A strange, unique Eurovision feature is the “fan journalist.” Press passes are provided to selected bloggers and mega-fans, allowing them access to the media room, the artists, and the rehearsals. Whether sanctioned or not, rehearsal footage regularly finds it way to YouTube ahead of the contest. This year, at the request of the artists, Malmo organizers limited press access during the 1st technical rehearsals. The press could attend, but no photos and no unauthorized video. In making this change, Malmo organizers made a small step to distance fan journalists from the rehearsals, but in practice nothing much changed. Photos leaked and fan journalists provided running commentary during the rehearsals.
Not naming names, but we were appalled by some of the feedback coming out of the “press” during the early rehearsals. “<Country> had a bad first run thru during their first rehearsal!!! NOT QUALIFYING” -or- “<Country> was ahead of the beat in the recorded track! QUALIFICATION IS IN QUESTION!!! Turns out his earpiece wasn’t working! They fixed it later! WILL HE QUALIFY?!?!” (Ok, I’m paraphrasing and exaggerating, but only slightly.) This type of reaction is both poorly-considered and unfair to the artist. It isn’t unique to this year, either.
I’m at risk of overgeneralizing. I know of many Eurovision fan journalists who try hard to avoid jumping to such conclusions. But not all, not enough. And therein lies the rub, because as long as Eurovision organizers give press passes to fans, Eurovision organizers will never be able to filter out the fans that offer respectful assessments from the ones that don’t.
Speaking from a selfish perspective, we like being able to watch the rehearsals. We enjoy watching the acts come to life because we’re fans and we’re eager to see what they’re planning. We like being flies on the wall and we are interested in the creative process, but we don’t need to watch the rehearsals. We don’t really benefit from watching the rehearsals.
It’s unusual that fans are allowed this much access, and it’s unusual for a reason. Rehearsals are for the artists. Even as late as tech rehearsal, artists need to be allowed the freedom to experiment, to try things out, and to fail. Now, any act that is still seriously experimenting in tech probably has bigger issues, but that’s their problem to have, not ours to see.
As fans, we are not entitled to see rehearsals.
By opening the rehearsals to fans with press passes, the Eurovision organizers put pressure on the artists to perform at a high level even during tech rehearsals, lest the artists open themselves up to unfair, unnecessary criticism from overeager observers who quickly jump to conclusions.
I for one am in awe of the excellent attitude the performers have toward the Eurovision rehearsal process. Generally, it is the artist’s prerogative whether to let outsiders view their process, and permission, when granted, is limited to those who have been carefully vetted. But at Eurovision, the artists have no such control. Rather, by agreeing to represent their country, these artists have tacitly granted permission to let random outsiders observe and judge them before the contest. From what I’ve been able to tell, the artists tend to handle the fan scrutiny with good humor. You rarely hear a negative word out of them on the subject, though a complaint about the process would be completely justified.
There is a journalistic reason to allow press access to some rehearsals. Early access allows journalists to identify the major elements of the country’s act, ultimately to help the audience understand any interesting or remarkable features. What these observers, can–and should–be gleaning from rehearsals is insights into the major choices in the staging: How many performers on stage? What kind of choreography is there? Any major props? Any changes to the arrangement since the official album? Dang, it is, like, totally over the top? But here’s a hard truth: to report on these elements, the press doesn’t need access to any more than one set of rehearsals.
In banning photos and video from the first rehearsals this year, the organizers didn’t go far enough. Interviews, press conferences, by all means keep those open to the fan journalists. But Eurovision organizers should close rehearsals and adopt a full embargo on first tech, and I would shed no tears if they embargoed second tech as well. The artists deserve it.