I’ll tell you what your country needs…

I sat through the entirety of “Your Country Needs You” on BBC1 last night. For those of you who have been living under a rock lately, this was the show to decide who the UK is sending to represent them at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. I’m still a little unclear as to the process that led to the finalists being chosen for this process – it certainly wasn’t particularly transparent.

Six acts competed for the attention of Pete Waterman, the man chosen to write this year’s entry, and someone whose very appearance on a television screen makes my skin crawl. He’s the man responsible for a string of 80s pop hits for the likes of Kylie, Jason and Rick (Astley). Based on this success some twenty-odd years ago, somebody somewhere thought him the best person to write the UK’s song for Europe.

Having the acts simply roll out onto the stage and sing Waterman’s Eurovision song wouldn’t have made for a particularly long programme, so they also go the chance to perform a song from his wonderful back catalogue. And then an ensemble piece where they murdered – no tortured, then murdered – a selection of ABBA hits.

The BBC did their best, with decent production values while Graham Norton gamely took hold of the proceedings and attempted as best he could to retain audience interest in the contest. However, despite the time and money spent on this, it resembled nothing more than a very amateur high school talent contest. So who were these acts deemed good enough to wheel out in front of the great British public? There were four soloists and two groups.

I won’t relive the horror that was the two groups.

The four soloists weren’t all that bad, if a little inexperienced and somewhat stiff on stage. And while I realise that the poor workman blames his tools, there’s only so much you can do with a Pete Waterman song. Early on, I decided on Alexis as he seemed to be the more assured and vocally strong of the group. I was quite sure he would win due to a combination of vocals and looks (with the looks winning by a nose).

Esma’s performances set my teeth on edge. She seemed like nothing more than someone whose millionaire father has bought them a recording contract and told them all their life that they were meant to be a star. I know, I know… she’s only 17 so perhaps I’m being a little harsh. But her attitude stank of Paris Hilton and she was the only one of these kids who actually forgot the lines of a Pete Waterman song (of which there are never very many).

I think we’ll be seeing more of Karen. She exuded a mature confidence and reminded me of a young Catherine Zeta Jones. She has a belter of a voice, totally unsuited to anything from the Waterman repertoire – but I could see her wowing them on the West End. I think this has only served to expose her to a wider audience, and hasn’t negatively impacted her career trajectory.

Finally, there was Josh. I grudgingly admitted he could sing (something in surprisingly short supply on a musical talent show of this calibre) though he was a little low on the charisma scale. A wit on Twitter compared him to blancmange. But Josh’s performances were solid and he did the best he could with the material he was given.

After hearing all the acts, Waterman cut the six acts down to three, leaving just Josh, Esma and Alexis – mercifully saving us all from hearing more from the two groups. The three finalists then had the dubious pleasure of premiering the UK’s Eurovision entry.

Which brings us to the song itself. You’ll recall that last year, the BBC retained the talents of Andrew Lloyd Webber, who wrote a great song which got the UK fifth place int he contest – a relatively good result considering recent disasters.

The move from Lloyd Webber to Waterman was a shock to the system – a form of musical whiplash that reminded me of the visceral upset you feel when a CD mix goes disastrously wrong, taking you from Julie Andrews to Steps in just one track. Inappropriate, in other words.

As I tweeted last night (and I’ll admit, passions were running high) the worst bit about the show was having to listen to Waterman’s song three times in a row. Really. It was like the worst kind of department store piped music. But I soldiered on, really wanting to see how the finalists coped with it and how the voting public (telephones in hand, I’m sure) would respond.

In summary, they didn’t respond well to Esma’s performance, putting her in third place. It came down to choosing between Alexis and Josh, and Josh’s solid, assured performance put him ahead. He didn’t sparkle, there were no goosebumps and I definitely wasn’t wowed. But that’s what the time between now and the final in May are all about. His performance will be broken down and built back up, polished and buffed until he shines.

The song is a whole other piece of work. I’m not sure who much it will be rearranged or remixed before the final. Waterman likes nothing more than formulaic pop and a tinny drum machine. I can only hope someone with more taste takes him aside and gives some careful advice on how to take the song from ‘grating’ to ‘inoffensive’.

Throw in a gimmick and some personality for Josh and the UK won’t fail completely. But I think I can confidently say at this point that “That Sounds Good to Me” is not a winner.

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