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SONG CONTEST SHOWDOWN | The top 10 of 2016 VS the top 10 of 2017 (+ vote for your favourites!)

I’m back…again!!! I’ve had to announce my comeback after an extended blogging break pretty often in the past, so I figured why stop now?

My excuse is the same as always: even though Eurovision is my one true love, the older you get the busier you tend to be, and the more commitments you tend to have that keep you from sitting in bed in your pajamas writing about Europop (sadly). Having said that, I will do my best to be here on EBJ as often as possible in the lead-up to Junior Eurovision, the start of the 2018 NF season, and beyond. I’m like Valentina Monetta – you can’t get rid of me permanently and I’ve only made it to the Eurovision final once.

Since my last post, a lot of stuff has happened on Planet Eurovision: JESC switched venues (!); Eurovision Asia officially became A Thing™ (!!!) and Louis Walsh admitted that he thought Ireland would float – hot air balloon pun intended – straight through to the final in Kyiv (?!?!?). Even so, today I wanted to talk about something else. More specifically, I wanted to engineer a song contest showdown in which particular pairs of ESC entries would go head-to-head until, as Ryan Dolan might say in this situation, only one survives (from each battle). I actually started a similar series ages ago but accidentally forgot to continue it. Oops.

For no reason other than I felt like it, this song battle reboot will pit the top 10 tracks of Stockholm 2016 against their 2017 counterparts – so that means Jamala VS Salvador Sobral, Sergey Lazarev VS Sunstroke Project, and (amusingly) Frans VS Robin Bengtsson (because Sweden is apparently awesome at finishing 5th). I’m going to weigh them up against each other musically, crown my personal champ and then give you guys the chance to vote for your preferred song from each pair. Make sure you read through to the end (a toilet break may be necessary at some point) to vote for the best overall top 10.

Stockholm VS Kyiv – which city’s left-side scoreboard was superior? Let’s get this showdown started and find out!

 

 

Battle #1 | 1944 by Jamala VS Amar Pelos Dois by Salvador Sobral

They’re both brilliant brunette vocalists who made me burst into tears with their emotional performances. I worship the phenomenal woman-power of one and want to give the other one a bone-crushing hug. But which artist had the better winning song? I’m sorry if you wave your pom-poms for Team Salvadorable, because I have to say IT’S YOU JAMALA. This is my opinion, obviously, and you’re welcome to disagree with it. But I was hypnotised by 1944 from first listen, and when it won it was my #1 entry of the year. Amar Pelos Dois took time to tug at my heartstrings, and it’s not something I’ll press play for as often as I did (and still do) with last year’s winner.

Winner 1944

 

Battle #2 | Sound of Silence by Dami Im VS Beautiful Mess by Kristian Kostov

This is more of an apple-to-apple comparison than most of the other head-to-heads on this list, which actually makes it easier to pick a winner. If I were an Australian who’d be on the Olympic podium for patriotism (if that event existed) then this battle would not be in Bulgaria’s favour. But I like to consider myself pretty objective, so – as kick-ass as Dami’s performance was, and as much as I admire the Sia-esque power pop of Sound of Silence – Kristian’s Beautiful Mess is a better song in my brain. It’s just as strong in studio as it is when you see it on stage, whereas Sound of Silence relied a lot on the pizzazz of the performance to push it into top-two territory.

Winner Beautiful Mess

 

 

#3 | You Are The Only One by Sergey Lazarev VS Hey Mamma by Sunstroke Project

There are a lot of differences between the two songs that have taken home the bronze at Eurovision in the last two years. In a way, YATOO was the Italy 2017 of 2016 – a big longstanding favourite that didn’t follow through in the end (though Sergey came closer than Francesco); while Hey Mamma was a massive surprise in terms of propelling Moldova into the top three for the first time. Personally, I loved Hey Mamma immediately and want to weep with joy every time I remember that it came third, whereas YATOO was a track I hated at first (because I thought it was a terrible ESC throwback) but came to love later. I listen to them both on repeat, but my favourite of the two has to be Hey Mamma because it’s a totally 2017 slice of Europop – with a generous dollop of Epic Sax on the side – that never even had to try  to win me over. Sergey fans, don’t be so mad…if you knew me, you wouldn’t be surprised.

Winner Hey Mamma

 

#4 | If Love Was A Crime by Poli Genova VS City Lights by Blanche

They both wore black and sang (mostly) in English, but that’s where the similarities between Poli and Blanche come to a screeching stop. I guess you could also say that both ILWAC and City Lights were examples of so-cutting-edge-you-might-need-a-BandAid pop music, but the songs have totally different vibes. For the most part, I’m more likely to lean towards an upbeat song that I can awkwardly dance to (my take on Poli’s choreography is unfortunately reminiscent of the Chicken Dance), so even though I do think City Lights is a brilliant song – and I’m so happy Blanche got over her nerves to deliver a performance worthy of the top 5 – ILWAC is too irresistible for me to…well, resist. Summer hit > melancholy electro-bop. Just.

Winner If Love Was A Crime

 

#5 | If I Were Sorry by Frans VS I Can’t Go On by Robin Bengtsson

DAMN YOU, SWEDEN, FOR FORCING ME INTO THIS DECISION BY FINISHING FIFTH TWICE IN A ROW!!! Even if this is your first visit to EBJ, you can probably sense the Swedophile status that makes comparing something Swedish to something else Swedish and deciding which one’s superior a heart-palpitating task for me. There’s never been a Eurovision song from Sweden that I haven’t at least liked (2009’s La Voix is just noise, not a song, so it doesn’t count) and my relationship with their entries from 2016 and 2017 is more than platonic. But…giving in again to my penchant for a danceable piece of pop, I’m declaring I Can’t Go On the winner by one of Robin Bengtsson’s perfectly-groomed chin hairs. That’s because the second I hear it start, I perk up and prepare to sing loudly over the top of him, and If I Were Sorry doesn’t have that power (sorry!).

Winner I Can’t Go On

 

#6 | J’ai Cherché by Amir VS Occidentali’s Karma by Francesco Gabbani

Now THIS might be a controversial battle – either because you guys will be split down the middle, or because it’s actually an easy one for me but that might have some people plotting my death. I like Occidentali’s Karma a lot, and always have (‘always’ = since February when we first heard it), even if I suspected for the longest time that Eurovision 2018 wouldn’t be popping up in Italy. It’s fun, it’s catchy, it makes astute observations AND it has its own dance á la the Macarena…what’s not to like? Nothing. But you know what? I like it rivers, and I love J’ai Cherché oceans. Amir is just adorable (it’s not his fault that his name doesn’t illustrate just how precious he is, unless it’s not too late for ‘Amir-acle’ to catch on) and J’ai Cherché is a masterclass in sunny, uplifting – but not cheesy – folk-pop. It’s one of the few songs you can clap to without feeling like an overly-enthusiastic dad at his kid’s soccer game. C’est magnifique.

Winner J’ai Cherché

 

#7 | LoveWave by Iveta Mukuchyan VS Yodel It! by Ilinca & Alex Florea

This fistfight is a no-brainer for me to call champion on, so I won’t keep you in suspense. Simply put, LoveWave has aged better over the past year-and-a-bit than Yodel It! has in a matter of months – for me, anyway. I have to be in the right mood to listen to Alex and Ilinca doing their yodel-rap duties these days, and if I have even a hint of a headache, forget it. Iveta, while not one of my favourites from last year’s contest, left a more sophisticated and less irritating legacy behind (and she really put the ‘leg’ into legacy).

Winner LoveWave

 

#8 | Color of Your Life by Michał Szpak VS Origo by Joci Pápai

For those of you who’ve forgotten about the epic scoreboard leap Poland made in Stockholm, here’s your reminder (I don’t have room to insert the GIF, so just pretend I did). I don’t begrudge Michał his awesome last-minute result, but in this battle he was bound to lose. Even if he’d turned up at my front door with pleading eyes and a million-dollar bribe (which shockingly, he didn’t), the love I have for Origo would have seen me slam the door in his face – while being careful not to maim any of his majestic man-hairs, of course. Joci Pápai’s ethno-dance dream was and still is my douze pointer of Kyiv’s 42, so nothing short of my all-time favourite ESC entry (Lane Moje by Željko Joksimović, FYI) would have a shot at changing my allegiance.

Winner Origo  

 

#9 | I’ve Been Waiting For This Night by Donny Montell VS Don’t Come Easy by Isaiah

Donny definitely wins the showdown when it comes to song title length, but does victory come easier to Isaiah (HA HA) in terms of song quality? And another question: will I be deported if I say no? Let’s find out. I don’t think many Eurofans would argue that Donny himself and his second Eurovision song have more of an x-factor than Isaiah and his song – ironic given that Isaiah won The X Factor. It’s probably down to Donny’s more extensive stage experience and showier personality, plus an entry that just happens to be more exciting and have more mass appeal. That appeal does extend to me, although I am fond of Don’t Come Easy. But *packs suitcase* I just *heads to port from which I’ll be shipped off to a faraway land for being un-Australian* prefer Donny’s package. No dirty thoughts, please…you know what I mean.

Winner I’ve Been Waiting For This Night  

 

#10 | What’s The Pressure by Laura Tesoro VS Grab The Moment by JOWST

Squeezing into the top 10 in 2016 and 2017 were two great tracks from Belgium and Norway. For the former, it was their second consecutive year on the left side of the scoreboard, while the latter country was clawing their way back up after a DNQ on Swedish soil. But who did 10th place better? I’m pretty torn, to be honest. Laura’s grand final opener put the fun into funk and proved yet again that saxophones are as effective at Eurovision as they are in George Michael’s Careless Whisper (a.k.a. VERY). JOWST, on the other hand, brought something uniquely 2017 to the contest stage with lyrics that I previously crowned my faves of the year. As much as I want to be loyal to Laura, I think I have to go with Grab The Moment because it’s a little cleverer and a lot more original.

Winner Grab The Moment

 

 

Okay…we’ve finally made it through the entire top 10 of both Stockholm ‘16 and Kyiv ’17. Now the main part of the show(down) is over, in true ESC style it’s time for some overall results.

2016 = 5

2017 = 5

DAMMIT. It’s a tie – practically Eurovision 1969 all over again (but on a much, much smaller scale and minus booms + bang-a-bangs). I am going to break this tie though, looking at the entire top 10 of each year and deciding which one was stronger – for me. BRB.

*several hours later*

Okay, I’ve got it. The winner is…

 

 

Maybe I’m a bit biased since I was there (#subtlebrag) but I do think the overall kick-assery of the 2016 top 10 is slightly more forceful – there was practically a residual shoeprint – than the 2017 top 10. Do you agree? If you voted in the polls above, then I’m guessing you won’t mind voting in this one to let me know.

 

You can give me the lowdown on all the super-important choices you made above in the comments. Not gonna lie, I kind of want someone to start a fight with me over “the clear superiority of Sergey in comparison to Sunstroke Project Vol. II”. Just remember, if we all liked the exact same songs to the exact same degree, Eurovision would be extremely predictable and pretty boring.

But obviously, I’d still be obsessed with it.

 

 

 

An NYE Top 10 Countdown: Saying hej då to 2016 with my highlights of the Eurovision year that was!

Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone! Speaking as someone who wasn’t ready for Christmas (although I still managed to get all of my shopping done on time), I’m sure as heck not ready for 2016 to become 2017. But it’s happening, so I’m going to use the last few hours of the year to have a massive Throwback Thursday extravaganza…on a Saturday. I like to live dangerously.

As always, the past twelve months have been very exciting ones, full of ups and downs, for us Eurovision freaks (no offence intended by that terminology. I say let your freak flag fly!). But unless you want to drown your sorrows and wake up tomorrow morning with a huge hangover and feeling the remorse than Frans Jeppsson-Wall does not, I suggest focusing on the highlights rather than the lowlights. That’s what I’m doing here and now for my last post of the year: counting down a few of my favourite things from the 2015/2016 NF season, Eurovision 2016, and Junior Eurovision 2016. These were the songs/artists/results/events et cetera that had me hollering ‘Say yay yay yay!’ instead of a Michele Perniola-style ‘No’. Check out my picks and then let me know which moments made you a happy fan in 2016.

 

Let’s make like Hannah Mancini + love by diving straight in!

 

#10 | Better late than never: The Czech Republic finally makes it to an ESC final

The Czech Republic hasn’t had the driest of dry spells when it comes to Eurovision. It’s true that  they hadn’t qualified from a semi until this year, but they did only compete five times between 2007 and 2016 (ten tries with zero qualifications would be a far more depressing statistic). Still, it was nothing less than a fist-pump moment when the country clawed their way out of Stockholm’s first semi final – for me, at least, because I love a good Cinderella story. I Stand isn’t one of my favourite entries from this year, and in Jaz’s Argo-inspired utopian land, Estonia’s Play would have replaced it in the semi’s top 10 (despite the creep factor). However, I do think that it deserved a spot in the final more than any of the Czech entries that came before it, so…go Gabriela! You’ve broken the drought.

 

#9 | The real fan favourites of Eurovision 2016: Zoë, the contest princess + Serhat, the cult superstar

It’s never just the songs of an ESC that get fans frothing at the mouth (and sometimes down south, if I may be so saucy). Often, it’s the personalities performing them who get tongues wagging and cause social media follows to flood in. In that respect, the real winners of Eurovision 2016 were Austria’s Zoë and San Marino’s/Turkey’s Serhat. Zoë earned an army of fans thanks to her general gorgeousness, being bubblier than a bottle of champagne and being the closest thing to a Disney princess we’ve ever seen at the contest. Serhat had people on the ground in Sweden stalking him for photos on a Sergey Lazarev level because I Didn’t Know was so bad it was *almost* good – and though we didn’t know whether he knew that or not, we did know that he was bringing his own brand of swag to the proceedings. Both artists brought a bit of old-timey ESC to 2016, and owned the shiz out of it. As such, I’m hopping off the train at Admiration Station here.

 

#8 | If it’s good enough for Christer, it must be pretty damn good: Belarus brings out the big guns for JESC + wins over Björkman

This is random, but sometimes it’s the little things that make you jump for joy, or at least do a tiny hop for happiness. Belarus brought their signature youthful spunk to Junior Eurovision this year, which has won them the contest twice before and nabbed them a handful of great results. An extra ingredient for 2016 was the humble household hoverboard, a fleet of which were navigated effortlessly by Alexander Minyonok and his dancers in Valletta. The gimmick was there, the choreography was slick, the vocals were on point…overall, this was a polished and entertaining package that harked back to the more childlike JESCs of the mid-2000s. And you know who acknowledged that? Mr. Christer Björkman. He was the only expert juror to award Belarus one of his top scores, and his precious douze at that, rewarding an entry that put the Junior into Junior Eurovision. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy seeing a formidable force in the ESC-verse hand his highest points to Belarus.

 

#7 | A tiny island changes their tune for the better: Malta swaps Chameleon for Walk On Water

I’m not too keen on national finals that stipulate a change in song is (not perfect, but) a-ok after a particular artist/song combo has already won. It feels a bit like cheating on the public and/or juries that chose the original song as The One (and also, WTH is the point of holding an NF? Just opt for an internal selection if that’s how you want to play it). However…Malta’s move from the MESC-winning Chameleon – performed by inevitable singer Ira Losco – to the Swedish penned and produced Walk On Water was an excellent action to take. Chameleon, while catchy, was suffering from an identity crisis, and wasn’t exactly cutting-edge pop music. Walk On Water knew exactly what it was – powerful soul-pop peppered with gospel and electronic sounds that allowed Malta to hold their own against the likes of Russia and Australia. Still not sold? Well, if it wasn’t for the switch, we wouldn’t have experienced the sheer joy of a liquid-filled USB stick with #WOW stamped on it *mic drop*.

 

#6 | All out of luck: Bosnia & Herzegovina + Greece lose their 100% qualification records

Before you start hurling abuse at me, let me explain why the 2016 non-qualifications of Bosnia & Herzegovina and Greece were a highlight of my year. I have nothing against either of these countries, and I was actually quite disappointed to see the unique Utopian Land left behind in its semi final. But because it was, alongside Ljubav Je, countries who advance to the final every year can now no longer assume their safety. That, I think, is a good thing. It proves that bloc/diaspora voting can’t be relied upon (despite what some people outside the ESC bubble believe); and that if your entry is worse than ten others you’re competing against, you’re out, no matter who you are. So, from big hitters like Russia to residents of Struggle Town like San Marino, everybody needs to bring something delicious to the Eurovision buffet table, or they’ll be tossed straight into the trash. And anything that keeps the level of musical quality sky-high in the contest gets a thumbs-up from me.

 

#5 | The comeback king (and queen) who kicked butt: The triumphant artist returns of the 2016 adult contest

These days, every Eurovision seems to bring with it a crop of artists that we’ve seen before. They end their second/third/fifteenth attempts at gaining ESC glory in different ways, and this year was no different in that sense. But it’s the success stories that I like to focus on rather than the fails (Deen, Greta Salomé and Kaliopi – sorry, but I’m “skinning you out”). The abovementioned Ira Losco may have gotten Malta back in the final, but she couldn’t come close to equaling or topping her 2002 second place (I think it was the lack of glitter-blowing). So it was up to Poli Genova and Donny Montell to fly the ‘We outdid ourselves!’ flag for Bulgaria and Lithuania respectively…and boy, did they ever. Donny’s goal was to beat Love Is Blind’s 14th place from 2012, and he did so by finishing 9th and giving his country their best result since 2006. Poli went from a DNQ in 2011 to achieving Bulgaria’s first qualification in nearly a decade, followed by their best result ever. Bravo, you two!

 

#4 | Never mind the colour of your life – let’s talk the colour of success: Poland picks Michał Szpak over Margaret, regrets nothing

One of the most shocking happenings of the 2015/2016 selection season was Margaret and her monster hit Cool Me Down NOT being Poland’s entry of choice for Stockholm. Even those of us who were immune to Margaret’s charms (i.e. me) figured she was a shoo-in to win Krajowe Eliminacje – and if she had an off night, surely Edyta Górniak would step in? Um, no. Jaws dropped globally as Michał Szpak and his majestic mane won the NF with ease (nearly 36% of the public vote, to be precise). Surfing on a sea of haters and doubters shouting ‘IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN MARGARET!’, he went on to qualify to the Eurovision final….and then came the voting sequence to end all voting sequences. Your moment of the night might have been when Russia tried but failed to push past Australia and Ukraine at the last second to win, but mine? Poland’s ultimate leapfrog over TWENTY countries into 6th place – thanks to the televoters – which led to an eventual 8th-place finish. Now that’s #WOW.

 

#3 | Edward af Sillén’s way with words: The entire Eurovision 2016 script

As a writer, I always find myself paying more attention than most to the scripting of Eurovision. I rarely find the hosts’ dialogue to be above average, excluding the perfection that was 2007 (Jaana and Mikko are my all-time favourite host duo) and 2013. The common ground between 2013 and 2016, besides Petra Mede? Screenwriter and genius Edward af Sillén. The man behind the words of Oslo 2010 and Malmö 2013 outdid both of his previous ESC gigs this year with a hilarious host script. Not only was it packed with banter that highlighted the chemistry between Petra and Måns, it also used humour to push the limits of what flies during a family entertainment program – which I love. Then there was ‘That’s Eurovision!’ – one of the best semi openers in history – and the now iconic ‘Love Love Peace Peace’, which we’ll still be singing when the next Swedish-hosted ESC takes place (probably in 2018). Basically, anything we heard in Stockholm that af Sillén had put down on paper was smart, sassy, and memorable. It played a big part in what I believe to be one of the best contests ever.

 

#2 | Beating Europe at their own game: Australia wins the jury vote and finishes second in Stockholm

If you thought this Australian was going to list her personal highlights of the Euro-year and NOT mention Dami Im, you were sadly mistaken. Until it actually happened, I had no idea that she was capable of giving us such an incredible result in our second year of contest participation. Guy Sebastian’s 5th place last year was awesome enough, but Dami almost winning the comp when Australia is still a newbie being made to feel quite unwelcome by some (which is understandable, but we’re here to stay so PLS STAHP) topped it by a mile. For a year, I was crushed that I couldn’t be in Vienna to see us compete for the first time. But then I made it to Stockholm to watch Dami nail her final performance, and I felt the support from a crowd of countless nationalities. After that, I got to witness her top the jury vote and wondered if I was about to see an unprecedented Aussie win of the whole contest. I didn’t, which as a Jamala devotee didn’t bother me too much. But I was there when we proved how seriously we take Eurovision, and when we scored ourselves such an amazing spot on the scoreboard. In hindsight, I wouldn’t change a thing.

 

#1 | Yasligima toyalmadim, men bu yerde yasalmadim: Jamala, 1944 and the ESC

Now we’ve arrived at my number one “thing” (song, artist, event…whatever), and fittingly, the only thing that could beat Dami’s epic Eurovision effort is the story of the entry that actually beat her in the competition. I wasn’t thrilled when I found out that Jamala was trying to represent Ukraine again, five years on from the 2011 Mika-Zlata-Jamala Incident. That’s because Smile made me do the opposite. Still, I cued up 1944 the first chance I got, not expecting to like what could have been a carbon copy of Smile. Three minutes later, my mind had been blown. I felt connected to the haunting, experimental beauty of 1944 immediately, drawn to its combination of vulnerability and strength, and the pain unleashed by Jamala as she told her grandmother’s story through song. It was magic, and I felt that from first listen through to the, ahem, *interesting* Ukrainian NF, then on to Eurovision. Every time she performed, it was as heartfelt as ever, and never has a vocal possessed such emotion and sincerity while still knocking our socks off with its sheer power. The overall impact of 1944 won Ukraine their second ESC trophy – and it was a victory not of gimmicks or of a personality, but of a song that meant something. Even now I can’t hear those first few bars without tearing up…which is why I never listen to it in public. Thank you for the music, Jamala. I’ll get some tissues ready for your reprise in Kyiv.

 

 

Congratulations, you made it to the end of this marathon countdown! If it’s past midnight wherever you are, then Happy New Year – I’m sorry you spent it trying not to fall asleep while I rambled my little heart out. If it’s still pre-midnight, then you have time to salvage the evening, so I’ll wrap things up by wishing you all the best for the start of 2017 (and the middle and end, obviously). Whether you’re celebrating by partying it up Russian granny style, tuning in to the ESC 250, or lying on the floor in the foetal position weeping because you failed to keep your New Year’s resolutions (which one am I? I’ll never tell), enjoy yourself.

I’ll see you next year for another January-December filled with Eurovision. In the meantime, don’t forget to fill me in on your NF/ESC/JESC highlights of 2016. I definitely didn’t keep my resolution to be less nosy, so I want to know everything.

 

Skål!

 

2015sig

 

 

Maltese mishaps, mimes and Mariam’s Mzeo: My review + wrap-up of Junior Eurovision 2016!

WARNING: Things are about to get very honest.

Just like that, Junior Eurovision is done and dusted for another year – but none of us who tuned in are likely to forget about it that easily.

Sadly, that’s not because Malta outdid their spectacular show from 2014, but because Sunday’s contest was a bit of a shambles from start to finish (on the part of the adults in charge, not the kids competing). With the most rushed artist parade in history; painfully scripted host dialogue that Ben Camille and Valerie Vella stumbled over like they were running through a booby-trapped trail in the dark; camera operators spending more time in full view than out of it, á la Eurovision 2015; a venue that was far too intimate and therefore lacked atmosphere; AND the cherry on top, when Valerie single-handedly destroyed the tension buildup of the voting by blurting out the remaining amount of points, this was the most amateur JESC of all time. The fact that Malta has handled it with ease before makes it that much worse that things went so downhill this year.

Let’s cross our fingers for Tbilisi to take on the challenge with more finesse (which, TBH, wouldn’t be hard) if we happen to head there in 2017. Because, moving on from my endless list of complaints, my congratulations must go out to this year’s winner Georgia: the Ireland of Junior, only Georgia’s on top of their game now, and they don’t dwell on ancient victories which will soon be outnumbered by Sweden’s.

Hashtag burn.

You’d be forgiven for thinking it was JESC 2013 all over again, as a pint-sized brunette in a poofy white dress belted her way to the win with a powerful ballad. But we subbed in Mariam Mamadashvili for Gaia Cauchi this time, and watched her take the first-place trophy out by creating a truly magical moment on the Mediterranean Conference Centre stage. Hers wasn’t a triumph that everybody saw coming – particularly those of us who refrained from viewing the rehearsals – but, much like Italy’s the last time JESC met Malta, it became inevitable and was very much deserved.

Sixteen other stars shone pretty bright on Sunday, too – but not all of them could end the night on a note as in-tune as every single one that came out of Mariam’s mouth. So let’s hit rewind and review what went down from the start of the performances to THE MOST PRECIOUS REPRISE IN EUROVISION HISTORY (as seen above). I promise I’ll try to stay positive about all of it.

FYI…this is a long one, so you might want to grab a cup of tea and/or call in sick to work for the next three days. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

  

The performances

Ireland Zena’s start to the show was a nice one, but I found everything about it to be a bit messy (and not in a deliberate, that-totally-works kind of way, like her hair). I didn’t like the addition of an English chorus (clichéd lyrics never win me over). As for her dress…well, now we know what would happen if Yohanna’s Eurovision gown got together with a piñata and had a really ugly baby. So much for staying upbeat, Jaz.

Armenia The bad bits were average, but the good bits were great! Tarber is one of my personal favourites of the year, and it was just as entertaining to watch as it is to listen to. Anahit & Mary’s harmonies weren’t exactly on fleek (as Kisses would say) and I wish they’d been styled more in line with the music video (Mary’s hair in particular). If we’re talking fashion, I also think the costume-reveal outfits would have been more effective as dresses made up of both fabrics the girls started out wearing. But that’s just me being picky. Correct, but picky.

Albania Klesta is so sweet, and she can definitely sing (with more power than one would expect from such a small person). But this fell a little flat, and I think it’s because she couldn’t fill the stage with a presence like Mariam did. Besoj is a beautiful song, but it would work better at adult Eurovision, being sung by someone older and more experienced like Elhaida Dani.

Russia I was having heart palpitations in the lead-up to Sofia’s performance – Water of Life floats my boat like nobody’s business. Overall, it wasn’t as slick and powerful as I was hoping (since I wanted it to win) but I loved the girls’ outfits and choreography. Sofia was a stellar lead vocalist, too.

Malta This song, on the other hand, makes me want to rip my ears off. But I can’t deny that Christina (like everyone else residing in Malta) is one heck of a singer. She nailed every note, and unlike Klesta, had all the charisma she needed to fill the stage despite having no one else up there with her. Expect to see her at MESC the minute she’s old enough.

Bulgaria I’ve made it pretty clear already that I think Lidia is absolutely adorable, and that I plan on adopting her ASAP. Apart from one vocal slip-up, she charmed her way through her performance of Valsheben Den. The last thirty seconds really would have benefited from some backup vocalists supporting her visually instead of just aurally. On her own, she ended up looking very tiny and lonely.

Macedonia I applaud Macedonia for their top-notch vocals, cool choreography, and gorgeous rose gold costumes (I would quite like a catsuit like Martija’s to wear on Christmas Day, but it’s probably not that flattering after excessive amounts of turkey and pudding). Unfortunately, the whole thing would have been more at home in Kyiv next year than it was in Valletta for JESC. Still, an A+ for effort.

Poland I have one word for this: FLAWLESS. ‘Perfection’ also comes to mind. We got a stunning dress, graphics and vocals from Olivia, and in her case, I didn’t mind the last-minute addition of English. My only complaint? Why did the audience not cheer louder and longer for her?

Belarus And the Award for Most Improved Since Initial Selection goes to…Belarus, without a doubt! Alex’s breathless, shouty vocals from back then had clearly been whipped into shape. The whole three minutes was slick, entertaining, and the most Junior an entry can be without going too far. Extra kudos is deserved here for extreme multitasking – I’m not even sure I could get on a hoverboard without breaking something (on my body or someone else’s), let alone sing pitch-perfectly while riding one.

Ukraine A gigantic upside-down umbrella would have been OTT enough…but this was a Ukrainian performance, so why stop there? Throw in a couple of mimes as well. What either of these gimmicks had to do with Sofia’s song I don’t know, so they just left me very confused and distracted. Pretty dress though. She can reuse it for her future wedding.

Italy I’d say that Fiamma’s delivery of Cara Mamma was a cute overload, but it was actually just the right level of cuteness – if it were a bowl of porridge, it would be the one Golidlocks would opt for. Her costume (if you can call it that) was too casual for my liking, but even so, she had me melting into a puddle on the floor because AWWWWW. The simplicity of this after the OTT of Ukraine made it come across even better.

Serbia Whoever hit the hoverboard second was going to be unfavourably compared to the one who hit it first – too bad for Dunja. There wasn’t anything terribly wrong with her performance, though like Lidia, she could have used some backup. She also had the glitteriest case of dandruff I’d ever seen, and I’m still unsure whether I liked that look or not. All in all, Serbia didn’t get the party pumping like they should have.

Israel This was another performance in which some parts were great and others were messy, which didn’t give the best overall impression. Shir & Tim’s vocals were okay. They had decent chemistry and nice costumes (as you may be able to tell, I put a lot of stock in what people are wearing). I was hoping this would be presented in a more atmospheric way, which would have made it more memorable.

Australia We Are is weak, and there wasn’t much Alexa could do to elevate it. She sang reasonably well if not perfectly, and her engagement with the camera and the audience proved the worth of her time on The Voice Kids. But, as I expected, I wasn’t left feeling strongly about this in a positive or negative way. It was just…there.

The Netherlands I think I’ll be spelling ‘fun’ k-i-s-s-e-s from now on, because these three were the life of the party! The costumes they eventually chose were atrocious (had they just been renovating and repainting a Barbie Dream House? And why was one of the outfits beige?) but apart from that, this was Junior Eurovision in a psychedelically-patterned nutshell.. The energy was unrelenting, and the vividness of the 80s flashback was extreme (and I wasn’t even born until 1991). I loved every second.

Cyprus I’m still not convinced that George isn’t Sakis Rouvas after seven years of plastic surgery (has anyone seem him since Moscow?), but I am convinced that his performance kicked butt. There was no other pure ethno-pop – with drums! – competing in 2016, so this really stood out.

Georgia Last but not least (literally), was another heart-melter. Mariam had the dress that Fiamma didn’t, and elegantly powered her way through the classically beautiful Mzeo without missing a single note. She made serious magic on that stage, and she didn’t even have to saw someone in half to do it. At this point, the doorway to victory was wide open, and she strolled right through it.

 

If I had to filter those seventeen down to my top five, I’d go with (in random order) Russia, Macedonia, Poland, Belarus and Georgia. But all of the competing kids did themselves proud.

Speaking of the kids…I have to draw attention to the level of cute on display at this year’s contest. I’ve never wanted to adopt so many children at once in my life, so watch out, Angelina Jolie – your record may be about to be broken.

Now, before we move on from the performances to the voting and results, let’s take a look back at the entertainment between them.

  

The interval acts

Poli Genova Good golly, Miss Poli! Fiercer than ever and just as adept at doing the chicken dance without looking like a loser, she had the few people who could actually fit into the MCC on their feet.

Destiny Chukunyere Why, oh why wouldn’t they let her sing? Sing live, I mean. She was put to better use as a mime than the kids accompanying Sofia Rol on stage. Pre-recorded vocals aside, Destiny’s reprise of Not My Soul was pretty enjoyable. The other song she performed was…different. And slightly inappropriate at times.

The common song This was more of a cheesefest than a quattro formaggio pizza party for the entire population of Europe. I must be getting old and bitter, because I did not enjoy it at all. The reappearance of extreme miming didn’t help matters.

Jedward Let’s just say that, while their hair may have gotten even higher since their ESC days, the twins’ musical talents haven’t improved much. I never thought I’d say this, but stick to the expert judging, boys!

 

The voting + the results

The end of a Eurovision event is usually the most exciting part – and with the JESC 2016 voting echoing that of ESC 2016 (which nearly killed me), it was bound to be worth waiting for.

It was, but it also turned out to be confusing in the way it was presented. For starters, we had the child spokespersons reading out the adult jury votes. Then we had the expert jurors announce their scores one by one. Then came the combined points from the kids’ jury, read out by the adult hosts. Given that all of this took place at 2am my time, you can understand how it seemed to be less than straightforward. But it certainly delivered on tension, until Valerie made the slip-up that brought one heck of a crescendo to a screeching halt. After that, this is what we were left with: 

  1. Georgia 239
  2. Armenia 232
  3. Italy 209
  4. Russia 202
  5. Australia 202
  6. Malta 191
  7. Belarus 177
  8. The Netherlands 174
  9. Bulgaria 161
  10. Ireland 122
  11. Poland 60
  12. Macedonia 41
  13. Albania 38
  14. Ukraine 30
  15. Israel  27
  16. Cyprus 27
  17. Serbia 14

The scoreboard wasn’t a carbon copy of this after the adult jury points had been presented: though many countries stayed put throughout the final two voting segments, the adults ranked The Netherlands 3rd and Belarus 4th, while Italy and Russia would eventually rise up to 3rd from 6th and 4th from 9th respectively.

The adult jury gave their top points to Georgia; the kids’ jury gave theirs to Armenia; and the expert jury gave theirs to Russia. All three ranked Australia 5th, which was the only across-the-board agreement. Some of the most drastic differences of opinion? Russia (top three with the KJ and EJ, 9th with the AJ); Georgia (1st with the AJ, 8th with the EJ); and Malta (2nd with the KJ, 10th with the EJ).

Opinions also differed among the three expert jurors (a.k.a. the two expert jurors and Jedward) – Mads handed his douze to Italy, Christer gave his to Belarus, and Jedward rewarded Russia with their top score.

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The scoreboard after the adult jury votes (top left), the expert jury votes (top right), and the kids’ jury votes (bottom).

 

If we combine the twelve points from both the AJ and the KJ, it leaves us with Georgia scoring 11 sets – the same number of countries that received at least one top score.

Three countries finished in the same position they performed in. Armenia performed second and came second, Russia performed fourth and came fourth, and Cyprus performed 16th and came…you guessed it, 16th! The same thing happened twice last year. Fortunately for Georgia, Mariam bucked the trend by finishing first after performing last. This is the fourth time that has happened in JESC history – the final songs to be performed also won in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

The countries that improved on their last results were Georgia, Italy, The Netherlands, Australia, Ireland, Russia, Macedonia and Poland. The countries that did NOT improve were Serbia, Belarus, Ukraine, Malta, Albania, Israel and Cyprus. As for Armenia and Bulgaria…well, they ended up in the exact same positions as last year.

Another “interesting” fact…there were only two songs that were performed without any English lyrics. One won, and the other came last.

If you were wondering what I thought of the final results, then I’ll tell you – there were some shocks and surprises, and a few injustices, but the right entry won…even if it wasn’t my favourite. I always believe that the eventual winner is the true winner, simply because they won according to the rules of the contest. But Mariam’s Mzeo is definitely more of a Waterloo than an I Wanna – i.e. it’s a song I can get on board with, rather than a song I’ll quietly resent for years.

I can also live with my far-and-away favourite Russia finishing fourth – the same position my #1 entry reached in 2015. And as I predicted Armenia would come second, I’m not going to complain about that. Underrated IMO were Poland, Macedonia and Cyprus. Overrated was Australia (so if you hear news of me being deported to Greenland, you’ll know why). Then again, the bulk of the points were based on the performances at the jury show on Saturday – and unless you were there in the MCC at the time, you’ll never know how they differed from the televised versions.

 

So, was this the greatest Junior Eurovision ever? Umm, no. Was it up there (or down there) with the worst? Production-wise and host-wise, yes (in my honest opinion. You’re welcome to disagree). Can Malta do better? Of course, we know that. But what we did get out of the show was seventeen enjoyable performances from seventeen talented acts that must have had Jedward feeling insanely inferior; a voting sequence that had us on the edge of our seats almost until the very last second (DAMMIT, VALERIE!); and an insight into how uncomfortable Christer Björkman is when he’s not in total control of such proceedings.

Oh, and I also got my Tweet read out loud (albeit attributed to a boy named Yaz) so that was a personal highlight.

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What were your overall impressions of JESC 2016? Do you think Malta nailed or failed their second attempt at hosting? And how did your favourite songs end up faring in the competition? If there’s something you want to say, I’m listening…a.k.a. monitoring the comments section below.

I’ll be back soon with a few more Junior-themed posts (sorry to those who can’t stand it, but I’m not willing to let go just yet) before launching into some Stockholm flashbacks – after all, it has been SIX MONTHS since the final. Then, it’s on to NF season we go, and this time, I really mean that (in case you hadn’t heard, I’m off to Melodifestivalen in March!).

Basically, I have all the Eurovision you need to get you through the next few months. And then the rest of your life, probably.

 

Until next time…

 

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IT’S JESC 2016 TIME! The EBJ Junior Jury’s Top 17 revealed + my predictions for the show

Welcome to the day all of us Junior Eurovision fans have been waiting for since the conclusion of the adult contest in Stockholm: show day!

 

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In a matter of hours, the 2016 edition kicks off in Valletta, and I couldn’t be more excited if I tried (and I have). I hope you are too – I don’t want to be the only one on the planet who’s pretty close to peeing their pants.

Let’s leap straight in to the stuff I promised to cover in the title of this post, because a) I don’t want the show to start before I’ve even made my predictions, and b) I want to distract you from the fact that I just admitted to being close to wetting myself (I must have temporarily mistaken the slogan of JESC 2016 for #embarrass). So here are some rankings and predictions for your reading pleasure (fingers crossed).

 

Calculated and complete: The EBJ Junior Jury’s Top 17 for 2016 (plus my personal pre-show ranking, just because)

Just as the countdown to the contest itself was on this week, so too was the countdown to the unveiling of the EBJJJ’s post-review ranking (well, it was in my mind, anyway). After four rounds of reviews and mini-rankings, it’s time for me to pull the Cloth of Intrigue away with a magician-like flourish, and let you see who ended up where. Voila!

ebjjj17

So there you have it. Russia, after scoring more sets of douze than any other country, takes first place, followed by Armenia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Macedonia. Poor Cyprus (and I am a little outraged by this) were relegated to rock bottom, which I hope will not be the case after the actual show is over. I’ll probably do a quick analysis this week of how the actual results compared to the EBJJJ version, so keep an eye out for that – the differences are sure to be drastic!

In case you were curious, here’s my personal ranking as of right this second. I got my way a few times, and I didn’t even have to rig anything. Woohoo!

  1. Russia
  2. Armenia
  3. The Netherlands
  4. Ukraine
  5. Macedonia  
  6. Poland 
  7. Bulgaria
  8. Cyprus
  9. Albania
  10. Israel
  11. Italy
  12. Georgia
  13. Belarus
  14. Australia
  15. Serbia
  16. Ireland
  17. Malta

How does yours compare, and what do you think of the EBJJJ’s collective Top 17? Let us know in the comments below.

 

Bets on (but not literally): Predicting the winner, loser and all of the results in-between

I say ‘not literally’ because I’ve never been confident enough in my predicting powers to gamble any of my savings on them. Removing money from the equation takes some of the pressure off, but I’ve got to say – I thought the absence of televoting would make trying to foresee the results easier, but it really makes it harder!

The outcome of JESC has never been decided by 100% jury voting before, so it’s impossible to say with certainty (unless you’re psychic) what will happen in a few hours’ time, and what happened as a result of yesterday’s jury final. Who knows how each jury will react/reacted to each performance? Not me, that’s for sure. But when it comes to the following questions, I have made the effort to come up with some answers…

 

FTW? Bulgaria. Yes, ladies and gents – for the first time in my history of being a Eurovision fan, I am calling this one outright (instead of super-gluing the seat of my pants to the fence by predicting at least three countries to win). I’ve only very recently had the feeling, especially after hearing reports on the rehearsals, that Bulgaria may be about to win their first ever Eurovision event – just six months after Poli Genova achieved their best result yet. My reasoning behind this is pretty simple: I think Valsheben Den is one of the few competing songs (if not the only one) that offers something to all three juries. I can also clearly see the credits rolling over a reprise from Lidia, which is often a good indication of a song’s potential to win (as stupid as it sounds). She’s adorable and engaging, her vocals and her costume (from the little I’ve heard and seen) are on point/fleek, and the song is catchy, memorable and uplifting. WHOLE PACKAGE ALERT! They may not be boasting my absolute favourite entry of JESC 2016, but I would be perfectly happy to witness Bulgaria win with what they do have.

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Could Lidia outdo Krisia, Hasan & Ibrahim’s second place today? Quite possibly!

Dark horse FTW? Poland. It’s time for a beautifully-sung ballad to win again, basically, and if it isn’t the up-tempo, inspirational, almost tribal ballad from Bulgaria, I have a sneaking suspicion that it could be Poland’s more traditional number. There was something magical about Nie Zapomnij from the start, and it has continued to grow on me and give me THE FEELING ever since. The pathway to victory is more mountainous for Poland than for Bulgaria, so that’s why I see Olivia as the dark horse to Lidia’s bright, white prancing pony. But watch out for this one, guys. If it doesn’t go all the way, it’ll at least outrank both of Poland’s previous results – and outscore both of their existing point totals.

The rest of the top five? Armenia, Russia, Macedonia. Armenia are better at being the bridesmaid than they are at being the bride, which is nothing to be ashamed of. Last year, I was convinced Mika would come second despite having everything required for a win, and I was right (for once). I have a similar feeling about Anahit & Mary – though really, anywhere in the 2nd-5th range of positions could come easily to them. Russia would be my ideal pick to emerge on top as Water of Life is my absolute favourite entry…but nobody’s talking about them as a potential winner anymore, and something is crooked enough about the chemistry and all-around appeal of the group and song on the JESC stage to convince me that it’s just not to be *wails like Rona Nishliu at a funeral*. Predicting Macedonia to make the top five may be a bit ambitious on my part (as I’m not sure the older jurors will go for it) but it deserves to be towards the top. If Martija doesn’t even grace the top ten with her presence, I will personally take it upon myself to beat up Jedward with an oversized can of hairspray (even if it wasn’t their fault).

sofia-fisenko-russia-water-of-life-project-jesc-2016-junior-eurovision-3-600x400

Russia has sent an incredible song to JESC this year, but it’s looking less likely than ever that they’ll be rewarded for it.

The lower left-hand side of the scoreboard? Georgia, Malta, Belarus, Italy. We’re talking 6th-9th places here, so just out of the top-ten-in-adult-Eurovision equivalent that is the top five. Georgia, if I’m honest and all of a sudden, could actually win (as it turns out, Mzeo is kind of epic and has been getting the round of applause to end all rounds of applause during rehearsals), but if they don’t, I think they’ll drop down to about 6th. Malta (my least favourite) will no doubt get a boost as the home country, but I just don’t think Parachute has the substance to squeeze into the top five á la Federica’s Diamonds in 2014. Belarus would be in with a better chance if televoting was happening (hello, hoverboards!) but as the situation stands, they may have to settle for less. I think Italy’s class will win over the adult juries to an extent, and perhaps the expert juries too, unless Cara Mamma is completely overshadowed by other ballads.

The upper right-hand side of the scoreboard? Israel, The Netherlands, Cyprus, Australia, Serbia. Each of these countries has something that’s likely to stop them from steamrolling over a lot of their rivals. For Israel, it’s going up against arguably stronger and more memorable ballads. For The Netherlands, it’s racking up the points when their song is geared more towards the kids’ jury than any of the others. For Cyprus, it’s bypassing the potential jury opinion that Dance Floor lacks the technicality of a worthy winner. For Australia, it’s the same issue Israel will have, as well as a general lack of ‘wow’ factor. And for Serbia, it’s an underwhelming presentation that has been closely compared to the superior one from Belarus. Together, they’ve got about 99 problems, and making it over to the left side of the scoreboard is definitely one.

australia-second-rehearsal

Australia hasn’t upped their game between 2015 and 2016 – so we shouldn’t expect a better result! Great outfit, though…

Right at rock bottom? Albania, Ukraine, Ireland. It causes me physical pain to predict such low places for two of these countries, but I really do think they’ll all have trouble capturing substantial votes from any of the juries – Ukraine and Ireland in particular. I’d love to be proven wrong and see Albania and Ukraine perform better, but I’m preparing myself for the worst.

 

These predictions – plus some highly scientific calculations which involved guessing which entries would appeal to which jury (kids, adults and/or expert) – come together to create a leaderboard that looks like this: 

  1. Bulgaria
  2. Armenia
  3. Poland 
  4. Russia
  5. Macedonia
  6. Georgia
  7. Malta
  8. Belarus
  9. Italy
  10. Israel
  11. The Netherlands
  12. Cyprus
  13. Australia
  14. Serbia
  15. Albania
  16. Ukraine
  17. Ireland

I reserve the right to delete this and pretend I never produced it if the real results are vastly different.

Do you agree or disagree with my guesses? Is there an obvious, in-the-bag winner in your opinion, or are we in for a shock that has all of our jaws on the floor?

  

Finally – the five things I’m most looking forward to seeing when JESC meets Malta again!

Because ten’s too many, and one would just be lazy.

  • Finding out how Malta has approached JESC in 2016 versus how they approached it in 2014. Will it be similar, yet somehow very different – and in many ways, so much better – as with the ESC in Malmö VS in Stockholm?
  • Finally checking out the performances from my favourites – and some of my non-favourites – after not watching any of the rehearsals in order to maintain an element of surprise. Russia, Poland, Macedonia, Cyprus and Australia (obviously) are among the countries I can’t wait to see on the stage for the first time.
  • Werking it when Poli Genova does her duty as an interval act. There’s no doubt she’ll bring back fond memories of the awkward white girl dancing I did during her opening party set at the Euroclub in May. SUCH GOOD TIMES.
poli_genova_at_jesc_2015

From last year’s host to this year’s ESC, Poli’s come full circle and rejoins the JESC party for 2016. Say yay!

  • Seeing some familiar faces back on the JESC stage – albeit as spokespersons when the adult jury points are announced. The 2015 artists who have been chosen to make a comeback of sorts are Mika from Armenia, Misha Smirnov from Russia, Ruslan Aslanov from Belarus (my winner of last year) and Anna Trincher from Ukraine. Reigning JESC champ Destiny Chukunyere will also be there to announce the kids jury results (after joining Poli as an interval act) and it’s always great to see her smiling face.
  • Watching the results unfold in a year with no precedent for what will take place. Honestly, I’ve based a big chunk of this post on wild guesses because I have no clue what the ending to the JESC 2016 story will be. It could be a happy one, if Russia, Bulgaria, Armenia or Poland take the win (to name a few); or an unhappy one, if Malta manage to do the double with a song that would be the Running Scared to Not My Soul’s Euphoria, if you know what I mean. I’m practically dying of curiosity at this point, so bring it on, Valletta!

What are you most looking forward to this afternoon/tonight/tomorrow morning/whenever? As long as it’s Junior Eurovision-related, I want to know. Although if it’s about your dog, I’m happy to have a conversation about that too.

 

Wherever you are and however you’re tuning in, I hope you have a very merry JESC, and get the results of your dreams (unless they’re different to the results of my dreams, in which case SCREW YOU I WANT IT TO GO MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY!!!).

 

Enjoy the show.

 

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REVIEWS | The EBJ Jury Judges Eurovision 2016 (Part 4)

Welcome to the halfway point of my quest to cram 43 Eurovision 2016 reviews into a far-too-short space of time! It’s been quite a rush so far (literally), and today, six more songs are under the scrutiny of my esteemed panel of ESC experts. But first, in case you’ve forgotten which countries came before this bunch, and/or what choice comments the EBJ Jury made about them, here’s your midway reminder:

  • Part 1 Croatia, France, Greece, Poland, Romania and Russia (reviewed by Rory from Ireland and Wolfgang from Germany)
  • Part 2 Belarus, Cyprus, Georgia, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland (reviewed by Mrs. Jaz and Fraser from Australia)
  • Part 3 Albania, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands, San Marino (reviewed by James and Martin from the UK)

Now we can move on to exposing the identities of Part 4’s jurors and countries, whether they like it or not. I’m sure they would, though. It is an honour AND a privilege to be associated with me, after all.

*AWKWARD SILENCE*

 

 TODAY’S EBJ JURORS

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It’s an almost all-American panel making the judgment calls this time. Nick, Penny and I are about to ramble on (and on some more, in my case) about Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, Montenegro and Spain. Dalal and Deen (AND Ana Rucner, AND Jala), Poli, Lighthouse X, Freddie, Highway and Barei are undoubtedly dying to hear our verdicts – so let’s get going!

 

 

Bosnia

Nick Ah, Balkan melodrama – one of my favorite Eurovision offerings. Bosnia & Herzegovina’s returning to the contest with flair, a fair amount being brought by the ever-exuberant Deen. His 2004 entry is actually a pretty big miss with me, so I’m happy he’s brought along this troupe of supporting characters, as Ljubav Je is a decent hit with me. The song grows nicely and it all flows pretty well together, until Jala comes in to mess things up (but in a good way). If the rap wasn’t there, the song would stagnate and have no good way of developing after that. Jala drives it home into the final chorus, and his is probably my favorite part of this entry. Also worth noting is the use of full Bosnian in this song, making it one of only three to go entirely non-English this year – and it’s the best of the three (sorry not sorry, Austria and FYR Macedonia). I do worry that it’s too contrived for the ESC, and that its big downfall will be that it doesn’t go down the standard Balkan ballad route, but I’m happy they took a chance with it. Let’s see if Europe rewards them.

Penny When BHRT announced that their 2016 song was going to involve a mash-up of styles, part of me was expecting a really bad mash-up of six songs fused together. After listening to Ljubav Je for the first time, it sounded like someone crossed Zauvijek Moja (Serbia & Montenegro 2005) with Jas Ja Imam Silata (FYR Macedonia 2010). I like Ana’s cello solo paired up with the drums, the gradual build-up of the song, and how Jala’s rap part fits in with everything else. I don’t have any idea what he’s saying, but at least he starts at the right point and does a syllable count before adding in his part so it doesn’t sound as jarring as a lot of people say. So, yay – the Balkan ballad quota of the year has been filled. But at the same time, I think I might be getting tired of the formula, because I can’t find that ‘magical’ aspect in the verses, despite them being performed well. Also, I’m still trying to get over the fact that Deen’s face has morphed into an Easter Island moai head (sorry, Deen).

Jaz Eurovision without a Balkan ballad would be like Melodifestivalen without schlager (yes, even in 2016): just plain weird. So I’m very thankful to my old mates B & H – plus Dalal, In-The-Disco-Deen, Ana Rucner and Jala – for delivering us from the evil of an atmospheric powerhouse-less contest. With Ljubav Je, they have also delivered us a Balkan ballad with a difference – namely, the rap. I can’t confess to having missed that element in Montenegro’s masterpiece Adio last year, but nor am I one of those people who think ‘rap’ puts the R-A-P in ‘crap’. The combo of ethnic and urban sounds that this song serves up is an interesting one, and I do think it works – the rap toughens up the classical beauty of the cello, while Dalal and Deen stay true to the step-by-step guide I’m sure exists entitled ‘How To Perform A Balkan Ballad’ (though it is a bit sad to see Deen removing all traces of 2004 hip-thrusting from his routine). And Jala’s entrance is more of an appealing surprise than a jarring one, in my opinion. BUT…not all Balkan ballads are created equal, and this is no Adio, Lejla or Lane Moje. It’s not even close. The overall feel is by-the-numbers and slightly half-hearted, and it doesn’t give me any goosebumps as the best of the BBs do. Still, I reckon this is an entry that will thrive live on the big stage, with all bells and whistles in place. It’s likely to be far more impressive and multidimensional then, when all memories of the low-budget video clip have (hopefully) been banished from our minds.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 4
  • Fraser 4
  • James 4
  • Jaz 7
  • Martin 5
  • Nick 5
  • Penny 7
  • Rory 5
  • Wolfgang 8

Bosnia & Herzegovina’s EBJ Jury score is…5.44

 

 

Bulgaria

Nick Another returning B country, Bulgaria’s also trotting out a returning artist: fandom queen and (debatably) wronged 2011 NQ Poli Genova. Her song was the last to be revealed this year, and dare I say, it was worth the agonising wait. If Love Was a Crime definitely sounds like it comes from the Balkans, but it’s got a smartly-applied layer of Swedish gloss that doesn’t distract from the intended sound (hear that, Cyprus?). The build-up into a drop using the chorus is an undeniably modern choice – especially for Eurovision – and it was even smarter to write in a Bulgarian-language hook that’ll get stuck in everyone’s heads come May. My main concern with this entry is that it’ll be really hard to stage in a way that highlights the song rather than holding it back. It’s not got that many opportunities for choreography, so it’ll be interesting to see what the Bulgarian delegation (one not known for stage direction) will do. Otherwise, I have no doubts that this will be one of the standout tracks of the year.

Penny First off, there’s a flute solo. Given what’s happened to other songs with flute solos (e.g. Lane Moje, Molitva and Only Teardrops), Poli’s probably in good company and should qualify. Throw that in with one of the most Ohrwurm-y refrains of the year, and she could get into the top half of the final. I wonder how many people will get ‘O, daj mi ljubovta’ simply by seeing the words printed on the screen or hearing Poli sing the song once. The song feels really light-hearted and fluffy in the verses, but then she gets to ‘If love was a crime, we would be criminals,’ and I can’t help but connect with the words despite them sounding really cheesy (thanks, S.O. whom I haven’t seen since November because of scheduling issues and constant technical difficulties). There’s also something really nice about the way she pronounces ‘miracles’ and ‘criminals’ in the song that I don’t know to describe…but it’s kind of like in songs that shove too many syllables into one line to show that there’s so much emotion/back story that it wouldn’t fit if it stayed in syllable count. So yes, I’ll be waving white-green-red in front of my laptop during ESC week.

Jaz All paths were leading to Poli Genova representing Bulgaria this year: her super-successful turn as 2015’s JESC host, her…ah…um…okay, so maybe there was just the one path. But it was still a logical choice for BNT to make – and a choice that was incredibly well-received by the fan community. I haven’t seen a single negative word Facebooked, Tweeted or Instagrammed about Poli, and the reaction to her second ESC entry If Love Was A Crime (the prequel to Frans’ If I Were Sorry, I presume) has been almost as positive. And why wouldn’t it be? This is a song that does pretty much everything right, ticking all boxes without being a goody two-shoes about it. Lyrically, the verses and pre-chorus are a little weak – I mean, I get that ‘If love was a crime, we would be criminals’ is a necessary evil in a song that hypothesises what would happen if love was, in fact, something you could get arrested for indulging in…but it’s such a predictable line. Still, I can’t criticise much else about this track. It’s contemporary (complete with weird non-human noise in the background), energetic, ultra catchy (particularly when Poli launches into the Bulgarian chorus, which even non-Bulgarian speakers can latch on to with ease) and memorable, mainly thanks to that hook. Factor in Poli’s proven ability as a live performer who always seems to enjoy herself on stage, and you’ve got Bulgaria’s best chance of a celebration-worthy result in a long time – perhaps EVER, given that their highest placing in history is 5th. I did say ‘perhaps’ – girl is going to have to fight for it. But, huge success in the offing or not, Bulgaria deserves a round of applause (and a round of drinks) for pulling Poli and not-Na-Inat-2.0 out of their hat.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 6
  • Fraser 10
  • James 12
  • Jaz 10
  • Martin 5
  • Nick 7
  • Penny 10
  • Rory 12
  • Wolfgang 6

Bulgaria’s EBJ Jury score is…8.67

 

 

Denmark

Nick Once again, Denmark’s choice of a seemingly run-of-the-mill boyband entry over an annoying female fanwank proved to set the fandom alight for no reason, as the superior song was picked. With either Simone or Anja hopping across the Øresund to Sweden, Denmark would be much further down on my list (especially with the latter, who’d occupy space 43 easily), so Lighthouse X is my personal savior. That being said, Soldiers of Love is still a pretty bland song that occupies the same area of the pop landscape as the Irish song this year. However, it does it so much better than Sunlight, and it ends up that Soldiers of Love is actually the song that shines. The music is written to be catchy and punchy, the occasional riffs on piano standing out in that aspect; and there’s a nice flow to it. It’s also one of the few entries this year that stands out more live than in studio, as the group’s voices add an extra layer that’s lacking in the studio version. Hopefully Europe will hear the difference in quality and send this boyband nouveau song through from semi two.

Penny Remember last year, when Norway’s Mørland said he did something terrible in his early youth? After DMGP, a lot of people would probably say that he stole a time machine, formed a band, went to the year 2016, entered Dansk Melodi Grand Prix, and angered every fan who wanted Simone or Anja Nissen to win. I’m just kidding, but does anyone else think one of the Lighthouse X guys looks like Mørland? While this was a bit of a surprise winner at the time and a tad cheesy (somewhere around sharp cheddar), I’ve warmed up to them and found myself singing along to the refrain of Soldiers of Love every time they show up. It’s cheery, makes me smile after having to endure multiple exams, and – as proven by their DMGP performance – they can pull it off live.

Jaz I know I should leave the past in the past and move the heck on, but you say ‘Denmark 2016’ and I say ‘How DARE you remind me of the most painful heartbreak I have ever experienced during a national final season?’. The hours I spent sobbing into my pillow (and whoever else’s pillow I came across during the grieving process) weren’t due to Anja Nissen’s so-close-but-so-far DMGP defeat, but to Simone’s shockingly distant third place (which left a heart-shaped hole in my chest…if only metaphorically). I simply did not see Lighthouse X coming – or the fact that their name is pronounced ‘Lighthouse Ten’ (Roman Numerals are rarely the first thing on my mind). I suppose I should have, since they satisfy every requirement in the Danish rulebook of selecting a Eurovision entry: they’re a generically good-looking act offering a competent but not-at-all risky or exciting pop song, and that (somehow) always gets the Danes voting in droves (possibly because that’s the bulk type of song they have to choose from, thanks to DR). Usually, it works for them at the ESC – qualifications, comfortable results, and an occasional win thrown in for adequate measure – but last year, it backfired. Yet we’re still getting more of the same! Having said all of that, I do like Soldiers of Love, and how easy on the eye the Lighthouse trio is. They look pretty and sound pretty singing a song that does most of the things it should in all the right places. The chorus is melodically strong and uplifting, even if every line of it is a cliché (you might even say it’s a cliché love song. Oh, the irony!). But…does it light my fire? Nope. I want it to melt my marshmallows, but all it does is brown them ever-so-slightly. Basically, it’s perfectly fine, and therefore very vanilla. Denmark might be all for safety first, but when countries think outside the box, that’s when they’re truly competing.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 2
  • Fraser 8
  • James 3
  • Jaz 8
  • Martin 5
  • Nick 5
  • Penny 8
  • Rory 4
  • Wolfgang 4

Denmark’s EBJ Jury score is…5.22

 

 

Hungary

Nick When I came to ranking these songs, I wanted to listen to the nightcore (sped-up and pitched-up) versions of each one to ease myself into the process. Usually, I end up liking those a little more, and Pioneer was no exception. In saying that, I still wanted the song to be over less than halfway through. Moving on to the regular live performance was even worse, as the one featured on the official channel had Freddie mumbling and screaming off-key on the A Dal stage. The song is a noisy mess that has no flow and clichéd motivational lyrics. It also does that horribly annoying thing where the singer draws out a word for no reason other than to fit the rhyme: see ‘real’ in the second line of the chorus. I’d almost appreciate the brashness of the music if everything else was done tactfully enough to let it shine…but as it stands, this is an absolute mess of an entry that should see Hungary out of the final for the first time since their return. Better luck next year.

Penny I couldn’t remember what this song sounded like until listening to over forty Top 43 ranking videos. And although I can now remember what (part of) it sounds like, I don’t understand how it’s in almost everyone’s top 10. The whistling in the verses and the grit in Freddie’s voice sounds nice, but Pioneer is a plodder and doesn’t do much for me. Sorry Freddie, but I’ll probably be getting food while you’re performing so I’m not hung(a)ry. The glow sticks and swirly background do remind me that I need to visit my local science museum though.

Jaz The A Dal final was full of fabulous potential Hungarian entries. For starters, none of them reminded me of Boggie or Wars For Nothing. Then we had the quirky hipster sing-along song from Petruska, epic ethnopop from Gergő Olah, and achingly cool alt-rock from Kalláy Saunders and his band. Rising to the top of them all in the end, though, was Freddie’s Pioneer, an early favourite. For me, there was something about this song from the start – something unique and raw that I was drawn to. The rawness, I guess, was mainly emanating from Freddie himself, who is far from being a smooth operator in the vocal department (that’s a compliment re: his gravelly voice, by the way). As the performer, he adds an authentic rough edge to a song that is an anthem á la Denmark’s, but without the cheese. I love everything about it – the minimalist construction, the whistling, the extremely powerful chorus that is bound to be explosive on the Eurovision stage…and how can I fail to mention the walking, talking hunk of eye candy that is Freddie (yes, I’m shallow. Get used to it). I’ve been saying for a few years now that Hungary are likely to win the contest sometime soon, and though it’s unlikely that 2016 is ‘soon’, I stand by those comments with Pioneer in mind. Also, Freddie, if you’re reading…yes, I am single, and waiting for your call. WINKFACE EMOJI.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 7
  • Fraser 6
  • James 5
  • Jaz 10
  • Martin 8
  • Nick 1
  • Penny 6
  • Rory 2
  • Wolfgang 12

Hungary’s EBJ Jury score is…6.33

 

 

 Montenegro

Nick Okay, can we take a minute to recognise ‘I see you inside me’ as one of the creepiest lyrics of this year? In fact, my biggest hang-up with this entry is the vaguely stalkerish imagery that’s present throughout the song. Musically, I’m a big fan of the acid rock/dubstep crossover, but the lyrics and vocals throw me off. Deep voices aren’t usually my thing to begin with, and they’re especially not when I’m being crooned at with such lyrics as ‘I’m gonna run, gonna feel good.’ Assuage me of fears that does not, and it really harms what could’ve been a strong entry. Montenegro’s track record – one that astonishingly includes a song like The Real Thing, 2013’s Most Wrong Entry™ Igranka – tells me that they’ll probably meet the same fate they did when the contest was last in Sweden. However, this time, I’ll probably be a little less bitter about losing them.

Penny Montenegro has decided: two years of Balkan ballads was nice, but there’s more to the ex-Yugo music scene. It looks like that means it’s time to send an entry closer to Who See’s than Knez’s. When I first heard The Real Thing after its presentation, all I could think was, ‘What IS this noise?’ – and that it sounded like a bunch of random people who all wanted to play their instruments as loudly as possible. As of so far, the only lyrics I can understand are still ‘Inside you’ and ‘Feel it; I’m the real thing, yeah.’ It’s not my favorite genre, and I still need to put in effort and energy to focus on the song, but it doesn’t deserve the bottom-three hate that it seems to get in YouTube rankings. Also, I’m still really confused as to what this “real thing” that Highway talk about is. Does it mean that they’re real people? Or are they just not hiding their identities?

Jaz In stark contrast to the previous two acts, Montenegro is sending a group to Stockholm who are NOT incredibly attractive (in my opinion). Why does that matter? Well, it doesn’t – I just thought I’d mention it to remind you that it’s not just what’s inside that counts, especially at Eurovision (and to remind you that I’m a judgmental jerk and proud of it). Anyway…the song! After the 2015 Montenegrin masterpiece that was Adio, we’ve been given what is allegedly The Real Thing – and though I know which one I prefer, I have to applaud Montenegro for showing variety, and Highway for staying true to their style (otherwise, they’d be performing a song called Not Exactly The Real Thing). Like Penny, I don’t agree with everyone who has Highway right at the rear end of their rankings. I’d even go so far as to say that I enjoy this track. It’s Georgia 2.0 for me: I don’t know why I like it exactly, and it’s not in the genre ballpark that I normally hang out in, but I’m on board nonetheless. If we compartmentalise it, we’ve got a) verses that are actually very well-produced and current, b) a chorus that is noisy, yes, but was made for rocking out to, and c) a guitar riff that sticks. It’s surprisingly cohesive when strung together for three minutes. I’m not seeing it through rose-coloured glasses here – I know it’s not going to go anywhere. But in spite of that, it floats my boat. No lifejacket required!

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 8
  • Fraser 1
  • James 1
  • Jaz 8
  • Martin 5
  • Nick 5
  • Penny 5
  • Rory 1
  • Wolfgang 0

Montenegro’s EBJ Jury score is…3.78

 

 

Spain

Nick It’s a sign of the times: Spain’s finally thrown off the Spanish and is going full English for the first time. Putting aside my disappointment at Eurovision’s continued slide into linguistic homogeny, I must admit that this song lends itself well to the language, although that’s just my backhanded way of saying it’s kind of anonymous. Barei’s the undoubted star of the show in this entry, as her exuberance onstage adds so much to what’s otherwise a drop in the bucket of up-tempo, feel-good songs. That’s not to say the song doesn’t have its positives – the verses are nicely orchestrated and the English lyrics aren’t as cringey as they could’ve been. But it is lacking a distinctly Spanish flair that Barei’s making up for. Whether that will deliver Spain a better result than Edurne’s shriekfest (that was overrated at 21st, if you ask me) is up for debate, but I have a suspicion this year’s result will tend more toward Pastora Soler territory.

Penny While I’m a little disappointed that there won’t be any Spanish in the contest this year, this entry is already an improvement on 2015’s, since a) Barei can hit all the notes and b) her song feels a bit more ‘honest’ (as in, she seems to be telling her own story instead of someone else’s). It’s also really nice to have the one flashmob song of the contest, given that Barei’s been doing that dance for every single performance and in almost every interview; and that Say Yay is really catchy and easy to sing along to. Then again, how hard is learning ‘Say yay, yay, yay’, or ‘Sing it, la, la, la, la’? However, while I’d definitely sing and dance along if someone else played the song, I don’t know if I’d actively search for the song since the backing music makes it sound like it’s something my dentist would play, or one of six (yes, six) songs that would play over the bakery radio at work (I will confirm that this sounds way better than dental drills or the oven buzzer though).

Jaz Like A Dal, this year’s Spanish final was packed with awesome potential ESC entries. I would say Barei was among that bunch with Say Yay!,  but she wasn’t my first, second, third or even fourth choice to represent her country. I have no problem with her – she’s a great singer with a interesting catch in her voice, and she brims with personality and energy on stage. Plus, on the whole, Say Yay! is a modern, effervescent dance number that practically prohibits you from standing still. However, there’s an aspect of it that screams ‘background music’ to me – maybe it’s the largely instrumental chorus. Whatever the source, I just don’t feel like it makes enough of a statement as a standalone song to win Eurovision. There’s no doubt it has the ability to do well for Spain, particularly when pedaled by someone who sells it like Barei does. But overall, I find it a little wallpaper-like. It’s there, and it’s nice, but I’m not going to be paying that much attention to it when there’s opulent statement furniture elsewhere in the room.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 1
  • Fraser 12
  • James 7
  • Jaz 7
  • Martin 10
  • Nick 5
  • Penny 7
  • Rory 6
  • Wolfgang 6

Spain’s EBJ Jury score is…6.78

 

 

And we have a runaway winner! Of this round, that is. Shockingly, it isn’t Montenegro. 

  1. Bulgaria (8.67)
  2. Spain (6.78)
  3. Hungary (6.33)
  4. Bosnia & Herzegovina (5.44)
  5. Denmark (5.22)
  6. Montenegro (3.78)

Bulgaria takes this one out in impressive fashion – but will they do the same (or even remotely similar) at Eurovision itself? Are we totally off the mark relegating Spain to second place? Has my undying love for boybands influenced my decision on Denmark, or would you agree that it’s bland, but not bad? I have so many questions, and you can provide the answers in the comments below. If you don’t, the chances of Ani Lorak returning to the ESC will decrease by 33.33%.

Speaking of returnees…next time, my mother and Germany’s very own Wolfgang will be back to have their say on Azerbaijan, Belgium, Iceland, Israel, Latvia and the United Kingdom. You might be surprised by the songs that go down well with those two. Then again, you might not – it depends on how easily you’re surprised. Either way, don’t forget to drop by!

 

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SUPER SATURDAY (AND SUNDAY) #3 | Two new 2016 tracks, controversial contest changes and a few fantastic finals!

It’s that time again, guys. Another February weekend is upon us, and it’s another frantic one. BRILLIANT! *dances on her own á la Robyn*.

Without further ado, let’s whip out that NF calendar and see what’s on the program for today and tomorrow.

This evening:

  • Estonia’s Eesti Laul – the second semi final (go, Grete Paia, go!)
  • Finland’s UMK – the third semi final (with three more final tickets up for grabs)
  • Hungary’s A Dal – the second semi final (can returnees Passed…well, pass?)
  • Iceland’s Söngvakeppnin – the final (it’s Greta Salomé’s for the taking)
  • Lithuania’s Eurovizijos – the seventh show (for god’s sake, Lithuania, just get on with it!)
  • Sweden’s Melodifestivalen – the third semi final (SAY YAY YAY YAY)

On Sunday night:

  • Latvia’s Supernova – the semi final (feat. fan favourite Justs)
  • Ukraine’s Still-Untitled NF – the final (it’s going to be an epic showdown)

Okay, so it’s not quite as crazy as last weekend. But I’m hoping it won’t be as disappointing, either (Ukraine, I’m looking at you. Don’t do a Denmark). For today’s reviews and predictions, I’m narrowing my scope and focusing purely on the goings-on in Sweden and Ukraine – and throwing in some thoughts on the songs and shocks of the week while I’m at it.

Let’s get cracking.

 

 

STOCKHOLM UPDATE: Two more entries make eleven + the stage is set + point changes + Poli = spontaneous combustion

Whew! This week has been bigger than Linda Wagenmaker’s tent dress when it comes to ESC 2016 news, with song presentations, artist announcements and voting revamps all bombarding us within a short space of time. For those of you still standing there shaking your heads and wondering what the heck is going on, here’s a recap of the most newsworthy headlines from the week just gone.

Bosnia & Herzegovina, back with a bang? Ljubav Je by Dalal & Deen feat. Ana Rucner & Jala (try saying that sentence three times fast when drunk. Or when sober – it won’t really make a difference) was premiered last night, but did it meet expectations? Well, that depends on what your expectations were. Personally, I was hoping for some Balkan drama, and I would say I got it. There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen here – specifically, two vocalists, a violinist and a rapper – and they all came together (SLOGAN JOKE) to film a video clip on par with Mihai Traistariu’s Paradisio in terms of tackiness (though this one probably cost five Euros as opposed to 15 000). But…I like this track. It’s bringing ethnicity to a field that is, so far, lacking in sounds that say ‘This is where we come from’. I suspect Ljubav Je will be bigger and better on stage than it is in studio, but we’ll have to wait and see how it travels. One thing’s for sure: it’s hard to associate 2016 Deen with the hip-thrusting, bleached-blonde Deen from 2004. Are we sure it’s the same person?

deennt

Hair today, gone tomorrow…well, gone twelve years later.

Georgia’s Midnight Gold: Nika Kocharov & the Young Georgian Lolitaz officially have their tune for the contest too, and it’s…un-Eurovision, to say the least. But I have to say, I’m digging it! It’s very reminiscent of Australian alt-rock, which is not normally a genre I enjoy – but there’s something cool about Georgia’s take on it. It will do horribly at Eurovision (no Midnight Gold or any-other-time gold for Nika and his pals) but I’m happy to do some lethargic head-banging to it nonetheless.

Stockholm’s stage design, revealed: Ja – and it’s a whopper! This year’s stage has been met with overwhelming approval, with many fans citing an aversion to Vienna’s as their reason for loving Stockholm’s so much (which is a little mean, IMO). I reckon the giant, geometric performance platform will look ultra-impressive in real life. Plus, it’ll apparently allow the artists to move “within” an LED backing wall, which will be interesting and/or painful if done incorrectly.

svtss

Round is out, and angles are in. (Photo Credit: SVT)

Chasing a nail-biting conclusion, the EBU approve a massive voting overhaul: Less popular with fans was the announcement that contest voting – or at least, the method of presenting points – will change in a massive way by taking inspiration from Melodifestivalen. Basically, the jury points will be handed out as usual, with spokespersons doing their 8, 10 and 12 duties. But later on, our gracious and good-looking hosts Måns and Petra (#Måntra) will proceed to award the collective televoting points, from lowest to highest, to each country. On the surface, I love the idea – after all, it keeps the winner secret until the last possible second, meaning there can be no more early exclamations of ‘It’s no longer possible for any other country to win!’ (which I only just finished complaining about over on ESC Insight). But, as with anything, there are pros and cons to the change. Both have been explored in more detail than I could dream of by the folks at Insight (who are not paying me to promote them, by the way) so hit that article up if you want the whole picture.

Poli Genova doing her duty for Bulgaria, again: To nobody’s surprise, Junior Eurovision 2015 hostess and Eurovision 2011 alumni Poli is back for a second crack at escaping her semi final. I think the majority of us agree she should have qualified in Düsseldorf, so now’s her chance to get revenge. On whom, I’m not quite sure. But she’s amazing, so let’s hope her song is the same.

 

Speaking of amazing music…let’s move on to Sweden and Ukraine, the locations of this weekend’s best NF installments as far as I’m concerned.

No offence to Iceland, or anywhere else, intended.

 

 

SWEDEN: Melfest’s next stop = Norrköping!

It’s hard to believe we’re at the halfway point of the six-week Melfest saga already. And, due to the recent Molly Sandén Incident (a.k.a. Leakgate), we’ve already heard snippets or full versions of every competing song for 2016. We’ve heard the host entry, in some capacity. Which song will have that title bestowed on it remains a mystery – especially in the lead-up to a semi as strong as this evening’s. I’m just saying, don’t put all your savings down on Ace or Molly S just yet.

Deltävling 3 looks like this:

  1. Kizunguzungu by SaRaha
  2. You Carved Your Name by Swingfly feat. Helena Gutarra
  3. Weight of the World by Smilo
  4. Kom Ut Som En Stjärna by After Dark
  5. My Heart Wants Me Dead by Lisa Ajax
  6. Put Your Love On Me by Boris René
  7. Human by Oscar Zia
melodifestivalen-artister-norrkoping-650x340

Aw, they all look so happy. Well, some of them do.

The first comment I have to make is this: ‘Kizunguzungu’ is my new favourite word. I have absolutely no idea what it means – if anything – but SaRaha is having it given to her by the object of her affection, so I’m guessing it means ‘an expensive, diamond-studded Rolex’ or something like that. Or, you know…the other thing.

But I’m not here to deliver a sex talk, so let’s move on to my second, less smutty comment: this semi is TOO DAMN GOOD. There are more than four songs I want to see advance, and knowing that’s impossible is driving me crazy. #firstworldmelfestfanproblems. I’m pretty convinced that, while one ticket till final is more or less taken by a certain someone who may or may not be performing in slot seven, the other – and the two second chances – could be anybody’s.

These are the songs I’d like to see fighting over places one to four:

  • Weight of the World The Svensktoppen Nästa winners always bring something special to Melfest, and they’re NEVER rewarded for it. I sincerely hope Smilo are the exception, because their blend of tropical house (their words, not mine) and Avicii-style folk-dance is the bomb. I really love this. It may not be a great performance piece, though.
  • My Heart Wants Me Dead I’ve been familiar with Lisa ever since her unsuccessful JESC bid a few years back, and I’m so happy she’s popped up in Melfest. Her song is a little bit Selena Gomez, a little bit Zara Larsson, and 100% killer. She won over the Swedish public on Idol…can she do the same tonight?
  • Put Your Love On Me Not bad for a footballer! If Panetoz sung in English, this is just the kind of thing I’d expect them to come out with, and that’s a huge plus. The chorus is repetitive, but when a song’s this irresistibly catchy, who cares? Not me.
  • Human Last, but not least (he is, in fact, my favourite) is the beautiful creature that is Oscar Zia. His second attempt to represent Sweden comes with a maturity that was lacking in his last Melfest entry Yes We Can. Human is a contemporary, ear-catching power ballad that will end tonight’s performances with a bang, and a ticket to the final. Watch out, Ace/Molly S.

PS – I also love the joyous Afro-pop of Kizunguzungu. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: anything that could have made the cut for The Lion King soundtrack is guaranteed to be up my street.

So, who’s going direkt? I DON’T KNOW!!! Besides Oscar, of course. Him aside, I need major help. I’m leaning towards SaRaha or Lisa, but this is such a tough semi, I can’t split them – and there’s always the chance of someone else sneaking through (apart from After Dark). I don’t want to sit on the fence, so I’ll be brave and say Oscar…and SaRaha.

Who’s off to Andra Chansen? Swingfly and Lisa? Smilo and Lisa? This bit’s just as hard to predict. I think Smilo’s song is stronger than Swingfly’s, but a precedent has been sent for Svensktoppen wildcards to fail at the first hurdle. I’m going to stick with Swingfly and Lisa.

 

What do you think? This semi is the most competitive yet, so we’re likely to see another surprise (such as Isa’s failure to go straight to the final last week). Who’s off to Friends Arena, who’s getting a second chance, and who’s going home to consume copious tubs of ice cream in the wake of a crushing defeat?

 


UKRAINE: Six sensational songs must become one…so who IS the one?

It’s not as clear-cut a final as you might think.

ukr16

Based on the results of the two semi finals, the frontrunners are Jamala and SunSay. But, with staging and costuming supposedly being ramped up for Sunday’s show (how The Hardkiss are planning on upping their costume game, I don’t know) – and the desire to win burning feverishly in the six acts’ bodies (I assume) – anything is possible. Ukraine can choose between very good and superb when it comes to the cream of their crop. That’s these guys:

  1. Every Monday by Brunettes Shoot Blondes
  2. Higher by NuAngels 
  3. Helpless by The Hardkiss
  4. 1944 by Jamala
  5. Love Manifest by SunSay
  6. We Do Change by Pur:Pur 

THEY’RE ALL SO GOOD. There’s nothing here that I would turn my nose up at in the context of this NF – but there are songs that would make better Eurovision entries than others, and songs I personally prefer.

My top three 1944, Higher and Helpless. As I said when I reviewed the first semi, I hated Jamala’s song in 2011, but she has blown me away this time around. 1944 is stunning. Poignant and unique, it blends 90s sounds with now sounds to create something that’s sentimental in the least nauseating way possible. And her vocal? Wow. I have no other words. NuAngels and The Hardkiss don’t even measure up, but they do have great songs up their sleeves. Higher is as catchy as heck, and the anti-Cezar nature of the ladies’ voices is a talking point (I think they took outfit advice from Cezar, funnily enough). As a package, this entry could serve Ukraine well at Eurovision. The Hardkiss have an intense, melancholy-but-powerful ballad in Helpless, which is wonderfully dramatic (it needs to be used to back a movie trailer, stat). If they make it to Eurovision, they’d have the potential to pull an Alyosha, should the scene be suitably set.

Who should win? Yes, I have three favourites – but the fairest of them all is Jamala, by a mile. This final has the potential to devastate me like Denmark’s did, should she not win. 1944, though kind of controversial in subject matter, is hauntingly beautiful and incredibly alluring (no bells, whistles or fire curtains are required to make it stand out). Nothing else in this final stacks up in terms of substance or style. I feel like everything happens for a reason, and in this case, I think Jamala lost out back in 2011 so she could come back with 1944 in 2016 (if that made any sense) and win her way to the ESC with zero cheese involved. Make it happen, Eurovision gods…or even Kanye West will cower in terror at the sheer force of my tantrum.

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How could anyone say no to that face?

Who will win? It’s between Jamala, SunSay and NuAngels, I’m thinking. The former two acts won their respective semis, but should voters and jurors be divided when the pair go head-to-head, NuAngels could be the ones to nab the bulk percentage of points (making them this week’s Lighthouse X, only female and in possession of a more memorable song). Ultimately, my heart and head say Jamala. But is that wishful thinking? You tell me.

 

Seriously, tell me. If you have any hopes, dreams or expectations for this weekend’s NF results – and not just concerning the NFs I’ve rambled about today – let me know below. Is Greta Salomé a shoo-in to win in Iceland? Could Melfest’s fan favourite (and mine) Oscar Zia stumble and end up in Andra Chansen? Spill, people. You know you want to.

 

I’m going to say goodbye for now, but if you want to catch up with me on Twitter tonight (during Melfest) and tomorrow night (during the Ukrainian show), tweet me @EurovisionByJaz. I can’t guarantee any particular country’s outcome, but I can guarantee hilarious banter. That’s just as good, right?

 

Until next time…

 

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Malta fulfill their Destiny: Looking over the performances (and the leaderboard) of JESC 2015

Since Junior Eurovision 2015 came to a conclusion on Saturday night, I’m sure you’re already aware that we have our winner. Even if you’re repulsed by the mere mention of mini-Eurovij, you’d have heard that Malta’s Destiny Chukunyere destroyed her competition and clinched the tiny island’s second victory in three years with the party-starting Not My Soul. The thirteen-year-old triumphed over Armenia’s Mika by nine points – quite a massive margin by JESC standards – and in the process, nabbed the record for the highest-ever score in the contest. Mika has a record of his own to take home, too, scoring the highest amount of points for a non-winner in Junior history.

Although I did call Malta to win, it wasn’t the outcome I was hoping for (and even though Armenia wasn’t my ideal winner, I would have preferred them to take it out instead). But you can’t help being happy for a country that is fast becoming to JESC what Sweden is to ESC – i.e. a superpower. Plus, there’s no denying that Destiny is an incredible talent, and it’s likely we’ll see her pop up in Malta’s NF MESC the split second she’s sixteen. She’ll be shattering windows and Ming vases simultaneously with her voice by then, so there’s something to look forward to (unless you’re the owner of said windows/vases).

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I’ll get back to the results later on in this post. Right now, I’m going to answer the question nobody asked: what did I think of Bulgaria’s first-ever Eurovision event?

Well, there’s not much I could complain about. The stage was super-cool, and like last year’s, could easily accommodate the adult contest. Hostess Poli was confident and competent, and sported a hairstyle that only she – and maybe Gwen Stefani – could rock. The postcards showed off Bulgaria’s beauty to the fullest, and featured the contestants for the first time since 2013 (I was hoping that’d make a comeback). And the interval acts were actually reasonably entertaining (meaning I didn’t traipse outside to watch my lawn grow while waiting for the show to go on). Sweeping a bit of shoddy camera-work aside, I’d say that the exercise was a big success for Bulgaria – and hopefully a good practice run for hosting Eurovision sometime while I’m still around to see it (though as countries like Portugal have competed for 40+ years and never won, I won’t hold my breath…and as some countries continue to nail JESC and fail ESC, I ALSO won’t hold my breath. Basically, no breath of mine will be held over this).

Now, the biggest drawcard of any Eurovision event is the performances of the participants, right? *assumes you all agreed enthusiastically*. So let’s have a look back at the seventeen acts that battled it out for a place on the figurative podium (there should be an actual podium, I reckon), to see who shone, who needed more polishing, and who…well, the terminology I was going to use would be too cruel for children.

 

From Serbia to Montenegro and everyone in-between, here are my thoughts on the competing seventeen!

These are all my own opinions, of course, and you are free to agree or disagree in the comments. Let’s get cracking so you know just what you’re agreeing/disagreeing with!

Serbia A very red, and violent – what with all those arm movements (no wonder there were no backing dancers…at least one of them would have ended up with a black eye) – performance from Lena opened the show. She had amazing intensity for someone who ordinarily, I’d want to pinch the cheeks of because they’re SO CUTE, and vocally, she was almost entirely on point – that shaky final note the exception. Much ljubav for the lyrically-aligned hand tatts!

Vocals 9/10 Staging 8/10 Costumes 9/10 Overall 8.5/10

 

Georgia Speaking of intensity, The Virus’ front man Data was frighteningly intense during Georgia’s performance. The group’s choreography and vocals weren’t as slick as what we’re used to from Georgia, and I felt like a bit of energy was missing. The girls’ costumes were great though. I love me some houndstooth, and I suppose it’s more sophisticated than the pajamas and towel turbans I was expecting/hoping for.

Vocals 7/10 Staging 6/10 Costumes 8.5/10 Overall 7/10

 

Slovenia I could listen to Lina sing all day long, so I was really looking forward to song number three. Vocally, she did not disappoint – the clarity of her voice was unreal. Her cutesey dress and sparkly sneakers also got my tick of approval, but I wasn’t 100% sold on the Frozen-esque visuals Slovenia opted for. I feel like a cool lighting scheme (a spotlight and some of Serbia’s redness, perhaps) would have been more suitable.

Vocals 10/10 Staging 8/10 Costumes 9/10 Overall 9/10

 

Italy The reigning champions (in case the overwhelming Bulgarian-ness made you forget that Italy won last year) put on a pretty good show, better than I thought they would. It was fun and competent, though lacked a little charisma. I loved the graffiti-type backdrop, which made the somewhat dated Viva feel fresher. You could say it brought the song back to viva. Or you could not be annoying like I am, and leave puns out of it.

Vocals 8.5/10 Staging 8/10 Costumes 7/10 Overall 8/10

 

The Netherlands Shalisa is so gorgeous, and would have lit up the camera even without her shiny jacket on and those candles burning. I love Million Lights, but it’s not particularly cohesive, and neither were the accompanying dancers – I didn’t really get how some of their moves related to the song. ‘Disjointed’ is how I’d describe the sound and staging, as much as I want to say otherwise.

Vocals 8.5/10 Staging 6/10 Costumes 8/10 Overall 7/10

 

Australia My eyes were moist during Bella’s turn, so I hate to imagine what state her mother was in. Another Australian debut was always going to be a big moment for me, and I applaud our well-choreographed and attractively metallic stage show. Bella’s Christina Aguilera impression was bang-on, too (#shegotthegrowl), and I adored her pants as much as I moon over Måns Zelmerlow’s leather pair…though for different reasons.

Vocals 9.5/10 Staging 9.5/10 Costumes 9.5/10 Overall 9.5/10

 

Ireland Following directly on from an excellent debut performance was another excellent debut performance – albeit one that lost its ability to spine-tingle thanks to some distracting graphics. That dodgy, badly-animated floating ship behind Aimee made me seasick. Dry ice was used to its maximum potential here, however, and it looked like Aimee was floating on the ocean herself. Fortunately it didn’t invade her lungs and ruin her vocals.

Vocals 9/10 Staging 6.5/10 Costumes 10/10 Overall 8/10

 

Russia Wow. Unexpected wow. This really impressed me! As much as I like Mechta, I was convinced Mikhail’s live rendition would be flat and boring (like it was at the Russian NF). But Russia seemed to have cut a mix of the song that had far greater impact in the arena. I loved the mood set by the moon prop and the dry ice (boy, that machine got a workout on Saturday), the dancer, the appropriately dreamy feel created by the blue and white colour scheme…it was all lovely. Well done, Russia.

Vocals 8.5/10 Staging 10/10 Costumes 9/10 Overall 9/10

 

FYR Macedonia Okay, bad bits: the vocals were in tune but a bit wobbly, and the costumes looked like they’d been fished out of a charity shop bargain bin after Britney Spears had dropped off a load of stuff circa 1999. The good bits? Well, Ivana and Magdalena avoided creating car-crash TV (that came later) and seemed to have fun on stage. Energetic choreography and good stage presence all round helped elevate this from amateur to enjoyable.

Vocals 7/10 Staging 8.5/10 Costumes 6/10 Overall 7/10

 

Belarus This was everything I was hoping it would be, Volshebstvo being my favourite entry of the year (in case you weren’t around when I mentioned that the other 500 times). Belarus used the backdrop to perfection, and Ruslan’s vocals were insanely good, as always. His camera and crowd engagement was top-notch until he finished off with that ultra cheesy wink (WHY, RUSLAN, WHY?). Pretending that never happened, I’d call this the total package.

Vocals 10/10 Staging 9.5/10 Costumes 10/10 Overall 9.5/10

 

Armenia Mika also had a (bright pink) package, signed, sealed and delivered to the door of victory…or something like that. Armenia’s stage show would have been drooled over by Georgia, who didn’t carry off the boy/girl/girl/girl dynamic half as well (plus, effortless, quirky fun used to be their forte). Mika is such a little star, and I think he’s going to have a bright future – perhaps as an Armenian representative in adult Eurovision one day (he said he’d be happy to do it when he answered my question during the winners’ press conference!).

Vocals 9.5/10 Staging 10/10 Costumes 10/10 Overall 9.5/10

 

Ukraine Waterfalls, sharks, forests, mechanical human-sized flowers…a list of what Ukraine didn’t incorporate into Anna’s stage show would be shorter than a list of what they did. This was OTT, even by Eurovision standards, with too many colours and too many vistas on the backdrop making things messy. Anna’s Pochny z Sebe is like a vanilla cupcake, not a ten-tiered marzipan-enrobed masterpiece fit for a royal wedding – it only needed minimal decoration.

Vocals 8.5/10 Staging 6/10 Costumes 7/10 Overall 7/10

 

Bulgaria Not bad, Bulgaria. There was possibly a bit too much going on here as well (rainbows! Ribbons! Unflattering cummerbunds!) but in comparison to Ukraine, Gabriela and Ivan’s performance was simplicity personified. Both kids’ vocals were strong individually, and together…well, it could have been much worse.

Vocals 9/10 Staging 7/10 Costumes 8.5/10 Overall 8.5/10

 

San Marino Epic staging and brilliant costumes couldn’t disguise the weaknesses in Kamilla’s voice, and she looked very uncomfortable on stage (whether that was due to nerves or her Aliona Moon-esque height off the ground, I don’t know). With a more competent vocalist, this could have been a contender for the top five.

Vocals 5/10 Staging 10/10 Costumes 10/10 Overall 7/10

 

Malta Destiny can sing – we all know that. She certainly didn’t emit a single off-key note on the night, and did her best to full up a big stage without the aid of backing singers, dancers, or trumpet players. Her personality and stage presence are larger than life, but I still wish she’d had some (or all) of the above with her. Company is what her performance was missing for me, because it certainly wasn’t missing soul (obvs, since THEY CAN NEVER TAKE AWAY HER SOUUUUUUL) or spark.

Vocals 10/10 Staging 7.5/10 Costumes 7/10 Overall 7.5/10

 

Albania Mishela is another soloist who could have used some backup to bring her song to life, but again, I really liked her performance anyway. Her voice is amazing, and so was that dress (though I know I’m in the minority, I wouldn’t give her a Junior Barbara Dex Award). If I could have given her some advice beforehand, I would have said ‘Smile! This is JESC, not a funeral’. It definitely wasn’t the death of Albania’s JESC journey, if her eventual result is anything to go by.

Vocals 10/10 Staging 7/10 Costumes 10/10 Overall 8.5/10

 

Montenegro Oh dear. What WASN’T wrong with this? Unsuitable colour scheme and costumes, half-hearted attempts to create a fun, tropical atmosphere on stage, and woeful vocals were all present and accounted for. Judging by the way Jana fiddled with her earpiece, then hissed at her backing dancers as soon as she struck her final pose, I’d say some technical problems may have been afoot. Hell hath no fury like a woman with a malfunctioning in-ear monitor.

Vocals 5/10 Staging 6/10 Costumes 5/10 Overall 5/10

 

That was the show from my point of view, and based on the marks I’ve awarded as if I’m a musical theatre teacher examining my protégées, here’s my ranking of the performances:

  1. Armenia
  2. Belarus
  3. Australia
  4. Slovenia
  5. Russia
  6. Albania
  7. Serbia
  8. Bulgaria
  9. Italy
  10. Ireland
  11. Malta
  12. FYR Macedonia
  13. San Marino
  14. Ukraine
  15. Georgia
  16. The Netherlands
  17. Montenegro

Hmm…that doesn’t quite match up with the actual results, does it?

 

Taking a look at the leaderboard

Speaking of which, here are the actual results, for anyone who needs a refresher (which I would totally understand given that I’m so late in posting this wrap-up…as usual):

  1. Malta (185)
  2. Armenia (176)
  3. Slovenia (112)
  4. Belarus (105)
  5. Albania (93)
  6. Russia (80)
  7. Serbia (79)
  8. Australia (64)
  9. Bulgaria (61)
  10. Georgia (51)
  11. Ukraine (38)
  12. Ireland (36)
  13. Montenegro (36)
  14. San Marino (36)
  15. The Netherlands (35)
  16. Italy (34)
  17. FYR Macedonia (26)

There’s only so much you can say without knowing the split results (even though they might not prove to be that interesting). I’ll save a more in-depth scoreboard analysis for when they’re released, but here’s a few observations for the meantime.

  • Malta’s win marks their third top five result in a row – not bad for a country that only squeezed in to that section of the scoreboard once during their first eight years of participation.
Malta-Champion-Destiny-Chukunyere-Credit-EBU-Elena-Volotova-Vladimir-Dudakliev-604x272

How could you NOT be happy for that face? (Photo: EBU, Elena Volotova/Vladimir Dudakliev)

  • Armenia’s second place takes their total of runner-up trophies to three. They have also won once and come third twice, and are yet to finish outside of the top ten.
  • Five countries achieved their best placements ever in 2015: Slovenia, Albania, Australia, Ireland and Montenegro. For Australia and Ireland, that was always going to be the case; but two-time competitor Slovenia reached the top three for the first time in any Eurovision event, and Albania equaled their best-ever ESC result from 2012. DambaYAY!
  • Italy, on the other hand, experienced a fall from grace that could only have been more unfortunate if they’d come last. From winning last year on their debut to just sidestepping last place, it’s hard to predict how they’ll fare if they decide to return in 2016.
  • Belarus added to their collection of commendable results with Ruslan’s fourth place. They have now won twice, come third twice, and appeared in the top five eight times out of thirteen participations. The same can’t be said about their record in the adult contest…
  • Bulgaria might have done better than many of us expected, but they actually performed pretty poorly for a host entry. The past five home representatives have finished 4th (Malta in Malta, 2014), 2nd (Ukraine in Kyiv, 2013), 7th (the Netherlands in Amsterdam, 2012), 5th (Armenia in Yerevan, 2011) and 5th again (Belarus in Minsk, 2010).
  • FYR Macedonia (a.k.a. the Norway of JESC) came last for the third time in Sofia. IMO, there was a different country starting with ‘M’ that should have taken out the wooden spoon this year.
  • If you’re wondering how my pre-show predictions panned out, then prepare to laugh at my ineptitude! Yes, I did peg Malta as a possible winner, but I only guessed three of the top five correctly – Malta, Armenia and Belarus – and unlike last year, only predicted one country in the exact right place (FYR Macedonia in 17th). I massively underestimated Albania (though can you blame me?) and massively OVERestimated Australia (I blame bias for that one). How did you do?

 

I’m going to take my leave now in order to wallow in the murky waves of PJED (Post-Junior Eurovision Depression) – although the prospect of the upcoming delayed Aussie broadcast of the show, complete with our own commentary team and whatnot, is easing the pain. I’ll be back with a fun-sized amount of further JESC coverage before looking ahead to Stockholm 2016 – a party that we’ve just discovered will be attended by a) Bosnia and Herzegovina (where did they end up getting funding from? I hope to hell it wasn’t Ralph Siegel) and b) Kaliopi, Miss Congeniality of the world. I will be there too, but how much ‘there’ might depend on tomorrow’s ticket sales working in my favour. Wish me luck as I attempt to snap up the same thing that everybody else wants!

 

Until next time,

 

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Bulgaria, Lithuania select in the lead-up to Eurovision’s biggest weekend!

 This week has been a busy one so far, as national finals go, and watch out, because it’s about to get a whole lot busier!

Every year, Eurovision has a weekend of selection madness, marked down on every fan’s calendar as the one to watch. In 2011, it’s the 25th to the 27th – a.k.a. tomorrow to Sunday! Tonight, the previously AWOL Austria, and the always reliable Turkey, choose/reveal their entries; Saturday will see Latvia, Estonia, Moldova, Serbia, Denmark and Ukraine finish up their finals; and Sunday it’s Slovenia and Macedonia’s turn. Will one of these countries produce the winner?

It’s a question I ask, because I’m confident in saying that the winner has not been heard yet. I’m 100% sure it won’t be Bulgaria or Lithuania, the two countries who have picked over the last couple of days:

There you have Poli Genova, a woman who has tried and failed to represent Bulgaria before, this time getting her chance with the rock-ish anthem Na Inat. The first thing I thought when I watched her performance was ‘isn’t that [Swedish superstar of awesomeness] Robyn?’ which doesn’t say much for the song. However, being a woman, I was multitasking at the time, listening to the song as well as comparing Poli to someone else (and brushing my teeth/painting my fingernails/whipping up a five-course buffet). And I actually do like the entry, not as much as Miro’s from 2010, but still enough to make me feel a little better about the lack of high-level songs floating around in the Düsseldorf stratosphere at this point. As I said before, it’s rock-ish, not strictly head-banging material, but still schlager-free (which could be good or bad considering your musical taste), and I think the chorus is quite catchy. It’s another one of those songs that doesn’t quite hit the heights – missing a certain je ne sais quoi, as Hera Bjork would say – but I’m going to say it has a decent chance of qualifying, particularly if it gets a good draw, Poli pulls off the live performance as she did Wednesday evening, and the Bulgarians figure out something interesting for the onstage aesthetics.

A song I feel has considerably less potential is Lithuania’s, C’est Ma Vie, by Evelina Sašenko:

It seems the opinions are seriously divided on this one – people love it and think it’s going all the way, or, like me, they wish they were deaf when they hear it. I just don’t like it – its screechiness, how dated it sounds….not my thing. No disrespect to the people who love it, of course. Evelina does have a powerful voice, so that’s a plus.

Speaking of division, here’s three categories I’d put the songs so far selected into. I suspect my opinions may not be common ones….

12 points (the good): Georgia, Norway, Poland, Iceland, Netherlands, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Ireland, Romania

5 points (the average): Albania, Finland, Switzerland, Malta, Spain, Italy

0 points (the just plain bad): Lithuania, Belgium, Germany 

As you can see, my favourites are the majority, something I didn’t expect as it seems I have been less than impressed more often that not. There’s a triple threat lurking in my category of worsts, which hopefully will still be a trio by the time Sunday’s finals are over and done with! There has to be some stellar songs that come out of the ten selections ahead of us over the next couple of days, right?

Cross your fingers, and enjoy the weekend!!! 

Jaz.