Sunday, May 17, 2009

Final Day – Is It True? Yes, It Is!

It’s not only true, but it’s also over (the madness, the excitement, the 24 hour schedule with no time to sleep, et cetera). But what a fantastic ride it’s been, and what a great payoff in the end! I couldn’t be more ecstatic about the results…

Iceland came in second, with 218 points, including ‘Douze Points’ from three countries: Norway, Malta and Ireland. Ironically, one of the co-writers of our song – the legend, that is – happens to be an Irish-born Brit, Christopher Neil. I have to admit, getting 12 points from Chris Neil’s native Ireland was rather special for us. I sat next to him during the televoting and clutched his hand tightly with excitement throughout.

After all, it wasn’t just about Iceland anymore, was it? It was about a great singer singing a song that Graham Norton, the BBC commentator (and a huge UK TV personality) referred to as “a real song” in a song contest.

Countless TV interviews, shoots and meetings back to back – how does one leave such an artistic haven in the very heat of the moment? Truth be told, I should really be staying here for another week or so, but who could have predicted the outcome? The pre-ESC live primetime TV show, which broadcasted both nationwide and internationally, targeted millions of Russian-speaking viewers that certainly helped. And singing the song in Russian, in front of my colleagues in Moscow, well, it was simply unforgettable!

What’s next, I wonder? Apart from a flight to New York first thing in the morning, as well as tons of work waiting for me on the other side of the world, it’s probably wisest to strike the iron while it’s hot, and not relax for a second. Otherwise, how often does one compete and, moreover, beat songs written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Diane Warren and Ronan Keating? I’m so proud of our achievement, and of course so thrilled with Yohanna’s final performance on the last night (and all the nights prior to the grand finale – she’s been amazing throughout!) As a young songwriter, I’m humbled, but I'm also over the moon to be on the same songwriting team with real pros such as Christopher Neil and Oskar Pall Sveinsson!

It really has been a thrill and a great adventure taking my friends, readers and listeners along on a special Eurovision ride to Moscow, but everything has to come to an end at some point. But, rest assured that when the next big opportunity comes along (and there are a few ideas in the works, more on that later!) you’ll be the first to hop on the train and come along with me. There will be new stories, new characters and more unpredictable adventures. Indeed, there is a lot to look forward to!

In the meantime, thank you all so much, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing this very special moment with me from Day 1. Don’t forget – Chapter 2 is just around the corner!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Day 11 - It Is True, We Are Officially In!

I couldn’t be happier or more proud! Making it to the finals has most definitely been the highlight of my trip so far. Isn’t that why we are here, after all?

Rumor had it, just before the semi-final gala kicked off, that Iceland would either be the first to go through, or it would simply miss out by a couple of votes. The polls across the Olympiisky Stadium walls, however, had been very promising during the week. We were placed at the very top of the list, as the most likely contender for the finalist spot. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t confident… in fact, overly confident, particularly after hearing Yohanna’s semi-final performance in the Green Room – we were so proud!

But suddenly it all turned into a real Eurovision nightmare, as the finalists were announced one by one, each flag pulled out individually from the electronic envelopes. There were 10 of them in total. 1, 2, 3, 4, it wasn’t getting any easier, although what helped was the constant reminder that the results were being disclosed in random order. But still, were we going to make it? By #9 we knew it was going to be either Belarus or Iceland – or maybe neither, as Eurovision has always been famous for being completely unpredictable!

When the very last envelope was pulled out of the batch, I looked away from the screen and closed my eyes and ears. It was getting a little too intense! Would I be able to face another flag, other than our Icelandic one, when I opened my eyes?

I honestly cannot recall seeing our flag on the screen and neither can I remember hearing “Iceland” or “Is It True?” as we sat holding hands in our cozy Green Room. Yet, I do remember our screams and tears once it had finally hit home – we had made it to the finals, 10 out of 18 semi final entries! I wish I could describe how it felt without sounding too cliché, but I can’t help it – it really was THAT amazing!!!

What’s next for our team in the coming days? Well, a couple of top notch TV shows and exclusive interviews, which have already kicked off following our big night. And it’s going to get even bigger and all the more exciting (and perhaps even more nerve-wracking) on May 16th – the Grand Finale! Dare I make any predictions? Let’s wait and see. I’m just enjoying the moment, anticipating the unknown and making the most of this fantastic experience. Had I known it was so good, I would have made my first Eurovision attempt quite a few years ago. But I suppose it’s better to do it later than never at all!

And now it’s time to face another crazy day filled with intense drama, excitement, madness and a whole load of fun! Who knows what the rest of the week has in store for us? It just keeps getting better…. And tougher, too!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Day 10 - Semi Final Preparations!

As we are making last minute preparations for the semi final, due to take place tonight at 11 PM Moscow time, the excitement is building up and our overall schedule is getting tighter by the minute!

While most of the delegation parties are beginning to wind down (until the big night on the 16th) most of the participants are spending less time on the dance floor.Everyone is devoting all of their energy to the upcoming semi finals tonight, and on the 14th. As it happens, we are in the first group of semi finalists, hence the madness and major anticipation of the event.

Although the absolute highlight is bound to be the grand finale itself, tonight is quite a big deal, too – it’s pretty much down to a fantastic performance by Yohanna (we are VERY confident!) and of course, one of the primary ingredients – LUCK.

We simply MUST qualify tonight and go through to the finals, but I admit I’m a little nervous – who wouldn’t be? We all are, and if anyone says otherwise – they’re either insane or just lying!

And here’s the line up (I almost wrote the “track listing” – I’m too much of a studio nerd, I guess!)

(Composer/lyricist in brackets)

Montenegro - Andrea Demirović - Just get out of my life (Ralph Siegel/Bernd Meinunger, José Juan Santana Rodriguez)

Czech Republic - - Aven romale (Radoslav Banga)

Belgium - Copycat - Copycat (Miam Monster Miam/Jacques Duvall)

Belarus - Petr Elfimov - Eyes that never lie (Petr Elfimov/Valeriy Prokhozhy)

Sweden - Malena Ernman - La voix (Fredrik Kempe/Fredrik Kempe, Malena Ernman)

Armenia - Inga & Anush - Nor par (Mane Akopyan/Avet Barseghyan, Vardan Zadoyan)

Andorra - Susanne Georgi - La teva decisió (Get a life) (Pernilla Georgi, Susanne Georgi, Rune Braager, Lene Dissing, Marcus Winther-John/Josep Vila)

Switzerland - Lovebugs - The highest heights (Adrian Sieber, Thomas Rechberger, Florian Senn)

Turkey - Hadise - Düm tek tek (Sinan Akçil/Hadise, Sinan Akçil, Stefan Fernande)

Israel - Noa & Mira Awad - There must be another way (Noa, Mira Awad, Gil Dor)

Bulgaria - Krassimir Avramov - Illusion (Krassimir Avramov, William Tabanou/Casie Tabanou, Krassimir Avramov, William Tabanou)

Iceland - Yohanna - Is it true? (Tinatin Japaridze, Óskar Páll Sveinsson, Chris Neil)

FYR Macedonia - Next Time - Nešto što kje ostane (Damjan Lazarov, Jovan Jovanov/Elvir Mekić)

Romania - Elena Georghe - The Balkan girls (Daris Mangal, Ovidiu Bistriceanu, Laurenţiu Duţă/Laurenţiu Duţă, Alexandru Pelin)

Finland - Waldo's People - Lose control (Karima, Ari Erik Veikko Lehtonen/Karima, Annie Kratz-Gutå, Ari Erik Veikko Lehtonen, Waldo)

Portugal - Flor-de-Lis - Todas as ruas do amor (Pedro Marques/Pedro Marques, Paulo Pereira)

Malta - Chiara - What if we? (Marc Paelinck/Gregory Bilsen)

Bosnia & Herzegovina - Regina - Bistra voda (Aleksandar Čović)

And the rules? Oh, that’s the scary part!

18 countries listed above will present one song each, including “Is It True?” representing Iceland. Nine countries will be chosen by televoting to move forward to the grand final this Saturday and the tenth spot will go to the country that placed the highest in the voting of the juries but did not qualify through televoting. Only the qualifiers will be announced during the show, and the complete results will be revealed after the final.

There’s so much more I want to tell you about the last couple of days but it’s now time for me to rush over to a meeting with my publishers (and I have to sort out one of my publishers’ lost baggage – I keep forgetting I’m one of the very few Russian speakers in our delegation… if not the only one! I love it, most of the time) and I do promise to give you all the details following our semi final. It's all just a few hours away! I'm excited, sleepless and a little nervous – but not really. So stay tuned for the results and don’t forget to Vote for Iceland!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Day 8 - Eurovision Fever in Moscow!

The last couple of days have been so intense and “full on” – there is absolutely no escape from the Eurovision madness. Wherever I go in Moscow, it’s unbelievable!

Constant press conferences, interviews (TV and radio, even across the other side of the world… but more on that later!) rehearsals and parties – I truly am having a blast! But on the same note, as you may already know, I haven’t been getting any sleep - only 3 hours per night at most – since I arrived here over a week ago. Dare I complain? Hell, no!

Spending quality time with our Icelandic delegation has become so addictive! I honestly can't imagine not seeing them every day, come this time next week. What a great crowd of fun, creative, and professional people! If teamwork is what this is all about, then I feel extremely fortunate, especially now that we’ve really, really clicked. We have all hit it off in a big way – each and every one of us, collectively and individually. It’s so wonderful to work together with a group of people toward a common goal!

The Greek Party at our local hotspot Euro-Club was great fun last night. Some of the highlight acts of ESC 2009, including the Eurovision heartthrob himself, Sakis Rouvas, performed (mostly) live. Others mimed as well (should I just zip my lip?) and introduced their upcoming entries for the competition. This was a very particular audience, consisting of obvious Eurovision fans from all over the world. We were no exception!

Chris Neil, Oskar, Alma and I stood on the balcony overlooking the Euro-Club stage. We watched Yohanna blow everyone away with her performance, yet again. It would be fair to say that she blew us away too! I don't know why, but the overall impact of the song, and the performance itself, well, both are getting stronger and stronger, instead of turning into a daily routine. This is quite unusual, I think. But then again, I’m getting so excited about the upcoming semi-final (and particularly the big final night) I can barely wait for another 48 hours!

Tonight is the official opening ceremony of the Eurovision Song Contest 2009, and the welcoming party will be held at Moscow’s historic Manezh Hall, in Red Square. Although a lot of the former Eurovision stars were lip-synching all night long, it turned out to be a very entertaining event. We all had a great time just “chilling out,” as they say. The vibe was cool and the finger food was very impressive, too.

Unlike yesterday’s pre-Eurovision promo program, tonight’s gig featured only one of the entrants this year; Anastasia Prikhodko from Ukraine, who will represent Russia in the finals. Bizarre, isn’t it? Everyone’s representing everyone else, including our “not-so-purely Icelandic delegation!" It’s very exciting, though, since we are all so multi-national. And even though I’m Georgian-born, and not of Russian heritage at all, I am the most Russian of all the Russian representatives this year, being an official citizen of the Russkiy Land. This is all according to the local and national periodicals and news agencies. Is it true? Yes, it is!
During the opening ceremony, my producer and co-author of the Icelandic song (our new universal term for “Is It True?”) suddenly pointed out a gentleman standing in the corner by the bar – it was Chuck Taylor, one of the leading music journalists in the United States! Or so I thought, at first…

But soon enough I realized it wasn’t Chuck; it was his secret twin brother! In all honesty, I had sworn it was really him, and then I zoomed in on the poor look-alike. I harassed him with my digital camera for the remainder of the evening, still secretly hoping he’d turn out to be Chuck Taylor’s relative in Russia!

Just before we all decided to call it a night, before yet another manic day (and it really is going to start getting more and more intense, from tomorrow onwards) Chris and I were interviewed over the phone by the UK’s very own Dave Charles, at HFM. It was unusual and even spooky to a certain extent, but great fun – we stood next to Lenin’s Tomb as we chatted away with Dave. We talked about my songs, our Eurovision tune and “la vie” in Moscow. Pure magic!

It’s scary, but just a couple of decades ago, conducting an overseas interview from Soviet Russia with a capitalist world journalist would have been virtually impossible! I do feel incredibly fortunate to have witnessed a tad bit of that era, but I’m even luckier to be alive in a semi-democratic world as a young person. I can say or do whatever I like… well, some of the time! :-)

As Britney’s new single is playing in the background on Russian MTV (yes, I still watch Russian MTV once every couple of years) and as I’m slowly but surely beginning to realize I haven’t blinked an eye since the madness kicked off, first thing this morning, here’s a quick reminder before I drift off into the night: The official 6-day countdown to the main event has just begun, right here on BTR. So whatever you do, please be sure to keep your eyes on Iceland – you just NEVER know!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Day 7 - New Friends!

What a fantastic day! It really does keep getting better as the clock keeps on ticking away – and I am not exaggerating!

I really should be in bed by now, as I’m doing some writing in the studio tomorrow (I have never composed in Moscow – or at least have never co-written here, which is extremely exciting). But I wanted to share some of the latest news with you, and share some of my happiness.

Last night we got an invitation from the Ambassador of Iceland in Russia, to attend an Icelandic ESC party. It was hosted at the Embassy to honor our delegation, with the main focus on this year’s Icelandic entry, performed by Iceland’s very own, Danish-born Yohanna.

Since most of the delegations are hosting Eurovision parties at the Euro-Club, based on the informal protocol, we felt very privileged to attend our very own Eurovision extravaganza in the very heart of Icelandic culture – the diplomatic headquarters of Iceland’s Permanent Representative to the Russian Federation, Ambassador Benedikt Ásgeirsson.

Ambassador Ásgeirsson personally welcomed and greeted our team individually, and then we were all photographed with him. This went on throughout the reception, with photos being taken by various Icelandic, Danish, German, UK and Russian press and media representatives, who were also present at the special event. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to use my camera, as it would have been slightly awkward to be walking around with this digital friend, snapping pictures of everyone. However, various international photographers attending the party have promised us the shots as soon as possible, so, fingers crossed!

Fridrik Omar, Hera Bjork Thorhallsdottir and Erna Hronn Olafsdottir, who are supporting our stunning headliner as backing vocalists (but are in fact famous Icelandic and Danish singers themselves) performed several songs together with Yohanna, including “Is It True?” in both English and in Russian. I absolutely loved humming along with the Russian version, which I’m particularly fond of these days. It was adorable watching four accomplished Scandinavian artists singing in (what I can now easily refer to as) my “second native language”!

The press, as well as the Icelandic Ambassador, were equally charmed by the unplugged, yet extremely classy (and honest) performances. Meanwhile us, the three composers, enjoyed every moment of the magical evening. It's all really beginning to feel like a dream come true. Six years ago, who would have that the song we were writing was going to end up bringing the three of us back together in Moscow – miles away from London, Reykjavik and New York – for the Eurovision Song Contest?

I absolutely can't wait to post the pictures from this fabulous event on my blog. Then you can all experience – or at least witness – a glimpse of our collective pride, joy and excitement. It all comes from the very realization of the fact that, after all, representing the beautiful country of Iceland, in front of 100-600 million viewers across the world, is not a trivial pursuit.

Although it really has gone way past my regular (but in this case irregular) bedtime, I have to share one more highlight of the day with my new, but hopefully loyal BTR readers and listeners.

Do you remember Tomas N’Evergreen, whose songs I’ve featured numerously on my BTR show, Russkiy in the Mix (including this week’s premiere of his new single, “Popstar”)?

I’ve been a big fan of N’Evergreen’s since I first heard his single “Since You’ve Been Gone”, which was in the Top 5 in Russia for absolute ages, just a few years ago. And now that he’s living in Moscow for the time, releasing his second album throughout Europe in the coming months, there was no way I could pass through Moscow without meeting my favorite English-language artist!

It was wonderful talking to a like-minded, music-oriented artist; one who has managed to keep his feet firmly on the ground. At the same time, he is one of the most successful artists in the vast country of the Russian Federation! We swapped stories, experiences, ideas and tips, as though we’d been friends for a long time. That really doesn’t happen too often nowadays, particularly in the ever-changing and somewhat fickle music business.

Who knows, we may even collaborate on a song together, in the near future. If so, you really will be the first ones to hear about it! But for the time being, stay tuned for the latest N’Evergreen songs that I’m already excited about – the new album is on the way! I only wonder why Tomas isn’t representing his native Denmark this year? With all due respect to this year’s Danish song (written by Ronan Keating), I would have certainly voted for Denmark, if only… Hey, never say never!

Will I be up and running in a matter of 3-4 hours yet again? I’m afraid so, but dare I complain? This is one of the most memorable adventures I’ve experienced so far in life, and being able to take you along for the ride makes it all so much more worthwhile, and undeniably special!

P.S. This beautiful electronic postcard was made by Nathan Waddell at ESCtime – one of the biggest supporters of our Icelandic song in the UK. I was particularly touched by the lovely note at the bottom - isn’t it adorable? I was venting in one of my previous blogs earlier this week about being perceived by the press here at Eurovision as more of an artist (although I’m not singing at the moment!), versus my primary role as a songwriter, so here’s the answer from Nathan!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Day 6 - Back To Eurovision 2009!

I have so enjoyed spending time catching up with old friends from school! I am back in my hometown, after all, so a little sightseeing is mandatory. I must look like a wide-eyed tourist, or rather an expatriate who’s been away for far too long!

That said, following a much-deserved “collective” day off on Day 5, we are now fully back on ESC track, and in full gear!

The highlight of the day was welcoming Christopher Neil (my executive producer and co-writer of “Is It True?”) without an ounce of exaggeration. The man is a true legend, and responsible for some of the biggest worldwide hit records, including Celine Dion, Cher, Rod Stewart, I mean, the list could go on forever!

While our folks were watching some of the rehearsals for semi 2, I drove to the airport with our ESC hosts. I was finally going to meet Chris for the first time in my home town. It was a very special moment for me!

This moment was brief, however. There was a minor mishap, for we soon realized that Chris had misplaced his Eurovision Pass! Since we were due at Olympiisky Stadium by 6 PM for the second Icelandic rehearsal (it was already 5:50 PM by then) our driver, Denis, took matters into his own hands. He must have broke the Guinness World Record. We got from A to B within 15 minutes, and through a manic traffic jam at that!

The set looked really beautiful, and we were all impressed with the sound, especially during the playback in the viewing room. Chris, who has been to more mega-huge gigs in the last few decades than I can even imagine, told me that it’s far more professional-sounding than he had expected. Did you know that one of the top sound engineers from Europe (who happens to be from “our neighboring” country of Sweden) is in charge of the ESC sound this year?

As soon as Yohanna got on stage, she blew everyone away with her performance. Unlike most rehearsals, ours was actually one of the few that felt like the real deal. The crew and some of the press people attending clapped after every soundcheck and every take, which apparently is very unusual.

After the rehearsal and our private playback (where we discussed the performance and made last minute comments about bits and pieces - mostly technical stuff) the organizers escorted us to the press conference room. There was going to be some media madness on the spot!

Although today’s conference was a little shorter than Monday’s extravaganza (probably due to press representatives trying to juggle a million things at once during the pre-ESC prep time) it was really cute to hear Yohanna sing a cappella in Russian, especially for the benefit of the local press!

By the time we had wrapped up at the venue, it suddenly hit us that we hadn’t eaten a thing since God knew when. So, the next stop turned out to be quite predictable, and not too exotic, either - our new favorite Italian restaurant in downtown Moscow!

The best part so far, I have to admit, has been ordering food for our delegation every time we go out. Since I’m the only other Russian speaker, aside from our hosts, do I feel like a true Muscovite when I’m around them?!

Although I’ve promised our musicians that I’ll take them out clubbing tomorrow night, I’m actually very limited in my knowledge of the Moscow nightlife. Aside from the restaurants, I don't know too much about it, so it will be interesting to see if they’ll like my local Zagat choice!

Tomorrow is another crazy day, or so we’ve been warned. The highlight will certainly be our Icelandic Party, to be hosted by the Icelandic Ambassador, at the Embassy here in Moscow. This is extremely exciting, as there will be a lot of singing, dancing, and probably quite a bit of drinking as well. But, I promise to behave! In all seriousness though, it should be interesting, as I’ve never really been to a purely Icelandic party. That's quite an intriguing prospect, to say the least!
I daren’t look at the time, in case it has gone past 2 or 3 AM again. So far I’ve been going to bed at or around 5 AM, at the earliest. I've been doing a seemingly endless amount of radio promo interviews in Europe every night, and it's made a regular bedtime somewhat awkward, if not impossible. Of course, it’s been amazing to be able to promote both my UK single, “Thinking of Someone Else”, and the Eurovision song, “Is It True?” at the same time. But it’s also been a little hectic! Plus, I’ve got to draft the synopsis for my book sequel (which I’ve only just submitted to my agent) while I’m in Moscow. I'm not sure if I'll be able to get some time off to party with my new Icelandic friends. Of course, you’ll be the first to know on BTR, so stay tuned!

Oh, and one more thing before I turn my laptop off for the night – a major Russian TV channel, ORT 1, and the main news show, "Vremya," are endorsing “Is It True?” They are highlighting it as one of the ESC songs with a strong Russian connection, and they are telling our compatriots to keep their eyes and ears on throughout the competition for it. So with ORT’s support, which is a huge deal over here, we shouldn’t do too badly at all! In fact, we are very optimistic, so, fingers crossed!

Now I’m really off to bed, no excuses! Up in 4 hours…

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Day 4 - Down Time, Party Time!

Just when it seemed our manic schedule was going to get out of hand, with nary a moment to tour the Russian capital, the Eurovision organizers announced today and tomorrow as the second semifinal rehearsal dates. So, we’re officially off for the time being. Or at least the songwriters and a few of the delegates are, as Yohanna and her coach will still be rehearsing at the hotel over the next couple of days.

While the Icelanders were cruising around Moscow in our ESC bus, sight-seeing all over the city, I decided to sleep in. I ended up relaxing for the most part of the early afternoon.

The phone rang a couple of times about various interviews and organization issues. It's embarassing, but I was so exhausted (and totally jet lagged) that I honestly couldn’t recall half of what I was saying in my sleepy state of mind, after I finally woke up! Hopefully, it’s all still very much intact.

After spending a few hours with my photographer, and another few minutes on the phone with friends in New York (yes, I’m getting just a little homesick, honestly, just a little!) our Russian hosts picked me up around 7 PM. We headed over to the Il Patio restaurant downtown, where I joined the rest of our delegation for a proper catch-up and lovely Italian dinner. Although the pizza was slightly on the cold side, my mozzarella and prosciutto salad was simply delectable!

Sitting right between Alma, one of the soloists in the famous Icelandic pop group Nylon (she is also Oskar Pall, my co-writer’s fiancée) and Elin, our fabulous make-up artist, we laughed so hard over dinner. Our table was split into 2’s and 3’s, and it was quite crowded, even for the restaurant staff. It took them forever to serve us!

For this very reason, we arrived late to the opening of the Euro-Club in Moscow’s historic Manezh on Red Square. But it actually turned out to be the best part of the night, as what happened afterwards was so much fun! Some of the biggest Russian pop stars, including Mumiy Troll and N’Evergreen (both of whom I’ve recently interviewed and whose songs I’ve played on my Russkiy in the Mix show) performed a set each and really made it a special night for the VIP attendees. And it was just nice to hear some great Russian pop tunes, for there really aren’t THAT many!

Tomorrow is going to be a rather quiet day for most of us, as we prepare for our big rehearsal on Thursday, followed by the international media conference. Just before our rehearsal kicks off, I’ll be heading off to the airport together with our hosts to meet our co-writer and my producer, Christopher Neil. I really cannot wait to show him around my home town, or one of my two home towns, anyway!

In case you're thinking I'm off to get some sleep, I'm afraid I have to tell you you're wrong. Although it’s already 3:30 AM here in Moscow, I’ve got a phone interview coming up with a UK radio station in a few hours, so there will be no sleep for me tonight. I’m Sleepless in Moscow!

Before I say goodnight, however, some quick insider info. An impressive majority of our ladies were very disappointed that Sakis Rouvas, this year’s Greek entrant at ESC, did not appear at tonight’s EuroClub show. Is it just me, or is he just too flawless not to be a model, instead of being a singer? I honestly don’t get it, but more on that later, right here on BTR!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Day 3 - ESC Preparations Kick-Off!

The rehearsals and press conferences have finally kicked off, and unlike yesterday’s “meet and greet,” today was the real deal.

First thing in the morning, the Russian Eurovision hosts picked me up at home. The other assigned group of hosts went directly to the hotel to get the rest of the delegation - the majority of them, in fact, as I’m the only one from our group who is not staying in the hotel. I felt a little awkward about this initially. But being able to spend that extra bit of time with family and friends is simply too irresistible!

Before everyone had arrived by bus from Cosmos, Igor, Vlad (the ESC team in Moscow) and I cruised around the area, ending up at my secret haven. Dare I admit it? My favorite snack spot in Moscow is – McDonald’s! Please don’t laugh, the Russians take McDonald’s very seriously – and quite frankly, the food is very good (for what it is, of course) – the fries are delectable and so is the coffee, surprisingly enough. Even Oskar (Pall Sveinsson, one of our co-writers) took a picture of one of the local McDonald’s outdoor patios, when the delegation arrived last night. He posted the picture on his Facebook profile, so, with Oskar’s permission, here’s a glimpse at my secret getaway behind the scenes...

Afterwards, Igor (Icelandic host) and Vlad (Belgian host) accompanied me to meet the head of EBU accreditation about my pass. Apparently I’d been registered as a United States delegate, and my status was way too confusing for everyone, so we sorted that out before it became too packed outside of the accreditation center – within minutes, the line outside the EBU office was overwhelming! It just shows you how much everyone in Moscow (and beyond, I think) is excited about the upcoming competition.

Icelandic rehearsal #1 started a little after 10:30 AM, following the Israeli and Bulgarian sets. I was so impressed with Israel’s entry – I had always liked the idea behind the concept of their song, but the presentation itself was equally classy. And the vocalists, particularly Noa, sounded really good on stage!

When it was our turn to take over the center stage, Yohanna literally blew everyone away – one take after another, the performance just got stronger and stronger by the minute. And it really sounded amazing in the room.

Wait, did I say “the room?"

The place is huge, but at the same time, the stage is rather "compact," and not too overwhelming. Our initial fears about performing a ballad without intense dance routines, special high-tech effects and volcanic eruptions had all been in vain, fortunately enough!

Following a staggeringly beautiful performance at the rehearsal (and I’m not exaggerating – you can see it for yourselves on YouTube, it was truly gorgeous – Yohanna looked and sounded very confident, which is always great, and the backstage crowd responded extremely well to the tune, so we were all very, very proud! Oskar took loads of pictures, but unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to get any copies yet) we were then escorted to what’s called a "viewing room," where we watched the entire playback. We swapped comments, ideas and suggestions, then made a few last minute corrections of a strictly technical nature.

To be honest, since I am the only non-Icelandic speaker in our delegation at the moment (Christopher Neil, our co-writer and my executive producer, and Peter Knight, my publisher, are arriving from London on Thursday afternoon, so I’m counting the days – it’s so odd being alone!) it was slightly awkward and difficult trying to understand what was going on during the general debate following the playback. Everyone on our team, of course, spoke Icelandic and I had trouble trying to figure it out for myself… ha ha, not fun! Then my phone rang, all of a sudden, so I left the room for a few minutes. By the time I had wrapped up the call, however, our team was leaving the room. They joined me in the corridor. “It would have been good if you were there,” one of the RUV TV crew members noted. I admitted it was a bit confusing for me, since I didn’t understand a word of what was being said! These things though, and in the end I found it very amusing.

After the playback session, we all headed over to a press conference hosted by ESC Russia, for the local and foreign media. It was moderated by one of the most famous Russian TV hosts, Dimitry Shepelev. He was quite impressed with our group, saying with a laugh “your team is definitely bigger than most delegations this year!”

It all went really well! Yohanna gracefully answered all the questions the journalists had, though some of them were a bit unexpected. One regarded the gay parade that will coincide with the ESC finals, and then there was an awkward set of questions about the original performer of “Is It True?” for whom the song was initially written (prior to submitting it to the ESC Committee in Iceland).

In all honesty, I am really happy to be here as a songwriter, and I’ve gladly left my “artistic ego” behind in New York. At the end of the day, Yohanna is the star at Eurovision and not vice versa. But the press will always be the press, and they’ll never ask nice questions, right? I felt more like the original performer of “Is It True?” than the actual co-writer of the song, so, to say the least, it was just a little confusing.

Following the conference, the press (including RIA-Novosti, the main Russian media agency, Komsomolets, Pravda and Argumenti & Fakti) further complicated things by writing one article after another, all with a variation of “The Icelandic Singer Performs a Russian Song" as the headline. Well, has anyone forgotten that the much more established and super successful co-writers here are Oskar Pall and Christopher Neil? But of course a story is what counts for the media, so they’re just doing their job, I suppose. It is amusing, though.

After the conference, Yohanna and her manager Maria headed back to the hotel for additional rehearsal time. Meanwhile, Oskar, Alma, his fiancée, and I spent some time with the RUV TV team at Olympiisky. Then we were finally driven back to our homes in a lovely, oversized Eurovision bus!

I took a quick breather and grabbed a snack before heading over to my final appointment for the day. Our Icelandic friends relaxed for the remainder of the evening, getting some much deserved down time.

Georgian TV channel IMEDI and their Moscow correspondents interviewed me for the 8 o’clock news show. We walked around downtown Moscow with the IMEDI camera crew and their journalist, Tamar, and chatted about all things Eurovision. We spoke about the song, how it ended up in the contest, and my life between Moscow, Tbilisi and New York. I also shared my personal thoughts about taking over the recently disqualified Georgian entry as one of their compatriots. This made me smile because, although I am a proud Georgian-born native, I’m also an official Russian citizen (and as the press noted today, the only official Russian in the entire ESC competition this year, ironically) and a United States resident as well.

I wonder who’s rooting for us most actively? After all, this is an Icelandic song and I’m just one of the co-writers. I'm the youngest of them all, actually, as Chris Neil and Oskar Pall are both incredibly successful hitmen, and showbiz veterans in their own right (Christopher Neil even more so – he produced Celine Dion's very first English-language hit, “Where Does My Heart Beat Now,” and he’s also the man behind the Mike & the Mechanics song “Over My Shoulder.” Love that one!) so if anything, I am truly, truly humbled to be on their team! But I think the most successful people are also the most confident, hence the least insecure and arrogant ones. So, it’s a real pleasure – not just an honor – to be surrounded by these two absolute greats!

I really enjoyed writing these endless paragraphs! Sharing today’s excitement and drama, never mind the absolute exhaustion at the end of it, is amazing – and thanks to BTR, I can make each and every one of you a part of my journey. It's going to be a mad Eurovision ride over the next couple of weeks! But before I completely burn out (it’s already 3 AM in Moscow!) I’ll wish you all a great day or a wonderful evening wherever you are – depending on your time zone – and I can’t wait to see how tomorrow will unfold for all of us… including you, my special all access VIP guests!

A cup of lemon tea, a quick flip through my iPod library (newly updated!) and I am going to call it a night – tomorrow’s a brand new day!

P.S. For a special little something which we were unable to share on the personal blogs here due to EBU copyright rules, have a look at it right here on the BTR Tinatin homepage :)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Day 2 - Welcoming the Icelandic Delegation!

What an exciting day! Finally, the endless anticipation is over and our delegation has arrived in Moscow safe and sound!

The first few hours prior to their arrival, I spent a rather relaxing afternoon with my parents, walking around the new fancy shopping mall across the street from our apartment. (I was so tempted to stay with everyone else at the Cosmos Hotel, our official Icelandic residence, but after all, nothing compares to home sweet home!) We did all the silly-nothing’s I had so missed over the past several years of my grown-up life in New York.

But soon it was time to head off to the airport, and this time not as the arriving guest, but instead as the welcoming host! Along with the Moscow ESC team (that picked me up at home) we drove to Sheremetyevo 2 to meet our delegation at the gate.

Escorted by the airport police and Eurovision crew to the waiting area, I counted minutes as I sipped my double shot espresso and impatiently flipped through our itinerary for the weeks ahead - hectic, to say the least!

As soon as everyone landed and made their way to the arrival’s lounge, I caught a glimpse of Oskar Pall Sveinsson, my co-writer and dear friend, whom I hadn’t seen in absolute ages. Of all the places to reunite in the world for a special occasion, what a joy that it is here in my hometown of Moscow!

Quick snaps by the RUV TV crew and an individual introduction to each and every one of the members of our delegation made me feel incredibly happy. It was great to have finally met the team behind our upcoming grand performance! And to see the girl behind that angelic voice, Yohanna, was so great! We were incessantly posing for the photographers, and at the same time trying to catch up for the first time in person. I can't believe the event kicks off for real tomorrow morning at 10 AM! We have rehearsal, and then our first press conference is at 1p.m.

As the ESC bus escorted our group to the assigned residence, I was asked to act as a tour guide. With a wireless mic in one hand hand and a front seat on the bus, I talked about the in’s and out’s of life in Moscow. From using roaming phones vs. local mobile SIM cards, or the history behind the surrounding buildings on our way from the airport, no matter what we talked about, it was all so much fun! I really felt that I knew a bit more about Moscow than I actually do. At least I haven’t forgotten too much about my adopted home town over the last few years!!

We eventually parted ways at the hotel, and said ciao for the night. But it will all resume first thing tomorrow morning, as we head over to the Olympiisky Stadium for our first rehearsal and the official registration. So please make sure you drop by tomorrow evening for a full, first-hand report about our ESC Icelandic adventures in Moscow. Remember, you read it here first!

Well, it's time to say goodnight and have my last cup of tea for the eve before I take it easy and call it a day. For now, however, it’s songwriting time… A new co-write with Dimitri Stassos, the author of the Spanish ESC entry of 2009, Soraya’s “La Noche Es Para Mi”… so we’re not just busy competing between teams here – we are, in fact, making music and having fun… yes, even with competing countries! After all, that’s what it is all about – having a fabulous time while we’re enjoying the moment. The rest will unfold as the days go by!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Safe Landing - ESC Greeting

It has just gone past midnight Moscow time and I can hardly believe it’s only 4 p.m. back home in New York –has it really been over 24 hours since I checked in at JFK Airport’s Terminal 1?

Fortunately, I wasn’t flying alone across the ocean – my newfound best friend will be accompanying me during the next few weeks… His name is Dominic and he is the cutest puppy I’ve ever seen (at least among other plush toys at JFK International Airport!)

As we were getting ready to take off, the only other aircraft I could see on the horizon from my window was… an IcelandAir plane landing at that precise moment right next to us! An amazing coincidence or a sign in itself? But a sign of what exactly? Perhaps we’ll know more as the next several days unfold in the pre-Eurovision madness!

I was greeted at the gate upon arrival at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport by the Eurovision crew with ESC 2009 logos, t-shirts, cards and even an Icelandic flag accompanied by the friendliest smiles on their faces – not your ordinary combination in Russia, trust me – and we immediately started taking snaps at the official ESC 2009 pavilion and beyond… Even Dominic was treated with an extra bit of affection by the crew and ended up headlining quite a few shots himself!

After spending quite a bit of time chatting about our Icelandic entry (ironically, I was the first to arrive from the delegation and I’m not even Icelandic, although I do feel quite proud of my peculiar pseudo-Scandinavianness at the moment!) we realized that as crazy it’s going to sound, I am the only official Russian citizen of all the entrants in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, including the Russian representative who is, in fact, Ukrainian! Although I was, of course, born in Georgia, the Russian passport speaks for itself after spending my childhood and teenage years in Moscow since the tender age of 8 onwards… no wonder the Russian press picked up on this information from day one!

I have only been here for just over 8 hours but I so wish I could go for a walk around Moscow – it’s truly beautiful in the evening, my favorite part of the day in the Russian capital… the Red Square is staggeringly gorgeous at night! But unfortunately it’s already 12:30 a.m. and I am about to faint after being up for over 24 hours. Tomorrow’s only a few short hours away, and apparently it’s going to be warm and sunny all of Sunday – how exciting to be here sans the muddy brown-ish snow and miserably cold weather!

What’s in store for me tomorrow? Together with the local ESC team, I’ll be meeting the entire Icelandic delegation, including my old friend and co-author of “Is It True” Oskar Pall Sveinsson and the angel-voiced Yohanna, our wonderful performer, at the same Sheremetyevo Airport Terminal 2. I cannot wait to tell you all about but until then, I hope you all have a fabulous day and/or night in New York, London, Moscow and wherever else our loyal readers and the ESC Iceland 2009 fans are following my Eurovision ride with BTR live from the Russian capital… Stay tuned for more – we’ve only just begun!

A quick bite of my favorite Russkiy homemade blinis (I know, I know, but it’s still 4:30p.m. in New York, no?) and I’m off to sleep before an exciting Sunday afternoon only a few hours away….!