Thomas D was president of the casting show Our Star for Baku and producer of Roman Lob's debut album. He talks with DW, explaining why he thinks Lob has good chances and reflecting on the Eurovision human rights debate.
Thomas D and his band, Die Fantastischen Vier ("The Fantastic Four"), were among the first German-language hip-hop groups in the early 1990s. At the time, rap music could not have been further from the world of the Eurovision Song Contest, then known as the Grand Prix. Today, the ESC keeps up with all of the latest trends in music, and Thomas D is a well-known pop producer. For the German casting show Our Star for Baku, he was named head of the jury by producer Stefan Raab.
DW: Could Thomas D, the rapper in Die Fantastischen Vier, have imagined 20 years ago to be taking part in a Eurovision Song Contest?
Thomas D: Nope, I could imagine a lot of things, and I still can, but that was never on the radar. I would never have thought that I'd be in the position for something like that. Until recently, I also never would have considered taking part in a casting show. But then when [Producer] Stefan Raab asked me, I realized that he'd actually put together a credible alternative to the other shows out there. He had already discovered Max Mutzke, Stefanie Heinzmann and of course Lena. As an outsider, I approved because I could tell he dealt respectfully with the artists. The sense behind it all is not just to make a record but also to go to the world's biggest music competition. So I thought I need to re-think my ideas about it a bit.
Was Roman Lob your choice, too, or did you resolve to go along with the audience's choice?
I'd already told myself it's up to them. But I also said that I'm not non-partisan here. I'm not a referee, I'm the head of the jury. And we know how things go with presidents - especially here in Germany, for instance (laughs). You can also say what you think and do what you want. So that's why I didn't hold back with saying that Roman Lob was my favorite. Now that the show is over, I can say that I got goosebumps from the first time I saw him on video. I knew: He's the one.
So what is it that makes Roman Lob special?
Every artist has their own thing. You see people who are extroverted or who have two faces. There are also many who are very introverted privately and then give it all on stage. But with Roman, it's this natural quality that he has privately and can also bring on stage. He just gets up there, opens his mouth and sings.
Is he ever stressed out? Sometimes it doesn't seem so.
Actually yes. He is very sensitive, and he's got a rather thin skin. You can also see that from the way he carries himself. There's not a big barrier there. Of course, those of us here are trying to keep him relaxed. There, my many years of experience with the stage, the press and the world can help some. I told him: You got into this because of the 120 million viewers, the many nations and countless audience members. That's what you wanted. So don't be scared now because of your courage.
What is your opinion of the whole human rights topic in Azerbaijan now that you're here?
The press presents a lot of things in black and white. When you learn about the country's history, that for 70 years the Soviet Union ruled the country and that 21 years ago a bloody emancipation took place, when you see its geographical situation, how much oil it has and had, then that changes your idea of the country a bit. It's changing, and it's growing. Of course, we're already eons further along. But here we have freedom of religion in a country with 90 percent Muslims, as far as I can tell equality for women and free Internet. The surrounding states here don't have any of that. Human rights are an issue. It's being discussed, and that's a good thing. But it shouldn't just be the media and the artists doing the talking, but also politicians - and in a lasting way, because we will all likely turn away again come Sunday. We'll go home and report and talk about the next thing that comes up.
It's also a bit arrogant to expect that every country would be as free as Germany. But I sense that there's a middle class here, which benefits from the high-polish treatment the president has given it with his money. The money isn't just used in service of oppression or exploitation or furthering his own power. He is also doing something for his country, and I hope we are, too, by making music and drawing the world's eyes to this country.
What do you think of Roman's chances in light of the competition from some cute grandmas and, on the other hand, some half-naked starlets?
You can't reduce it all to one thing - it's a whole package. With the Russian grandmothers, for instance, this "Oh, what cute old ladies" thing meets a really modern, thumping dance beat and a message that everyone can understand. With Roman, it's his presence: stripped-down from the first glance to the song, to the kind of person he is as a whole. By others, it's maybe the skimpy outfits and dancing ability. When you think back to Lordi, who won the ESC a couple of years ago with his devil's masks and a "Hardrock Hallelujah," you know you can never really say who's going to win. Sometimes the ESC is good for a nice surprise, sometimes it's the extreme that wins. We're betting this year on musicality and authenticity. Something tangible, something with heart, and we hope that we will touch other people's hearts as well.
Interview: Mathias Klaus/gsw
Editor: Jessie Wingard