Combo of MTV & Miss America pageant

The Eurovision winners are . . . Humperdinck, singing grannies, boy bands are Top 5 picks

The Eurovision winners are . . . Humperdinck, singing grannies, boy bands are Top 5 picks

News_Ernie Manouse_Eurovision song contest_May 2012_Baku Crystal Hall_stage
The EBU was worried that they might not actually have a hall to present the contest in, but construction was completed on April 16th, 2012 – just about a month before the first semi-final was to be broadcast.  Cedequack
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Anggun of France has a voice that will remind you of Annie Lennox. Photo by Paolo Zambaldi/Eurovision TV
News_Eurovision_RUSSIA_Buranovskiye Babushki
Buranovskiye Babushki ("Buranovo Grannies") consists of eight grandmothers with ages ranging from 56 to 86. Photo by Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters
News_Eurovision 2012 - Light Your Fire
News_Eurovision 2012_JEDWARD
Twin brothers John and Edward Grimes have taken Europe by storm with their band, Jedward. PopLedge.co.uk
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Fans start to arrive at Baku Crystal Hall. Photo by Andres Putting/European Broadcasting Union
News_Ernie Manouse_Eurovision song contest_May 2012_Baku Crystal Hall_stage
News_Eurovision_FRANCE_Anggun
News_Eurovision_RUSSIA_Buranovskiye Babushki
News_Eurovision 2012 - Light Your Fire
News_Eurovision 2012_JEDWARD
News_Eurovision_Baku Crystal Hall_fans

UPDATE:  Sweden's Loreen won the Eurovision Song Contest with her dance hit "Euphoria." The Russian grannies placed second and Serbia's Zeljko Joksimovic placed third.

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As the rest of the planet is readying themselves for the world’s largest Music Television Event of the year, only a handful of folks in the United States have any idea what the Eurovision Song Contest is. Well, fear not, you are about to be “in the know"!

The easiest way to explain Eurovision (or “ESC”) is to simply think of it as “The Miss America Pageant” — where each state is a European country; and each girl is a song.

In 1950, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) was formed, uniting broadcasting organizations from across Europe and the Mediterranean. But, by the mid '50s, the EBU felt there needed to be an entertainment show that would bring together the countries that made up Europe — countries that were still feeling the great divides of World War II.  Each participating country would choose a song to be performed during a live broadcast.

After the last song is performed, each participating country would vote for their favorite — assigning a number score. 

 The list of performers who have participated in the contest run from the gamut from the obscure to the highly recognizable – with the most successful one having been 1974’s winners - ABBA (with the song “Waterloo”).  

The favorite song receives 12 points (or “douze points” in French). One catch — you could not vote for your own country.

The name “Eurovision” came from the concept of merging music to the “new” medium of television. Euro plus Vision. Think of it as the precursor to MTV and Music Videos.

Over the years, more and more countries have joined in — this year, 42 countries will be participating (only 26 will make it to the finals, having survived two preliminary rounds). The list of performers who have participated in the contest run from the gamut from the obscure to the highly recognizable — with the most successful one having been 1974’s winners — ABBA (with the song “Waterloo”). 

Other notable performers who have taken to the ESC stage include: Celine Dion, Nana Mouskouri, Cliff Richards, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Katrina and the Waves.

Even though the performers take center stage with their songs — the contest is supposed to be recognizing the “SONG” and the writers — not necessarily the performers. Try telling that to JEDWARD (more on them later).

Oh, and there are rules — not just anything can be presented.  No song can be longer than three minutes in length. Music can be pre-recorded, but the singer must sing live. Only six performers can take to the stage during the performance — and no livestock (yes, there have been animals as part of the “performance” — and yes, they have caused trouble — so this was a rule that actually had to be defined!).

Plus, the contest is BIG BUSINESS! The country with the winning song gets to host the next year’s contest — and that means hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy of the presenting country. It can also lead to complications as it did this year for Azerbaijan. They won 2011 with “Running Scared” by Ell & Nikki (who’s actual names were Eldar & Nigar, but they were changed for the world market) — notice we didn’t mention who wrote the song . . . nobody ever does . . .  so much for the contest being about the song writers. 

So what was the problem?  It was speculated that Azerbaijan didn’t have a suitable venue for such an elaborate event. But plans were already underway to build a 23,000 seat venue to be known as the Baku Crystal Hall. The EBU was worried that they might not actually have a hall to present the contest in — but construction was completed on April 16 — just about a month before the first semifinal was to be broadcast. Crisis averted!

This year marks the 57th annual Eurovision — and with 125 million viewers expected to be watching worldwide, it is once again filled with spectacle and surprises. And that is no small audience, to put in perspective, this year’s Super Bowl had less than 112 million viewers . . . 

But enough of the history, rules and regulations — let’s get into what you can expect this year . . .  It’s time to “Light Your Fire!" . . .

Here is my list of the top 5 presentations worth watching:

1) FRANCE – Anggun – Echo (You and I)

This Indonesian/French singer has a voice that will remind you of Annie Lennox — only this time that voice is singing a pop/dance style song that you would never expect Ms Lennox to perform.  With her energetic performance style and full voice (plus a promotional video filled with scantily clad beef-cake) — she may well have a shot this year at Eurovision gold!

2) UNITED KINGDOM - Engelbert Humperdinck – “Love Will Set You Free”

Yes, you read that right — Mr. “Please Release Me” & “After the Loving” is back — among the murmur of people saying “He’s STILL alive?” When it was announced that he would be representing the U.K., it also became known that at age 76, he would be the oldest person to ever perform on the Eurovision Stage, but that would not be the case once Russia announced their representatives (see below). 

The biggest obstacle in Engelbert’s way (besides the fact that he is representing the U.K., which has a pretty poor record for earning points from other countries) is the fact that in his draw for running order — he pulled  first position, and may well be forgotten by the time the 26th song has been performed.

3) RUSSIA - Buranovskiye Babushki (translation: Buranovo Grannies) - “Party for Everybody”

With ages ranging from 56 to 86, this band, consists of eight grandmothers, have taken the title of oldest performers to ever appear on the ESC stage. But even though there are eight members to the group, due to ESC rules, only six are allowed to present their song. 

Surprisingly, this is not their first time trying at making it to Eurovision — they came in third in the Russian qualifying rounds in 2010. But this year, they beat out Pop Superstar (and past ESC winner) Dima Bilan to grab the title and the honor to represent their homeland this year!

4) GERMANY – Roman Lob – “Still Standing”

Singer Roman, who heads the alternative band “Rooftop Kingdom”, earned his chance to represent Germany by participation in the TV singing contest “Unser Star für Baku” (“Our Star for Baku”).  With a cool alternative sound, and a more youthful audience watching, Roman may just strike a nerve . . .

Then again, if you are looking for who will capture the youth vote . . .

5) IRELAND – JEDWARD – “Waterline”

Twin Brothers John and Edward Grimes have taken Europe by storm. A couple of cheeky “singers” from the sixth season of  X Factor U.K. in 2009, they rose to popularity despite having very little talent when it comes to singing — or dancing for that matter. But it is their larger-than-life personalities and boundless energy that made, first Britain, and then the rest of Europe fall in love with these boys. They represented Ireland in 2011 and came in eigth place — Ireland's best showing since the turn of the century.

The momentum is strong behind these teeny-bopper and grannies favs, and even if the performance of “Waterline” is a lot less colorful than last year’s entry “Lipstick," there is still a lot of support behind the Brothers Grimes.

It is going to be a very interesting Eurovision Song Contest this year. Usually countries vote for their neighbors or regional companions, creating groups of countries that stick together no matter how bad the songs are (i.e. The Scandinavia bloc, the often impenetrable Mid-Eastern European bloc, or event the former Eastern Bloc bloc). But this year, with a strong showing of good performers mixed with interesting songs, the Western European entries (where what are known as “The Big 5”are located — U.K., Germany, France, Spain and Italy) actually have a chance to earn the title of the winners of Eurovision 2012.

Eurovision does not air on U.S. television, but you can watch and follow all the excitement online at www.Eurovision.tv (you will need to install the free program Octoshape, but it is an amazing streaming service you will enjoy having). 

The 57th Annual Eurovision Song Contest happens Saturday, starting at 2 p.m. Houston time.

Channel 8 television's Ernie Manouse is host of the syndicated PBS series, InnerVIEWS with Ernie Manouse, featuring one-on-one interviews noted personalities.