Kiev calling: The 62nd edition of Eurovision Song Contest

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It’s hard to believe that it’s been 12 months already since Jamala won the Eurovision Song Contest for Ukraine with her controversial song “1944”. One year later we are in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev preparing for the 62nd Eurovision Song Contest at the International Exhibition Centre on the banks of the Dnipro river. It’s not been a very smooth 12 months for the organisers with delays and setbacks plus major resignations on the organising committee and even calls for the contest to be removed from Ukraine.

But on the 8th of December the EBU confirmed that Kiev would host the contest in 2017 and so a contest that usually takes 9 months to organise had just 5. So is Kiev ready willing and able to host the greatest music event on the planet with the eyes of over 200 Million watching across the globe? We will soon find out. We welcome back Portugal and Romania to this year’s contest but sadly Bosnia decided to withdraw due to financial problems, also missing from this year’s line-up is Russia.

The Eurovision Song Contest was the brainchild of an Italian who in 1955 decided it would be a good idea to unite Europe in song after the Second World War. It has always been said never to bring politics into Eurovision but some countries just can’t help themselves. It’s no secret that Ukraine and Russia have had issues ever since Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014 giving the Crimean people back their Russian passports and making the currency the Ruble.

Ukraine has since made it illegal for foreign nationals to travel to Crimea without firstly obtaining authorisation from the Ukrainian government. Those who receive this authorisation must then only pass through designated entry points in the Ukrainian regions of Kherson or Mykolayiv.

Russia internally chose singer Julia Samoilova to perform in Kiev and registered their intention with the European Broadcasting Union, but a few days after their announcement it was reported that Julia had illegally entered Crimea to perform a concert there in 2015 and so papers were drawn up banning her from entering Ukraine for 3 years. The EBU tried to mediate between the 2 countries to find a solution, they even suggested that Julia perform her song from Russia and have it beamed by satellite to Kiev on the night, or replace Julia with another Artist. In the end no solution was found so Russia withdrew from the contest and has decided not to broadcast the event. So 43 became 42 and we’re off and running.

The last time the contest was held in Kiev it was 2005 and the venue was the Sports Palace but that was deemed too old and tired for 2017 so it was decided that the International Exhibition Centre was to be used.

I’ve been covering Eurovision since 2003 and it’s always nice to have the Press Centre based in the same building, in previous Eurovision’s us poor press have had to walk to Satellite buildings, some Press Centre’s were tents and I remember in Belgrade 2007 the Press Centre was over half a mile away from the Arena. So here in Kiev everything is under one roof and it’s a short walk from press centre to the press conference area and the arena.

As always we have Two semi finals with 18 Countries in each,10 from each Semi final will qualify for the Grand Final joining the big 5 of France, Italy, Germany, Spain and the UK plus our hosts Ukraine.

Romania will  be on stage  in Semi final 2 with the song Yodel It,  performed by Ilinca and Alex. This was chosen by the people of Romania at their National Final back in March. It was the songwriters idea to put together Alex & Ilinca. Alex who is from a Rock background and has previously covered Meatloaf and Bon Jovi, but is performing the Rap part of this song. Ilinca who had previously appeared in Romania’s “The Voice” and won-over the judges with her version of “Cowboy Sweetheart” complete with Yodelling. So we have a Rap/Yodelling song which is showing a lot of interest here in the Press Centre. Ilinca is not just a yodelling singer she can turn her talents to many types of music and during the press conference here I asked her to sing her version of the song “Beauty and the Beast”, which he politely did. Things haven’t gone that easy for Alex here in Kiev, during their first rehearsal he lost his balance while attempting to climb onto a cannon on stage & fell over, and he still has the cuts and bruises to show for it, but of course he is a true professional and “the show must go on” As is now a major part of any Eurovision these days, when the sun goes down we all head to the “Euroclub” where press and fans mingle with the artists. It’s opportunities like these that the artists can perform onstage and sing not just their Eurovision songs. The Georgian singer gave us her version of the Whitney Houston classic “I wanna dance with somebody” and the Irish singer gave us some Britney Spears.

Officially the Eurovision Song Contest starts at the “Red carpet opening ceremony”. This is when all the artists are paraded in front of the worlds media, I say world as I was standing beside members of the press from as far away as Australia and China. Think of it like the Oscars ceremony but with added glamour. I have to say the organisers have segregated the press this year into small “enclosures” for each country making it easier and more civilised to interview and take pictures, in the past it was like a stamped and many toes were regularly crushed.

All the artists are getting on well with each other, however the competition is about to start in earnest. The Semi-Finals are broadcast on the 9th, 11th May, & the Grand Final on 13th May.