Ireland at Eurovision 2016 – Nicky and the Balkan Divas

A News Report by Tintean’s Eurovision Correspondent

Genevieve Rogers

Ireland will need the luck of the Irish to qualify for this year’s Eurovision Final as there is no luck in the draw for Semi Final 2 on Thursday, 12th May in Stockholm.

Nicky Byrne, Ireland's act for Eurovision 2016. From the Eurovision site.

Nicky Byrne, Ireland’s act for Eurovision 2016. From the Eurovision site.

After a seemingly interminable delay the running order for both Semi Finals has been released to the usual mixed reviews. Since 2013 the running order has been determined by producers from the national broadcaster of the host nation. This year SVT, as host broadcaster for Sweden, has done the honours. In the past, a random draw was used. From a television production perspective, this often resulted in an unevenly balanced show which disadvantaged some entries.

As television producers, SVT are concerned to produce not the best competition but the best television spectacle – a complex situation which provokes as much controversy as the former random draw system. The blogosphere is well alight with commentators, amateur and professional, reading the entrails of this year’s draw in search of both comfort and scandal.

Eurovision - Nicky Byrne Credit: Dermot Byrne

Eurovision – Nicky Byrne
Credit: Dermot Byrne

Which brings us to Ireland’s entry, ‘Sunlight’ performed by former Westlife singer, Nicky Byrne. An early contender, ‘Sunlight’ has steadily lost ground as the other entries in the field of 43 countries have been released. Ireland is now ranked 25th in the overall field with the bookmakers.

To qualify for the Grand Final on Saturday, 14th May, Nicky must rank in the Top 10 of Semi Final 2 from a field of 19. He has been placed at the No 7 spot in the running order i.e. In the top half of the draw, sandwiched between two Balkan divas in a Balkan-friendly Semi. Serbia which precedes him is well-fancied and FYR of Macedonia which directly follows him has sent a Balkan superstar. So will he be drowned out or will he stand out?

Semi 2 is the weaker of the two Semi Finals overall but it also the bigger ( 19 entries as opposed to 18 in Semi 1). Nicky has 9 to beat to make the cut. His song is pleasant enough in a middling sort of way; he is a seasoned arena performer; and there is nothing to scare the horses in the package as seen so far. No faux-Celtic overkill ( as in 2014) and no piano bar understatement ( as in 2015). Nicky’s vocals are not the strongest in the competition but they are by no means the weakest. Everything about this entry is fine, OK, competent, unembarrassing. But is it enough?

For this Eurovisionary, Ireland is screaming ‘borderline qualifier’ at the time of writing. Not because there is anything terribly wrong with the entry but because of the company it is keeping in Semi 2. In a year where there is no standout favourite but a large chasing pack Nicky has come back to the middle of the field – and that’s precisely where most of the other entries find themselves.

Which may mean that Ireland must rely on some love from the ‘soft’ political dimension of the contest to advance. Both Australia and the U.K., the only other Anglophone countries in the competition, will vote in this Semi. That might help – though those old language groups are weakening as almost the entire field now opts to sing in English.

There are some friendly Western countries – Denmark, Norway, Switzerland – but they may be distracted by voting within their own mini-blocs. And some Baltic countries – Latvia and Lithuania – which have had worker contacts in Ireland during the Tiger might step up.

On the whole though the planets would need to align almost perfectly to lift this entry into the Final with certainty. Nicky must give the performance of his life and RTE must find the staging alchemy that has eluded them in recent years. With those two unknowables nailed down Ireland’s entry could just make it. For now, I have it marked as contending with three other middling entries for the tenth spot.

The question is: Is it more probable than not that Ireland will qualify. At this stage the answer is that it’s all down to Nicky and the Balkan divas. Good luck with that, Ireland.

I’d love to see it again on Final night but I won’t be surprised if I don’t.

Australians, please note: Australia will vote in this Semi so any Aussie who chooses to lend Ireland a hand can do so – by watching in real time at 5.00 am on Friday morning, 13th May and voting. Good luck with that as well!

Genevieve Rogers is Tintean’s Special Eurovision Correspondent

Note: Eurovision Song Contest 2016 will be broadcast by SBS both live and on delay. Check with SBS Eurovision for broadcast times.

Semi Finals 1 and 2 will be held in Stockholm, Sweden, on 10th and 12th May respectively.

The Grand Final will be held on 14th May.