On Saturday, in Vienna, the world's largest music television event will take place – bigger than the Grammys, bigger than the Super Bowl halftime show, bigger than The Voice and American Idol… and it will be viewed by more people worldwide than all of those events combined. Last year’s contest was watched by over 190 million people – and yet it is almost unknown in this country.
What is it??? Why it is the Eurovision Song Contest.
For 60 years now, all the countries of Europe (or at least those that qualify and are interested) have come together to pick a “Eurovision” winning song. Eurovision is where ABBA first took the world by storm when they won in 1974 (the act that came in third that year was an Australian singer representing the U.K - Olivia Newton John); Celine Dion began her assent to superstardom by winning in 1988; and the song “Volare," even though it did not win when it competed in 1958 (it came in third place), went on to worldwide success, selling over 22 million copies.
Last year, after having won with the song “Rise Like A Phoenix,” sung by the “Queen of Europe” — bearded “Lady” Conchita Wurst— Austria earned the right to host this year’s contest in Vienna – think of it as if the Super Bowl were coming to town — it is an honor to host! And with it comes all “the circus” that is Eurovision, including delegates from 40 countries – singers, song-writers, diplomats, media from around the globe, and fans — lots and lots of fans — all hoping to bring back to their home the winning song and the right to host the next year's event.
So what can we look forward to this year? Here are a few you should keep an eye on…
Nina Sublatti is a "Warrior." For a song to do well at Eurovision, it has to be more than simply be a good song – it has to PLAY, and play in a huge arena… in a way that makes it stand out in a field of 27 qualifying songs. Nina brings in a good tribal beat with the sound of drums that will fill the arena on Saturday! Having already won Georgia's version American Idol in 2013, she knows how to please a voting public at home.
Even though Eurovision songs are not allowed to have political messages, there are no rule against focusing on social issues facing the countries. Romania, due to economic conditions, is facing what many other countries are — children left behind when their parents must relocate to find work in other places.
The song "De la capăt" ("All Over Again" in English) is performed by the group Voltaj (who won the Best Romanian Act at the 2005 MTV Europe Music Awards). The young boy who stars in the video only agreed to be in the shoot once lead singer Calin Goia promised him that if he did, he could go to Eurovision with the group... and currently this young man is enjoying a week in Vienna!
Now here is a story. The public voted for Andreas Kümmert to go to Vienna to represent Germany with the song “Heart of Stone”... but when Andreas stepped up to receive the prize (live on television) he SHOCKED everyone by turning it down, saying he is just a simple singer, and gave his ticket to Ann Sophie (the second place finisher), "I think she is much more suitable and qualified."
So now Ann Sophie is representing Germany with her song “Black Smoke.”
In the early days of Eurovision, the UK used to do rather well for themselves – but those days are long gone. The UK has barely had a pulse, even with the help of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Bonnie Tyler or (the many thought deceased) Engelbert Humperdinck. So this year they changed tactics — paying homage to the roaring '20s — this fun little number "Still In Love With You" is performed by new comers Electro Velvet.
OK, I know what you are thinking... "Australia is NOT in Europe!" Well, that is true, but after having watched Eurovision as a nation for 30 years, the EBU (the folks who throw the song contest) have invited Australia to join the fun for just this one year, with Guy Sebastian singing "Tonight Again" Now should they win? If so, they will then be allowed to "co-host" next year’s contest in a European country, and they will be able to compete again with a new song. But if they lose this year – it’s back down under for our Aussie friends.
After having won last year with the Super Star Diva Conchita (bearded drag persona of Tom Neuwirth), they are hoping to take home the prize again with the rock band The Makemakes and their song "I Am Yours," which received over 50 percent of the votes in a field of six songs in the Austrian national finals.
This year you can expect a lot of ballads since last year’s winner was a huge ballad — and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Maria-Elena Kyriakou gives it a shot with "One Last Breath." And the most surprising thing about this song is that Greece is even in Eurovision this year — they were in, they were out, they shut down their national broadcaster, started a new one, but they were not going to miss out on the “Song-Olympics”... So here you go - One BIG ballad for Greece.
Hear are my TOP FOUR picks to win on Saturday:
Il Volo (not to be confused with Il Divo) brings their Classical Pop stylings to the love song "Grande Amore" – which one online blog called "The song Italy should have been entering in the contest every year!" It’s a song odds-makers are saying has a very good chance of doing very well!
It is always interesting out of a field of 40 songs, which ones rise and which fall as we get closer to the actual competition day – and Norway has been on a rise of late. The song, “A Monster Like Me,” performed by Mørland & Debrah Scarlett seems to connect with a generation of Europeans who many reasons – it's haunting, pained and yet beautiful all at the same time. If this groundswell continues, they just might win.
Elina Born (Estonian Idol second place finisher) & Stig Rästa (a multi runner up to qualify to go to Eurovision) will finally make it to the Eurovision stage to perform their song “Goodbye to Yesterday” which has hooked listeners across the continent – and has had over 1 million views online.
Swedish pop superstar Måns Zelmerlöw (another bridesmaid, who has finally made it to bride) comes to Eurovision… with what most are saying is the song poised to win the contest this year — "Heroes." But it has not been an easy path.
First up Måns' performance seemed eerily similar to the previously release video "The Alchemy of Light" by A DandyPunk, leading the Swedish delegation to pull the performance video (amateur video of performance here) and announce they would re-work their stage presentation of the song.
That wasn’t the only problem… the song itself sounds an awful lot like David Guetta’s “Lovers on the Sun.” But after inspection by the EBU, it was deemed different enough to be seen as a new song – and so it is set to compete, and as stated before, to probably win!
The 2015 Eurovision Song Contest can be watched online at www.eurovision.tv. Or you can join in the fun at Warehouse Live, where the club will be airing the Internet feed of the competition – complete with cash bar — Starting at 1 p.m. on Saturday (May 23). For more information, visit: https://www.facebook.com/events/684611508323199/
Ernie Manouse is a popular Houston Public Media personality who hosts the syndicated PBS showw, InnerVIEWS with Ernie Manouse and Manor of Speaking. As you can tell from this column, he is a rabid Eurovision fan.