ESC 2011 will go down as an interesting, hard to predict year. It was a level playing field and if folks are honest no one had much idea what would happen. Bellwethers like the oddsmakers or Google predictor called it wrong. The bookie favorite, France, finished 15th overall, and Google’s Eurovision predictor indicated the winds were favorably blowing for Ireland and Germany, which finished 8th and 10th respectively. At least Azerbaijan was usually in the Top 5 conversation; second place finisher Italy was almost completely off the radar.
People have mixed reactions about the outcome, but I think most will agree we had a lot of fun getting there. Our spirits were raised from entries that were batty (Ireland, Moldova), high-energy (Sweden, Estonia, Russia, UK), and engaging (Spain). In other moments our hearts were warmed by amazing visuals (Ukraine, Greece, Finland), powerhouse ballads (France, Austria, Lithuania), and expressions of friendship (Iceland).
There’s much to talk about. Here’s our take on the main storylines:
- Azerbaijan’s win caused a lot of disappointment at our Eurovision party. Folks here had the same reactions we’ve heard often before, and indeed have said ourselves–they liked Eldar but weren’t that impressed with the song. Azerbaijan did a lot of things right, but they also had some luck. They staged the number beautifully and used Sweden’s Shirley’s Angels to minimize Nikki’s vocal weaknesses. At the same time, they were the only country this year to enter a male/female ballad, and they were blessed with a late draw.
- For us the biggest surprise on the night was Italy’s 2nd place finish. Many, including us, underestimated Raphael Gualazzi’s ability to garner votes. However, he was a San Remo winner and we should have taken him more seriously. The presentation showed off Gualazzi as an accomplished musician–it may well have added up to something. Other factors that may have been in the mix were jury appeal and people happy to see Italy back in the ESC.
- Sweden had an excellent 3rd place finish. The early draw in the final (following Jedward) certainly did them no favors. Sweden can attribute the result to Eric Saade’s charisma and meticulous staging. Sweden won the 2nd semifinal, outpacing other buzz acts like Denmark, Bosnia, and Ireland. Swedish identity crisis averted, and we hope to see much more schlager from Melodifestivalen in the years to come. Just take care, because people are voting for the person too.
- Never underestimate the Greeks. Coming out of the national final, the song was a nightmare, and we raised questions about whether it would qualify. Note to self: if I’m ever involved with Eurovision I want the Greek organizers on my team. After the national final, it underwent a complete transformation. Their backdrop was stunning, they put increased focus on dreamy Loukas, and Loukas was vocally solid in every performance and rehearsal. They deservedly won the first semi-final, beating out Azerbaijan and Bosnia.
- In the battle of Jedward vs. Blue, Jedward won out as we predicted. Both acts deserve credit for working hard on performance and promotion leading up to the contest. However, Jedward put on an extreme, ridiculously high energy, daft performance and “Lipstick” was a perfect fit for their artistic image. We had a laugh, and the voters responded–8th place overall. Blue, on the other hand, layered an indulgent performance over a good song. (Gentle readers: when Simon Cowell uses the term “indulgent” and we don’t know what that means, here is a perfect example. It’s indulgent to use four LED screens with big images of your band members.) In so doing, they limited their appeal to previous fans–a concern we have raised about Blue from the beginning. The efforts resulted in small points from a lot of countries, but it only added up to 11th place.
- Germany, which we had both pegged for a strong result, finished 10th. Fan reaction was pretty accurate–in all likelihood the song just didn’t grab in the same way as “Satellite.” It’s also worth noting that most entries with better results were more uplifting or powerful performances. Still, no artist has successfully defended a Eurovision title in the next year, and following up a win with 10th place is nothing to sneeze at.
- France, the pre-competition favorite, finished a disappointing 15th. The sad story is he simply wasn’t good enough. The period wardrobe (and the song) had the unintentional outcome of making him look like a Les Miserables reject. His hair had too much product in it and looked terrible. These are shallow points, but Amaury’s telegenic appeal was supposed to be driving votes and it wasn’t there. Worse, France was a casualty of the song draw, undermined by Greece’s tour-de-force vocal and Italy’s musicianship.
- Russia finished a disappointing 16th, which will go over poorly at home. All is not well if Mother Russia can only manage 5 points from Belarus. Russia was badly hurt by their draw. Their draw put them right after Ireland (who had more energy and did a backflip), Sweden (who was cute and could dance), and Greece (who was cute and could sing). More than just bad luck, the draw underscored Russia’s major weakness: that Alexey did not seem completely connected to the song. The song was competent in every way, but one wonders if it was really the kind of music Alexey would want to make or if he was simply trying to appeal to the audience.
- Estonia, an early favorite of the bookies, finished 24th out of 25. I don’t think it was the 2nd-to-worst performance on the night, but Estonian organizers were unable to translate a great song into a package that would drive votes. The same could be said for Hungary, which finished 22th overall.
In the postscript, we should acknowledge three songs that just missed the cut in the Semis. In the first semifinal, 10th place finisher Switzerland qualified with 55 points; Armenia and Malta (!) both missed out with 54 points. In the second semifinal, 10th place finisher Moldova had 54 points, while Belgium (!) missed out with 53 points. So Armenia, and especially Malta and Belgium, hold your heads up with pride–you did a good job and missed by the cut by the smallest of margins.