Australia making debut in Eurovision Song Contest

23 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Australia making debut in Eurovision Song Contest.

By 8pm tomorrow, the results of the same-sex marriage referendum will almost surely be known, and the country will be wrung out and in the need of a little light entertainment.Guy Sebastian from Australia performs during the dress rehearsal for the Eurovision Song Contest final on Friday.(Photo: Dieter Nagl, AFP/Getty Images) The land Down Under is making its debut in Europe’s favorite songfest, invited as a wild card due to its strong fan base.On Saturday night in Vienna, performers from 27 European countries will square up for the continent’s annual carnival of kitsch national stereotypes, caterwauling balladeers, fist-pumping bombast and mildly shocking gender ambiguity.It’s the million-dollar question bugging Eurovision tragics and media executives alike: what’s the real story behind Australia’s participation in that festival of daggy pop songs?

And it’s singer Guy Sebastian who has the honour of performing the Aussies’ first – and potentially not last if they win – entry, singing the upbeat track Tonight Again at the event in Vienna. 1 Guy Sebastian might be representing Australia but he was actually born in Malaysia in 1981 and has roots from all over the place (his dad is Malaysian but of Sri Lankan Tamil descent while his mother is part Portuguese, part English). Regarding the likes of Dickens and Shakespeare, my expertise is limited to what was compulsory at school and what I’ve picked up through Gwyneth Paltrow movies. Guy Sebastian will represent Australia in the finals of Eurovision on Sunday morning Australia time as part of a deal under which SBS has paid organisers for the right to take part as it seeks a big ratings win that will boost its case to attract advertising on the multicultural broadcaster. He also has three brothers, Ollie, Chris and Jeremy. 3 As well as playing several instruments, Guy began his singing career in a church choir before the world of reality TV – specifically Australian Idol – came calling.

Ireland no longer does well because we are out of step with what amounts to a viable entry nowadays and there is an apparent lack of investment and will on RTÉ’s part. Looking at the bookmakers’ odds, it’s a three-horse race between Sweden, Russia and Italy, with the little-singer-that-could from Belgium and wild card Australia nipping at their heels. But all 27 nations contesting the top spot Saturday after surviving the elimination rounds have at least a theoretical chance of walking away the winner.

The concept of “European” in its song contest sense has, of course, been elastic for some years, with the inclusion of not-European Israel in 1970, not-really-European Azerbaijan in 2008 and not-in-any-sense-European Morocco in 1980. In fact, despite one of the judges telling him at his original audition that he looked ‘crap’, he went on to become quite famous for his Afro. 5 Guy’s subsequent success in the Australian charts is not to be sniffed at, having scored seven platinum albums and 12 top ten singles – six of which went all the way to number one (in fact he’s the only Australian male in chart history to achieve such a feat). Still, Australia’s participation is this year’s buzz at the extravaganza, which catapulted into world consciousness last year with the win of bearded Austrian diva Conchita Wurst.

This was one of his many chart-toppers: 6 Not only is he an accomplished musician, but Guy also does a lot of good work for charity, currently being an ambassador for the Australian Red Cross. It is widely believed that a later place in the running order helps a song’s chances, and Russia is in pole position (25th out of 27), while Sweden will sing 10th, in the middle of a very fun run of songs – Serbia, Norway, Sweden, Cyprus, Australia, Belgium – during which readers are highly advised not to nip out to put the kettle on.

It would be “remiss”, Sand continued when announcing the lineup in March, to “throw the world’s biggest party” without including “the show’s Australian friends”. But the real gain for SBS is the almost certain ratings bonanza which comes just a few days before controversial legislation is due to be introduced in Federal Parliament to allow SBS to screen 10 minutes of advertising in prime time, instead of the current restriction of six minutes an hour. Then, one fateful Friday night, channel surfing and a bottle of cabernet sauvignon took me to the city of Malmo in Sweden, where the loosely defined countries of Europe (i.e. including Israel) were taking to the stage.

Countries are now allowed to sing in their choice of language, meaning most sing in English, while historically only Ireland, the UK and Malta had that privilege. The Swedish and Russian numbers are very slick pieces of stage production, and both are written by groups of songwriter/lyricists not including the performers themselves.

The Aussies are already stoked, or as Sebastian put it, “bitten by the Eurovision bug.” Australian delegation head Paul Clarke attributed the huge interest among his countrymen in part to the country’s “incredibly strong European presence.” Delayed TV broadcasts of Eurovision contests have been shown for 30 years in Australia and Eurovision parties are common there. Eurovision has been screened in Australia for three decades by the public broadcaster SBS, its exuberant high campery earning it a dedicated antipodean fan base (and 3 million TV viewers last year).

The tricksy media feature of Russia’s A Million Voices is the projection of lights onto the skirt of Gagarina’s flowing white dress, one of several effects that add to her almost celestial quality onstage. Organizers expect a television audience of about 200 million to tune in globally to the spectacle taking place in Vienna’s sprawling Stadthalle, which has been outfitted with the latest stage and light technology. If successful in its bid, SBS says it will earn $28.5 million in additional revenue over the next four years, filling the gap that was left by cuts to its government funding in the 2014 budget.

In recent years, several hotly-tipped opera-influenced numbers have failed to deliver votes on the night – much will depend on how their song Grande Amore comes across onstage. Huge public viewing screens have also been set up in key locations throughout the city for those brave enough to ignore Saturday’s predicted cold and windy showers.

Needless to say, the commercial television networks are up in arms, claiming the changes will deliver SBS much more and warning that SBS will strip $148 million out of the advertising pie at a time when commercial TV is in dire straits. In his recent book Ireland and the Eurovision, former RTÉ executive David Blake Knox argued this selection format arguably “inflicted some professional and personal damage on some of the performers who had managed to qualify for the Eurovision.” This was dumped in favour of a public voting selection process on the Late Late Show, embellished from 2011-14 by the introduction of a mentoring system which, as Blake Knox has argued, effectively further shifted the responsibility for crucial decisions away from RTÉ and into the hands of music industry professionals, some of whom had little or no television experience.

It was this aspect — along with all the other aspects of Australia competing in a European competition — to which Norton was referring when he told reporters at the Bafta television awards earlier this month that he “didn’t understand” why the country had been included. “It’s a nonsense,” said the comedian, who has presented the British coverage of the contest since 2008. “The one thing the contest doesn’t need is another song.” In that, indeed, he certainly had a point. No fewer than 39 countries now participate in Eurovision, following the introduction in 2004 of semi-final rounds that earlier this week saw the elimination of Ireland – the most successful nation in the event’s history with seven winners – along with fellow Euro-duds Iceland, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Malta, Portugal and San Marino. Indeed, in a broader world where music is becoming more and more like pornographic processed cheese (Hi, Beyonce), Eurovision celebrates the niche and unexpected. While Molly Sterling is a promising young songwriter with a lovely voice, the presentation of Playing with Numbers did not help it stand out from the contest’s many other ballads.

Tonight Again by Australia’s Guy Sebastian has arguably the most mainstream pop appeal of tonight’s contest, but the staging is weak in the bells-and-whistles department. Ms Kellie says they are hopeful of getting more than 1 million viewers for the grand final, which will be broadcast live at 5am on Sunday and replayed at 7.30pm. There’s a long snoozy bit from about song 15 (Greece) through to 22 (Hungary), before a big finish with Russia-Albania-Italy; then, of course, the real entertainment begins with the voting. Happily, this blatant favouritism makes absolutely no difference to the final result, with the UK having recorded three last-place finishes in the past 12 years, its most recent five placings being 25th, 11th, 25th, 19th and 17th. (Jemini’s 2003 entry Cry Baby remains, to date, the only British song to achieve the coveted “nul points” final placing, though this year’s British representatives, Electro Velvet, may have something to say about that.) So, how should we rate the chances of our new European neighbours?

Once again we are left wondering why those in decision-making positions are not producing the cutting-edge presentation, staging and camerawork required to succeed in today’s Eurovision. At first glance Australia appears to have made a classic rookie error in submitting a song that is not actually that terrible, in Sebastian’s upbeat pop-funk number Tonight Again. Tass and other Russian news agencies quoted Patriarch Kirill as saying her victory would bring the contest to Russia “with all those bearded female singers.” Acts such as Wurst’s promote values “repulsive to our soul and our culture,” he declared.

Beyond bearded transvestite Conchita Wurst’s winning performance last year, the 2007 runner-up was a Ukrainian drag queen who marched about in silver Dolce & Gabbana, hollering a gibberish folk-techno track. The total budget for the host broadcaster can be anywhere between €20 million to €30 million ($30 million to $45 million) and usually contains a contribution from the broadcaster itself, a contribution from the city where it’s held – Vienna in 2015 – plus additional revenues streams such as ticket sales, a cut from the international sponsor income and a cut from the tele-voting income. If the bookies are right and Australia fails to win, the contest organisers continue to insist that Europe will revert, more or less, to its current borders next year.

And if a nation wins, it comes with the obligation to stage the event next year, something many of the smaller European countries are said to deliberately avoid, by sending lesser acts. I have a strong enough sense of self-preservation not to suggest that the music is a standout part of Eurovision (admittedly, at times, it can be the worst). Even without a change of continents, contest horizons can be further widened this year with a triumph by Polish contestant Monika Kuszynska, who is partially paralyzed and performs from a wheelchair. Ms Kellie said SBS did not expect to make a profit on the event, even though this year it has four sponsors: Renault, Harvey Norman, AHM health insurance and Bingle car insurance. But hopes of a breakthrough by the Finnish punk band PKN — consisting of one autistic member and three others with Down Syndrome — were eliminated in a qualifying round.

That means Eurovision will rely this year on its usual mix of eclectic, sometimes vapid and often overwrought techno beats, love songs, ballads and pop tunes. Like its commercial rivals, SBS will be introducing the audience watching Eurovision to the rest of its line-up, hoping they will come back more often. And along with the endless songs about broken heartage, the Eurovision canon includes artists examining topics like Facebook, passwords and free booze.

When the 37-year-old Maggie Gyllenhaal is refused a role as the love interest opposite a 55-year-old male actor for being “too old”, you can understand why actresses like Rebel Wilson may be reluctant to reveal their real age. The Oscar-nominated star of films including The Dark Knight and Secretary and television series including The Honorable Woman made the revelation in an interview with The Wrap magazine, a portion of which was published this week. While her male contemporaries like Bradley Cooper or Leonardo DiCaprio, both 40, continue to be cast opposite actresses in their 20s, Gyllenhaal said her age had been a barrier to a recent role, even though her potential co-star was 18 years her senior. Culture website Vulture observed in 2013 that “as leading men age, their love interests stay the same,” in an analysis that looked at the age disparities in Hollywood films. So this weekend, when the finals air on our TV screens, we can’t just sit on the sidelines and giggle about the lady who inexplicably sings opera-style in Armenia’s act.

They found Harrison Ford is routinely paired with women 20 or 30 years his junior, from 29-year-old Anne Heche in Six Days, Seven Nights, when Ford was 55, to 39-year-old Kristin Scott Thomas in Random Hearts, when Ford was 57. While there was some concern that Australia stumped for Australian Idol winner Guy Sebastian – and not someone cooler – to sing its song, three thoughts are comforting on this front: It is easy to view Eurovision as a cultural pestilence with an expensive light show: the musical equivalent of the Logies. Or it is for something like the Olympics that takes up two weeks of your life and provides just as much heartbreak and disappointment as it does happy victorious moments. From the late 1990s, Potter would become a familiar sight in climbing and outdoor magazines as he made solo climbs among the towering granite walls of Yosemite, or balanced on ropes slung between mountain peaks.

Later he took up base jumping and wingsuit flying, sometimes with his dog, Whisper, an Australian cattle dog, which would ride tandem in a custom-made dog harness. Among other things, Potter pioneered a new style of “free solo” climbing, in which he would travel solo up a route, deploying a rope only for the hardest sections. With other climbers, he also set speed records, including on the El Capitan’s Nose route (three hours 24 minutes in 2001, then two hours 36 minutes in 2010) . He was also the first to “free climb” both El Capitan and Half Dome in 24 hours, without recourse to stirrups, rope ladders and other artificial aids. His wanderings took him to Patagonia where, during a three-week trip in 2002, he “soloed” three famously difficult climbs, including Cerro Torre’s Compressor route and Fitzroy’s Californian Roulette.

When he was still a child, his family spent three years in Bethany, Palestine, where, aged five, he fell while climbing his house, striking his head on the patio below. He claimed that his fear of heights was banished forever after Bedouin women chanted mystical songs and threw salt on the blood to drive away evil spirits.

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