Oct, 2007

Warming up for the next Eurovision Song Contest, I decided to talk to the fans – the people who have turned the Contest into what it is today. Collectors’ items, merchandising products, promotional materials, small gifts… fans are always eager to get them, with their interest sometimes making completely unknown singers great music stars.

That’s why I called an eminent specialist in the sphere of Eurovision mania, who can be trusted to give a reliable, competent and well-informed opinion.

Chris Zavos is one of the first people in Greece to whom it occurred to draw to the idea others sharing the same love for the Contest.

  1. Sarbel and Chris ZavosHow long have you been involved with the Eurovision idea?

    My first Eurovision Song Contest was in 1979 when I was still a little kid, and as the time passed on that night my parents decided that I could not watch the show until the end because I had to go to bed; the next day they told me that Israel had won (Hallelujah). For the following years of my life I was involved in classical music, and I rediscovered Eurovision in 1987 when Greece was represented by a boy band named Bang. After many obscure years, there was again hope in Greece that we would achieve a good result, which was eventually the 10th place. In those years we only had National television in our homes, so there was a lot of publicity given to the event. I still keep in my collection my first ever official National tv magazine featuring Bang in its cover. However, it was only in 1990 that I became a member of an organized Eurovision Society.

  2. You are one of the greatest fans of Eurovision I know. I also know you as a person who likes classical music and jazz, and adores classic theatre – elite, high art as a whole. How would you explain this mixture of tastes, that some people would find unusual? What do you think it comes to say about the “Eurovision” art?

    Indeed, I love quality art, mainly because I was raised in a conservatoire ever since I was a little child, and I played the violin in a classical symphony orchestra. Still, I cannot explain even myself how I contracted the “Eurovision virus”. There have been times that I was embarrassed to admit in certain artistic cycles this side of me, because there is a general misconception that Eurovision is meant for certain people who lack good taste. This is absolutely not true. Throughout the years I have met many real professionals involved in the event and have become good friends with journalists, musicians, fans, singers, and tv people from around the world. It is exactly this idea of intercultural relations that fascinates me, the feeling that I belong in a wider world; Eurovision was originally conceived to serve these ideals. After all, I adore travelling and meeting with new mentalities and life styles. This is why people like me are the greatest supporters of the songs that keep their traditional National elements.

  3. I know that you are one of the most important and influential people in the Greek OGAE. How would you comment the importance of fan clubs on people’s attitude to the Eurovision Song Contest? How important your work is for the promotion of the contest?

    Thank you for your kind words. Although I am currently the oldest active member in OGAE Greece, I have recently left the administrative board for professional reasons, because I had to move to Crete for a few years. However, I fully trust our new board in Greece, and I am always pleased to offer my views and suggestions whenever asked.

    Fan clubs are very important because they keep the Eurovision candles lit. They hold reunions and song contests throughout the whole year, not only during the Eurovision period. Moreover, every fan has their own archives of collector’s items, such as newspapers, magazines, books, records, videos, posters, autographs, stamps, photos, etc. OGAE international has a fanzine produced in Germany and distributed to all affiliated National clubs.

  4. Do you tend to work in cooperation with ERT, the Greek public broadcaster, and in what respect do you work with them?

    When we organized the event in Athens in 2006, all the Greek fans put together their own pieces of the puzzle, and the result was a unique deluxe illustrated publication with information about the past Greek Eurovision entries, which was offered as a gift to all the fans that came from all the participating countries. We were also responsible for hosting the foreign fans by providing help with tickets, accommodation, and transportation through a hospitality initiative. I think this has saved a lot of effort, time and money to our National broadcaster. We are keen on participating in every aspect of the contest just for the honor of participating. During the live show, we create a unique atmosphere supporting our National entries, and it is not strange that the EBU trusts the front seats to the OGAE network.

  5. The EBU decided to introduce a new format for the ESC – the two semifinals. Many countries protested against this decision with little effect. How would you comment this innovation and its influence on the interest to the show?

    I only know that this innovation will not have any impact on the ardent fans. We are of the opinion that “the more countries, the more fun, the more collector’s items”. It may sound crazy to someone who hasn’t got the Eurovision virus, but for those who have it and read these lines will certainly accord with them. Besides, it has been shown that the new participating countries are more interested in the contest that the traditional ones, thus I see no reason why anyone should be excluded from the show. Whenever a change happens, there are certainly many people who are ready to foresee a catastrophy. It is not bad to try new formats as long as you later recognize if they have worked or not and try something different the following year.

  6. What are your expectations about this-year’s entries at the ESC? What kind of song do you think Europe wants to hear in order to grant the trophy to it?

    Eurovision is undoubtedly unpredictable. One year it’s ethnic, another it is hard rock, the third it is a ballad. It’s really risky to tell who is going to win. Personally, I truly wish quality songs and musicians could win the contest more often, although it seems that the show presented on the stage becomes more and more important than the songs and voices themselves. Even so, the contest is an excellent means for singers to present their work to an international audience, and the trophy itself seems less important than the exposure someone gets through this event.

  7. I’m now playing advocate to the Devil… but I have to ask you this question: Do you think that the end of the ESC is close? That is, leaving the most ardent fans alone, do you think that people are fed up with Eurovision?

    I think that the end of the ESC is close for some of the Big4 countries and some of the traditional countries, and that in the future we will see a few of those countries opting not to submit an entry, like Italy did some years ago. But I see a lot of enthusiasm from the newcomers and this alone is encouraging that the end of Eurovision is yet to come. In Greece, ERT obtains a share of over 90% in the last 4 years, mainly because striking names have decided to participate. It’s amazing that so many people criticize the quality of the Contest, yet the share in Greece remains breathtakingly high.

What more can I say after these words! Let’s enjoy together the next Eurovision Song Contest.

Busy as he might be, Dmitry Koldun will next go to Sofia, Bulgaria as a special guest in the national selection show EuroBGvision. Koldun will have a mini-gig as he’ll be singing for like a quarter of an hour, presenting the best of his musical art.

EuroBGvision show is the Bulgarian national broadcaster’s attempt to draw more fans to the Eurovision idea, explaining the basis of the Contest, providing some history, starting up furious discussions between the commentators, and giving the floor to the crowds. The stage is given to singers from all over the country and Bulgarians living abroad, who want to try their luck to qualify for the grand stage in Belgrade. Most of them are way below the average, but this doesn’t seem to bother those with no ear for music.

Koldun is the best qualifying artist for Belarus, since the country’s first participation in 2004. After his grand success in Helsinki this spring, he’s been quite busy, filming videos all over the place, mostly in Moscow. Seems like Russia’s enjoying the miracle from Minsk more than anyone else.

The beginning of this week saw the opening of the Belarusian national selection. State TV of Belarus, along with most broadcasters whose artists finished in the top 10 in this-year’s ESC, protested against the introduction of the new format. Still, the country will continue participating in the Contest with a fresh artist. Who will they be? We’ll know in a couple of months.

Yesterday, I saw a Dutch film on a Middle-Eastern country, featuring the way people there organise music and entertainment contests. The only thing that participants are allowed to do by way of choreography, is to snap their fingers. Any form of outspoken excitement is banned. Women are not allowed to the stage at all.

Never mind what this image might make you think – the cultural difference is fascinating and definitely worth seeing.

In this sense, I was interested to read that Abulfas Garayev, Azerbaijan’s Culture and Tourism Minister, said that they are working more and more on the country’s joining the Eurovision Song Contest not later than 2008. For more information, visit http://en.apa.az/news.php?id=36706

Wonder where the boundaries of European music can be posed? Are we facing here the phenomenon of music that has no borders..? If Israel, Georgia, Moldova, and now Azerbaijan participate in a European music forum, shall we expect the US joining in shortly? Or Australia, where indeed Eurovision enjoys huge popularity. And why not? For one thing, last year Georgia’s ESC entrant Sopho with her Visionary Dream was amazing with the combination of ethnic and European, a blend between national folk and world-wide house music.

The ESC is not necessarily reserved for European countries only. The only thing that worries me is that in a couple of years, we’ll end up with 10 instead of 2 Semi-Finals.

It took me two weeks or so to read and reread the suggestions for a new format for the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest. I read what Mr. Stockselius said,

“We are convinced that the introduction of a second Semi-Final contributes to a more stable future for the Eurovision Song Contest..”

I went on to see how important commentators viewed the news, and finally got the nerve to have a say myself.

The facts:

  1. From next year on, we will have two Semi-Finals (something we expected to become a fact only after 2008). All participants must go through a Semi-Final, except for the “Big 4″ (or BIG $, if you keep the Caps Lock on all the time), who qualify directly for the Final… That is, the results from ESC 2007 will (except for the winner) have no meaning for the 2008 edition in Serbia.
  2. The two Semi-Finals will take place at the same time, the night of 22 May. Rumours have it that even a separate Semi-Final was discussed for Eastern Europe, having in mind top 10 from ESC 2007 (all 10 countries are from the Eastern bloc). If this happens, you will watch only one part of Europe at Eurovision… If you come from Russia, you will only watch the songs of the former Russian republics, the Yugoslavian satellites, and a few more… Okay, what if you want to watch the Danish songs, or the Norwegian one, or.. hm, wonder where Hungary goes?
  3. The results will be announced live for both Semi-Finals, while the artists are in the Green Room. Picture this… we have two Green rooms, or what?
  4. Some said that there should be a wild card for each Semi-Final, which will be granted to the song, preferred by the back-up juries.

I reckon the whole thing takes a lot off the flavor of the Contest.

No, I’ll start in a different way. When I first watched the ESC, years ago, I though “blah, it’s so unfair to have last-year’s results reflecting this-year’s edition.. Let all countries compete on a fair ground and see who’s the best THIS YEAR.” As I was growing up with Eurovision, I grew to like this rule. Indeed, it gave the event an interesting side – all countries wanted to perform better so that in the following year they could go directly to the Grand Final, or the finale grande… And then the problem with ‘neighbor’ or ‘gastarbeiter’ vote appeared, and it all was corrupted.

And we remember the good old times, when the winner would be chosen by the vote of an international jury. But today, there are the major international telecommunication corporations, which will never of earth let loose the pan-European crowds of zealous voters.

The ESC Reference group, as we get to know who pulls the strings, must agree on Rules that do not present the European pop scene one-sidedly. I can see that they want to make the Contest modern and fascinating for everyone. But I cannot see how two Semi-Finals will help solve the matter. Because this will mean more money, more flash, and less value of the true song.

Ever thought of becoming a great music star? Impossible? Read on, and you’ll see that a music career is not a mission impossible today.

What follows is an offer of 5 top spots where your music talent, even though you might be unaware of it, can be recognized by specialists.

  1. Frequent the bathroom, not necessarily to take a shower. The acoustics of the pipes and the ambiance of the place guarantees fast fame.
  2. Go camping in the mountains. Encountering a bear can change your life for good, but it can also be the beginning of a glorious career in opera.
  3. Use any chance to line up with a crowd of strangers. Never mind why, queuing to get the best seats for tonight’s gig, or waiting for your hot meal in the canteen, make sure you shout loud. You never know if anyone’s looking for partners for their new band. Local gigs are the best first source of income…
  4. Flood the Internet with your last single. You’ve got nothing to lose. Only those, whose mobiles are off all the time, never end up with a flat battery. But.. never get the crucial calls…
  5. Finally, try singing while bungee-jumping. Improvisation in show biz, I tell you, is what’ll keep you way ahead of the mobs.

Wondering where it all starts, and how one gets successful at Eurovision, I decided to try asking Maltese sisters Natasha and Charlene, a huuuge example of Eurovision spirit.. They were so kind to spend some time on my queries. Have a look at what they have to say on music, Eurovision, and…

  1. You are one of the most successful duets in the history of Eurovision. You are among the most popular names in the music industry in Malta and across Europe. Is it only the family link between you two, and love for music that keeps you on top, or there is something else?

    Well, being sisters we think helps a lot because when working on new material we have no problem speaking our minds out or complaining to each other J nobody gets offended, and if we do, it will soon pass because we’re used to arguing and making friends again in no time! The other thing is that we’re always up for new ideas and always ready to experiment with new styles, and of course we are both very determined and find a lot for support from our family and that gives us the strength to get up again after each fall and be stronger for whatever is yet to come!

  2. Charlene and Natasha ESCYou come from a country where Eurovision is almost a cult. What are your latest projects released or to be released on the music market and are they related ONLY to Eurovision?

    As regards Eurovision this year, yes, we have been working on some very good new material! J and this summer we’ve also been busy creating something more which is due to be ready very soon!

  3. You are absolutely successful on the TV, your faces are familiar to everyone in Malta. Where can international fans see you and listen to you these days, if they come to Malta?

    We are back on Net TV as from the first week of October, “Sas-Sitta” which is an afternoon entertainment program, live every Saturday from 2pm till 6pm. Then of course we have our private functions in various hotels and different localities around Malta. We will be taking part in various concerts these coming days and will be very busy throughout Christmas with a very big show which is also a production of Spiteri Lucas Entertainment. For more info visit www.charleneandnatasha.com

  4. Last year, we saw you on the Bulgarian National Final as part of an international project with Swedish and Irish as well as Bulgarian participation. What can motivate you participate for a country which is not your native?

    First of all, we would like to say that our participation in Bulgaria last year was an experience we shall never forget! We were approached by Jonas Gladnikoff and later on also by Niall Mooney to work on the song Open your Eyes, as we listened to it the first time we immediately agreed it would’ve been a good song for the Eurovision. Bulgaria gave us the opportunity to enter our song in the competition and as we are always up for new opportunities we decided to try our luck in your festival as well J

  5. How far do your plans go to international participation, no only related to the ESC?

    We have worked with different composers as we like to experiment new styles, and since music is something platonic the more ideas from different people of different backgrounds and from different countries, the better it gets. Presently we are working on more material with new artists and composers from different countries as well as from Malta.

  6. This year you are taking part in the National selection of Malta. What are your expectations given the competition for the up-coming Eurovision season? Who are your most serious competitors?

    Every year is a very tough competition here in Malta, we have a lot of talented singers as well as composers, and everybody is very determined to win! There are a few popular names which have been in the scene for some years now and everybody is waiting for his time to come plus you never know about the new faces. I just hope the best song wins!

  7. And finally, Open Your Eyes, the song performed in Sofia during the national Contest, carries a wonderful message. I cannot imagine it performed in any other language but English. This is not the case for Malta, but what do you think of artists performing in English, for whom English is not native.

    Well, I guess the most important thing in a song is that you are able to communicate your message, you want people to understand what your song is about, so they can relate to your feelings and make it their own song.. so it would really have to depend on who’s listening J

Wish you good luck in your future participation on Eurovision and hope to see you soon, maybe in Belgrade!