Saturday, May 14, 2016

Eurovision Song Contest 2016

It's that time of year: the Grand Final in the 61st edition of the Eurovision Song Contest will be broadcast tonight at 9 pm local time at the Globen Arena in Stockholm. Over the top, cheesy, the ultimate guilty pleasure? Absolutely. And does it get political and somewhat ugly sometimes? Yep. However, it's also a truly great platform for artists who may be famous in their home countries but are virtually unknown in the rest of the world to present themselves to millions of viewers. Surprisingly, none of the winning performers have had big international careers - ABBA of course are the exception.

This time around, Australia may in fact end up the winner. No, your geography knowledge is just fine, the continent is not part of Europe. But owing to the popularity of the event among TV viewers down under, they were invited to participate for the second time in a row.

27-year-old Dami Im who immigrated to Australia from South Korea at age nine, will represent her adopted country with great pride with the pop gem "Sound of Silence", obviously not to be confused with Simon & Garfunkel's tune of the same name. Her powerful diva voice and stage presence brought the house down in the second semi-final Thursday May 12. If Australia wins, I suppose the contest will be held in Sydney next year - maybe at the Opera House?

I'm a sucker for great vocals and my ears have zero tolerance for out-of-tune-singing. Like Dami Im, my other two favorite participants in this year's final both have superb voices. 29-year-old openly gay Hovav Sekulets aka Hovi Star represents Israel with the gorgeous "Made of Stars".

And finally: the 6 foot 3 inches (1.93 cm) tall former basketball player, 26-year-old Alfred Fehervari aka Freddie from Hungary will perform the powerful rock anthem "Pioneer" on which he is backed up by three excellent male singers who employ a little Peter Bjorn and John style whistling.

Another reason these three songs are my favorites: they were written by native songwriters, not "hired guns", an approach which has unfortunately become very common in recent years with several countries taking to outsourcing the writing of music/lyrics to professional hit makers in Sweden. Not cool! This seriously needs to change - a new rule should be implemented in time for next year's contest: all songwriters MUST be from the participating country.

NOTE: For the first time, the contest will air live in the U.S. on Logo at 3 pm Eastern Standard Time; it will also stream on and on the Logo TV mobile app. How long before the U.S. will be invited to participate?

UPDATE: Once the juries had voted it looked as if Australia was going to win, but after the viewers' votes were announced, Ukraine - my personal "dark horse" choice in a very crowded field - came out Number One. 32-year-old Jamala gave an outstanding performance, singing her own composition "1944". The song is powerful; it's also quite unusual and bold in its structure, mixing the haunting sounds of ancient times with contemporary soul music. The fact that she possesses the voice to master both genres is a testament to her immense gifts as a vocalist. Watching several of her official videos going back to 2010, it's interesting to observe her development as an artist, exploring different personas and styles. The most recent clips show a singer who has found her true voice - and a gorgeous one it is.