Never Trust The Fans: Audience Enthusiasm Doesn’t Predict A Winner

I have been lucky enough to attend the Eurovision Song Contest for the third year in a row, and I’m not joking when I say I plan on making it an annual tradition. My friends at helloeurope.eu and I all had our own opinions on which songs we thought were the best from this year’s line-up. There wasn’t exactly a general consensus on who we thought should win, nor was there one stand-out act who we thought deserved to win. I am self-aware enough to know that my musical tastes and opinions do not often align with the majority. That being said, I would like to think that I am a confident enough fan to know what will actually fare well when it comes to the song and the stage performance. That is…until this year in Kiev.

Before I had even stepped foot on the plane, there were talks of bookies’ favourites and people were placing wagers on what was perceived as being the popular choice. I will admit that I am a gambling man when it comes to Eurovision, and often place a small bet on five countries I think have what it takes to place in the top 5. No matter where you looked, articles were springing up all across social media that Eurovision 2017 was a one-horse race, and Italy’s Occidentali’s Karma was the one in the saddle. It was breaking records; impressively overtaking Alexander Rybak’s Fairytale as the most viewed Eurovision video on YouTube, and becoming the most viewed Italian YouTube video of all time. The figures were speaking volumes, and it was difficult to ignore.

It didn’t look like there was any competition for Italy until later in the game when some of the late arrivals began to release their entries into the world. The likes of Portugal, Belgium, and Bulgaria soon became contenders in what was gloomily looking like a predictable Italian win. I carefully listened to them all, each country, and noted which ones I thought would do well. My money was firmly placed on Portugal to snatch the crown as the dark horse of this year. I wasn’t a fan, not by a long shot, but there was something interesting about the media coverage that made me think it was picking up a lot of traction compared to the other songs. I’m glad I stuck by my convictions, because if I had listened to the audience in the International Exhibition Centre it would have been a completely different story…and I certainly wouldn’t have paid any attention to the likes of Portugal or Bulgaria.

Standing in the Fan Zone in the arena, waiting for the semi-finals to take place, it was easy to see straight away which songs were popular with the audience, with the real fans of Eurovision. Everyone got a polite applause from a strangely sedate Ukrainian audience, but some of the songs got a wildly different response. Raucous cheering and waving of flags, regardless of the representing nation present on the stage, could be heard periodically throughout the Contest. Below I will list the countries that should have placed in the top 5, based on the response of the people who were actually there:

5. Croatia: Jacques Houdek – My Friend

From the giant ceiling-height faces of Jacques singing to himself, to the alternating half-outfits, to the sickly sweet sentiments of the song, this was a clear favourite amongst the crowds. Was it a hilariously camp combination of Disney and Pavarotti? Yes. But it was wonderful!

4. Romania: Ilinca feat. Alex Florea – Yodel It!

Love it or hate it, every single person in the audience tried to yodel at some point during this song. With a simple chorus, it was all you needed for audience participation.  The crowd was jumping up and down and waving for the whole song, even if I think they missed a trick by not firing those cannons!

3. Estonia: Koit Toome & Laura – Verona

My personal favourite of this year’s competition, Estonia went into the second semi-final with me hopeful it would achieve success. It was so overwhelmingly 80s, with its cheesy staging, dramatic looks to the camera, and longing glances across the stage. It was the song that everyone was singing along to on the way into the arena and it was a sore disappointment for me to see it fall out of the semi-finals. Anyone worth their salt was belting out the melodic chorus of “Drama-ah-ah.”

2. Israel: IMRI – I Feel Alive

Compared to all of the acts that I had the pleasure to watch this year, this by far got the strongest response. Standing in the crowd, this song had everything you need to get a group of people dancing along. Catchy dance tune, enthusiastic backing dancers…and any entry that makes use of pyrotechnics like Israel did will be rewarded with some cheers. This song was a thirst-trap to the extreme, with IMRI flirting with the audience and winking at the viewers at home. It’s no wonder the crowd went wild.

1. Moldova: Sunstroke Project – Hey Mamma

This tune, despite falling into the cheesy Eurovision category, was incredibly popular with the audience. Re-watching the video, the cheers from the crowd seem completely drowned out throughout the performance, but standing there in the arena it was like something came over the entire audience every time the “Epic Sax Man” took centre stage. It’s always interesting to see just how different the recorded live version differs from the feeling you get when you are actually there. It was obviously very popular with the judging panel, securing a fantastic 3rd place on the overall chart. And if my ears did not deceive me, this was the real fan favourite of the night.

By contrast, the reaction to Italy was relatively poor. Sure, there was a waving of hands during the chorus, but the audience didn’t seem to care past the novelty of a dancing gorilla. Portugal garnered almost no crowd response at all, with many of the people around me not knowing how to react to Salvador Sobral’s quirky style. Even late-comer Bulgaria received a muted response from either side of me in the Fan Zone. It didn’t matter to me as I wasn’t fond of any of the favourites, but I knew deep down they would do well. And so did the bookies.

I certainly learned something this year in Kiev: don’t listen to the audience! Enjoy the songs, don’t let anyone tell you it’s a one-horse race, and by no means back my favourites if you want a return on your money!

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