Malta is a place known to regular people for sun, history and a snack called Twistees. It is a lovely little island in the heart of the Mediterranean, popular with both tourists and Crusader knights. Eurovision fans know Malta as the country which genuinely loves the Song Contest. Its National Final season is appreciated beyond the island’s borders for its duration and the amount of local advertisers (everything from bank accounts to fridge freezers get their fair share of air time). And yet, despite iconic artists such as Ira Losco and Chiara, the island nation is yet to secure a victory.
So, Malta has decided to explore a new strategy.
For 2019, Malta has taken a massive break from the usual selection routine and ditched the long lasting Malta Eurovision Song Contest for a brand new reality show format. Ok, so the ‘new reality show format’ is the X Factor, but this is the first time that the global favourite has been run in Malta. The series was announced in June, when it was also revealed that the winner would be flying the Maltese flag at Eurovision 2019. It is a break with tradition that was meant to create a new, competitive edge to the delegation.
Singing The Changes
The casting rules for the first series of X Factor Malta excluded a lot of fan favourite artists, such as Brooke Borg, Deborah C and Kevin Borg. Despite the initial kerfuffle, this was an astute move. The big risk for any broadcaster holding a national selection is that the show is won by someone who has been around for a while rather than the most competitive song. A good example of this is Ira Losco who won in 2016 with ‘Walk on Water‘; a much-loved entertainer with a generic song. If a format switch turns out to be an effective way to shake out the ‘queuing system’ then look to a couple of other countries to do something similar in the coming years.
The first year of X Factor Malta has given us Michela Pace. The relentless pace of live performances on X Factor Malta showcased her range and tone while also giving her stage experience. She auditioned with Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ which gave us the first glimpse of Michela’s characteristic ‘vocal crack’ that she has gone on to use to great effect in her Eurovision entry. Her vocal style is radio-friendly and is much closer to chart acts like Dua Lipa and Anne-Marie than anything from the Maltese Eurovision vault.
The Maltese delegation has also teamed up with recent Eurovision powerhouse producer/songwriter collective Symphonix to find a song for Michaela. Symphonix are generally in tune with the current pop vibe of the contest – they’ve had three top five results in the past 3 years (Bulgaria in 2016 and 2017, and 2018’s jury winner with Austria) However, they had a lowly 18th in the final in 2018 with Bulgaria’s Equinox and the song ‘Bones‘ as well as two non-qualifiers in 2017 with Serbia (Tijana’s ‘In Too Deep‘ and F.Y.R.O. Macedonia (Jana’s ‘Dance Alone’) proving there’s no easy route to Eurovision success.
Doesn’t a nation best known for sending ballads deserve some love for changing direction? 2019’s ‘Chameleon‘ is a reggaeton-flavoured bop and Malta should be applauded for bringing chart-friendly sounds to the contest.
The first rehearsals on the ground in Tel Aviv showed some deliberate styling and staging choices. The look is fresh and colourful — pure Instagram influencer — right down to the comfortable pastel-coloured athleisure worn by the dancers (picked up from Melodifestivalen) and Michela in white. The graphics are done by the team behind Jamala’s memorable staging in 2016 and the whole set-up is choreographed by Ambra Succi, best known for staging Loreen’s game-changing ‘Euphoria’ in 2012.
Interestingly, Destiny Chukneyere, winner of Junior Eurovision 2015, features in the performance of Chameleon as an off-screen backing vocalist. She’s long been tipped as Malta’s first winner of the grown-up Song Contest, so Destiny being part of the delegation could be read as a way of easing her into the lead role.
The whole package reads like a statement of intent and looks like a well-flowing cohesive unit, but is something which could sneak an unexpected win? In this year, who knows?
The Importance Of Junior Eurovision
While Malta is yet to host the Eurovision Song Contest, the island nation has hosted the Junior Contest twice. The two hosting gigs showed that it can cater for different sizes of contest: in 2014 the expansive Mata Shipbuilding yard in Marsa played host whilst the contest was moved to the smaller Mediterranean Conference Centre for 2016. The most likely venue for a Maltese contest, the MFCC (Malta Friars Convention Centre) has been home to their last two previous national selections, and also successfully hosted the X Factor Malta live shows.
The sun, history, and popular snacks comes with a good attitude towards equality. Malta ranks highest in Europe for LGBT rights and freedoms according to the ILGA Rainbow Europe index. So, we have good weather, an interesting destination that is easy to access, a reasonable cost of living, LGBT rights, good venues, and a national that is super-enthusiastic about the Song Contest.
Can we bring Eurovision to the Maltese shores for the first time? In an open year like 2019, Malta is a delightful 2020 day-dream, but first ‘Chameleon‘ needs to win.
Ahead of the second live show of the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest, grab your copy of the ESC Insight Alternative Commentary ‘Riff’ Track for the show. Having spent the 2019 Season with ESC Insight, why not join us for the final steps as eighteen countries sing for the opportunity to appear in Saturday night’s Grand Final.
You’ll be able to watch the show on your national broadcaster (or head over to www.eurovision.tv for the free live stream without a commentator).
For a million reasons, legal, technical or otherwise, we can’t automatically sync up with the live broadcast, so you need to do a little bit of work. Grab the MP3, cue it up in your audio player of choice, be it portable on headphones, or on your computer or tablet. Feel free to start listening whenever you want, but starting five minutes before show starts is just about enough – more makes it comforable.
I’ll remind you in the show, but when you hear the beep, you pause the track, and start up again when our hosts say “let the Eurovision Song Contest 2019 begin!”
Enjoy! And you can still follow me real time on Twitter for updates direct from Tel Aviv and the Contest.
Eurovision 2019 Podcast: Semi Final 2 Commentary
Ellie Chalkley take you though the second semi final of Eurovision 2019. Press play before the show starts, and don’t forget to pause when you hear the beep!
You can stay up to date with The ESC Insight Podcast by subscribing to the RSS feed for all the shows, or use iTunes to get the show automatically downloaded to your computer if that’s your thing.
All four of the hosts for this year’s Contest are doing a fine job so far at keeping the shows running smoothly, but if any of them is likely to join the ranks of classic Eurovision comperes to stand alongside the likes of Petra Mede and Anke Engelke, it’s Green Room correspondent Assi Azar. Charming, cheeky and evidently having the time of his life, Azar’s good-natured flirting with the performers and his heartfelt appreciation for the show are as much a highlight tonight as they were on Tuesday. Fans of his tribute to Spanish Miki’s gym selfies will be pleased to know that a sequel featuring Mahmood from Italy soaking up some sun at the Dead Sea is on the cards tonight…
Actually, make that sextuple vision – for some reason a CGI hall of mirror effect appears to be the must-have stage gimmick for this year. Russia are hoping that six Sergeys are better than one with a dramatic rain-soaked performance, while North Macedonia make sure you can see every inch of Tamara’s beautiful gown with a clever reversible mirror shot. There’s also Azerbaijan summoning a CGI Patronus, and a disappearing act from Moldova. Framkly, if you blink at the wrong moment during this Semi Final, there’s a strong probability you won’t have a clue what’s going on…
Sergey’s starting with the man in the mirror for tonight’s performance… (Eurovision.tv/EBU)
On the subject of doubles, there are a few moments tonight that might seem eerily familiar. Moldova have drafted in acclaimed sand artist Kseniya Simonova to spice up her classic Euroballad with some on-stage creations. You may remember Simonova from her 2011 appearance doing a very similar routine for Ukraine’s Mika Newton. They say talent borrows and genius steals, but we’ll have to wait until the end of the show to find out whether lightning strikes twice for this routine…
Maybe it’s the heat over here in Tel Aviv, but it’s hard to overlook the fact that this heat is not exactly short on gym-toned male limbs. From Switzerland’s dirty dancing Luca Hänni to Sweden’s athletic John Lundvik, Azerbaijan’s smouldering Chingiz to Russia’s returning poster boy Sergey Lazarev, if there’s one attribute shared by the front runners in this Semi Final, it’s the fact that any one of them could probably arm-wrestle the ESC Insight team under the table without breaking a sweat.
Sweden’s John Lundvik… evidently never too late for dumbbell curls (Eurovision.tv/EBU)
OK, so obviously there’s more to this Semi Final than the eye-candy. Indeed, tonight’s show features some of the most heart-wrenching performances you’ll see on the Eurovision stage this year. You’ll be able to hear a pin drop while hot favourite Duncan Laurence from The Netherlands works out his heartbreak onstage, while North Macedonia’s Tamara Todevska delivers a vocal masterclass for her quiet storm ballad Proud. Don’t count out Austria or Albania either, both emoting their respective entries as though their lives depended on it. There won’t be a dry eye in the house by the final credits…
Yeah, yeah… fire! The impact of Eleni Foureira is strongly felt in this Semi Final… and we’re not just talking about Luca Hanni’s spookily familiar backing track. Indeed, many of tonight’s performers are quite literally turning up the hear with pyro-fuelled performances. Armenia builds to an incredible display as the flames rise as high as her vocals, Norway mix fire and ice for their folk-tinged stage show, and Romania appear to be going full Vampire complete with hellfire backing imagery. Hopefully the stage manager has a trusty extinguisher on standby, just in case…
Stay tuned to ESC Insight for a thorough post-mortem on the results online and on the ESC Insight podcast. Check out the latest version of the ESC Insight newsletter here, or subscribe here to receive regular updates direct to your inbox.
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Once more, you can’t win the Eurovision Song Contest, but after the Jury Show of the second Semi Final, has anyone lost it? Let’s look back over the eighteen countries looking to get to Saturday night’s live show.
Eurovision Insight Podcast: Daily News From Tel Aviv, Thursday 16th May
Looking back at the jury show for Semi Final Two with the ESC Insight team discussing the first chance these performers had to score points in Tel Aviv.
With Ewan Spence and Sharleen Wright.
With the live shows under way, stay up to date with all the Eurovision discussions by listening to the ESC Insight podcasts. You’ll find the show in iTunes, Google Podcasts, and Spotify. A direct RSS feed is available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.
Ten go forward, seven stay behind on our playlists. Let’s look back at the results from last night as the Eurovision Song Contest 2019 continues.
Eurovision Insight Podcast: Daily News From Tel Aviv, Wednesday 15th May
Looking back at the Semi Final One results; the ten qualifiers, the ones that got away, and those Finnish trousers.
With Ewan Spence and Matt Baker.
With the live shows ready to rock and roll, stay up to date with all the Eurovision discussions by listening to the ESC Insight podcasts. You’ll find the show in iTunes, Google Podcasts, and Spotify. A direct RSS feed is available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.