed in white, one singer, two guitarists, three drummers, performing a song that starts quiet and rallies and accelerates and builds pace into something quite memorable. One of those performances that has to be seen, to be honest. The song packs a lot of emotion into a surprisingly narrow vocal range. It's obviously going through, it's obviously picking up lots of points from the Balkans, it's less obviously picking up points from people who couldn't find Bosnia or Herzegovina on a map, and it's obviously to feature very highly on Saturday.
People of Britain, stand by your telephones! You have until 9.36 to register your vote by calling 09015 22 20 and adding the number of the song you want to win, or sending an SMS to... oh, this is the UK. No SMS voting. While we're voting, here are some other things the Russians have won lately. The ice hockey championships. The UEFA Cup. The World's Most Pretty Russian Lady Contest. The Making Dr Death And The Tooth Fairy Look Good Prize.
|Instead of the interval act, we see a quick clip of Jade promoting herself to the continent, and chats with the Greek and Norwegian entrants. And the co-writer of the Danish entry, 1997 co-host R*nan K*ating.
Back at the show, we've missed Tatu and some soldiers and a blow-up pink tank, and all so that Sarah Cawood could give Alexander Ryback a fairycake. Dear BBC, can you stop arsing about and put something actually entertaining on the red button next year? For instance, a commentator-free version? They can do it for the sport, why not the culture?
|No envelopes this year, it's all done by push-button technology and computer graphics. Turkey are through... Sweden, a bit of a surprise... What, Israel are through? Really?.. Portugal are through, which is brilliant... Our hat is safe, Malta are also through... Finland! Finland!!! Flaming nora!.. "Where is Bosnia-Herzegovina?" asks Paddy. Just between Croatia and Serbia, obviously. And in the final, obviously. What's Sarajevo like at this time of year?.. Romania? Beneath the obvious stand-outs, this was a very flat semi-final... Armenia were always going to go through, the expat vote allows that... The last place goes to Iceland! Hurrah! The Bulgarian stilt-walkers have fallen off, the rockers from Macedonia and Switzerland are out, and Belgium lived down to their name.
The six obvious qualifiers went through, Sweden got through because there's a small light-opera constituency (Romania last year, Julie and Ludwig from Malta) who ensure songs get through but don't win. Other than that, it looks like the running order effect gave its blessing to late entrants, and we suspect Romania or Israel got the jury nod.
Baah-daa-baah da-da de we are getting the European National Anthem. Hurrah! So, here we go again. Yes, Paddy, there was a bright pink tank on the stage during Tuesday's interval act. We're still sore at missing it, but thanks to the magic of the interwebs (and a slight disregard for applicable copyright laws) we might be able to share it with you.
|Semi-final two kicks off with folk musicians playing some of the greatest Eurovision hits on traditional instruments, while other people decorate the traditional nested dolls. We're giving O'Connell and the other one a night off, and listening to the RTÉ radio commentary, by far the best thing Atlantic 252's ever done. Unfortunately, the Russians have left the presentation to Her Who Looks Like Nicole Kidman and Him Who ... Well, Doesn't, and Shouldn't. Looking back at the tape, neither did O'Connell, remaining quiet through the prelude.
Croatia have the dubious draw to get us under way, she's a student of opera, and we've a theory since (ooh, about five paragraphs back) that light opera gets to the final but no further. The only trouble, this isn't light opera, it's wailing. Very tuneful wailing, and with a bit of a kick towards the end, but perhaps not the opener to remember.
|Ireland's is one of only five songs we heard before the contest week began, and the first competing this week - UK and Germany go through to Saturday, Georgia we've discussed, and Norway follows shortly. They've sent the rock chick who hangs around the city square, and she's singing a really rather decent number. We're thinking Fuzzbox, because we're old enough to remember Fuzzbox; younger people might think of Avril Lavigne and her backing band.
Latvia are going through, if the Russians have anything to do with it. The song is loud, harsh, and it's not particularly instant. Intars Busilis qualified in Latvian, is performing in Russian, and is talking about when your mind is full up like a bus stop. If only he was on diversion.
|Right, Serbia. They always send a gorgeous folk song we can sing in our sleep and waltz to at weddings, right? Er, not this year. It's a folk song, performed by a bloke in a frightwig, with an accordion to his shoulder, and it's all about shoes. The blocky computer graphics will appeal to a section of the UKGS panel, but - to quote Ken Bruce from two years ago - we're not going to be humming this down the supermarket on Monday.
Poland promise us a ballad with ballet, a singer born in Moscow, and she's got a four-octave range. Poland are, if readers recall, the reigning Eurovision Dance Championships, and attention is - rightly - concentrated on the wonderful dancing moves rather than the entirely-forgettable singing by someone who looks like one of the ITN newscasters. They loved that in the studio.
|It's favourite time! At ridiculously small odds, Alexander Rybak for Norway has sung, fiddled, choreographed, and written this song. It's a fast-tempo folk melody, telling the story of a relationship in simple rhyming couplets. They're obviously throwing the bucket at this one - dancers doing backflips, Alexander playing the violin for all he's worth. It's obviously going through, but we're not exactly seeing why this is 3/1 to win when Bosnia and Herzegovina was 50/1 last week.
And now, the commercial break. Paddy is still wearing the old Countdown set, and we're hearing adverts extolling the virtues of Superquinn supermarkets, Quinn healthcare, and no doubt Quinn Morgendorfer Fashions.
|Cyprus bring us back, and it's more interpretative dance, this time actually describing what's going on in the song. The performance is probably going to be remembered for the way the lit stage blocks actually revolved rather than some of the slightly duff notes. That's unfair, it's a perfectly serviceable song, and must be on the cusp of qualification.
There are no debutants this year, but Slovakia are returning after a very long break: they've not entered since "Mojlitva" in 1998. We expect their take on shoes in 2018. In the meantime, that old standby, boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl. The overhead displays are set up to look like paintings, complete with frames, which is a brilliant touch, but we're not impressed by the candles on the main backdrop. No dancers, a bloke on a piano and another with a 'cello that's too big to play under his chin, and the two singers wander about the stage moodily. It's that sort of song.
|Denmark are next, and this comes with a R*nan K*ating warning. Not just because the best* 1997 host has co-written the song, but because it sounds like a R*nan co-write, and the singer actually looks like R*nan would do if he were a bit younger and played with black-clad cowboys. Might go through tonight, but needs a favourable draw to escape the bottom-right corner on Saturday.
Now, back to the hosts; mercifully, Maxi talks all over them. On to Slovenia, who begin with a long string quartet section before letting the singer rip with her tonsils. It's all very fast-paced and reminiscent of the Kids From Fame theme, but we're amazed the reference group allowed this to pass and threw out Georgia. There are no vocals in the opening 42 seconds, and only five lines in the next minute-and-a-quarter. Dustin managed to insult the entire world in that time. Twice. A song without words isn't a song, but a tune. Do we have to explain this by example? Where's Colin Sell when we need him?
|Hungary are back, and Maxi invites us to imagine the dancers as ice-creams around pistachio. Everyone takes off a layer in the opening seconds, then ladies gyrate around the hunky male singer who is wearing the tightest trousers in history. It looks like something out of an early-80s disco clip, and sounds like it.
Azerbaijan come next, and for those of you who are commentators, that's Az-er-buy-shaan. He is a middle-aged bloke dressed in white apart from a black jacket; she is on a white corset and minidress; the backing dancers have purple skirts and black tops. Azerbaijan can rely on expat votes putting them through, but this really doesn't deserve to qualify by anything more than a whisker. Even putting the lead singers on top of a fan doesn't rescue the tune from Eurodisco tedium.
|Oh no, not 'im again. Sakis for Greece, co-host in 2006, performer in 2004 and 2007, and one of the favourites with the bookies. They've quite clearly forgotten that expats in the final only guarantee five points, not twelve. He's dressed like a washing machine commercial, is bouncing on stage like a good 'un, and rises into the air on a giant stapler with a conveyor belt on top, and a Greek flag inside. The song itself is another slab of Eurodisco mediocrity, complete with whole-arena strobing. They're hurt by being the fourth interchangeable song in a row. Paddy correctly points out that it's this or Hungary, but not both.
Lithuania are guaranteed good points from their expats in Ireland, and we're pleased that it's a bloke at a piano. Not sure about the hat. There is a song, there's a lot of song, and it could almost fit into the commercial radio canon. Bonus points for holding a flame in the palm of his hand - literally - at the end.
|Moldova are telling us about their national dance this year, with a lady in their national dress and four blokes doing that not-quite-Cossack dance. It's sometimes been argued that people will vote for the song they want to see again, and on that basis, we reckon Moldova has a top-half chance on Saturday.
Albania have sent a genius. Literally: Kejsi got her first break in a national competition for the very bright. She's dressed as the sugar-plum fairy, there's a spiderman in green, and two mime artists who breakdance and spin on their head. No particular genius to the song, it's workmanlike, and might qualify on the late draw and floor show. Flashing lights, particularly at the start.
|And now, a commercial break. Sarah Cawood is talking to someone who we believe to be Jade UK's stage designer. Arlene Philips, apparently. The piano's still on fire in the rehearsal clip, and it appears to have spread to the violins. Call the fire brigade!
Ukraine are back, and they've sent another rock chick - short red dress, thigh-high boots - who begins inside some human-sized nuts, as in "and bolts". She's joined on stage by some Roman soldiers whose costume is the helmet and boots and skirt, and that's about it. There's no song there, it's just yowling over a techno beat, but the show is first class; the soldiers move the singer and a drumset. Going through, challenging on Saturday, but not a winner. Flashing lights throughout.
|The postcards. Must remember to review the postcards. It's a trip through Moscow on the head of someone who may be one of the Miss Worlds. Functional, and telling us approximately nothing, other than the Russian pronunciation of English words. For instance, "Gagarin" is "Gagarin".
Er, yes. Estonia represents a complete change of pace, sending a very pretty young lady and her violin, with some of the overhead blocks actually dropping down to the floor so they can rise and reveal her backing performers - three 'cellos (this time firmly planted to the floor) and vocalists. Everyone's in evening dress, and for all the song being new agey and folksy, there's no denying that it's got one heck of a good beat. Unlike anything else we've seen tonight, which does help explain its inevitable qualification.
|The Netherlands have the night's final performance, and we're not going to miss these sparkly jackets on a winter's night. Three male vocalists, all of a certain age, joined by the Tina Turner Tribute Band on one of those stupidly-optimistic songs that only seem to get an airing at Eurovision. Very old-school, but it's very well performed, and it does feel like it's going through.
People of Ireland, vote early and often. Call 1513 7172 then the song number, or send an SMS to 53125 containing the two-digit song number. You have until 9.40 last Thursday to cast your vote ... oh. Don't call, you will be charged, and it won't count.
The BBC isn't even bothering to show the major recaps, preferring to blether with Graham Norton. We do get to see a sequence of performers filling in their national heart on a wall, but this doesn't work on radio.
|Rather than show the interval act, the BBC opts for yet more publicity for Jade, and the other direct qualifiers, and a recap from Tuesday. Meanwhile, listeners in Ireland have the unmistakable sound of Cossack dancers and the balalaika.
Going through... Azerbaijan, which owes something to the expat effect... Croatia, didn't do much for us... Ukraine, no surprises there... Lithuania, another non-surprise... Albania are next, and that is a bit of a surprise... Moldova, their national dance will get one more outing... Denmark bring R*nan K*ating's cast-offs, and that feels like the death-knell for the minor countries ... Estonia are going through... Norway! Really! Didn't see that coming at all!.. And Greece progress.
|Never any doubt that Norway, Lithuania, Moldova, Ukraine, and Estonia would qualify from song and/or dance, or that the expats would push Greece through even if they sent Dustin the Turkey. We rather expected Ireland, Netherlands and Cyprus to progress on their merits. It does feel that Azerbaijan and Croatia relied in part on expat votes, and Denmark feels like the jury save.
Out go Ireland and Cyprus, both can justifiably feel disappointed; Latvia, Serbia, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Hungary were never really in it. And the Netherlands have gone, which has saved the Russians some potential embarrassment - one of the group threatened not to perform if a gay rights march on Saturday is disrupted by police.
Coming up: the running order -
|11||Azerbaijan||Bosnia and Herzegovina||Moldova||Malta||Estonia|
The ballads have clumped early in the draw, to the advantage of Lithuania (first), Iceland (last), and Greece (the first really fast song). Light opera of Sweden and Croatia will cancel each other out, and we're rather hoping that Portugal isn't lost in the mix. Whichever of Bosnia and Moldova comes before the ad break will do well. Faves Norway and Ukraine in 20th and 21st. The UK will stand out from a huge run of fast songs. We can't see the winner coming from before Bosnia.
First in the voting will be Spain, which has traditionally given big money to Armenia, Portugal, Romania, and Ukraine. Belgium votes second, they've a record of supporting Armenia, Greece, Portugal, and Turkey. Belarus votes third, with Armenia, Russia, Moldova, and Ukraine all expecting a pick-up. If Armenia tops after three rounds, they're not running away with it, neither would Ukraine. First of the favourites to vote is Iceland (8th), and there's a run of strong contenders around half-way through - Norway in 16th, Greece, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ukraine from 23rd to 25th - and the UK votes 20th. By the time Portugal votes (34th), we expect all the leaders to have cast their ballots. The last five are Moldova, Slovenia, Armenia, Hungary, and Azerbaijan, all of which may favour Balkan or former-USSR countries.
This Week And Next
Anne Robinson is to return as the main host of BBC1's Watchdog, replacing the current presenting team of Nicky Campbell and Julia Bradbury. She left the show in 2001 to concentrate on The Weakest Link, but now needs to do something to justify her large salary. If we're to believe press reports, her pay packet would keep Helen Skelton in running shoes and anti-blister cream for a very long time indeed.
At the Radio Academy Awards, the Competition prize went to Facebuck on Galaxy Radio.
BARB ratings are in for the week to 3 May. Britain's Got Talent led again, 11.3m saw the talent show, far ahead of The Apprentice's 8.3m. Hell's Kitchen finished with 5.55m, HIGNFY recorded 5.4m, and All-Star Mr and Mrs just beat One Versus One Hundred, 4.3m to 4.2m. BBC2's Apprentice show was seen by a series-best 3.55m, and Great British Menu also picked up a year's best, 2.15m.
Though this week-end contained a bank holiday, Britain's Got Talent on ITV2 was almost unaffected, pulling 1.65m for the second week. Come Dine with Me on More4 was more badly affected, the mark of 450,000 is barely half its audience before Easter. Britain's Next Top Model brought 300,000 to Living, and UKTV Watch's Ballroom with the B-List had a series-best 135,000.
We recommend this week's episode of More or Less to the panel, not least because it features Tim Harford going behind the scenes of television's famous Deal or No Deal, and talking to the star of the show. Readers are cautioned that the clip also contains Noel Edmonds. Radio 4, 8pm on Sunday, or via the website.
Next week, Disney runs a singing cross-promotion for their series Hannah Montana (6pm weeknights), and ITV invites Andrew Castle to divvy up his Wimbledon prize money on Divided (5pm weekdays, not Scotland). Our next edition contains a review of the Eurovision Song Contest final, and all the fall-out from it.
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