Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Eurovision 2009: Through the Eyes of a Participant

The annual Eurovision Song Contest consists of forty-three participating nations, including most of NATO, the Eastern European block and Israel. It is one of the most anticipated television events in all of Europe, attracting anywhere from 100 to 200 million viewers worldwide on a yearly basis.

Originally conceived in 1956, as a means for peaceful reunification of European countries following the Second World War, the premier international song festival has also served as a career launching platform for some bright musical careers. Celine Dion, ABBA, Julio Iglesias and many other household names have established themselves in this massive kaleidoscope of contemporary music.

The ESC winner is determined by an hour-long (and a rather nerve-wrecking) telephone and jury voting system. There is one strict rule that no one is allowed to break - the callers cannot choose their own nation's entry. Fair enough! But the Scandinavian countries will always vote for each other no matter what, and so will the Eastern European block – over the years, the geopolitical aspect of the contest has unfortunately proved insurmountable!

Ironically, Eurovision 2009 will be taking place in the Russian capital for the first time in the 54 year history of the event, from May 12-16. And I say "ironically" because the idea of applying as either a songwriter or an artist in the national pre-selection process has never really entered my mind, until just recently.

In 1999-2000, when I was just starting out as an aspiring musician, there were casual talks in Moscow about sending me to ESC to represent Russia as its Georgian-born Russkiy citizen. However, the chances of beating famous Russian pop stars in the internal polls were minimal as a completely unknown 15-year-old girl. So I decided to wait, and take my chances at a later stage in my career...

Almost a decade - and many songs - later, I got a call from Reykjavik in October, from my long-time collaborator (and very well-known Icelandic songwriter/producer) Oskar Pall Sveinsson (known for his UK & US hits as Oskar Paul). He asked if I had any objections to his idea of pitching a song we had co-written together with the legendary producer Christopher Neil, as a possible contender to represent Iceland at the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest in May of 2009.

"We'll have to find an Icelandic artist to sing the song in order to qualify, but a multi-national songwriting team should go down well in the pre-selection process," Oskar promised. "And besides, the contest will be held in Moscow next year - could it be any better for you?"

To make a long story short, 217 songs, 4 weeks of semifinals and a nationally televised grand finale later, the wonderfully gifted Yohanna's performance of "Is It True" granted us a staggering 44% of the national votes across the country. Thanks to overwhelming support, the song immediately qualified as the official Icelandic entry, and it will compete against 41 of the best pop songs from Europe in mid-May... Just a few weeks away!

Since the primary concept of ESC is to find the best pop song, some the most renowned scribes in the world team up to compete. This year's "contestants" include Andrew Lloyd Webber, Ronan Keating, my hero Diane Warren, and many more. Really, why wouldn't they want to write the signature song of the year?

Could I be anymore humbled looking at the list of my colleagues and "competitors"? In fact, I'd be lying if I said that I'm not nervous - but at the same time I am oh so excited!

BTR will bring you exclusive coverage of this event through the eyes of a participant - up close, personal and totally unplugged at the biggest European song festival of the year. It just might be a first for the American media.

You can follow the three-week journey, promo tour, semi-finals and grand finale (we simply must qualify - and you'll be the first to know about the outcome!) right here on my DJ blog. I'll be sharing the latest news and pictures from my all my Eurovision adventures.

So, gear up, hop on my train of ESC madness and let's make it true for Iceland together!

Tinatin's Eurovision Ride with BTR

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