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Eurovision Tel Aviv 2019: Why the song contest is bigger than ever



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“It’s every artist’s dream to perform on this stage,” explains 16-year-old singer Zena.

As this year’s youngest Eurovision Song Contest contestant she can’t hide her excitement at taking part in the “most popular contest in the world”.

She’s representing Belarus at the competition – held in Tel Aviv, Israel, this year – and is one of the many acts helping transform Eurovision’s image, which is sometimes seen as a bit of a joke in the UK.

Other countries have spent years developing a formula hoping to win – and host it the following year – by sending some of their most popular and critically acclaimed acts.

The show is the world’s biggest live music event and is hugely popular with younger viewers.

Eurovision says in 42 markets, the contest was four times more popular with 15-24-year-olds than the average show.

Most acts taking part in this year’s contest are under the age of 30, but Switzerland’s Luca Hanni jokes he feels old at 24.

“It’s amazing to see all young people competing,” he says.

Eurovision is a week-long event with a red carpet, two semi-finals, a grand final and this year, a performance from Madonna.

But the build-up goes on for months and people like 18-year-old Gemma Lee see it as a “legitimate place to find new music”.

Gemma and her mates started a Eurovision society at Bristol University to discuss what her friend Luke Hardwick calls “the World Cup of music”.

“This year there’s a real mix of genres,” Gemma says. “It’s a refreshing thing that anyone can watch Eurovision and there’s going to be something for them.”

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Paul Bellaart

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Duncan Laurence is a fairly unknown artist in the Netherlands but is currently one of the favourites to win with his song Arcade

On a Saturday night in April, 5,000 fans packed into an arena in Amsterdam for the first big Eurovision party of the season.

Most of this year’s 41 acts performed to a crowd waving flags and glow sticks, headlined by the Dutch entry Duncan Laurence – one of this year’s favourites.

“I think tonight comes as close as it can to Tel Aviv,” the 25-year-old tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

“Eurovision is a big stage for me, especially as a new artist,” he says. “I see it as a chance to show myself and let people hear my music.”

Backstage, contestants are meeting each other for the first time, eyeing up the competition and making friends.

Just before speaking to Newsbeat, Spain’s Miki Nunez, 23, is overheard championing Belarus’ Zena.

He congratulates her, gives her a hug and tells us that young people “have a lot of things to say about society” and the contest is a “good opportunity for us to express ourselves”.

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José Irún

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Spain’s representative Miki is part of the so-called “big five” who don’t need to qualify for the final along with France, Germany, Italy and the UK

A week later, 18 of the acts arrive in the UK for the London Eurovision Party at the city’s Cafe De Paris.

The UK’s entry Michael Rice is chatting about his Amsterdam experience.

“My mates think it’s crazy that I’m going to all these different countries,” he says. “They’re just seeing bits on Instagram and all the fans.”

He thinks it’s a good thing the UK doesn’t send joke acts and “it’s about time” it took the contest seriously.

Standing next to Michael is one of this year’s most talked about participants – France’s 19-year-old entry Bilal Hassaini.

He describes himself as a gay, queer man who performs in drag – and says he gets “a lot of hate and backlash” because of it.

“I’ve been struggling with my identity for a long time and I’ve finally found the strength to ignore others.”

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Dorothée Murail

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Bilal has been a huge Eurovision fan for years and says he wants to help young people in countries who don’t have someone like him on TV

Embracing diversity is a sentiment that resonates with LGBT fans, who make up such a large part of the Eurovision community.

Notable moments in the contest’s 64-year-history include drag queen Conchita’s win in 2014 and Dana International, a transgender singer, winning for Israel in 1999 with her song Diva.

Last year, Ireland’s performance included two men dancing as a couple, which led to censorship in China.

Controversy this year could come from Iceland’s entry Hatari, with their BDSM-inspired outfits of leather, spikes and PVC – and their claim that “every act needs a gimp”.

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Lilja Jóns

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Hatari’s song translates as Hate Will Prevail but they insist their participation isn’t a joke, as Eurovision is a “dead-serious medium”

Eurovision rules say acts need to be strictly non-political during their performances, but Tel Aviv is proving a controversial host because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Some stars have called for the contest to be moved from Israel, while others want countries and contestants to pull out completely.

Hatari, who say they entered the competition because they want to shed light on political aspects of Israel, admit their stance “is a contradictory one”.

“A contest like Eurovision was founded in the spirit of peace and unity,” singer Matthias Haraldsson tells Newsbeat.

“We find it absurd to host it in a country marred by conflict and disunity. Allowing that narrative to go on unchallenged would be a shame.”

The band insist they’ll stick to the strict Eurovision rules by not making any political statement during their performance.

Kobi Marimi – the Israeli entrant – believes the contest “celebrates music and love” and Greece’s Katerine Duska says she “performs for people, not governments”.

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Ronen Akerman

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Israel’s entrant Kobi Marimi will be performing a song called Home

One country which isn’t sending an act to Tel Aviv is Ukraine, after its entry Maruv pulled out of the contest.

She was challenged on Ukrainian TV about her views on Crimea – a disputed area of Ukraine that Russia seized in March 2014.

Ukraine’s state broadcaster then asked her to cancel gigs in Russia as one of the conditions of her being its Eurovision entry.

After a dispute, she quit the contest.

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Getty Images

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Maruv believes her track Siren Song would have won the contest – or “at least be top five” – as it was “100% one of the best songs”

Speaking to Newsbeat she explains: “It was my dream to represent my country at the competition but I’m in a song contest, not a political arena.

“I was sad and upset to pull out as I wanted to have the experience but I won’t compete again.”

Referring to her decision, co-host of the BBC’s Eurovision Calling podcast Jayde Adams said it shows “Eurovision is not just about a singing competition – it’s more than that – it’s about the world and how people fit in it.”

Last year around 186m tuned in to watch Israel’s Netta win with Toy – a song about female empowerment.

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Getty Images

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Since winning the contest in 2018 Netta says she’s been able to go from a struggling musician to being someone who can help others “accept their differences”

Of all the countries in Eurovision, Sweden takes its selection the most seriously – and is rewarded with consistent top ten finishes.

Arguably, Loreen’s win for Sweden in 2012 was a turning point in the transformation of Eurovision.

Her anthem Euphoria won by a mile, going to number one in 17 countries and reaching number three in the UK charts.

This year John Lundvik is representing Sweden and describes Eurovision as “the holy grail” of music.

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Getty Images

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John Lundvik won Sweden’s Melodifestivalen – the national competition to select its Eurovision entry – watched by a huge percentage of its population

He admits the contest used to be “corny” but says it’s evolved into a “super-fashion-hit-song, super-artist-thing that’s now cool to be a part of”.

Also an early favourite with his song Soldi, Italy’s Mahmood tells Newsbeat that less is more when it comes to the performance.

“If you do something minimal and cool and unique then I think it’s a beautiful chance to show how a country can do something modern and interesting.”

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Attilio Cusani

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Mahmood says Eurovision is “a great opportunity for a country to promote its art” because it’s such a huge show

UK entry Michael Rice agrees with John (who also co-wrote the UK’s entry) and Mahmood, saying many people see Eurovision as a “gimmick” but in reality “you’re never going to get a platform like this again”.

In recent years, the UK has consistently appeared in the bottom half of the Eurovision leaderboard but that’s not the focus for Michael.

“It’s so surreal and a huge honour to be representing my country. It’s a great achievement for me as I’m only 21 years old,” he explains.

“It’s going to be something I can look back on and think ‘I did Eurovision’.

“I just want to make everyone proud.”

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BBC/Joe Giacomet

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Michael won the BBC’s All Together Now show in 2018 – putting most of his £50,000 winnings towards a crepe shop for his mum in Hartlepool

The Eurovision final takes place on Saturday, May 18 at 20:00 BST and is on BBC One, BBC Radio 2 and BBC iPlayer.

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Listen to Newsbeat live at 12:45 and 17:45 weekdays – or listen back here.

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Cher Lloyd: ‘I’m not on the conveyor belt any more’




Cher LloydImage copyright

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“I’ve got nothing to hide any more,” says the 26-year-old

Cher Lloyd was a breath of fresh air when she stepped onto the X Factor stage nine years ago.

Striding around in ripped jeans, with a curl in her lip and eyebrows drawn in the shape of Sydney Harbour Bridge, her performance of Soulja Boy’s Turn My Swag On was nothing like the syrupy, safe singers the contest had become known for.

She went into the live shows as the bookies’ favourite, doubling down on her signature style by performing hits by Eminem and Run DMC amidst the endless parade of power ballads.

But it was a tough year – fellow contestants included Rebecca Ferguson and One Direction (and, er, Wagner). Lloyd eventually came fourth, as the public crowned painter-decorator Matt Cardle the overall winner.

Her profile hadn’t been helped by some unnecessarily vicious press, which branded the teenager a “chav” and a “gypsy”, and accused her of being a “hard-faced diva” who had “lashed out at a crew member and waved a spoon in her face”.

The criticism stung, says the singer. But, looking back, she understands that a show like the X Factor needed its heroes and villains to sustain a narrative.

“There’s a fine line between reality TV and creating artists,” says the star. “I realise that you need all your separate characters to play different roles. But you also have to remember that those people are all there for the same reason, the love of creating music.

“When you go on a show like that, it gives you such a fantastic platform, but it’s what you choose to do with that platform after that really counts.”

‘Too many cooks’

In Lloyd’s case, the story is complicated.

Simon Cowell, who called her “his favourite brat”, signed the singer to his SyCo record label and put her to work on a debut album. But you have to wonder what he was thinking when he chose Swagger Jagger – a bizarre mix of electro-house and the US folk ballad Oh My Darling, Clementine – as her debut single.

It entered the charts at number one, but one critic called it “the worst song in the history of pop”. Catastrophically, the song framed Lloyd as a novelty act, rather than the talented, charismatic singer the public had grown to know on TV.

“I think there were a lot of cooks in the kitchen at that time,” the singer says. “It’s difficult when you’ve got a lot of people with a lot of opinions on what you should sound like, even what you should look like, especially when you’re trying to find your identity yourself.

“I don’t think that you can pre-plan and guess what people want you to sound like. And I think there was a lot of that going on.”

Subsequent releases were better, but the damage had already been done. Her second single, With Ur Love, peaked at number four; The third, Want U Back, only got to 25.

In the US, however, it was a different matter. There, Lloyd was launched without the reality show baggage, and Swagger Jagger was consigned to the dustbin of history.

When Want U Back made the Top 20, Lloyd moved to the States and concentrated on her career there, focusing on her song-writing and taking more creative control over the recording process.

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Getty Images

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“My goal is to perform a lot more than I am at the moment,” says the singer

Now 26, and mother to an 18-month old girl, she’s back with a single called (appropriately enough) MIA. An expressive, playful R&B banger, it finally captures the singer’s unique blend of pop smarts and urban attitude.

“I feel like I’ve finally entered this new phase of my career where it’s totally authentic,” she says.

“When you enter the music industry at such a young age as I did, you haven’t found your feet as a young adult, let alone as an artist. So I think I had grow up and discover who I was and how I want to be heard.”

It seems to be working. Last year, Lloyd tested the waters with a “warm-up track” called None Of My Business – picking up 22 million streams on Spotify; and 32 million views on YouTube without any promotion.

MIA, meanwhile, launches the campaign for her upcoming third studio album, which has been four years in the making. The infectious song finds the singer abandoning her friends at a terrible house party and finding a better way to spend her night (hint: it’s with a boy).

So what’s her go-to excuse if she wants to escape a toxic Christmas do, or a crushingly boring dinner party?

“Well, I’ve got really, really good excuse now, because I’ve got a little girl,” laughs the singer.

“But I’ve always been quite an honest person – sometimes to a fault – so I probably wouldn’t have an issue saying, ‘This is rubbish. I’ve got better things to do’.”

It’s an philosophy she’s applying to her career these days, too.

“I’ve got nothing to hide any more. My music is 100% me,” she says.

“It’s been me going into sessions and me writing the songs. I’m not from a big machine, and I’m not stuck on the conveyor belt that I used to be on. I’ve jumped off, and that’s really scary. But at the same time, super empowering.”

Cher Lloyd’s single, MIA, is out now. An album will follow in 2020.

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Strictly Come Dancing 2019 crowns its winners




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Media captionWatch the Strictly Come Dancing 2019 winner be announced

Former Emmerdale actor Kelvin Fletcher, who was only drafted into Strictly Come Dancing as a last-minute replacement, has been voted this year’s winner.

Kelvin and professional partner Oti Mabuse lifted this year’s glitterball trophy on BBC One on Saturday.

Although the pair came second on the judges’ scoring, they topped the public vote to win the show.

Kelvin and Oti triumphed over Karim Zeroual and Amy Dowden; and Emma Barton and Anton Du Beke.

The couples performed three dances in Saturday’s final – a judges’ pick dance, their own favourite routine from the series and a new showdance.

The winner was chosen by audience voting alone.

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Guy Levy/BBC

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The final saw all the contestants of the series reunite for one last dance

Kelvin said he was “absolutely speechless” after his win, adding: “I did not expect that, it’s been such a privilege to be here.”

In a post on Twitter, he said he was “humbled, elated, honoured”, adding: “Team #Floti did it!”

Kelvin was only called up after Made In Chelsea star Jamie Laing injured his foot while recording the launch show – and the fellow TV star tweeted his congratulations:

Kelvin and Oti began their routines with a sensual rumba to Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers for which they scored 39 points, followed by a perfect-score showdance to Shout by The Isley Brothers.

Judge Bruno Tonioli said their showdance was “almost like watching 13 weeks of all the best of Strictly Come Dancing condensed into one dance” and Oti’s sister and fellow judge Motsi Mabuse, who joined the panel this year, said: “I have no words…”

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Guy Levy/BBC

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‘You just put the show in showdance,’ said presenter Tess Daly

For their final dance, they revisited their samba to La Vida Es Un Carnaval by Celia Cruz, which they performed in week one.

Judge Shirley Ballas said to Kelvin: “Which part of that body doesn’t move? Fantastic, congratulations, I have no words, you’ve left me speechless.” He scored 39 for the second time of the night.

The Strictly win will give a huge boost to Kelvin, three years after he left his role as Andy Sugden in the long-running ITV soap, which he had played for two decades.

It is also the first time Oti has lifted the trophy. Speaking through tears, she said: “I’ve been on this show for five years and I have never ever met any celeb who gives his heart, his soul…

“If something is not working we stay in training and rehearse, not because he wanted to win but because he genuinely, genuinely loves dancing, and for me that is the best gift and the best ending to my year, so thank you.”

CBBC presenter Karim and his partner Amy performed the quickstep to Mr Pinstripe Suit – and were the only pair to get a perfect score for their first dance.

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Guy Levy/BBC

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Karim and Amy topped the judges’ leaderboard

Their showdance to A Million Dreams from The Greatest Showman landed them 39 points and they scored a second perfect 40 for their jive to You Can’t Stop The Beat from Hairspray.

Some fans complained they were unable to vote online, with many saying they were being told they had reached their “maximum number of votes allowed” despite not having yet cast a vote.

The BBC reminded people having difficulties that they could vote by phone.

Emma and Anton opened with the Charleston to Thoroughly Modern Millie, which they first performed on musicals’ week.

Tonioli told Emma, who is best-known for playing Honey Mitchell in BBC show EastEnders, that she was his “favourite flapper ever”.

But the pair missed out on a perfect score by one point after judge Craig Revel Horwood pulled them up on a “sync issue”.

Their showdance to Let Yourself Go by Irving Berlin won them 38 points and their final dance – the Viennese waltz to the musical song Send In The Clowns – netted them 39.

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Guy Levy/BBC

Saturday night was the first time Anton had reached the final since the show’s first series in 2004.

After their final performance, Emma praised her dance partner: “Anton, the King of ballroom, thank you for allowing me to be your Queen for the last three months.”

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Emmerdale actress Sheila Mercier dies aged 100




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Sheila Mercier was part of the first ever episode of Emmerdale Farm

Emmerdale actress Sheila Mercier has died aged 100, ITV has confirmed.

The Hull-born star played Annie Sugden in the soap from its first episode in 1972 until 1994 and continued to make guest appearances up until 2009.

The British Soap Awards remembered Mercier – who was the sister of actor Brian Rix – as the “very definition of a matriarch”.

Claire King, who plays Kim Tate in Emmerdale, has described Mercier as the soap’s “beating heart”.

A spokeswoman for ITV confirmed Mercier’s death in a statement on Friday night.

She said: “It’s always sad to hear of the death of an actor who played a significant part in Emmerdale’s success.

“Even more so when that actor was in the very first episode and around whose family the show was built.”

Emmerdale actor, Mark Charnock, also paid tribute to Mercier.

Charnock, who plays Marlon Dingle, said: “The great Sheila Mercier has left us. What an iconic character Annie Sugden was.

“Used to watch it with my grandparents as a boy, so to meet her in later years was a thrill.”

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