Dr Eurovision – Interview

Alex Mitchell

Political observer and current affairs addict. Northumbria University graduate. Opinionated, my aim is to fuel debate. My favourite questions in life are Why? How? And What? My Favourite answers tend to start with It depends or Yes & No.

Ahead of tonight’s Eurovision Song Contest semifinal, I caught up with Paul Jordan, aka Dr Eurovision. After Emmilie De Forest won in Sweden last year with her song ‘Teardrops,’ this year’s contest is hosted by Copenhagen. Here’s Dr Eurovision on what we should be looking out for:

 

Vada: We’ve asked our writers to send their votes in to be revealed in our top 10 countdown. Which countries have you got your eye on this year?

Dr Eurovision: My personal favourite this year is Spain although I think Denmark will win. This is a top 10 of what I think will happen on the night – my own choices would be very different (I can’t stand Belgium’s song for example but can see it doing well)

1) Denmark

2) Norway

3) Greece

4) Armenia

5) Azerbaijan

6) Sweden

7) Malta

8) Belgium

9) Montenegro

10) UK

So Spain is who you’d give 12 points to but I feel we got an academic answer from yourself. What would be your personal top 10? 

As for my personal top 10, Spain is my fave:

1) Spain

2) Portugal

3) Israel

4) Denmark

5) Poland

6) UK

7) Greece

8) Armenia

9) Malta

10) Sweden

This is always changing though!

eurovision 2014 copenhagen

Now we can’t discuss Eurovision without discussing politics. Last year, Russia and a few other countries complained about the gay kiss at the end of Finland’s act and, adding to this, the Swedish half time show also included a gay kiss. Interestingly, Iceland are entering a song called ‘No Prejudice’. Are we seeing a big middle finger towards Russia?

I think it’s interesting that a lot of countries appear to be making political points on a number of social issues – Hungary too (‘Running’ – a song about domestic abuse).I think the crowd will probably boo Russia but they’ll still get the votes – particularly from the former Soviet countries. I’m not sure viewers of the ESC are so politicised that they will actively NOT vote for a country because of it’s domestic policies. Azerbaijan won the contest only a few years ago…

With your academic focus on Ukraine and with the current climate there, do you think we will see a political voting backlash against Russia this year?

I think it’ll be interesting to watch the situation in Ukraine – will they try and make a political point in the performance? Perhaps. I think it has shown that Putin’s Russia remains a threat to some countries, particularly ones with large numbers of Russian citizens – we’ve seen the same in Georgia too where Russia went to war in the name of protecting its citizens. The Baltic States have NATO but the tension is still there. Also with regards to the voting – will votes from Crimea be classed as Ukrainian or Russian? Eurovision and politics regularly mix, even if the producers do not want this to happen.

You made a valid point about whether the Crimean votes will be counted towards the Russian or Ukrainian votes. Have the producers come up with a solution? Also, you say politics and Eurovision regularly mix, it must cause headaches for the EBU, after all they are TV producers not diplomats?

The EBU have said that the votes will depend on mobile providers – if they’re picked up on a Ukrainian network, they’ll count towards Ukraine’s vote and similar with Russian networks too.

Eurovision is no stranger to controversial acts. This year there is a petition to remove Austria’s bearded drag act, Conchita Wurst. Drag acts are nothing new. How do the producers handle it?

Yep apparently there are groups in Russia, Belarus etc. lobbying the TV stations to cut Conchita’s performance. This of course breaks EBU rules; The EBU will ignore these protests but will intervene should the national stations try anything. It’s similar to what happened in 2005 when Lebanon planned to censor the Israeli entry. Don’t these parents have anything better to do?

Conchita

We in Britain see Eurovision as a bit of camp fun or a waste of time and so we don’t seem to get as involved as other nations. Sweden has Melodifestivalen, a selection process nearly as old as the song contest itself. This year the local selections heated up in Austria and Ukraine with complaints over the selections. Would you like to see Britain get more passionate about our selection process?

I think it would be nice to have a UK selection process, something that people can get behind. However when the public did choose they tended to go for songs which were “typical Eurovision” – the contest has moved on and I welcomed the UK internal selection. It would be nice to go back to a large show however in the current climate I can’t see it happening. The choice of a young unknown artist is a good one and I think the BBC played a great game this year in the run up to the announcement.

When you say a ‘typical Eurovision song’, were you meaning camp and cheesy?

Yep I meant camp cheesy songs – look at 2007/2006 as well as other entries which were seen as “very Eurovision”, Eurovision has changed and evolved.

If it’s moved on from that it probably means we will have to come up with new rules for our Eurovision drinking games? (Promoting responsible drinking of course) Side question. In your travels and your professional capacity you must have heard of some interesting drinking rules from around Europe. Care to share any?

I think the drinking rules will stay! A friend of mine came up with one – every time you hear “corazon” in a Spanish song or “ljubavi” in a Balkan song then you need to have a shot.

Is there anything new for this year’s contest? Any changes to the voting system for example?

Last year for the first time the producers fixed the running order of the songs to make the show much more exciting and vary the musical styles; previously it had been a random draw. This year the jury votes will be made public and the names of jurors revealed to make the show much more transparent and to counter any accusations of vote rigging as happened last year.

So can we expect the jury votes to be revealed separately before the people’s votes? Do we know who is on the UK Jury this year or does that get revealed on the night?

The voting will be done in the usual way; it’s just that immediately after the final the jury votes will be revealed along with the names of the jurors. The BBC haven’t said who will be on the UK jury as yet.

(Since the interview the BBC have announced the jury lead by vocal coach Carrie Grant and also includes Soprano Laura Wright, Music producer Steve Allen, D.J Candice Mckenzie and writer/composer Gus Gowland)

Turkey have voiced concerns about the voting system and have pulled out of the contest. Is it realistic to get a voting system that pleases everyone?

It’s difficult to find a system to please everyone. When juries were there it was seen as old fashioned, and not reflective of the music market. When the phone vote was brought in it was seen as allowing neighbourly votes to take over. The current system pleases most people. Turkey used the changes in the voting as an excuse, as they came fourth and second under that system! I think there were other issues contributing towards their withdrawal.

So is this Turkey having a bit of a tantrum over not winning or is it something more serious? It surprises me. Turkey have hosted the contest before and they tend to do well with the vote.

Apparently they didn’t like the jury vote returning which is odd as they finished 4th and 2nd under this system. I think it’s more about the country moving away from Europe and turning more towards Islam and away from secularism.

This year sees a notable gap created by the exit of Serbia and Croatia with Bosnia Herzegovina staying out of the contest for a second year. All three nations’ cite funding as the reason, how much does a nation need on average to enter the contest?

The financing of the contest is always a difficult subject and national broadcasters tend not to give too much info away. The fee that a country pays depends upon the population. The UK, along with the other Big 5 countries pay the most. The BBC apparently spends up to £300,000 but that’s still cheap TV compared to Strictly etc. Smaller countries will pay a smaller fee, I imagine it’ll be around £10,000 or £20,000 – I can’t say for sure.

Staying with the former Yugoslavia nations. Kosovo are still waiting to join the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) in order to enter the contest. How much longer do you predict they will have to wait before they are granted membership?

I think it’ll be a while before Kosovo enters – particularly when there are ongoing tensions with Serbia. Although perhaps that’ll ease as the Serbs move towards EU membership.

So no sight in the near future for Europe’s newest nation then of joining the contest. On a similar note a question that comes up time and time again is, how is it that Israel, a country from the Middle East, is in the Eurovision song contest?

Israel is a member of the EBU so therefore eligible to take part in the ESC. Morocco entered years ago too.

Surely in the interest of fairness and balance should Palestine not get an entry or is that too politically motivated?

If Palestine had a broadcaster that was a member of the EBU then they could take part – but there also needs to be a recognised state too.

You have been to these contests with BBC3 notably. What is it like inside the Eurovision bubble? Do you have access all areas being Dr Eurovision?

I don’t get all access but when I’m working with the BBC I get to go into the dressing rooms and backstage area as we make our way to the studio/commentary booth – that was pretty exciting and interesting to see the artists preparing. On the night I will be doing stuff for the BBC again and for the final I’ll be in London, hopefully having a party!

 

Paul can be followed on Twitter @DrEurovision and will be giving his thoughts during the live semifinals on Tuesday 6th & Thursday 8th May from 8pm on BBC3. The final will be shown on BBC1 with Graham Norton from 8pm Saturday 10th. I will be tweeting along too, so follow @AlMitchell89.