The grand final of Eurovision 2012 takes place in Baku, Azerbaijan on Saturday, 26 May. As contestants slip into their tightest pants and warm up their wind machines, I'm previewing this year's hottest acts to help you decide who deserves your televote. Today's contestants include Engelbert Humperdinck--the 76-year old crooner representing the U.K.--and Gaitana--the Ukraine's only Afro-Ukrainian celebrity.
Norway: Tooji with Stay
Norway's national selection was Tooji's first foray into live music - and it really shows. He struggles to hit the high notes, and I frequently get the impression he isn't singing but just talking really, really loudly. Also, the opening bars of this song sound strangely familiar, and somewhat derivative. But whatever. I really like this song anyway. Eurovision is much more than a song contest, and this act has plenty of highlights to make up for its musical shortcomings. I love the choreography and staging during the bridge. Tooji obviously has very strong thighs. Do you see how he supports himself during the thrust-and-squat sequences? Douze points for that! Plus Tooji is a nice guy. As he told me during a recent interview, he loves performing social work with children.
Prediction: Tooji's dance number breaks the Eurovision mold by offering something modern and hip. Unfortunately, front-runner Loreen from Sweden does the same thing. She'll poach the electronica dance vote, and much of the Scandinavian vote as well. Even so, Tooji will still finish around tenth place.
Turkey: Can Bonomo with Love Me Back:
Consider this pop on the seven seas. Can Bonomo, who looks like Vin Diesel in the right lighting, has penned playful lyrics about a pirate hoping to secure some booty. "Hop up to my ship, baby, I'll make you fly/ You love me and you know that, baby, don't you lie." On stage his back-up dancers use blankets and sheets to create drama and mystery and, eventually, a pirate ship. It's all rather adorable.
Prediction: Whenever Turkey shows up with a half-decent song, its strong diaspora vote ensures that it lands in the Top 10.
Ukraine: Gaitana with Be My Guest:
The world may have lost Whitney Houston, but thanks to voters in Ukraine, it gained Gaitana. Her vocals flourishes could blow Jennifer Hudson away, and when she belts out Be My Guest folks down in Australia can hear. This is my jam, y'all! I also love that the opening bars of "Be My Guest" nod to traditional Ukrainian horn music. More than anything, though, I love Gaitana's personal story. Born to a Congolese father and a Ukrainian mother, she's her country's only Afro-Ukrainian celebrity. It hasn't always been easy. Following her victory in the Ukrainian Eurovision final a conservative politician leveled criticism that Gaitana was not "an organic representative of the Ukraine," and suggested that she would hurt the country's bid to join the European Union. Gaitana's poise throughout the ordeal has turned her into my sentimental favorite.
Prediction: Along with Albania's Rona Nishliu, Gaitana has the most powerful vocals at Eurovision 2012. Coupled with her impressive staging that includes Cossack aerobics instructors in tie dye--she should land in the Top 10.
United Kingdom: Engelbert Humperdinck with Love Will Set You Free:
The opening lines of Engelbert Humperinck's Eurovision entry seem to describe the singer himself: "So graceful and pure/ A smile bathed in light/ No matter the distance/ A miracle of sight." I applaud the BBC for looking into the Eurovision vortex - with all its thrusting young women and spilling cleavage - and choosing this 76-year old veteran who brings talent instead of sex appeal. His song carries with it all his life experience: you can feel the pain as he sings about loving someone enough to let them go. The emotion of his voice gives this song a visceral quality. It's as if he's looking back over his many years and mourning a relationship of his own. I watched his rehearsals in Baku, and he has one of the most understated and moving acts in this year's contest. The camera focuses on him throughout, but occasionally pans out to show a couple dancing alongside him.
Prediction: The Hump's popularity throughout Europe will serve him well. It's a shame that he has to perform first. But hopefully he'll be able to stick in people's minds all night. This is in my Top Five for sure.
You can watch all 42 of this year's Eurovision entries by clicking here.