Destination Eurovision preview: Semi-Final 1 shows a France rooted in the world and NOT French clichés


European and French flags flying high in the air were a common sight during the French presidential campaign of 2017. But tonight, with Destination Eurovision, the flag waving is all about choosing the French contestant for the Eurovision Song Contest. The two semi-finals were recorded earlier this week and tonight, from 20:55 CET, France 2 will broadcast the first semi-final (which you can watch on the Eurovision France Facebook livestream here).

Producers from France 2 kindly invited us to attend the recordings and gave us access to the contestants back stage. We exchanged words with all of the singers, and also important officials from France Télévisions and ITV. We’ve kept our lips sealed — we’re not going to reveal the results in this preview. But we’re more than thrilled to share our report from the scene, where we found a France inspired by the world.

Destination Eurovision: Semi-Final 1 Recording

During the recording, the Canadian singer Garou asked the public to applause warmly “for Queen Marie” —  Marie Myriam, the last French winner of ESC some 41 years ago. “For 40 years I am waiting for a prince or a princess to replace me as the Queen of Eurovision!” she confesses to us backstage. “Every year I say publicly that it is my last year as queen because we will win, but nothing happens, so this year I will say nothing, and perhaps it will work!”

And while there is no guarantee, surely the groundwork has been laid. France Télévisions has, for the very first time, dedicated three TV shows in prime time to choosing its Eurovision act — replete with two semi-finals and an international and national jury, with a final decided by the televote.

Marie Genest, head of entertainment at France 2, and Matthieu Grelier, Programme Director for ITV, hope the public will share their enthusiasm: “We are experiencing something very new with Destination Eurovision and we hope that our public will enjoy the show as much as we have preparing it.”

Will this end the tradition Eurovision-bashing in France? We asked France 2 deputy director Antoine Boilley.

“The hiring of Edoardo Grassi and Nathalie André two years ago has been the starting point for the modernisation of our management of the project,” he says. “We know that our public is waiting for the show: we had first place in market share with Amir and Alma. We want to keep our efforts this year. And, observing that every winner of ESC is initially chosen through a national selection that includes jury as well as televote, that is what we do this year.”

“For France 2, Eurovision is the Europe of the people. We hope that the selection process will create some pride about our candidate: pride in choosing a candidate that will represent France as well as Europe with modernity.”

“Once the winner of the national selection will be known, every channel of France Télévisions will promote her or him, and, thanks to our collaboration with the ministry of Foreign Affairs, we will also play on the network of cultural institutions abroad and our expat community to strengthen the momentum.”

Surprises in store

While both semi-finals are rather strong when compared to most Eurovision national finals, expectations varied significantly ahead of the recordings. Ahead of the first show some of the singers came off as more amateur than Eurovision-ready…but some totally delivered. On the contrary, some of the second semi-final artists generated a great deal of hype — but couldn’t always deliver. The point is this: Clear your mind and get ready to embrace surprises in both shows.

A majority of singers in the contest are French, but able to draw on other cultural influences and fusions: French and Portuguese, French and Australian, French and Italian and more. This mirrors the diversity of French society, and is also a good sign of a national selection deeply rooted in the world and not just in the traditional French clichés.

Semi-Final 1 contestants

Masoe, born in a Portuguese family, sees his participation as a dream come true as he follows Eurovision every year already. For me, his performance didn’t quite match expectations. “Have you already performed onstage before?” a kindly Amir asks in a soft way to underline the questionable choreography.  Back to basics, we then turn to Noée and her very classical entry “L’un près de l’autre” — a romantic song. It’s a lovely interpretation, but doesn’t take off as we would have liked it to. What does the jury think? You’ll have to wait and see.

With his song “EVA” Lisandro Cuxi offers one of the most complete performances: great choreography as well as singing. It’s dedicated to every single mother working hard for her children. With his roots in Cape Verde, the 18-year-old Portuguese-French star takes on the challenge with plenty of emotion: “I haven’t been in Lisbon for four years — going back there as the French candidate would be so great!”

Malo’, like Lisandro, has also competed in televised talent shows prior to competing in Destination Eurovision 2018. He is also a mix of culture, singing his song “Ciao” in three languages: French, English and Italian. French for his dad, English for his Australian mother, and Italian for his memories of a love story. “My song is about a first love that ends,” he says. “When you live something for the first time, like the end of love story, it is hard, but it is also a new chapter you have to write in you life. This song is about that, and I hope that it can help inspire people in such situations.”

Be prepared for a shock: Emmy Liyanna rocks the stage with a powerful song “OK ou KO” written by the popular singer Zazie. Her strong performance onstage contrasts with her shy personality. But to understand her, you need to go beyond her words. “I have always been very, very shy, and my look as well as my interpretation are a way to express who I really am,” she says. “Singing this song for Eurovision is a symbol of being accepted just the way I am. When I am on stage, I just feel myself being accepted without limits.”

A member of the national jury, Isabelle Boulay, recognises her strength, delivering a line that could have come straight from a psychotherapist: “Your song says that your are the sovereign of your life and your existence.”

PhenoMen give a bit of an embarrassing performance: old-fashioned men’s groups never work for ESC. Try again, but don’t complain Pheno Men — “we have got some technical problems” is the typical excuse for not singing with the right tone. Will their charm and poise be enough to help them move past it and rebound their way to the final? Our lips are sealed.

After Pheno Men, another singer who, like Malo’, plays in French as well as in Italian: Louka. The guy-next-doors sings “Mamma mia” a song that he says “reflects my personality”. And for Elha, who ends the show with the song “J’ai cru”, Destination Eurovision is not a classical talent show. “Here, it is not about your personality,” she says candidly. “It is all about your song and that’s what I like the most.”

Who will be the four acts to qualify from this first semi-final of Destination Eurovision? It’s a nail-biter — and you’re going to have to wait until the very last minute to find out…

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