Depi Evratesil — Armenia’s national selection for Eurovision 2018 — is making waves. Building on last year’s success, the show has become a major talking point in Armenian media. Reporters have covered each announcement and semi-final with bated breath, writing about everything from the favourite-of-the-day to various controversies. In terms of popularity and viewership, the second edition of the show is pushing past local editions of international franchises like The Voice and X Factor. Those shows utilise a judging panel and depend partly on the judges’ personalities. But Depi Evratesil 2018 is all about the voices and original songs of its contestants. AMPTV is making music and the country is listening.
On Saturday evening the jury final unfolded inside the Meridien Expo Centre in Yerevan and we were on hand to take in all the action. Each of the ten finalists performed — and each of them upped their game from the semi-finals. In part they’ll want to thank the producers for giving them a setting that makes them look so good. The Depi Evratesil stage is recognisable from last year, but it’s been amped up with better LEDs and a more dazzling series of lights — from white strobes to golden flashing bulbs to its signature purple strips across the runway and stage floor. The graphic design elements on the LED range from supernova swirls to cartoonish fruit to in utero embryos (yes, you read that correctly, there is a fetus on one LED). From the serious to the outlandish, Depi Evratesil puts AMPTV’s ambitions on fine display. The show looks fresh, contemporary and somehow futuristic. It’s no wonder international Eurovision fans have been paying attention.
Depi Evratesil: Jury final review
1. Sevak Khanagyan – “Qami”
The winner of X Factor Ukraine is a big deal. He’s a judge on The Voice of Armenia and he’s packing a beautiful voice (and a very impressive six pack courtesy of his superhero body armour). Other acts rely on dancers and special effects to command attention. But owing to his enormous stage presence and big voice, Sevak can stand all alone and get everyone watching. His song title translates as “wind”, and it becomes an apt analogy for his ethno-tinged ballad. “Give me wings and I can fly,” he sings. Regardless of whether you speak Armenian, you can feel the weight and heft of his feelings and his message. I thought his LED featured stars, but he told me it’s actually a representation of his memories — perhaps like synapses in the brain. They ultimately lead to a the silhouette of a woman. It’s understated and touching, and it’s all buoyed by Sevak’s greatest strength: presence.
2. Gevorg Harutyunyan – “Stand Up”
Gevorg’s ballad “Stand Up” has a musical theatre quality. It’s dramatic, sweeping and comes with plenty of interpretive dance. At times Gevorg gets all ballet on us, standing on one leg while serving face and encouraging us to stand up for what we want. Let’s do this! The costumes are difficult to place in any time period — it could be Les Miserables of yesterday or Cirque du Soleil of tomorrow. Gevorg may look young and innocent, but his voice has a distinct gravely quality with a hint of smoke, which many people will enjoy.
3. Lusine Mardanyan – “If You Don’t Walk Me Home”
At just 16 years of age she’s the youngest competitor in the contest. But age really is just a number when it comes to Lusine, who happens to be one of Tamar Kaprelian’s students at Nvak. Depi Evratesil is her first professional stage show, but she managed to slay her way to the final with innocence and charm. In a sea of divas she is the charming outsider, and one so sweet you just want to pinch her cheeks. Her styling — hair slicked back, white blouse, fancy pussy bow — smacks of Old World class, which she gives modern edge. This song won’t light the house on fire, but it’s not supposed to. Instead it fills you with warm fuzzies, and who doesn’t like that?
4. Kamil Show – “Puerto Rico”
Kamil says that the rest of the acts are all about show business and that he is all about the show. It’s a simple but telling statement that conveys his love of entertainment and entertaining. He’s here to make you laugh and he does precisely that — with deliberately over-the-top make-up, Spanish-language lyrics, a trashy Ibiza beat, violent dancing, that split and a shout-out at the very end of his performance to Ronaldo (please follow Kamil on Instagram, darling). But this isn’t just a joke. His backing vocalists, who do most of the heavy lifting, can really sing. Choosing Kamil would showcase Armenia in a progressive light and would no doubt become one of the media stories of the year in the lead-up to Eurovision.
5. Amaliya Margaryan – “Waiting for the Sun”
She was a backing vocalist for Artsvik, but now Amaliya is ready for her moment centre stage. She starts her performance off blind-folded, perhaps to symbolise hopelessness and strife. But as a stunning LED sun rises behind her our girl starts to see. And when she finally removes the fabric from her eyes she sees lots of smoke and stunning graphics — purple spacescapes, trees beneath a lilac sky, a massive handprint and more. At the end of the performance she even sprouts some Sergey Lazarev wings! The performance went down very well in the arena, and plenty of Armenian Eurovision fans have whispered to me that she’s a dark horse.
6. Nemra – “I’m a Liar”
They’re a young band with an exploding fan base: Following the jury show I thought I might be stampeded by the deluge of teenage girls waiting for them at the barrier and shrieking. The band ooze a detached charm. In a nod to Salvador Sobral their LED says “NO SHOW — ENJOY THE MUSIC” and they back that up with a simple but memorable melody that captures teenage / early 20s angst. Some may expect the song to be flat. But it progresses in its own way, with an extended guitar riff, the use of a magnifying glass, some simple hand claps and some dum-do-da-dum tongue gymnastics. The charm continues until the final seconds where the lead singer mixes it up with some tongue rolls, which, as you can hear above in the semi, also elicited screams. If teenage girls vote — and I am pretty sure teenage girls do vote — this could do very well indeed.
7. Mariam – “Fade”
Her dress is a cool shade of turquoise, but Mariam is definitely bringing the heat vocally. A confident woman with precision control, she doesn’t seem remotely daunted by the occasion as she stands centre stage belting out note after note. Her beautiful LED features lightning, clouds and a supernova swirl, all of which draw you in. Mariam can sing. But something about the melody isn’t pleasant and doesn’t showcase all she has to offer. The song fades from memory soon after it stops.
8. Mger Armenia – “Forever”
Mger Armenia wants to live forever. And his eternity includes off-kilter — yet totally memorable — staging. The act opens with a woman apparently lost inside of her bed sheets. But she soon casts them off to dance before an LED of an embryo in utero. You see the fetus’ tiny hands and feet, and at times he clasps the umbilical cord. Meanwhile Mger’s dancer has an iPad strapped to her belly which also displays a fetus. Put it together and it’s about the cycle of life and how we all live on forever through our loved ones and children (or something like that). Mger has a strong voice. And regardless of what you think of the song or staging, the hook gets stuck in your head. I’m singing it right now!
9. Robert Koloyan – “Get Away With Us”
Robert, a famous Armenian photographer, isn’t just good a snapping pictures. He’s also rather good and creating his own visual identity — which in this case is all about monochrome sci-fi realness. Wearing black and white — and backed by four dancers, also in black and white — he belts it out in front of white strobes and spotlights and a very Matrix-like backdrop. The colourscape continues through the dizzying use of a chess board, which comes to life with shattering pawns and exploding queens. His voice — deep, melodic, instantly recognisable — fits well with the song. Interestingly, this is the song I heard other contestants humming while sitting in the green room. Looks like his rivals are also his fans. Checkmate!
10. Asmik Shiroyan – “You and I”
She’s a veteran of this contest and she’s grown stronger with each performance. And it seems Asmik is peaking at the right time. During the jury final she was confident and in control, working her elevated staircase before hitting the runway where she put on a leggy display, replete with some fancy footwork. Her dancer flits across the stage wearing a mask: She wants him to be a blank canvas so he can represent that special someone in your life. The song is difficult to place geographically — you could hear it in the U.S., U.K. and beyond…which likely reflects its all-star songwriting team who have worked with Louis Tomlinson and Kelly Clarkson, among others. Will Armenians buy into it? Or are they looking for something more “local”? Dunno. But I do know Asmik sold this rather well on Saturday.
Who has impressed you the most so far? Which tracks are you going to download? And who do you want to see at Eurovision? Let us know down below…