Who were the divas? What was heard backstage! Gossip and crazy antics! The sweetest singers of Eurovision! What I loved and what I hated and everything in between. This is what happens when Americans perform at Eurovision and cultures collide until they transform into a hug.
Once a year, an average of forty European countries and neighboring nations, come together to compete for the best song. Eurovision feels like a halfway point between a visit to the circus and American Idol with extra cheese. Songs may be sung in any language but most choose English. Unfortunately, the message is usually lost in translation. The music varies from Euro-pop to Rock to Folk and Ethnic World Music. Although the average age is under 25, there are always a handful who look over 40 who do well regardless of their image.
Many viewers believe Eurovision is rigged and that the votes are given based on politics. If Eurovision ever wishes to dispel these rumors, they should delete the judges completely and let the public decide.
From America to Eurovision
I was one of three American singers who were backing up Juliana Pasha of Albania, therefore, many questions were asked and much attention was given. Everyone wanted to know how three American singers happened to end up representing Albania.
From Rome to Tirana
It all began when Gazebo, an Italian pop-singer, and Ardit Gjebrea, the writer of “It’s All About You“, heard us sing together in Rome and decided they wanted us to give an authentic American pop sound to the song representing Albania, which would be sung entirely in English. We heard the song and immediately loved it. Soon afterward, we were flown to Tirana, the capital of Albania, to meet the artist, Juliana Pasha, and we immediately loved her too.
Juliana Pasha is an amazing singer and an even more amazing human being. She was warm, confident and generous on stage. After that weekend, we three American singers began to feel a little bit Albanian as well.
We visited Albania a few times and really enjoyed the food and especially the pretzel bread at Stela. Albania’s brewery, Stela, had recently opened an elegant beer garden restaurant, which holds nightly concerts and frequently features Juliana. We were very impressed with the venue and hope to return there soon.
Is Eurovision known in America?
This was the most common question asked. I had never heard of Eurovision prior to being asked to perform in it, but my fellow American singers had. However, they have worked in Europe for many years. Desiree Kedjour and Joy Garrison are both well-known Gospel and Jazz singers throughout Europe.
Do you think Eurovision would be successful in the U.S.A.?
Well…uhm…no. The music would need to be more modern, make sense and be comprehensible when sung in English. Music that hints of decades past would never please an American audience which is consistently marketed new music using cutting-edge technology. While it can be sticky-sweet pop music, it would have to be current and fresh. Perhaps it would push countries to get professional translators and lyricists to write their songs in English.
First Semi-Final Press Conference
We had imagined that we would get some attention as the sole Americans at the Eurovision Song Contest, but sometimes we got more attention than the artist herself. Everyone wanted to know about the three Americans. While we enjoyed the spotlight, we gathered all the attention we could and we swung it right back to Juliana, where it needed to be.
Europeans vs. Americans
After meeting several artists from various countries, we realized why we were getting so much attention. English is our native tongue but most people at Eurovision are not fluent in English enough to let their personalities show. Europeans are also considerably more low-key than Americans. Ask an Englishman how he is and he’ll most likely respond, “Not bad.” Ask an American the same question and the answer will be a loud, “Great!”. An American performer will be even more exuberant that your average American. When you have three American singers together in a sea of Europeans you begin to see why people were so drawn to us. We are so glad they were, since we made some great friends amongst those journalists. We also had a blast gossiping with them, but that shall remain ‘off the record’.
2010 was not the first time that Americans graced the Eurovision stage, but they have usually blended in with the Caucasian backdrop. This time America came in full color and heads turned to watch.
Albania hits the Eurovision stage!
Joni Peci designed all our looks for Eurovision and was the one responsible for Juliana’s wind-swept hair, which toned down with each performance due to the general feedback.
We were all ready to leave our dressing rooms for the full dress rehearsal when I glanced over at the violinist, Olen Cesari. He was wearing a sharp suit but his general appearance looked like someone who had just rolled out of bed. I turned to him and said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t let you go out on stage looking like that.” He looked at me in confusion. “Sit.”, I commanded and he obeyed, of course.
I took out my comb and hairspray and began to tease his hair into an extreme mock mohawk. I then applied black powdered eyeliner under his eyes. At the next rehearsal we asked the make-up artist to give him a paler look and a hint of red on his lips. If you are not going to put a male model on the stage, he should at least be a character. I felt that an Edward Scissorhands/The Cure look would work on him and everyone agreed. It made him look like a crazed Beethoven violinist, which I think worked perfectly on stage.
When we all arrived at the airport the day after the final I realized I had forgotten to teach him how to remove his makeup. His eyes were still lined in black, giving him a goth look. I am surprised he got through customs.
Making it past the Semi-Final
We felt the song was good enough to win the Eurovision Song Contest and this feeling was so strong that I would have bet money on it, had I been a gambler. The host began to read off the names of countries that were passing to the finals and when there were three spots left, I began to get nervous. Juliana was beginning to get doubtful and said, “We’re not going to make it!”. That is exactly when something changed. “No! Don’t even think that. We’re making it! We’re in it, I know”. I realized that Iceland had not been called yet either and if there were two songs that were considered a shoe-in, they were Albania and Iceland. “This is it! Albania and Iceland are the last two. I know it!”.
“No, I don’t think so.”, Juliana said, in an attempt to prepare herself for a negative outcome.
“I know so, we are in!”, I said as we watched the digital envelope open and saw a red flag peeking out. At that moment we exploded with glee and relief and Juliana was whisked away to the stage.
Euroclub, Europicnic and beyond…
We did not make it to all the parties at Euroclub but we were told that all the gay men were doing our choreography to the song. We were also told that it had become a huge hit in Scandinavia and Spain. One of the journalists had filmed the backing vocals during the first rehearsal. Once it appeared on Youtube, everyone was able to learn the choreography right away.
The Eurovision picnic was a wonderful surprise. We arrived at the fort where a stage was set up overlooking a carp-filled lake, which was surrounded by a freshly cut lawn. There were tables set up full of white-wine filled glasses in perfect rows. We were given red fleece throws to lay on the grass and a tee-pee was set up with reindeer fur covering the ground, which offered an array of Norwegian finger food made with reindeer, salmon, trout, scallops and crab meat.
The concert began with a Norwegian Bon Jovi-esque rocker who sang and hosted the event that proceeded to feature the Eurovision artists present. Although all the performances were great, the highlight was Moldova; the Moldovan dancers, to be exact. During their performance, the two male dancers suddenly jumped off the stage and into the lake where they continued to gyrate. To top it off, they stripped off their shirts and swung them around. The audience went wild, however, a few carp may have died of a heart-attack in the process.
We were the last to go on and were excited to see that many delegations had already learned our choreography. That was quite impressive to watch.
The Eurovision kick-off party at Oslo’s City Hall was where we finally met some artists that were not in the first semi-final. We hunted down Lithuania’s lead singer and enjoyed chatting with him. We ran into all of our favorite journalists and even managed to fill up on the rapidly vanishing buffet. We were a bit confused with the dark-pink hue of the champagne but after three of them, we no longer cared.
Behind the scenes…
Meeting the Greeks
OPA!!! OPA!! OPA! …all day long! “I guess Greece is here.”, I said to the echoes of several more OPAs. Greece’s energy was quite contagious, so we found it completely normal to greet them with a great big, “OPA!!!!”. The Greeks replied with dead-pan stares.
“WTF, what’s up with that?”, we all wondered. “You’d think they would have replied with a big OPA or something, right?”…wrong.
Albania had been invited to Macedonia’s Eurovision Party and we were asked to sing. All the countries invited sang a few songs and there were more than enough microphones to go around. I had counted up to four microphones at one time. Albania was the last country called to sing. Since there were four of us we asked for the microphones. Only one was given. Someone had decided that we would only be permitted one microphone to share amongst all four of us. I do not know who was responsible for this but we found it absolutely insulting. Looking back on it now, we should have refused to perform. Had we done so, I am certain the missing microphones would have magically appeared.
Up until that moment, however, the party had been a lot of fun. Although I had heard Moldova’s song for the millionth time that week, it was great to hear Lithuania perform and play their instruments live. Live instruments are not permitted in Eurovision, which is a shame. Lithuania was amazing, injecting life into the party. Serbia and Bulgaria were also fun to dance to.
We happened to catch Milan from Serbia at the arena, so we greeted him with, “Balkan, Balkan!”, which is in his song. Like the Greeks, he returned a dead-pan face.
“I don’t get it!”, I asked the Albanians in confusion.
“Serbia isn’t fond of Albania.”, they claimed.
“What does Serbia and Albania have anything to do with it? I’m a singer from America who just really likes his song.”
The next time we saw the Serbian singer and his odd blond locks, we grabbed him and told him to his face, “We really like your song. We think it’s great.” This time, he smiled and thanked us.
After numerous OPAs gone wrong, we decided to try it with the Greeks as well. We walked to their dressing room, looked the lead singer in the eye and said, “We love your song!”. He warmed up to us and gave us each a kiss on the hand; the first of many.
We realized that sometimes politics makes people keep their distance, but in the end we are all individual performers. If the borders of our countries divide us, then let music keep us together. Most people would have given up after so many cold stares, but we three Americans sensed there was more to it, so we insisted. I am glad we did.
Things heard backstage…
“Do I have tired skin?”, asked the singer from Bosnia & Herzegovina, “Someone gave me face cream for tired skin.” – I was sitting next to him at the make-up station and just laughed. He had impeccable skin, by the way.
“I could hear all the backstage voices in my in-ear monitors during my (semi-final) performance. I just kept going and ignored it.”, said Tom, the singer from Belgium. – I had seen that performance since we were on after him. He had performed wonderfully.
“I always win and I’m going to win this one as well because I am a winner and I win everything I do.”, said the gigantic Amazon singer from Armenia. – Meanwhile, I was thinking that Albania would win. We were both wrong.
Alexander Rybak or Justin Bieber?
I walked into my dressing room to find Alexander Rybak, Eurovision’s 2009 winner from Norway. Although he looked like a very tall Justin Bieber, I recognized him immediately. Our violinist, Olen Cesari, was showing off his hand-made electric violin. I was a bit impressed that Alexander came to visit but then my fellow singers made me realize that Olen most-likely hunted him down and dragged him to our room. Olen became known as the top networker in our delegation. I think he met more people than anyone at Eurovision. I cannot recall a single moment where he was not waving at one person or throwing kisses at another. Regardless of how Alexander came to our room, he was very nice and seemed to enjoy trying out Olen’s violin.
Chasing Vukašin Brajic’
It took about 1.5 hours to build up the giant beehive I wore on the top of my head. At one point, during the process, I ran to get my brush in my dressing room while holding my ponytail together. As I ran down the long endless hall, Vukašin, the Bosnian singer, pretended to be chased by me. I went along with the gag and began screaming, “I’m gonna get you!”. The backstage cameras began rolling and people stopped to wonder why I was chasing him. It all stopped when I got to my room, which is when everyone realized we were just two performers acting it up for the cameras.
I heard it through the grapevine…
Simon Cowell on BBC
Those who saw it live heard Simon Cowell of American Idol say, “If Albania doesn’t win Eurovision, I don’t know what will.” Simon Cowell commented on all the videos of Eurovision. However, all the BBC versions of the Eurovision videos on Youtube have had the endings cut off. Hmmm???? I wonder why.
“The Armenian singer said she has been growing her hair for 20 years.”, a journalist mentioned.
“Are you kidding? You can tell they’re extensions right away.”, I replied.
“I know honey, especially when you have one lock 4 inches longer than the rest.”
“Ooh, they probably should’ve cut that off.”
From what I noticed, most of the female performers with extra long hair had some kind of hair extensions. It adds length and fullness. Most of Hollywood is enhanced with hair extensions and it looks great. The Armenian singer, Eva Rivas, is almost 2 metres tall and with her wonderfully dramatic hair extensions and exceptional beauty, she has no need to lie about her hair. She almost has it all. The only thing missing is a warm personality. She was not friendly whatsoever, not even after a compliment, which she simply ignored. Well…no one is perfect.
“I’m ignoring the French singer (Jessy Matador) because he is such a complete assh%le. Let’s walk by him, I want him to get jealous that I’m focusing on Albania instead of him.”, said one of the journalists.
That French singer was not nice to girls and he was not nice to boys. I think the only one he was nice to was the cameraman. His delegation, however, was great with us and gave us many compliments.
The winner of this category is Spain. Daniel Diges should also win a prize for not even flinching and going on with his song even after an audience member ran on stage and danced throughout the performance.
1: Albania is my favorite for many reasons. Juliana Pasha is an incredible singer with so much positive energy. The song was fun to sing and dance to and I never tired of it. This may sound biased, but after listening to it for so many months, it finds a place inside your heart.
2: Israel moved me. The song, the voice and the singer are all beautiful. In my opinion, politics kept it from placing higher. I met Harel Skaat at the Eurovision picnic, then again backstage.
When I saw him to take this picture, I told him that he was my favorite after Albania and he gave me the warmest kiss on my cheek. He exudes such warmth.
3: Lithuania did not make it to the final, which disappointed me. I had met Jugis Didziulis, the lead singer of InCulto, at the Eurovision kick-off party at Oslo’s City Hall. He was full of personality and so much fun to chat with. I am certain that this band will be quite successful regardless.
4: Greece… OPA! This homoerotic performance by Giorgos Alkaios & Friends also called out to every woman’s basic instinct at every ‘hu’…need I say more?
5: Ukraine – I hated her first video of this song, her photos where also very harsh and bordered on scary vampire, but when Alyosha (Olena Kucher) sang this at the semi-finals, I was won over completely. Her transformation crossed her over to intoxicating vampire chic. While her delegation was very nice, she remained quite cold. I guess it takes a while to defrost.
6: Serbia – Milan Stankovic’ won me over with his excitement to sing this song…Balkan! Balkan! Ove Je Balkan! Come on! He eventually warmed up but his dancers were wonderful with us since the very beginning.
7: Turkey – maNga rocked and made everyone else rock with them. They were always very nice to us and it seemed quite sincere.
My Worst of Eurovision List
While the UK may have received the least amount of votes, there were a few songs I could not bear to listen to. I cannot say which I despised the most so I have listed them in alphabetical order. Obviously, most of Europe would disagree, since the winner of Eurovision is on this list.
- Belarus: Their song bored me to tears.
- Germany: Her squeaky voice combined with the dreadful and odd pronunciation irked my every nerve. The ants-in-your-pants dance just made it worse.
- The Netherlands: This song was just bad.
- Russia: I felt this song made some people consider suicide. Did he draw the picture himself?
- Slovenia: Complete and utter confusion.
Some countries had horrific pronunciation but when you add nonsensical English it makes for a comical combination. I must admit that some songs were extremely enjoyable simply because they made me laugh. Others had such unbearable pronunciation that only people who do not speak English could possibly bear it.
The Worst Lyrics
- Latvia: “I’ve asked my uncle Joe. But he can’t speak. Why does the wind still blow and blood still leaks?…Only Mr. God knows why.”
- Moldova: “You’ve lost one and all, so fly away
Over the clouds, under the sky.
Never come back and run away
With all your might, give up you!”
- Germany: “I bought new underwear that’s blue
And I wore it just the other day
Love you know I’d fight for you
I left on the porch light for you”
- Armenia: “Now I see the Northern stars Shining brightly in the storm And I’ve got an avatar Of my love to keep me warm”
I wonder if inserting the word Avatar was an SEO attempt to get more clicks for her song. Maybe Mr. God or Uncle Joe could shed some light, a porch light perhaps? Oh, give up, you.
Regardless of pronunciation and lyrics, these songs had very catchy melodies that stuck with me to no end. They were all very pretty as well, which most likely helped in the voting.
The Worst English Pronunciation
- Germany: It took me a while to realize that Lena was actually singing in English and I have yet to understand a word she says.
- Lithuania: I hate to put them on this list for they were in my top three. While their lyrics were quite witty, and the singer speaks English quite well, InCulto’s enunciation on stage was not clear enough in their live performance to get their meaning across.
- Moldova: I have no idea what they said, but who cares? This song really makes you dance.
The Nicest Singers
We got to see everyone’s true colors during the two weeks in Oslo. Some singers were always smiling and sweet and others needed a few genuine compliments to get them out of their shell. The lead singers from these countries are the ones I hope become rich and famous, because with their personalities, they would be a pleasure anywhere they go.
- Bosnia & Herzegovina
- Denmark (only the girl)
Cold singers who eventually defrosted…
(Usually after some of our sincere compliments.)
Singers who remained chillingly cold…
- Belarus (just the girls)
- Denmark (only the male)
- Latvia (Her backup singers, however, were extremely friendly and most likely more talented than the lead)
These singers did not respond nor even turn their head whenever fellow contestants applauded them. They did not even acknowledge anyone’s existence. They were nowhere near nice.
- Denmark (male only)
Best Female Voices
Best Male Voices
- FYR Macedonia
I did not have enough interaction with anyone from the following countries, therefore I cannot base an opinion. Some of these might be very nice, however, if any of these at the finals were divas, I think I would have smelled them a mile away.
Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden
Politics, Lobbying and Manipulation
I kept hearing about how the Eurovision-powers-that-be wanted one of the Big Four to finally win, but I had not expected one to. I had also heard how there was concern over small countries winning, fearing they would not be able to afford hosting Eurovision the following year. During the semi-final press conference, Greece was asked questions exclusively on this subject alone. He replied well, keeping the focus on the music instead of the economic situation of his country.
I also heard that countries were lobbying for votes amongst each other which may explain why Russia got top votes from its former territories. Most countries gave top votes to its neighboring nations, except when they hated their neighbors. I think Eurovision should drop the judges and make the public decide exclusively. I think the result would be more honest and less political.
I noticed that the media focused on several countries and completely ignored others. During the semi-finals and finals, the hosts featured a few countries in the green room. Some countries were seated in an area completely hidden from the cameras. I thought it was a VIP section for Eurovision fans, until I recognized one of the artists peeking over the wall. In order to be fair in a competition, all countries should have been featured equally.
For a clearer idea of who the public voted for, one should look at the amount of downloads that each song received during the days of Eurovision, before the winner was announced. It is only natural for people to download the winner. Although the media may have influenced viewers, I believe people will usually download the songs they actually like.
I hope one day, people will vote for talent, regardless of where it is from. That which nationalism separates, let music UNITE!
What I think about Eurovision now…
The Eurovision Song Contest is an opportunity to meet artists from many varying countries all over Europe and neighboring countries. It was a wonderful experience and I am very happy to have taken part in it. We met many interesting people and heard a variety of music from far distant lands. One of the best singers I heard during my time in Norway was not even a contestant but the head of the Georgian delegation. Maia Baratashvili performed with The Shin at the Georgia Eurovision Pre-Party. Although I have since found several Youtube videos of her singing jazz standards, they are nothing compared to the performance at The Oslo Opera House where she sang in her native tongue. She completely blew me away.
I would love to return to Eurovision because it was an overall enjoyable experience. The people of Oslo were witty and interesting and the never-ending daylight added to the fun. Norwegians are so friendly that one even asked to sit with us at the airport while we awaited our plane. He entertained us until our flight took began to board. We are all Facebook friends now.
A special warm thanks to…
There were also many journalists, members of several delegations and fans who added to our positive experience. We met wonderful people from ESC Daily and the Prinz Online Team from Germany. I would also like to thank Prinz Online, The Manchester Evening News and Eurovision Windmachine for their articles on me and my blog.
Ronny Gunvorsson Berg, one of the journalists from Norway, even gave us each a box of chocolates from his home town in the north. Thank you Ronny, they were delicious.
The people who did our hair and makeup were the sweetest people around. My beehive was created and perfected on a daily basis by Jane Buer – NRK – Norway, who also does make-up. I sat in her chair for an hour and a half and she created a masterpiece each time. Thanks!
We were guests at several restaurants in Oslo, but the one that served the best steak I have ever had, was D/S Louise on Aker Brygge in Oslo. Their steak is particularly tender due to the fact that they briefly steam it before a quick sear on the grill. I am still craving this!
Thank you Russel Davies of ESCtoday for waving that Albanian flag in the front row and for all of your extraordinary support. We had a blast with you.
Thank you Juliana Pasha, Ardit Gjebrea and Pedrit Beci for making us part of Eurovision.
Albania should be proud to have such wonderful representatives as yourselves. We enjoyed working with you and look forward to doing it again.
After such a wonderful experience, I WANT MORE!
Here, you will find articles and links about our team. We are official candidates for the Austrian Pre-selection. Show your support by going to our Facebook page and clicking ‘like’. Feel free to post this on your wall. Thank you.
Our official video will be a Flash Mob! If you’ll be in Rome in mid-January, read the article for details so you can join us!
Please note that I wrote this article immediately upon my return from Oslo. Many of you have questions and will find some already answered in the comments. I have since then become aware of the ‘block voting’ and other issues. I have not altered this article because I feel it shows what I gathered in a mere two weeks at Eurovision. Those of you who have grown up with Eurovision obviously know more about the voting, however, this is my initial honest reaction and opinion. Thank you for reading.