And finally after 84 individual rehearsals, 6 dress rehearsals, 3 press rehearsals and 2 live semi-finals; we finally get to the main event. Exactly two weeks ago I was arriving in Heathrow on my way to Moscow and as I sit in my hotel room on the 21st floor of the Cosmos Hotel, looking out over the city, which is submerged in grey clouds, it feels like an eternity ago.
With the show not starting until 11pm tonight, it means I have the day to myself. I will pop into the arena to check if there is any last minute gossip, before handing the blog over to Andrew, who will be watching this afternoon’s third and final rehearsal of tonight’s show. I will also be talking about my “Eurovision affliction” Newstalk just after 10am Irish time.
Then I have to meet some friends, do the obligatory souvenir shopping and meet up with the gang for the pre-contest meal. I hope to be able to do a scene set from inside the arena, an hour before the show begins. Once again I’ll be in the front row. I’m still trying to acquire a Portuguese flag, to cheer on my favourite country tonight. If anyone is reading this and can help, my pigeonhole number is 606.
While I will be cheering most loudly for Portugal, and Irishman Ronan Keating’s song, which is representing Denmark, I still see the contest as a one horse race. Norway’s Alexander Rybak and “Fairytale” is and always has been the complete package to win Eurovision in the 21st century. It looks great on screen, it’s catchy and it’s memorable, a great pop song and perfect for Eurovision. Of course the hardcore Eurovision fans that have been familiar with the song and its performance since January have become a little jaded, but most of those voting tonight will be seeing it for the first or second time and with a draw late in the running order, it’s hard to see another winner.
If there is to be a challenge I think it could come from Greece or Bosnia. The Greek performance is very strong on screen, but with the impact of the huge Greek diaspora being reduced with the return of juries, I think Sakis Rouvas may have to settle for second place. The Bosnia entry is very strong and will attract a huge amount of Balkan votes (especially with Serbia being eliminated in the semi) and will do well with juries, and should not be ruled out.
As always, there’s nonsense about certain countries trying to “buy” the contest. Last year it was Russia, this year it’s the U.K. For me, once Russia chose Dima Bilan with a reasonably strong song in 2008, they were the winners and had no need to buy anything. This year the U.K. has been accused of trying to buy the contest with the involvement of multi-millionaire Andrew Lloyd-Webber and certainly with the biggest promotional tour of the year and a very well placed trick of giving away the U.K. entry with the latest edition of OK magazine in Russia and its neighbours, it’s clear that a huge amount of money has been spent. Having Webber featured prominently during the performance in an attempt to influence jurors may however backfire as it only serves as a reminder of how poor the song is compared with others in his portfolio.
I have to say I have enjoyed the Moscow experience hugely, the city is enormous, but with the Metro being free to accredited people, it is reasonably easy to get around, despite the fact that all the signs are in
acrylic Cyrillic. The streets are generally litter free and are washed every night. The people may not be the friendliest in the world and have a habit of staring (especially if you are wearing your accreditation) which some people find a little unnerving, customer service is a little lacking and there is an attitude to smoking that is of the last century, but otherwise it has been most enjoyable.
It is quite clear that with an unprecedented budget of 30 million Euros, Russia is intent on showing itself off tonight, however I think they have made a few fundamental errors. The very impressive Russian flavoured interval acts were used in the semi-finals, but tonight’s show, which will have a much bigger audience has little or nothing that tells you about the country that is staging the event. The Cirque du Soleil introduction and intervals are wonderful, but they could come from anywhere. Thankfully tonight’s presenters are far stronger than the duo from the semi-final, although the director’s obsession with showing off the stage from the back of the arena, rather than focussing on what is happening on that stage, is a tad irritating.
When I get home and get a chance to gage to local reaction, I will put a longer blog together on all things Irish. I admit to being very disappointed with Thursday night’s result, but I always knew that the mix of countries in our semi and the position in the running order would make it a struggle to qualify. I know that there have been several calls for us to withdraw from the contest completely and while I would be very upset if we chose to follow Italy and Luxembourg into the Eurovision history books, I do think that a year or two out from the contest might be a good idea. I can think of far better ways for RTÉ to spend the licence fees than competing in an event where we neither have the will nor the ability to win.