La Notte, by Pierfrancesco Favino
For all the songs that entered the National Final season; for all the introductions, sketches, and interval acts; one performance has absolutely stuck in my mind. It stopped me dead on the night, and it continues to do so.
Lurking inside the marathon that was Sanremo was a moment of perfection, as Pierfrancesco Favino narrated ‘La Notte‘ with a hint of the orchestra and an epilogue from Fiorella Mannoia and Claudio Baglioni.
For me this was the performance of the National Final season. It captures the elements of why I love the Song Contest, how it can transcend borders, and how we can communicate with each other without barriers.
Favino had spent the previous nights playing the role of court jester to Michelle Hunziker’s confident grace and the avuncular guidance of artistic director Claudio Baglioni. And then he steps up with noting more than a spotlight and his not inconsiderable acting skills. There is no choice, you have to watch him, you have to feel the emotion with him, you have to channel his anger. And you don’t even need to speak Italian.
As I later discovered, this was a soliloquy adapted from Kotles ‘The Night Before in the Forest‘ but there’s no need to look for the reference material.
You know what this performance is.
Last year was the first time I had ever been to a National Final anywhere. After all, I only started watching the selection shows thee years ago so attending one never even occurred to me. Then quite out of the blue in 2017 Ellie suggested I should join her in going to Eesti Laul and I thought ‘why not?’.
This year Ellie and Ewan had already booked to go to Oslo for Melodi Grand Priz, so I figured I’d tag along again…
What a show! I had never seen Melodi Grand Prix before, it wasn’t one that had come across my radar, but what a show it turned out to be. Every time I go to any Eurovision related event I get goosebumps and very often have to stop myself from shedding a little tear (I’m very emotional about things now I’m a bit older) yet here I was in yet another venue in Europe and as the sound of ‘Te deum’ introduced the rehearsals for MGP, there I was sat right by the stage ready to ‘Grab the Moment’, really nothing beats those ‘magical moments’ because I still can’t quite believe that I actually get to do this!
The French Connection
I was not expecting anything less than a car crash when France2 announced the return of a National Final… this is the country whose public selected ‘Moustache‘.
Yet the panel they recruited gave me a bit of hope: a current pop star, the man who brought France back to the top 10, and one of Canada’s best singers; all of whom understood the Eurovision, the music industry and music as a creative act. But with a televote in the final, with the current ‘La Voix‘ title holder participating with a decent song, it seemed like a fait accompli. That Lisandro Cruxi was born in Portugal only added to the narrative: a current reality TV star with roots in Portugal representing France in Lisbon.
The jury rankings in the final round were unsurprising: it seemed like Cruxi had received a perfect set-up with his clear lead over Emmy Liyanna and Madame Monsieur. Except Cruxi’s ‘Eva’ finished second in the Melfest format televote: Madame Monsieur massively won the televote, sending ‘Mercy’ to Lisbon. No one saw that coming – not even Madame Merci themselves. That week’s official singles chart in France told the story: Mercy entered at #3 and the rest of the Destination Eurovision were way down the list.
I suspect I was not the only person screaming in shocked delight at the exciting conclusion to Destination Eurovision back in January. Having survived the three-minute chop without being denuded, combined with an excellent official preview video, I have great hopes for ‘Mercy’ in Lisbon.
Monty Moncrieff (OnEurope)
Like A Scandinavian…
I decided to go on holiday smack in the middle of the National Final season this year (and I’m still playing catch up) but some things have stood out.
My highlight has, like Ewan, been my sole live National Final – Norway – which I attended with the ESC Insight team. It was a treat to see the rehearsal of a show with big ambition. As nine of the ten acts will never make it to Eurovision, the Norwegians have decided that departing from the strict rules regarding the number of performers on stage is worth the deviation for a bigger, bolder show at home.
Step up Ida Maria.
I’ve confessed my love for this song (my favourite of the season) whilst exploring some of the factors behind why I suspected it wouldn’t win for ESC Insight last week. Ida backed her presentation with a troupe of sixteen (!) cheerleaders, displaying their acrobatic ability as they formed human pyramids, and flipped one another high into the air. This led into some formation dancing as potty-mouthed Ida delivered her x-rated lines about the temperature of the Scandinavian sea. Having started singing standing amongst the audience before being hoisted onto the stage, Ida once again sought their participation to bounce a couple of dozen candy-striped beach balls above their heads. The whole thing was a hot mess, but so much fun, the scale of which you can never repeat at Eurovision. An absolute treat for the senses; except maybe the ears…
Back To The Future
With Beovizija, Serbia gave us a perfect evocation of Eurovision in the late noughties and an unbeatable interval act. What better way to spend a Tuesday night in February than enjoying a wildly uneven, creatively spectacular and diverse selection of modern Serbian pop? The songs, staging and general look and feel of the show took me back to when I fell in love with the Eurovision Song Contest, the era before the hyper-polished, hyper-professional Swedish-style festival, when we had something a little bit wonky.
Beovizija had everything. It had a returning artist in Rambo Amadeus, who turned up to do some jazz talking over a lady called Beti who didn’t seem happy about it. It had a pink haired female solo artist (this year’s National Final must have) in Saska Janx, it had traditional vocal troupes with contemporary dancers wafting about, it had a guy singing with someone who might have been his dad, Maja Nikolic as an alien queen, a lead singer who remained hidden under a bed for most of the song, and a bunch of opera goths.
But what got everyone talking was the interval act. While the votes were gathered and counted, RTS gave us a seemingly never ending parade of Eurovision acts from around the former Yugoslavian region, covering everything from ‘Adio’ to ‘Ove je Balkan’, from Bistra Voda to Bojana. They even got Moje 3 to reform especially. The only thing that was missing for me was Igranka. Fabulous.
Now do it again!
Against The Odds
Sweden’s 2018 edition of Melodifestivalen was a decidedly mixed bag. While the quality of songs was generally strong, the focus on introducing fresh blood to SVT’s Contest led to many of the better songs being paired to performers who just didn’t have the presence or experience to fully deliver them.
This was certainly the case in Heat Three, where odds-on favourite Dotter delivered a vocally shaky and poorly staged performance of her ballad ‘Cry’ – which was incidentally also far too derivative of the recent Julia Michaels hit ‘Issues’ – and found herself unexpectedly crashing out in the first round of voting.
Enter Jessica Andersson, one of the last of the class of 2003-2009 so-called ‘Schlager Divas’ who has demonstrated an ability to continue to connect with viewers long after many of her contemporaries have fallen out of favour. Andersson went for an arguably valedictory full-throttle fan service entry, a joyous slice of disco-pop that could just as easily have served as a comeback vehicle for Alcazar (If Alcazar hadn;t already released what they had hoped their comeback vehicle at MF2018 would have been had they got the nod from the selection panel).
The expectation was that Andersson would probably get knocked out in fifth place, or perhaps limp through to AC where she could easily be paired against a more app-friendly entry (presumably pitching her against Felix Sandman would have been a very easy way to end her journey before the Friends Arena). But the joy of Melfest – arguably the joy of the Song Contest and the National Finals – remains that no matter how stage managed certain aspects become, on the night there’s no substitute for performance.
Years of treading the boards onstage and on TV gave Andersson the tools to turn out a show-stopping performance when it counts, and alongside Swedish Idol winner Martin Almgren, she delivered the most polished and engaging performance of the night. Sweden voted accordingly, and the much-ballyhooed death of Schlager was delayed for another year.
Kylie Wilson (ESC Pulse)
This National Final season was a big change for me now I’m living in New Zealand, which meant having to get up a couple hours earlier than my normal wake up time to watch whatever Final I was free to watch. I remember after one bout of insomnia I thought it would be a good idea to switch on the final of Ukraine’s Vidbir at 5am… only to be inundated by angry men shouting at each other and singers getting humiliated by certain judges. That is not recommended.
But my highlight was probably the final of Eesti Laul. There was a debate over whether it was going to turn out to be a coronation or a competition. Would the big favourite Elina walk away with the crown or would we get one of the biggest shock results of this national final season? As it turned out, it was very much a coronation as she wiped the floor with her crystal-clear soprano vocals and her light-up dress, all wrapped up in a striking yet elegant package.
Not that her competitors weren’t worth checking out either. We had the weird and wonderful in the form of Evestus; Frankie Animal offering us the kind of effortlessly cool indie pop that should be on the playlists of BBC 6Music as soon as possible, former National Final veterans Iiris and Stig Rästa making well-received comebacks, and ‘Taevas‘ being a welcome reminder of Estonia’s late-90s golden age.
This also happened to be the tenth edition of the competition, may the Laul live on for another wonderfully eclectic ten years!
Over To You
This weekend is the quiet pause of the season, as we gather strength for the run up to Lisbon. What National Final moments from the last few months stick in your mind? Let us know in the comments.