No country has won Eurovision more times. But in recent years, Ireland’s song contest record has been far from stellar.
In a bid to counter the downward spiral, national broadcaster RTÉ unveiled a new and improved selection method for 2017. But has it worked?
On Wednesday last, we caught up with the Irish Head of Delegation Michael Kealy at Maynooth University’s Eurovision Conference. Here’s what he had to say.
Ireland’s Eurovision 2018 selection process
First, a quick catch-up.
The Eurovision Forum think tank kick started Ireland’s new approach back in August. An open call for songs took place throughout the autumn. Next, a panel of experts drawn from numerous fields sifted through the shortlisted entries in the weeks immediately following the Christmas break.
In the end, Ryan O’Shaughnessy emerged as the Irish candidate for Eurovision 2018 and will sing “Together” in Lisbon.
But despite all this, many have felt that the “new path” is taking Ireland back to the same place. What is Michael’s response?
I can understand why people would say that. At the end of the day, we only have the songs that we get sent in to work with. People don’t believe me when I say that the standards in the past and, including now, the process that we started in 2017, the songs that we get in are very much a mixed bag.
I would say one in ten is a credible song. There’s a lot of wannabes out there. There’s a lot of people who are hobbyists, who have no track record in writing music, no track record in songwriting. But yet who feel that Eurovision is a great place to kick of their musical career.
I’m trying to change that perception. This is a top professional international competition. I want top professionals.
Michael also points out that Ireland is not known for its pop tradition, observing that the country does have a very good reputation for ballads — “That’s what we do well. I think this is a really good song”.
While RTÉ ran an open submission for entries, from which Ryan and “Together” came, the broadcaster had also stated that they would approach organisations and individuals directly if needs be. Did this happen?
I did have chats with other artists, who I thought were really good and I think would still be very good to represent Ireland in the future. But for various reasons those didn’t really work out.
But anybody I was speaking to, we’re all still the best of friends and the door certainly isn’t closed to revisiting that in the future.
Ireland’s aim now is to qualify. But what happens if things don’t go as planned in May? Will the new process be kept?
I think it’s a better way of choosing the song. I know that some people give out about the fact that the public don’t have a say in what we do and that is true.
But one of the things I did before we arrived at this process was, I looked at what other countries were doing. And a lot of other countries who were like us not enjoying great results decided to opt for internal selections.
We take back much more control when we do that. When you ask the public what they think of various songs, you don’t necessarily always get the answer you want.
Michael Kealy’s future as Irish Head of Delegation
The 2018 contest marks Michael’s seventh non-consecutive year in charge of RTÉ’s Eurovision delegation. His first stint was in 2008. He returned again in 2013 and has overseen proceedings ever since.
Avid Eurofans will be quick to spot that his stewardship hasn’t been the most successful — six non-qualifications and one last place in the final. But how does Michael feel about it. How long more does he plan to steer the Irish ship?
For all the abuse I get online — people telling me to resign and all that kind of stuff — that’s fine, that’s my job, I’ll take that on the chin. I’ll do it as long as I’m asked to do it in RTÉ. But I would definitely like to see a final again, if not two. And the dream is to bring it back to Ireland and I would love to be head of delegation when that happens.
If I won it, I would hang up my hat.
Michael Kealy Head of Delegation Ireland Eurovision 2018 — Interview
You can watch the full interview with Michael Kealy below. In it, the Irish chief also shares his main takeaways from last week’s Head of Delegation meeting in Lisbon.
Additionally, he muses on how Ireland plans to stage the entry without LEDs, hinting that the love story from the “Together” music video is likely to be incorporated in some way.
And as we previously reported, Michael confirmed that Russia has not threatened to ban the Irish music video.
What do you think? Could 2018 be the year that sees Ireland return to the grand final? Is their new selection process working? Let us know in the comments below.