Wednesday 24 April 2019

Our expert's opinion: Eurovision at RTÉ is one step forward, two steps back

Eurovision Song Contest 2019 Irish entry: Sarah McTernan. PIC: Lili Forberg, Stylist: Catherine Manning, Hair: David Cashman, Make-Up: Ellie Murphy
Eurovision Song Contest 2019 Irish entry: Sarah McTernan. PIC: Lili Forberg, Stylist: Catherine Manning, Hair: David Cashman, Make-Up: Ellie Murphy
Brian O'Reilly

Brian O'Reilly

Yes, most people's first response was 'Who is Sarah McTernan'?

And for good reason.

RTÉ seemed to have been getting Eurovision nearly right the last few years - get a professional singer to sing our song.

Full disclosure: I was honoured and delighted to be on one of the jury panels this year. And if anything, more Irish songwriters need to get involved.

I learned a lot - while most countries get to judge fully professionally produced songs; in Ireland the best we get is demos. That makes it difficult to judge a song's full potential.

RTE have been (justifiably) criticised for their Eurovision approach over the last 20 or so years.

Eurovision Song Contest 2019 Irish entry: Sarah McTernan. PIC: Lili Forberg
Eurovision Song Contest 2019 Irish entry: Sarah McTernan. PIC: Lili Forberg
Eurovision Song Contest 2019 Irish entry: Sarah McTernan. PIC: Lili Forberg

However under the most recent management of our selection there has certainly been the appearance of the mantra of 'fail once, fail better'.

After back to back failures in 2014 and 2015, the realisation was made that a professional act was needed.

Cue Nicky Byrne in 2016 in Stockholm, with a decent song backed by an enthusiastic performance, but terrible staging. We didn't make it to the final.

In 2017 in Kyiv, Brendan Murray (now of X Factor Fame but then from Louis Walsh's boyband Hometown) performed well, had memorable staging (the hot air ballon) but was let down by a dated song which sounded like a reject from a Westlife album. Again, we didn't make it to the final.

Then last year in Lisbon everything clicked - a great song, by a charismatic performer with one of the most memorable Irish stage performances in years.

Ryan O'Shaughnessy sailed into the final and was one of the most talked about acts in the entire competition - at one point rising as high as third in the betting odds.

There will be criticism that RTE has taken one step forward and two steps back. A good song, but worries about singer and how it will be staged.

Rumours have abounded on social media that the broadcaster struggled to attract big name performers due to the contest being held in Israel.

However, an RTE spokesperson dismissed those rumours to Independent.ie, saying "We had 430 song entries... none of the artists we approached chose not to audition on those grounds."

To note - as a positive for our song - I listened to the track in demo version and was unimpressed. However the professionally produced version is slick and modern.

Yes, Sarah is a rookie. And Ireland don't have a good record with rookies.

In the last 20 years, our most successful entries have been professionals - Brian Kennedy in Athens in 2006, Jedward in Dusseldorf in 2011 and Ryan O'Shaughnessy in Lisbon in 2018.

But this year RTE focused on the song before the singer - and the majority of Europe will never know our singer, unless we send Bono or Niall Horan.

Despite fierce criticism, RTE has always learned and adjusted their approach.

If - and it's a big if - the staging is done well, the song should qualify from our semi final.

Staging has let us down before, but once the staging matches the song we could count back-to-back qualification for the first time in five years.

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