Romania, land of great dance music and beautiful women, is one of the most widely anticipated acts at Eurovision year after year. It seems like the Eastern European country never fails to leave a mark on the contest, although things got to a lackluster start in the first decade after the country joined the ESC family, back in 1994… and it is yet to win the contest.
1994: Rocker Dan Bittman marked Romania’s Eurovision debut with a decent ballad, “Dincolo de nori” (Beyond the clouds), but failed to impress, finishing 21st with just 14 points.
1998: Malina Olinescu did even worse, coming 22nd with “Eu cred” (I Believe), Romania’s worst placing in an Eurovision final to date, with the lowest score: 6 points. Malina’s career failed to lift off and, sadly, she died in 2011 in an apparent suicide.
2000: Romania returned to the Eurovision stage with the first English language song, “The Moon”, performed by Taxi. The song finished 17.
2002: Romania broke into the Top 10 with the duet Monica Anghel & Marcel Pavel, coming 9th with the ballad “Tell Me Why”, with 71 points.
2003: Nicola, with “Don’t Break My Heart”, finished on an honourable 10th place in Riga.
2004: Sanda Ladosi, with “I Admit”, finished 18th with 18 points in Istanbul. The performance was memorable only because she managed to grab the country’s first and, to date, single Barbara Dex Award. Ouch.
2005: Romania eventually catches a break, finishing third in Kiev with Luminita Anghel and Sistem’s brilliant song “Let Me Try”, with a whooping 158 points. Their performance brings Romania to the forefront of Eurovision for the first time since it joined the contest.
2006: Romania confirms its Eurovision powerhouse status in Athens, when Mihai Traistariu’s catchy “Tornero” finishes fourth, but grabs the country’s biggest score to date, 172 points. The English and Italian language song is still widely hailed as the most memorable in what is perceived as an otherwise weak Eurovision year. (No offense, Lordi.)
2007: Todomondo, a band nobody in Romania ever heard of before or since, tries to win over Eurovision fans with the English/Italian/Spanish/French/Russian/Romanian language song “Liubi, Liubi, I Love You”, but finishes an unlucky 13 with 84 points.
2008: Nico & Vlad perform first and are mostly forgotten by the end of the Grand Final night, finishing 20th, with 45 points. “Pe o margine de lume” (At the edge of the world) is a good song, but not a great opener. Again, some Italian lyrics thrown in the mix for no apparent reason.
2009: Elena Gheorghe, a former vocalist of Mandinga, tries to woo Balkan ears – and straight eyes – with a formulaic but well executed “The Balkan Girls”. However, said girls draw just 40 points, ending up on a disappointing 19th place. However, Elena wins our very first Eurovision Next Top Model contest, with almost 4,000 votes, and Wiwi’s heart.
2010: Paula Seling and Ovi bring Romania back to the Eurovision podium, placing third with “Playing With Fire” (162 points, a mere eight points behind second placed Turkey). In a first for Romania, the song manages to chart internationally as well as nationally, most notably in Norway (Ovi’s adopting country at the time), Sweden, and the UK. Music critics also review the song favourably, calling it Romania’s best ESC song since “Tornero”, and compare Paula Seling’s vocal abilities with Mariah Carey’s. Her gorgeous looks also dazzle audiences and Wiwibloggs fans alike.
2011: Romania changes the rules, allowing international artists to represent the country at Eurovision. As a result, Hotel FM, a Romanian band fronted by British singer David Bryan, wins the Selectia Nationala, with the song “Change”, which however ends up 17th on the scoreboard in Düsseldorf, with 77 points. Critics remark that the singer’s good voice is wasted on a dated song. Hotel FM disbands shortly after.
2012: Despite favourable odds and high hopes for a Top 5 placing, jazz fusion band Mandinga finishes only 12th in Baku with “Zaleilah”, a Spanish-English language Latino dance track. It is later revealed that televoting results alone would have placed the song 7th on the scoreboard, but juries hurt it. Despite peaking at number one on the Romanian iTunes chart, the song is later panned by Romanian critics for being formulaic and reductive, while Elena Ionescu is singled out for her “too sexy” outfit and sub-par vocal abilities. Nonetheless, the band goes on to enjoy unexpected international success, particularly in Mexico and Azerbaijan. This year, Mandinga was also invited to perform at the prestigious jazz festival in Montreux. Elena Ionescu is the third Romanian female artist to steal the spotlight in the Eurovision Next Top Model arena.
2013: At the end of an exciting Selectia Nationala, countertenor Cezar “The Voice” Ouatu goes on to represent Romania in Malmö with “It’s My Life”, a song penned by the songwriter of “Let Me Try”. It is a much contested choice that polarises the Romanian and European public alike. Deciding to go bold or go home, the Romanian delegation goes for a wacky but effective staging, which sees a Dracula-looking Cezar floating in mid-air over seemingly naked dancers as he belts out the incredibly high-pitched notes. The result is better than many in Romania expect, but worse than the established countertenor is used to: 13th place and just 65 points. Unlike in previous years, the huge Romanian diaspora fails to help, due to international juries’ low marks that sink the expected high result. Nonetheless, Cezar’s presence is utterly unforgettable (he finished second in our Eurovision Next Top Male Model contest and won three Valentina Monetta Awards) and the YouTube clip of his semi-final performance alone garners nearly 4 million views so far, second only to Emmelie de Forest’s Grand Finale performance.
With such an amazing impact and diverse musical talent, never failing to qualify for the Final since the introduction of the semi-finals, it is surprising that Romania is yet to win the Eurovision trophy. Year after year, the country brings something new to the table, which captures the attention of the viewers, but somehow fails short of getting enough votes. The political aspect of the contest mustn’t be ignored: although one of the Eastern European block countries, Romania can only count on the unconditional support of Moldova, who shares its culture, history and language. Slavic countries tend to vote for each other and the Romanian “Latin island” is left stranded. Moreover, the Romanians’ poor image due to heavy emigration and high criminality rate hurts its chances of being favoured by Western Europeans, and the diaspora can only do so much since the introduction of the juries. Maybe Romania should send one of its many successful pop exports with huge international fanbases, like Inna or Alexandra Stan? Either way, no hope is lost: 2005, 2006 and 2010 proved that, with a bit of effort, a sliver of luck and an awesome song, Romania could bring it. And I have no doubt that one day, maybe soon, maybe next year, when the country celebrates its 20th Eurovision anniversary, Romania will bring the contest to Bucharest.
Here’s what the rest of Team Wiwi have to say:
Katie Wilson: Romania is always the most exciting ESC country. The acts from Romania are always unique in so many different ways, and you can see energy that goes into the performances every year. My favourite without a shadow of a doubt is 2012’s entry. Words cannot describe how much I love Mandinga, and how much I enjoyed watching them perform. The blend of Romanian and Latin music works perfectly, and the Spanish lyrics make you feel like you’re on holiday wherever you are. The colours, the energy, the happiness are why I love Mandinga, and you only find a band like that on the ESC stage. Compared to the other Romanian entries, I was disappointed with 2008’s entry. I don’t remember much about it, but I remember being bored watching it. Maybe it would have been better if it didn’t have the curse of performing first in the Final, but I didn’t think it was a good opening to the show.
Deban Aderemi: Katie’s response is exactly why I love Eurovision. Yes, we all love the same show but we gravitate towards different things. I guess my response here about Mandinga says it all.
William Cahill: Their best act was in 2010. That was the best song of that year.
Zachary Thomas: In my opinion, Romania is one of the most unpredictable countries and I love the sense of surprise they bring to the contest. My favorite from them is tough, as I loved Paula and Ovi, yet I listen to Elena’s song religiously. So I’ll say a tie between 2009 and 2010 for the best song. Their worst for me was their 2011 effort. Yeah the guy was cute, but compared to their other songs, it’s super boring. 2008 was pretty bad too, really off key and zero chemistry on stage.
Angus Quinn: Romania always seems to send something polarising to Eurovision, people always end up loving or hating their act, there’s never indifference toward them. I think the trouble is that they fall between two stools, trying to produce entries that appease Western European tastes and end up alienating reliable Ex-Soviet block-voting that would push them higher up the scoreboard. I have to say I definitely have a love / hate thing with Romania, I’ve loved some of their acts like Elena in 2009 and Mandinga in 2012, but then some like Hotel FM are just awful in comparison, such a monumentally boring song and so uninspiring. As a favourite I have to say I adore ‘Playing With Fire’ from 2010. Paula Selling’s vocal was incredible and I loved the crazy piano-playing duel she had with Ovi. The video with fireballs and fighting is also pretty amazing, and I think that more than deserved 3rd and actually probably deserved to better Turkey and take 2nd place in Oslo. I also think Cezar probably deserved to do better than he did in Malmö, certainly he should have made the Top 10 over Hungary since he not only kept me awake but was also a nice pop-opera performance and the dubstep was, although slightly insane, marvellous.
Wiwi: Romania at Eurovision is almost always synonymous with “fabulous.” I think Elena’s “Balkan Girls” is one of the most underrated Eurovision songs. That daughter of a priest worked it out and had one of the most beautiful LED displays ever. My favourite Romanian act is still Paula Seling & Ovi. She has attitude, beauty and most of all a voice! I know that “Playing with Fire” was kind of cheesy, but I love a big slice of cheese!! The worst entry was the one from 2011 with that Welsh guy whose name and song I cannot remember.
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Bogdan Honciuc is a Romania-based correspondent for WiwiBloggs.com.
You can follow him on Twitter @stingovision.