An upset in the lead-up to this year's Eurovision Song Contest: Germany is putting its money on newcomer band Elaiza, selecting the group in a televised contest over well-known favorites like Unheilig and Santiano.
"It's like a dream," stuttered accordion player Yvonne Grünewald, while frontwoman Elzbieta Steinmetz said the first thing she did was call her Mom. Double bassist Natalie Plöger was speechless. All three members of the band Elaiza were nearly in tears of joy after their upset win Thursday night (13.03.2014), when German TV fans televoted in the national final for their favorite in this year's Eurovision Song Contest.
With their instruments and the voice of Elzbieta Steinmetz, who has Ukrainian and Polish roots, the three Berlin-based performers won standing ovations from the crowd in the Cologne Arena after moving performances. The young trio had had to win out in a YouTube-based competition in order to head to Cologne and face voters in the televised show, where each of the eight contestants played two songs. Now they'll go on to compete for Germany at Eurovision 2014 in Copenhagen.
Elaiza started off with "Is It Right," moving on to "Fight Against Myself," in which they had accompaniment from tuba and drums. Fresh-faced and down to earth, the three will remind Eurovision fans of Germany's previous Eurovision winner, Lena Meyer-Landrut. They were a wildcard addition to Thursday's German nationals, with the other artists having being selected by industry insiders. Now they may just have a shot at Eurovision victory with their winning song, "Is It Right."
Poetry, soul and a teardrop or two
Ever since Lena brought home first prize for Germany in 2010, Eurovision has become fit for the masses again. Tickets for Thursday's preliminary battle sold out instantly, and 6,500 fans cheered on the stars. To set the mood, last year's winner, Emmelie de Forest from Denmark, delivered her winning "Only Teardrops."
Quipping that the audience were in for a "mix of a gay pride fest and the Catholic World Youth Day," moderator Barbara Schöneberger welcomed the first candidate to the stage, Das gezeichnete Ich (The Drawn Self).
Berlin singer Gottfried Benn is the one behind Das gezeichnete Ich - a gentle vocalist on the lookout for the meaning of things and sure to appeal to a sensitive teenage heart here and there. He a track from his newly-released second album titled "Weil du da bist" (Because You're There). But apparently he was a bit too sensitive for the ESC audience, getting voted out in the semi-finals.
A familiar face followed: Oceana, whose "Endless Summer" had served as the official song for the Euro 2012 soccer tournament. She delivered a soulful and powerful track with "Thank You," but it didn't take her to the final round.
Folk heroes versus a harp songstress
The well-known German stars in Unheilig butted heads for the role of the contest's favorite with the popular folk rockers Santiano, whose good mood sound could come straight from an Irish pub. The latter rolled out a kind of Viking boat on stage to go with their song, "Fiddler on the Deck." The five men from the northern coast of Germany, ranging in age from 40 to 60, have emerged as one of the most successful bands in recent years. On Thursday, they secured a place in the top four.
Santiano belted out their second tune in their customary style and in German - "Wir werden niemals untergehen" (We Will Never Go Down), which they said is about "being there for one another."
With her bright red punk do and funky outfit, Bavarian performer MarieMarie offered a different take on harp playing. She's already appeared on stage as an instrumentalist with German pop titans like Die Ärzte and Helene Fischer, but she wanted to head to Denmark with the fonktronic sound of her album, "Dream Machine." MarieMarie made a poppy, cheerful and agreeable impression with "Cotton Candy Hurricane" and, in the semi-finals, "Candy Jar."
Elvis revival and Black Forest pop
1950s throwback group The Baseballs were clearly betting on Elvis nostalgia with their stylized clothes and flipped up hair. Their rock 'n' roll tune "Mo Hotta Mo Betta" didn't secure them a ticket forward, though, given how intense and, above all else, how much more unique their competitors were.
18-year-old Madeline Juno, a singer-songwriter from Germany's Black Forest, found it tough to score audience points - in spite of her touching performance and the fact that many movie-goers had already heard the song she played. "Like Lovers Do" is on the soundtrack of the feature film "Pompeii," but the dark horse contestant went home empty handed.
Disappointment for the Count
This year marks 15 years of the band Unheilig, by far the best-known act in Thursday's competition. Lead singer Der Graf (The Count) has a knack for crafting award-winning melancholy tunes. He appeared with his band to play the song "Als wär's das erste Mal" (As If It Were the First Time) and the premiere of "Wir sind alle wie eins" (We're All Like One) - an ode, the singer said, "to the big picture - regardless of where you're from or what skin color you have."
In the gripping finale, he finished just behind the charming trio from Berlin. A big disappointment for the Count, who says he used to sit entranced in front of the television for Eurovision. "I dreamed of the big stage, of the European flags and of representing my own country," he waxed poetically.
However, the singer - who makes a point of withholding his real name from audiences - had earlier turned down two chances to try out for Eurovision, saying he didn't want to sing in English. This time his fans gave him the green light for his application, and his second-place finish is nothing to scoff at.
Last year, an expert jury overrode the audience vote, sending not the viewers' favorite BrassBanda on to the official Eurovision contest in May, but instead singer Cascada. Her song "Glorious" proved anything but, landing in 21st place. Since the jury missed the mark so drastically, the vote was left entirely in the hands of fans this year.
During a break, Eurovision head Jan Ola Sand encouraged the television audience to vote for who really spoke to them and to be courageous. They seem to have taken heed. The winning trio Elaiza will fit very well in the glistening and colorful world of the Eurovision Song Contest.