One day after the semi-final that has seen Ireland once again fail to make the Eurovision final, I think it’s time I put my thoughts on the record. This isn’t Ireland’s first semi-final failure, but rather the fourth, although that does not in any way deflect from the fact that this is a new low in Irish Eurovision history. To fail to make the Top 10 in a 15 song semi with the U.K. voting is nothing short of disastrous and given the performance we saw last night, it’s frankly embarrassing for a country with the best Eurovision history.
I don’t intend to point fingers but the responsibility clearly is on the shoulders of RTÉ, who now have to take the financial hit of lower ratings and advertising revenue on Saturday night. The question has to be asked is if RTÉ are in this contest to win it, or are they just content at qualification and a seat at the top table. It appears to many people that our national broadcaster has neither the ambition nor insight into bring the contest back to Ireland. So where did it all go wrong?
It should have been clear after the last couple of years that the format of having five mentors most of whom had no Eurovision pedigree was not finding a high enough standard of songs and acts. This “closed shop” system only encouraged cronyism rather than a proper open search for a Eurovision winning song and performer.
I find it hard to believe that in a country with some of the greatest songwriters, that we had to go to Scandinavia for input into five of our last six entries. Last year RTÉ’s “The Hit” tapped into the depth of untapped songwriting talent that we still have. Why are we not looking at those talented composers and lyricists for Eurovision?
Having our Eurovision entry chosen on “The Late Late Show” with its postage stamp soundstage, clearly unenthusiastic presenter and an audience and voting public which is far older than Eurovision’s is clearly not the way to proceed. How can you possibly judge how a song would look on a giant Eurovision stage using this option? I’m not going to mention the Linda Martin/ Billy McGuinnes spat, but that was an accident waiting to happen having an unnecessary panel in the show.
It appears that twenty years after “Riverdance wowed the Eurovision viewers that no one understands that everyone has now seen over-choreographed Irish dancing and that they don’t want to see it again. Far from being a help to our Eurovision entry, going down this road takes from it. However it wasn’t just the dancing that was wrong with the “my big fat gypsy Eurovision entry”; the costume, the Ronseal make-up and the gaudy eyesore that was the floor and backdrop competed to be the worst element of this dog’s dinner of a presentation.
Whether she was uncomfortable with the staging, camera shots or just generally down in the mouth, nothing about Kasey Smith’s performance looked comfortable or confident. She may be a fine singer but she clearly was not at ease on that stage. The entry was chosen in February and RTÉ and the team had two months to give her the performance experience to look more comfortable, but offers to appear in Amsterdam, London and thereby gain some stagecraft were rejected.
At the end of the day the question comes down to whether RTÉ wants to win and has the money to host. DR has been very reticent as to how much this contest is costing the Danish licence holder. It doesn’t have to be that expensive, with a big arena and high ticket prices, corporate sponsorship and the facilities already in place in Ireland, we could stage a fantastic Eurovision that wouldn’t break the bank and would showcase 21st Century Ireland to the World.
So where do we go from here? We have in my mind two routes, firstly going back to a single established act with performance experience and record company backing for promotion. Artists like Imelda May, Julie Feeney, Duke Special, Boyzone, Samantha Mumba, Mundy, Bressie or the ex Westlife boys could all do a fantastic job on a Eurovision stage and all would attract the best Irish songwriting talent.
The other option that I think should be considered is that which Finland used to find Lordi; giving established acts and newcomers a chance to present a couple of songs, having the public choose their favourite for a full-on national final in somewhere like the O2. Sell tickets, give the songs plenty of radio play and even those that don’t make it to Eurovision get a boost.
Restricting songwriters to Irish passport holders (as Sweden and other countries do) would also encourage local talent.
Tapping into our diaspora the way countries like Armenia and Portugal do, is a must. We don’t have a voting block to help us, so wee need to get every advantage that we can. Using the time between the selection and the contest to hone the entry is essential.
Next year marks the 50th anniversary of Ireland’s Eurovision debut. Let’s not waste that opportunity to promote our previous success. Put this year down as a bad experience and come back next year with an “in it to win it” mentality. Nothing less should be accepted by the Irish public.