Early ESC Favourites – The Good The Bad And The Ugly

Feb 8, 2012 by

It was around about this time last year that the ESC Outright market went ‘Haba, Haba‘ wild. Stella Mwangi‘s tune was the first major gamble of the 2011 Eurovision season after winning the Norwegian final and was soon trading in single figures. If there is one thing this taught us about trading on Eurovision, it is the danger of getting carried away at such an early stage in proceedings.
Consider the following: as of today we do not know 37 songs out of 43, or where countries will be precisely positioned in the semi-final draw – other than which half of each semi they have been allocated. We can only second guess the quality of the live vocal, and staging, come rehearsal time in Baku based on the few clues we can muster from performances at national finals and trawling YouTube. And then there is the small matter of nations still having to qualify from their ESC semi-final (bar the 6 automatic finalists), and then getting a decent final draw.
It is abundantly clear betting on the ESC so far in advance of the finals is fraught with danger and should probably come with a health warning for your wallet, as Norway backers discovered to their cost last year when poor Stella ended up a semi-final casualty.
It is also dangerous to second guess how other European nations are going to vote when it comes to their national finals. In Estonia last year, ‘Hopa’Pa-rei!’ sung by Ithaka Maria struck us as a potentially interesting contender only to be beaten by Getter Jaani’s ‘Rockefeller Street’; in Latvia the infectious and immediate ‘Banjo Laura’ was stunned by the utterly lame ‘Angels In Disguise’; while sadly Pasha Parfeny’s outstanding ESC tune ‘Dorule’ was never seen on a bigger stage after being downed in Moldova by Zdob si Zdub’s quirky ‘So Lucky’. Betting aside, we cannot resist adding a link to ‘Dorule’ here as in our view it merits a wider audience:

Greece also turned into a gamble last year on the assumption Nikki Ponte’s ‘I Don’t Want To Dance’ would win the national final, only for her to pitch up on the night and deliver an off-key live vocal destroying her chance.
While there are clear dangers piling into countries before their representative has officially been chosen, we wonder what we would have done if EntertainmentOdds had been in existence back in February 2009, and we had stumbled upon ‘Fairytale’. Given what we now know about the ESC, we can’t help thinking the Rybak opus was, to use horse racing parlance, a steering job. In other words, a virtual certainty, and we doubt we would have resisted smashing into it at double figure prices as soon as we heard it for the first time.
We are on the verge of discovering much more about this year’s ESC in the coming weeks with a catalogue of national finals upcoming. And it is always worth keeping an eye on how each country is shaping up.
On Saturday we have the Norway, Iceland and Hungary finals. We should learn who will sing on behalf of hosts Azerbaijan on Sunday, then we have the Belarus final on Tuesday next week, we will learn the German representative on the Thursday, then it’s the Latvia and Ukraine finals the following Saturday, and so it continues as we rapidly head into national final peak season.
We will also get to hear, for the first time, the 5 songs in the Ireland final on Irish radio tomorrow afternoon including Jedward’s ‘Waterline’. The ESC news really does come thick and fast during February and March.
Taking a look at Norway, bet365 rate Plumbo a 1-2 shot to win this year’s Melodi Grand Prix with ‘Ola Nordmann‘. Having checked out this song we can see why it is a strong favourite. It’s a staunchly Norwegian-sounding tune, folksy rock, though we would have reservations about how well it will travel across the rest of the ESC nations if it does make it to Baku:

It is 4th in the running order on Saturday (out of 10) so doesn’t have the ideal spot. The tune we think would probably do best in Baku, and Norway’s answer to Eric Saade, is Tooji singing ‘Stay’. But he failed to win his heat last weekend so has been lumbered with the coffin slot of 1. The pimp slot has gone to Tommy Fredvang singing ‘Make It Better’. Fredvang or Tooji could yet challenge but we think it is Plumbo’s to lose.
Over in Iceland, polling suggests Greta Salome and Jonsi are favourites to win with ‘Mundu eftir mir‘ – we also note it is last up on the night with 6 other songs to beat. It is not the most promising sounding song title but having heard this tune we rather like it, especially the use of the violin:

Last but not least, in Hungary it has been announced that the televote will narrow it down to 4 super-finalists from the 8-strong field, but then the jury of music experts will decide which of those 4 will represent Hungary in Baku. A few weeks ago, we happened upon one of the songs that has made it to that Hungary final, after winning the first semi-final. It is by an electronic rock band called Compact Disco and the song in question is ‘Sound Of Our Hearts‘. Polling suggests this song is a solid favourite to win in Hungary and it is interesting to see one of Eurovision’s lesser lights figure so highly towards the front of the Betfair market at this early stage, Hungary trading at a back price of 17.
We tuned into that first Hungarian semi-final specifically to check out this song because on first listen we liked it a lot. All we can say is, much like Kati Wolf last year, there is a question mark over the lead singer’s live vocal. He sounded ropey at the start though did improve over the course of the song.
The other proviso has to be the staging. It was like chalk and cheese comparing the minimalist MTV sound stage used for the Hungarian semi-final, and the slick, impressive production utilised over in Sweden for its first Melodifestivalen heat last weekend.
There was widespread criticism regarding the sound that evening in Hungary so it would be unfair to jump to conclusions and suggest Compact Disco can’t cut it live. But while ‘Sound Of Our Heart’ is already proving something of a YouTube hit, aided by an evocative video to accompany its powerful lyrics, we all know the danger of rating a song too highly based on a heavily-produced, studio version:

It is noticeable to us the efforts Hungary has gone to in the last couple of years in trying to put forward a decent candidate for the ESC. Last year, Kati Wolf’s ‘What about my dreams?’ was a big forum favourite and was quite strongly fancied in the build up to Dusseldorf. What let this song down most, in our view, was the incredibly poor staging. While Kati’s vocal came under intense scrutiny her voice held up reasonably well. The trouble was, focusing so hard on delivering vocally, she was unable to throw any energy into her performance which is what these sort of uptempo tunes require to really ‘sell’ them to the ESC viewers and the jury members alike – simply compare Hungary’s woeful staging to the brilliant job done by both Sweden and Ireland.
There is also a school of thought that such dance tunes do not do well in the ESC and essentially cannot win. Daniel over at sofabet, who is a seasoned Eurovision observer, based a fair chunk of his trading strategy around laying Hungary to finish top 10 last year. His shrewd analysis was rewarded when Kati limped home in 22nd. We wonder if the terrible draw in 5, and abysmal staging put paid to Hungary’s chance as much as juries’ traditionally lukewarm reception of such songs.
Dan’s theory could well be put to the test again this year, as over in Sweden the first heat of Melodifestivalen threw up a song called ‘Euphoria‘ sung by Loreen. We watched this heat live online and Loreen came across as a very engaging and polished live performer. Her song moves away from pop and more towards house and even trance territory in our view. Frustratingly, we cannot show you the live clip here as broadcaster SVT immediately kills any clips of the show that pop up on YouTube.
Loreen appears to have Danny Saucedo to beat this year. Saucedo was one of Eric Saade’s main rivals last year and he produces pop/dance tunes in a similar mould to Saade. The bookmakers now make Loreen Outright favourite to win Melodifestivalen, bet365 going 2-1, just ahead of Saucedo at 3-1, whose song we won’t hear until the final heat in Malmo in a few weeks time.
Whatever Saucedo has come up with, we think Loreen will be very hard to beat. How ‘Euphoria’ might ultimately get on in Baku can only be speculated on but the Outright market appears to have taken the view it would be a strong contender, Sweden trading as favourite at time of writing at a back price of 12.5. Given the way Kati Wolf bombed last year, ‘Euphoria’ could certainly polarise opinion in what is already proving a very lively ESC market.
Stella Mwangi’s failure last year, not to mention Nikki Ponte’s, suggests to us that caution should remain your byword in assessing both Hungary and Sweden’s chances as of now.
One thing you can be sure of. Unlike Kati singing ‘What about my dreams?’ if Loreen does end up in Baku, the Swedish staging of ‘Euphoria’ will be outstanding, an area in which Hungary fell down massively last year, and which undoubtedly helped Eric Saade finish 3rd with Popular. But will the fact Loreen’s song moves more into dance anthem territory, and away from pop, mean she will more likely fail in Baku than triumph? We’re not certain and would be interested to hear other people’s views.
We would also be interested to hear from anyone who knows the precise ruling on how much backing vocal assistance singers are allowed at the finals in Baku. We know all instrumentation is pre-recorded and band members are merely miming on stage. But the examples of Jedward and Eric Saade last year, suggest to us that clever sound engineering is allowed to a certain extent, and can cleverly conceal vocal frailties.
Rob Furber

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  1. As far as I’m aware, no vocal assistance is permitted. They can set the levels as high or as low as they need for a certain singer in order to hide vocal issues, but essentially, everything is sung live – hence why some acts have secret singers tucked away in a far corner of the stage.

    As for vocal effects, I can’t remember exactly which song has utilised them, but I do reckon a sound filter has been employed before.

  2. Rob

    Thanks for the clarification, Gavster. I sense it has moved towards the use of sound filters and vocal effects. I recall last year’s rehearsals & Eric Saade sounding very ropey, but then on the night it looked like he wasn’t singing live and delivered an excellent vocal despite leaping around the stage… This is what makes me suspicious. ‘Lipstick’ was clearly a song that enabled Jedward’s vocal to be disguised and enhanced using backing singers. Having heard ‘Waterline’ yesterday, they are certainly going to have to sing it live this time as it does not appear to have the same scope for backing singer assistance.

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