Diary of “The Weirdest Eurovision Ever?” – Days 15 and 16: Tot ziens, Nederland… e ciao Italia!

Let’s face it… the last 18 months have been anything but ordinary!! And in these strange times of COVID, social distancing and frantic hand washing, even Eurovision has undergone massive changes to ensure the event we know and love can go ahead. We all knew it was going to be a contest unlike any other – but just how different will it be?

In this diary series, Eurovision Ireland regular James will give you his daily personal thoughts about the goings on backstage at Eurovision 2021, both through the lens of a contest being hosted during these unprecedented times and as someone following rehearsals from afar. Will it be The Weirdest Eurovision Ever? Quite possibly!

Days 15 and 16Tot ziens, Nederland… e ciao Italia!

Yes, I’m aware it’s a few days later than expected! The day of the final is always a busy one and no matter how much you plan and promise yourself you’ll get things done in time, before you know it it’s 2am on the morning after the contest and all your carefully laid plans are out the window! But it seemed a shame to stop the diary short of the full event. So better late than never, right?

The final of the Eurovision Song Contest is always a bit of a bizarre day for fans… we spend most of it pacing around, waiting, wondering what the night has in store. There’s huge excitement, of course, but also trepidation. This, after all, is it – no more second chances, no more wondering, no more dummy voting rehearsals or fan polls in which your favourite just missed out… whatever happens tonight, happens and gets entered into the history books. There’s a buzz in the air all day long as you head towards the evening. The show goes from being hours to minutes away. Then Te Deum starts up. It’s the moment we look forward to all year and thanks to COVID, had to wait two agonising years for. The moment we awaited with baited breath to see if it would come, but it has! All the doomsayers who said it wouldn’t happen, or that it would be cancelled again were wrong! It’s the final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2021!

And what a night it was! We’ve all missed the contest, especially in this last, very difficult year. The elation we all feel seeing it on TV again is almost indescribable – even Graham Norton seems to be in good spirits! I may or may not have been cavorting around in perfect time to the choreography to Moldova’s Sugar and Lithuania’s Discoteque, much to the bemusement of everyone around me… but it’s the most fun I’ve had in ages! Rotterdam put on a hell of a show under extreme circumstances and need to be applauded for that. Staging Eurovision is a mammoth undertaking at the best of times – staging it during a global pandemic with all the additional restrictions is nothing short of miraculous! After the recaps and interval acts wind down, we come to the most stressful hour of the year for any Eurovision lover – the voting!

The voting segment for 2021 is perhaps one of the most brutal and most memorable at the contest for many years. Most everyone I know who loves the contest and has been following rehearsals these last weeks has said this is one of the most open contests in recent memory. We all agree that there are at least 7 countries that could do it… but which one has done it? The jury votes start coming in and pre-contest favourites Switzerland, France and Malta all hoover up votes. 16 countries get at least one set of 12 points, further fuelling our speculation this could go anywhere. A special shout out to San Marino for getting their first ever 12 at a Eurovision final! Switzerland win the jury vote, but with only 19 points separating them from France, it’s a close call… we all agree this isn’t over yet!

Next comes the scores of the televote and they’re even less forgiving that the juries… 4 countries walking away from the televote with 0 is all but unheard of until now and I imagine viewers were baying at their screens across the globe. It’s like a gladiatorial bloodbath, but makes for exciting TV. As the televotes come in with fairly low scores and we come down to the final 10 countries to receive their points, those I was watching with quickly assert that whoever has won the televote must have done so by a serious amount – there are still over 1000 points up for grabs! Indeed, the Top 4 countries in the televote alone account for 1054 points, nearly HALF of ALL available points! It comes down to the final 3, all non-English languages songs (which the language geek in me finds wonderful, but is a bit preoccupied to appreciate fully in the moment!). France get a substantial 251 points, but it’s not enough to dislodge Italy from the top. Our resident mathematician calls it – Switzerland can’t catch up. For the first time in 31 years, and for the first time since I was born, Italy have won the Eurovision Song Contest!

Amongst the jubilation of declaring a winner, the acceptance speeches and the press conference where we try to get an inkling of where we need to book hotels for next year, there’s also the scramble to check out the now published results of the semis. My personal favourite Estonia finished in 13th with a song called The Lucky One – the irony isn’t lost on me! Croatia make history by being the first country to finish 9th and 10th with the televote and jury respectively, but still not get a place in the final. Their combined score ranked them 11th, just 5 points behind Norway. Ireland came last in their semi final for a second year running. Obviously that is very disappointing and now gives RTE a year to reconsider and re-plan their strategy. As for the UK’s result, discussing that could be an editorial (or a series of books) in itself. It was nothing to do with Brexit or anti-British feeling in Europe. The simple fact is if any jury can pick 10 songs they liked more than yours, you’ll walk away with nothing, as harsh as that may seem. Take a look at this excellent piece to get a bit more insight into understanding the UK’s lacklustre results.

The day after Eurovision is often a quiet day. There’s still very much the excitement from last night hanging in the air as we process that we have a new winner. There’s also the fun of picking over the scoreboards for the final and semi finals to find out who got their best/worst placing and their highest/lowest score to date – Eurovision really is a gold mine for statistics! But the day is also tinged with sadness too. After all the build up and excitement, we now have to wait an entire year for the next edition of the contest. And after a long night and very busy couple of weeks, we’re all tired too. We love what we do and are so grateful to be part of the contest in this small way, and after all the hype, drama and scandal, we’re happy for the rest. Recent years the day after the contest more often than not see sensationalist press pounce on the contest with bizarre allegations, rumours of paid for votes and threats to stop taking part by various fan groups. We face this every year and just let it wash over us. Eurovision always provokes strong reactions!

So there we have it… that was Eurovision 2021! Here are a few of my quick personal reflections to round off this year: Italy weren’t my personal choice to win, but Måneskin are incredible performers and a very talented group, so hats off to them for winning! I’m delighted that Italy have claimed that third win that they’ve waited so long for and I’m glad something a little different won, it’s good for the contest to grow and move with the times. I’m also thrilled that out of the Top 10, 5 songs are in languages other than English, including all of the Top 3! Will this see more countries send songs in their native languages next year? I sure hope so! Switzerland came 3rd after almost a decade of not qualifying. Many dismissed the songs from Russia and Ukraine before the contest started and both finished in the Top 10. San Marino made it to their 3rd final after Australia missed their first. Just proves what we at Eurovision Ireland have always said – past success is no guarantee of future success at the Eurovision Song Contest!

Signing off for this year– thank you for reading along over the last two weeks , I hope you’ve enjoyed the series and that it’s given you a little glimpse into what it’s like to cover the contest as press. Oh, and to the person who has given this diary a one-star rating at every available opportunity, I’m very flattered you didn’t miss a single instalment of my writing! 😉 ❤

For the last time this year, thank you Europe and good night! See you next year in Italy!

Author: James Scanlan
Source: Eurovision Ireland
Banner Image Source: Adapted from realireland.ie, Wikipedia

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