THE Eurovision Song Contest is back David Elder went to Sweden to taste the action – and the meatballs
‘Thunder and lightning, it’s getting exciting…” sings Russian Sergey Lazarev, the hot favourite to win tonight’s Eurovision Song Contest in Stockholm. The 33-year-old singer has been getting enthusiastic fans hot under the collar with an impressive 3D stage presentation of his song You Are The Only One. Watch closely as he appears to sprout wings, then clamber through the set like some kind of mad, live-action version of Donkey Kong, as he attempts to rescue his Russian princess. One of the country’s biggest stars, Sergey tells us that his real life “only one” is his three-year-old rescue dog, Daisy. Such is his passion for animals and their welfare that our hero set up his own business in Moscow making special cakes for cats and dogs - Poodle-Strudel.
Last year, Australia was invited to participate as a one-off for the contest’s 60th anniversary, and, like that one party guest who you worry will never leave, a year later they’re still here. Former Aussie X Factor winner Dami Im could be in with a shot too, as her power-ballad The Sound of Silence is a true belter, delivered with a stunningly powerful vocal.
Ukrainian singer, Jamala, has one of the most formidable voices in this year’s contest, and she’s singing a self-penned song about the plight of the deported Crimean Tatars, forced from their homeland in the 1940s by the Soviet Union under Stalin.
Using an emotional wailing vocal technique called mugham, the lyrics are both haunting and potent, “They come to your house, they kill you all and say we’re not guilty, not guilty”.
Emotive stuff, and certainly a far cry from the contest’s heady days of “diggy-loo diggy-ley, life is going my way, when I’m walking in my golden shoes”, or indeed the quintessential, “let your hip go hippety, pump pump”.
Whether alcohol-infused party-goers and regular Saturday night family viewers at home are ready to invest in such a heavy and poignant message remains to be seen, but it’s certainly one of the most beautiful and memorable performances of the year.
On a happier note, this year’s charming chanteur from France has a smile to melt a thousand hearts – perhaps not surprising considering that he’s a qualified dental surgeon.
Another alumnus from The Voice (he got to the final stages of the French version a couple of years ago) Amir oozes charisma and confidence as he belts out his happy-go-lucky anthem about looking for the one to “make me strong, like the melody of my song”. To be fair, Amir could probably just stand on the vast stage in the arena, smile and not sing a word, and he’d be guaranteed a bucketload of televotes from the female population of Europe (and a fair proportion of the male audience too).
There is a certain inevitability with any reality-type TV show where the winner is determined by the voting public that it becomes a popularity contest, with someone’s looks or back-story just as likely to determine where that all-important phone vote goes as singing ability or the quality of the song.
This year the Swedish organisers are attempting to rectify this by a complex revision of the traditional voting sequence, which will see televotes from each country balanced out with votes cast by a panel of music business experts from that nation.
We’ll see the votes from the experts added to the scoreboard first in the customary way, but then the televotes from each country will be added in ascending order, from the country that got the least, all the way up to the one which received the most from all over Europe. In doing this, the tension should mount until the winner is determined by the very last vote announced.
Let’s hope the new scoring system benefits the UK’s entry, You’re Not Alone, sung by effervescent duo Joe & Jake (former participants on The Voice). The boys are doing a sterling effort over here in Stockholm, promoting their Coldplay-lite pop anthem in a round of press conferences, parties and a swanky reception at the Ambassador’s residence the other night, where pickled herring and meatballs were being served in place of the traditional Fererro Rocher.
The spectacular Eurovision set, housed in the largest spherical building in the world, Globen Arena, is a massive affair and more technically advanced than ever. Last year’s winner, Måns Zelmerlow, is our host tonight along with veteran Swedish comedienne Petra Meade.
Eurovision has come a long way in its 61-year history, but for a night of hi-camp glitter, glamour, suspense and downright fun it’s hard to beat.
• The Eurovision Song Contest is on BBC1 at 8pm