Road to Eurovision 2019: Week 5 – Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Moldova, North Macedonia

(image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

What is the Eurovision Song Contest?
Started way back in 1956 as a way of drawing a fractured Europe back together with the healing power of music, the Eurovision Song Contest, or Concours Eurovision de la Chanson – the contest is telecast in both English and French – is open to all active members of the European Broadcasting Union, which oversees the competition.

Each country is permitted to submit one three-minute song to the contest – a song which is selected by a variety of means, usually a winner-takes-all competition such as Sweden’s renowned Melodifestivalen – which they perform in one of two semi-finals in the hopes of making it to the glittering grand final.

Only six countries have direct entry into the grand final:
* The Big Four who fund most of the contest – UK, Germany, France and Spain
* The host country (which is the winner of the previous year’s contest)
* Italy, who didn’t take part for many years and was re-admitted in 2011 after a 14 year absence (it was one of seven countries that competed in the first event), making the Big Four the Big Five.

The winner is chosen by a 50/50 mix of viewer votes (you cannot vote for your own country) and a jury of music industry professionals in each country, a method which was chosen to counter the alleged skewing of votes based on political and/or cultural lines when voting was purely the preserve of viewers at home.

Past winners include, of course, ABBA in 1974 with “Waterloo” and Celine Dion who won for Switzerland in 1988 with “Ne partez pas sans moi”.Above all though, the Eurovision Song Contest is bright, over the top and deliciously camp, a celebration of music, inclusiveness and togetherness that draws annual viewing figures in the hundreds of millions.

This year’s contest will be held in Tel Aviv, Israel.

IRELAND: “22” by Sarah McTernan

THE ARTIST
A child of reality TV, as so many of this year’s representatives are reflecting the modern route to (hopefully) musical fame and fortune, Sarah McTernan, Country Clare, has been many things – a nursing trainee, make-up artist, a musical technology student and a retail employee.

What McTernan most definitely is now, after declaring that “My career will either be to help people or music”, is the player of traditional violin, guitar, ukulele, piano and tin whistle, a third-placer in the fourth season of The Voice of Ireland in 2015, and the mother of a 2 1/2-year-old Mia.

That’s a lot of life experience, packed into 25 years of living, and while it may not have given her the edge when she competed to represent San Marino in the Eurovision Song Contest 2018, it appears to have paid off in spades this year.

But, and there is always a “but” when the song beckons, is she ready, willing and able to bring it home for Ireland this year?

Sarah McTernan (image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

THE SONG
Sporting a dusky, emotive voice redolent with as much emotion and technical ability. McTernan delivers in “22” a perfectly-reasonable Top 40 chart hit.

The melody propels things along nicely, moving from verse to chorus and back again with resonant impact, but while it might be a perfectly-lovely backdrop to drinks with friends after work, or a way to salve the pain of heartbreak (again, let’s be honest, with the wine), it’s not got much of an after-presence.

McTernan makes it come alive in ways it might not otherwise have possessed but to truly make it to the grand final and then to the big prize itself, you need that perfect combination of brilliantly-written song and powerful singer.

Ireland has the latter but not the former, and while McTernan’s charisma and vocal ability, is obviously first rate, the song itself is not, leaving Ireland likely languishing and left behind in semi final hell.

LATVIA: “That Night” by Carousel

THE ARTIST
Barely four-years-old, Carousel are an indie pop band who hail from Riga.

While they might have started out, as so many bands do – you’re probably thinking I’ll refer to some placing on a reality TV music contest but you would be wrong; as you were, please – covering others artists’ hits, they now make their own, courtesy of singer Sabine Zuga and guitarist Marcis Vasilevskis (they are joined in the band by Stanislav Judins on double bass and Mareks Logins on drums).

Together this impressive twosome have crafted a song in “That Night”, which won them Supernova, Latvia’s national Eurovision Song Contest selection, the performance of which Eurovision.tv describes in rather breathlessly-superlative fashion:

With their vintage, stripped back, romantic track “That Night” Sabine’s gentle warm vocals blends with Marcis’ musical artistry and they won the competition and the ticket to Eurovision in Tel Aviv.

Gushing PR-worthy descriptions aside, and it is rather lovely isn’t it, is the song going to be every bit as persuasive come the night of semi-final 2?

Carousel (image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

THE SONG
If Eurovision was taking place in a tasteful bar with fetching live music and a lively atmosphere of relaxed bonhomie, then yes, it would be persuasive as hell.

Laid and chilled with a deliciously-country vibe percolating appealing through it, “Late Night” is a rather beautiful depiction of love, desire, lust and the way these three elements come together on nights out to make the sort of emotional cocktail for which pop was born.

Alas, while smooth jazz may be en vogue at Eurovision, part of the tilt to balladry that has characterised the last few years, it is lacking that definable something that would make it really stand out.

Zuga’s enchantingly-fey and emotive singing is a delight as is the guitar work of Vasilevskis, but it doesn’t add up to a memorable song alas, wafting off into the musical breeze almost immediately upon completion, which is not what you want when so many other songs are competing for the hearts and minds, and more importantly, voting fingers, of the voters and musical juries of Europe.

LITHUANIA: “Run With the Lions” by Jurij Veklenko

THE ARTIST
Jumping south and right next door to Lithuania, we meet seasoned performer, of both music and TV, Jurij Veklenko, a man who knows his way around reality music programs and, rather happily, given the position he now occupies, Eurovision itself.

While the child of musical parents who joined his church choir in eighth-grade competed successfully in TV shows such as Lithuania’s Got Talent, The Voice of Lithuania and We Are One Blood, Veklenko has been less triumphant Eurovision-wise, competing in the national selection more than once – his Eurovision bio’s is commendably discreet about exactly how many times – and until this year obviously, coming up empty.

The consolation prize, and as these things go a damn good one, was singing back-up for Lithuanian representatives Andrius Pojavis (Sweden, 2013), and Monika Linkyte and Vaidas Baumila (Austria, 2015), with these two stints giving him the thirst and experience to, in the words of his bio, “pull out all the stops” this time around.

So with the stops out and the IT-professional indulging his always-present musical side, is luck on his side this year?

Jurij Veklenko (image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

THE SONG
It could well be.

At least enough to propel Lithuania into the grand final; thankfully pushing itself out of ballad-neutral, something many other countries haven’t managed, Veklenko puts the pedal mildly to the metal and offers up a song that equates emotional honesty with running with the king of the jungle.

Likely not an advertising angle that many therapists are likely to adopt, “Run With the Lions” is delightfully inoffensive, marred only by the artist’s propensity to go off-key at climactic moments, leaving him sounding like a little like a lounge club act at that seedy hotel near the airport.

The main thing in its favour is that it has marginally more life than its fellow semi-final song mates, something that should ensure that while it won’t run with the grand final top cats, it will at least play its part in getting Lithuania into the arena where they’re competing.

MALTA: “Chameleon” by Michela

THE ARTIST
Did you know that Michela Pace, who, quite Madonna-like, goes by her first name professionally, is a “hidden gem of the Mediterranean”?

Likely you did not, nor I’m wagering, are you aware that she hails from the small island of Gozo, which for all your geography nerds out there, sits northwest of the Maltese mainland.

All of that is true, as is the fact that artist who will represent Malta this year is eclectic in her musical tastes, loving everything from pop through to country and soul, investing everything she sings with a voice that her Eurovision bio, from which the “gem” reference also stems, describes as “memorable and powerful, with a breathtaking breaking point.”

Yep, that’s how powerful she is vocally – you have been warned and should take appropriate precautions – as have the audiences of X-Factor, Music Talent League in Lithuania (which she won, thank you very much), and Baltic Voices, all of whom, along with Rihanna’s producer at the Ultimate Artist development program in London, have witnessed her amazing voice in action.

Now it’s Eurovision’s turn …

Michela (image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

THE SONG
And what a good thing to do!

“Chameleon” is a bouncy piece of clever, chorus-minimalist pop anchored by Michela’s voice which is every bit as powerful and charismatic as we’ve been led to believe.

The song, by Joacim Perrson, Paula Winger, Borislav Milanov, Johan Alkenäs, sounds like the absolute very best of the charts, a song at once of the moment and yet transcending it as all good, catchy pop should do.

This should light up the stage at Eurovision, pretty much guaranteeing Malta entry to the grand final and, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility, perhaps at winning the event itself.

MOLDOVA: “Stay” by Anna Odoboescu

Road to Eurovision 2016 Week 3 Moldova flag

THE ARTIST
If you’ve been wondering where Anna Odobescu was born, and why wouldn’t you have been, the artists chosen to represent Moldova this year was born on the left bank of the Dniester River.

Presumably this means something; alas we are not told what.

But what we do know is that Anna, like so much of her Eurovision compatriots this year, started down a musical road nice and early in her childhood, a decision propelled by the death of her father, with music providing a much-needed escape from her loss.

Her first steps into music may have been tragic, but she’s made the made the most of them, graduating from the faculty of pop jazz vocal at the Transnistrian College of Music and, because under-achievement is for slackers, the department of pop and jazz vocal at the Academy of Music, Theatre and Fine Arts in Chisinau.

But that’s not at all folks – she’s won a slew of national and international awards, auditioned for the Russian series of The Voice in 2017 and 2018 and has big hopes for her Eurovision appearance:

“I had very big emotions, but they are beautiful emotions, indescribable emotions and I’m really proud to have succeeded. For me it is a very important step in my life. And I hope to represent the country with dignity, I will do everything for that”. (Eurovision.tv)

Anna Odobescu (image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

THE SONG
It looks like the “dignity” part of the equation won’t be hard to achieve.

“Stay” is a dramatic, moving ballad that owes much to Odobescu’s magnificently emotionally-resonant voice which has more than passing resemblance to that of Taylor Dayne.

It’s brilliantly-melodramatic lyricism, which is an impassioned plea to her partner to stick around and go the distance in their relationship, is matched by a video so cheesy you could make fondue with it.

That aside, the song is a classy piece of balladic pop that should send Moldova into the grand final though it’s unlikely to net the big prize.

Still, if the relationship survives, then does that really matter? Yeah, yeah, it likely still does …

NORTH MACEDONIA: “Proud” by Tamara Todevska

THE ARTIST
If you’re going to pursue a career in music, and honestly it’s not too late if you do – OK it may well be but let’s pretend you’ve still got a shot – then it helps if you come from a family of musicians like North Macedonia’s Tamara Todevska.

With that kind of DNA coursing through her veins, it will surprise you not that she began performing at the tender age of 6, a momentous step that led, ultimately to her debut album Sino (Blue) in 2005 and her first solo concert in the same year, both of which gave her almost-immediate success.

The years since have spawned more albums, countless awards and two, no doubt gorgeous children, to whom the artist will be dedicating her entry “Proud”, an empowering anthem to push the disempowering haters to one side and shine your light on your terms.

It’s an emphatically Eurovision-friendly message but will it resonate with the good citizens of Europe?

Tamara Todevska (image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

THE SONG
Very much so.

A slow burner that kicks off with understated passion, “Proud” is reasonably cookie cutter as empowering ballads go, not really pushing any lyrical or musical boundaries.

That noted, it soars, and soars magnificently, as Todevska pours her heart and soul into the song; this is not simply some run of the mill singing gig – the artist clearly has poured every last part of herself into it and it has the potential like Conchita Wurst’s 2014 Eurovision Song Contest-winning song “Rise Like a Phoenix” to win the whole damn thing.

Much will depend on Todevska knocking it out of the park on the night but I have no doubt she is capable of it, possessed of both passion, vocals that sear the soul and the performance nous.

Look for North Macedonia to do very, very well this year.

EUROVISION EXTRA EXTRA!

As with every year, each of the shows, but especially the grand final, will be packed to the key-changing rafters with some cool people performing, and yes, one stage to rule them all.

How impressive will it all be? Wiwibloggs went to a press conference at Expo Tel Aviv, the venue for Eurovision 2019, to find out all about it.

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