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 :)