Tonight, the 57th Eurovision Song Contest was beamed live to Europe and anywhere with internet access, from the Crystal Hall in Baku, Azerbaijan. Hosts, Nargiz Birk-Petersen, Eldar Gasimov (one half of the duo who won last year) and Leyla Alieva guided the audience through the evening.
After an explosive opening courtesy of some fireworks, there was a taste of traditional Mugham singing and Azeri dancing. Ell and Nikki then reminded us why we are in Baku by singing the winning song from the year before, Running Scared. That was followed by a video showing the Crystal Hall, which was only completed a few weeks before Ictimai TV were due to take up residence to prepare for the contest, at various stages of construction.
After all that, it was time for the reason everyone was watching; the songs!
1) United Kingdom – Engelbert Humperdinck – Love Will Set You Free
The first song was performed by the most famous name of the contest this year. Veteran Engelbert was the surprise choice of the B.B.C. to represent the United Kingdom. His experience was clear for all to see. In addition to the guitarist, ‘The Hump’ was accompanied by two dancers. It could have been a bad mistake, but their choreography was appropriate.
2) Hungary – Compact Disco – Sound of Our Hearts
Time for a bit of 1980’s retro via the Hungarian band. They were deserved qualifiers from the first semi-final and Sound of Our Hearts is one of the best constructed songs on show tonight. The lead singer gave a more confident performance than in the semi-final.
3) Albania – Rona Nishliu – Suus
Rona delivered drama by the bucket load while performing possibly the classiest songs of the night. The dominance of red from the semi-final remained to provide a very effective backdrop. All in all, an intense three minutes!
4) Lithuania – Donny Montell – Love Is Blind
Possibly the most surprising finalist to emerge from the second semi-final on Thursday was Donny Montell’s slightly messy mid-tempo song. It starts promisingly before descending into disorganisation. The sparkly blindfold was one of the more tasteless gimmicks on show tonight.
5) Bosnia & Herzegovina – Maya Sar – Korake Ti Znam
It was time for another gentle ballad in the shape of Bosnia’s Maya. She started the song at the piano before taking the microphone in hand and walking to the front of the stage. The presentation was rightly kept simple with Maya alone on stage to let the song shine.
6) Russia – Buranovskiye Babushki – Party for Everybody
Eurovision sometimes throws up the unusual and Russia is the source of the madness this year. Not for them a proper singer or band, oh no. Instead we had a group of grannies cooking buns and urging everyone to party. All very cute (for certain sections of the community, anyway) but surely bad news for the contest if they won. Everything would depend on the juries as the public were sure to love them.
7) Iceland – Greta Salóme & Jónsi – Never Forget
Back to proper music with the entrance of the Icelandic song. One of their strongest entries, the powerful ballad was well thought of going into the contest. Greta, complete with her violin, and Jónsi delivered a very strong performance of a song which sounded as if it would appeal to all demographics as well as the industry ‘experts’ on the juries.
8) Cyprus – Ivi Adamou – La La Love
From drama to pure pop. Ivi had an energetic dance routine to remember as well as the lyrics. The routine centered on a table designed to look like a pile of books. Ivi had never sung the song live at all the promotional events in the months before the contest, leading to doubts about her ability to sing live. However, she managed a more than respectable vocal.
9) France – Anggun – Echo (You and I)
France was the second of the ‘big 5’ countries to perform and what a busy performance it was! Anggun was supported by gymnasts rather than dancers. Maybe they put her off as it was the weakest performance of the night at that point.
10) Italy – Nina Zilli – L’Amore È Femmina (Out Of Love)
Italy’s Nina Zilli changed her song from her Sanremo entry, Per Sempre to a song which is less Italian in style. Italian singers are usually associated with a high standard of performance and Nina didn’t let the reputation down, indeed, she enhanced it. Comparisons have been made with Amy Winehouse. Perhaps seeking to capitalise on this, Nina’s hair had been styled very much like Amy’s. During her performance, Nina encouraged the audience to sing along with her.
11) Estonia – Ott Lepland – Kuula
Ott kept to the revised vocal arrangement he used in the semi-final. However, questions remain as to whether the change is a positive one. That aside, his performance of the emotional ballad was still a very good one. But why change a winning formula so much?
12) Norway – Tooji – Stay
Tooji gave us the most contemporary pop song of the evening. His was an energetic routine. This is always risky when there is the task of singing to do as well. However, Tooji has clearly been in the gym as he managed to pull it off.
13) Azerbaijan – Sabina Babayeva – When the Music Dies
Much of the talk of the hosts entry centred on Sabina’s dress rather than her song, a white, sparkly number. Her song, an emotional ballad, is more than strong enough to stand up on its own and Sabina did it justice. It goes without saying that she was well received by the audience. The hosts can be proud of their defence.
14) Romania – Mandinga – Zaleilah
The happiest song of the night came from the Romanians. The lead singer was bound to appeal to red-bloodied males everywhere and her band would have got the audience at home and in the auditorium clapping along. The design of the instruments made them look like toys which made the marching while playing of them by the band look a little bit surreal.
15) Denmark – Soluna Samay – Should’ve Known Better
The Danish song is a rather safe affair that takes absolutely no risks with arrangement or performance. She seemed to have recovered from her cold but the whole thing seemed very average.
16) Greece – Eleftheria Eleftheriou – Aphrodisiac
The Greek song is very much of the same style that has served them so well over recent years. Eleftheria is another singer who had been given a lot of dancing to cope with while trying to give a decent vocal performance as well. Something wasn’t right with the sound at the start but everything came good in the end.
17) Sweden – Loreen – Euphoria
This is the moment that most fans had been waiting for! Loreen was unquestionably the favourite of those who follow the contest closely. There was a huge question mark over whether the public and the juries would share their enthusiasm. She stayed true to the ‘free spirit’ dance routine which she used when winning the Swedish Melodifestivalen.
18) Turkey – Can Bonomo – Love Me Back
Turkey missed out on the final last year and can consider themselves lucky to be back on stage in the Saturday extravaganza this time. Cheap gimmick alert! Can’s backing dancers form the shape of a boat from the cloths they had previously been waving around while accompanying Can’s ethnic Turkish song, which also has hints of Greek music – controversial!
19) Spain – Pastora Soler – Quédate Conmigo (Stay with Me)
This is what the Spanish are very good at but have avoided entering for many years. A big voice with the task of selling an epic, passionate ballad. They chose the right lady as Pastora absolutely nailed it!
20) Germany – Roman Lob – Standing Still
Germany’s entry has good pedigree as it was co-written by Jazz star, Jamie Callum. His fingerprints are all over it and the end result is a song which could possibly have given Germany a second win in three years. Standing Still would sound great on a small stage in a jazz club but also sounded more than good on the biggest stage in music.
21) Malta – Kurt Calleja – This is the Night
Are you ready for more dodgy choreography? Then we’ll begin the Maltese song. Many were surprised when Malta were announced as one of the qualifiers on Thursday night – or very early Friday morning for those in the host country! Kurt’s pop song was spoiled by the playground style dancing which featured at the end of the chorus. This included his two guitarists, possibly making this the most amusing choreography since Liliane St Pierre in 1987.
22) F.Y.R. Macedonia – Kaliopi – Crno I Belo
One of the most experienced singers in the final was Kaliopi and it showed in her powerful performance. She tried a bit too hard at times but still left the viewer with a positive impression of her Balkan rock song.
23) Ireland – Jedward – Waterline
When everyone’s favourite twins took part last year, their backing singers were the hardest working singers that night. They had to sing all the words to hide the week vocals from the two in the limelight. Fast forward to 2012 and the scene is repeated. At least the song is less juvenile this year, being more of a recognisable pop song than their offering from Dusseldorf. If there was an award for bravest stage prop, Jedward would win for the water feature under which they took a quick shower at the end of the song.
24) Serbia – Željko Joksimović – Nije Ljubav Stvar
Željko was one of the pre-contest favourites and the odds would have shortened when he drew himself to perform in 24th place. There are no shocks in the style of Nije Ljubav Stvar, but this formula has been very successful for him so why take a risk. He proved in 2004 that this type of melody and arrangement appeal to the general public, but it would surely go down well with the juries, too.
25) Ukraine – Gaitana – Be My Guest
Having shouted her way through her song in the second semi-final, Gaitana can thank her lucky stars that she got this far. Be My Guest could easily be used as an anthem for the Euro 2012 football tournament which is only a couple of weeks away. Undaunted, she shouted her way through the song again. Calm down, dear!
26) Moldova – Pasha Parfeny – Lăutar
You would have thought that Lady Luck had smiled enough on Pasha for him to be in the final at all, but no, he drew himself to perform last tonight! Although the title is in Moldovan, the song is in English, albeit with some extremely dodgy grammar, but he can be forgiven for that. The slightly odd routine given to the backing dancers was slightly distracting, maybe that was the plan!
After a recap of the songs and a reminder of the telephone numbers to dial for your favourite song, it was time for the interval. So, the question is; if you’re Azeri and want to show your talent to the world, how can you secure a gig in the Eurovision Song Contest? Hard work? Maybe. Talent? Possibly. Be married to the daughter of the president? Definitely! Ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding (or else!) for Emin. He was supported by a cast of thousands (well, that’s what it looked like) but still managed to seem inadequate.
After a bit of conversation with a couple of the singers, it was time for the voting to start. Greece received the first 12 points from Albania. After the first few countries, Russia and Sweden were at the top of the scoreboard. By the time the next bunch of juries had voted, Sweden had started to move away from the pack. By the time we reached the halfway point, Sweden had increased their lead while Norway and Denmark had yet to get off the mark. Three quarters of the way through and Loreen was looking certain to win. Not long after that point, it was mathematically impossible for Sweden to be caught so Loreen could start celebrating early.
In the end, it was a very easy win for Sweden with Russia in second place while Serbia came in third.