Eurovision 2012: What are the UK’s chances with Humperdinck?

These days I don’t stray too far into betting on sports, but there was an opportunity a couple of years ago that I couldn’t pass up. England were under 7/1 on Betfair and vying with Argentina to be third favourites to win the 2010 World Cup. Only Spain and Brazil were more highly rated in bookmakers’ lists.

I like watching football, though don’t profess to be a particular expert about it. I would never feel like I had an edge betting against others more knowledgeable about the game than I. But I had watched England disappoint in major championships all my life, and I was confident that their actual chances of winning the competition were much smaller than the odds indicated.

England were that short a price because Betfair, like so many other bookmakers, are a British company with a largely British clientele. And that clientele was deluding itself that this time, the England team could go all the way. I got stuck into ‘laying’ England (that is, betting against them) and their disastrous campaign never caused me too much concern before their controversial exit to Germany in the last 16.

Which brings me to Engelbert Humperdinck, currently vying for third favouritism in some (British) bookmakers’ lists, and available to back at 14.5 and lay at 16 in the Betfair win market to win Eurovision this year.

It’s fair to say that the announcement that the 75-year-old singer would be representing the UK got a mixed reaction. Opinion ranged from the idea that this was an inspired, surprise choice of a household name who has sold millions of records, to embarrassment that someone whose heyday was so long ago would be representing a country with such a vibrant contemporary music scene.

My approach was more open-minded. I wanted to wait and see what the song was like and how he would deliver it. When the video for ‘Love Will Set You Free’ was released to showcase the song, I felt that embarrassment at least had been averted. This is a nicely-produced number with a simple, effective melodic line alongside a melancholic guitar motif. It’s highly appropriate for the crooner that Humperdinck is. It has an understated feel I’m rather drawn to.

Nonetheless, there are a couple of problems I have with the song. There’s no instrumental section in the middle eight; what we have is three minutes of Humperdinck’s crooning. This means there’s no pause for breath either for the singer or the audience.

Instead, Humperdinck tries to give us two special moments, a big note which introduces the key change and then the even bigger climactic note. This feels like one big moment too many and it’s effect is to slightly spoil the understated quality of the first half. As a result, this attempt to make the song more interesting only makes it feel more standard and thus duller.

However, the generally positive reaction (and publicity garnered) helped bring its odds down in bookmakers lists. But it felt like the kind of song that needed a good draw to have any significant impact with televoters. Then we had the draw for the automatic finalists, and it transpired that the UK will be the first song of the 26 performed on the night.

Yet ‘Love Will Set You Free’ has continued to contract in bookmakers’ lists. Which is amazing because, as we noted in our initial analysis of the draw, opening the show is not easy, and doing so with an understated ballad is a huge disadvantage to any chances Humperdinck might have had.

I used the example of last year’s Finnish performer, Paradise Oskar, who dropped from third with televoters in his semi-final to 21st with that constituency given the opening slot in the final. Emma made the point that a nervous performance on the Saturday may also have hampered his showing. Nick D pointed out, however, that the curtain raiser for the previous four years had been slower numbers and ‘all also did significantly worse than they might have expected on the pedigree and quality of the songs’.

These included Azerbaijan in 2010, when Safura performing ‘Drip Drop’, a hyped ante-post favourite, had managed to win the semi-final televote. But in the final, it was overtaken by three of the countries it had beaten in that poll, and dropped to fifth. This was at least the best position that an opening song has managed in the televote era, even in a semi-final. However, that was with the aid of Azerbaijan’s many allies, which let us not forget, is not a luxury afforded the United Kingdom.

The last couple of years have also seen phone lines open from the start of the first song, but in 2012 this changes back to the original system of the public only being able to vote after the last number has finished. This means that Humperdinck needs to have made enough of an impression for televoters to pick up their phones to vote for him 25 songs later.

The British representative has his age as a way of standing out from the crowd, though of course even in this respect he has been overshadowed by the Russian Babushki, who will be performing later than him if they qualify for the final.

You could argue that Malta’s Chiara showed back in 2005 that a ballad performed early on (she was third in the running order) from a country lacking allies could score a respectable finish, managing second place. But this was a year with few slow songs and very short on quality at all. Unfortunately, the return of the juries seems to have encouraged a proliferation of ballads this year, and 2012 looks like a far more competitive contest than 2005.

All in all, I believe that the draw destroys any chances of ‘Love Will Set You Free’ having any impact with televoters.

Of course, juries should theoretically be less swayed by the draw, and what Humperdinck’s song offers is a strong, slow song that could score well with this constituency. Let’s hope the presentation remains as simple as the highly effective video, which will help its chances here. However, it looks like there will be plenty of competition for the jury vote. And given how difficult it will be for the UK song to score well with televoters, its finishing position on the night – including any hope of a top ten finish – will be highly dependent on those juries.

In Humperdinck’s favour, juries seemed to be impressed the last time the UK had a big industry name on stage, when Andrew Lloyd Webber played the piano as Jade Ewen sung ‘My Time’ back in 2009. Third place with juries helped lift it to fifth overall, though an ideal draw had also allowed it a respectable tenth with televoters. But given Humperdinck’s draw and the competition he will be up against, I can’t see him managing such a result, either with juries or with televoters. Therefore, I think a top five placing is highly unlikely and a top ten finish will be quite a stretch too.

So, once again I’m faced with the prospect of British bookmakers offering restrictive odds about a home side success. The return from laying Hump in the win market at current odds would be only around 6%, though there should be more attractive potential returns to consider once the top four market and top ten market take shape on Betfair. Is this another opportunity to lay my own country that’s too good to miss? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

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15 comments to Eurovision 2012: What are the UK’s chances with Humperdinck?

  • Boki

    What can I do than to agree with the obvious, he could never win and on the edge of top10. What’s more strange is the betfair market this year, UK is 6th on the oddchecker and even available at 19 on Bwin and you can lay it at 16 on Betfair. It’s not the first time and not the first country in such a position, bf odds should be better than that.

    Btw, some qualification odds are available at Bwin and Unibet, for example Montenegro is still amazing 1.5 for NQ (don’t know the starting odds but yesterday evening was 1.6). I hope the other bookies will follow soon.

  • I think we forget one factor that certain entries bring with them on stage: The so-called ‘sympathy factor’.

    I do think Engelbert Humperdinck has one big advantage that many people seem to forget: His age of 75. If it was Paradise Oskar singing, I could understand that he would be forgotten.

    But Engelbert will not be erased that easily out of the televoting memories. I really think televoters could say: “Hack! I vote for that old twat. At least he tries and his song is decent.” Turning up on the Eurovision-stage will at least result in respect and also that extra motivation to actually vote for it.

    I compare Engelbert with Chiara (2005) a lot. Not only because they both had an early draw, but also because Chiara again managed to attract votes for a visual image that is also not easy to erase from one’s eyes: A very sweet ballad that is sung by not the most slim girl. The ‘Susan Boyle-effect’ so to say.

    Off course 2005 was a year with not so many ballads, but it was, just like 2011, a year with a more closer outcome in the voting procedure. Moreover, it was a 100% televoting show, not a 50% televoting show.

    Then there is also the example of Ireland 1994: Paul Harrington & Charlie McGettigan met ‘Rock ‘n Roll Kids’. THAT was the other way around. A 100% jury show in which two charming, little bit grey-haired guys do a song that many people thought lacked impact. It won from start grid 3 in a show that was packed with ballads.

    On top of that I can name the recent example of The Olsen Brothers and Patricia Kaas: Also not mother’s youngest artists.

    I think the 2012 contest will see a more balanced mixture of slow-tempo and up-tempo, ballads and show-acts.

    You are right that the chances for Engelbert to do well are not enhanced by the fact he needs to perform first. But I do think you underestimate the quality of the song. Combined with Engelbert’s presence and visually an engaging total package, I think you might be surprised.

    Eurovision is also about the draw, the start grid, the total package. And we do compare a lot because we are ‘experts’ and we want to predict perfectly. But do not forget the unpredicatable elements. The total package also need to emotionally ‘touch’ a televoter. I think Engelbert could do it.

    And I honestly think the UK has the best song in years. Probably the best entry since Imaani and Katrina. And I don’t say that easily.

  • PS: Last year I mentioned somewhere that it would be great to send Dame Shirley Bassey to Eurovision. I was smiling when the BBC announced Engelbert :-). A smart choice.

  • Tim B

    I mostly agree with what has been said already, but I do wonder if you’re underestimating The Hump’s ‘large European fanbase’. If this fanbase exists, he is likely to pick up a fair few votes despite being on first. Also, I think he will be vying for top 3 with the juries. He will undoubtedly not do as well opening the show as he would have done otherwise, but I think laying for a top 10 finish would be risky. As an early backer of The Hump, I think I’m going to hedge.

  • tpfkar

    I’ve already posted that I think the UK is doomed singing from first this year, but I think Tim B offers the only ray of light.

    Last year Dino Merlin, well known in the Balkans, came 6th from a lousy draw with a mediocre song. Purely from how well he was regarded elsewhere. I don’t know how true that is for Engelbert Humperdinck – does this Euro fanbase exist? If not, then I think we’ll be stretching our necks upwards to catch sight of the top 10.

  • Boki

    Off topic:
    What are the opinions on Belarus?

    Stronger semi, lower half and lower quality entries. There are some allies present but Belarus does not usually gain many votes unless the entry is really good. This one looks average to me and I find the odds on Unibet amazingly short so good lay value.

    • Emma

      Well, my take might be a bit Panglossian as I love the entry but I feel optimistic. Don’t hold me to it, but even last year, when they sent the God-awful “I Love Belarus”, they got enough televotes for top 10. Juries hated it so it didn’t qualify, but I was surprised the public liked it better than they liked the likes of Slovakia (telegenic, though admittedly poor draw), Estonia (catchy song, good draw, juries liked it well enough) and Israel (famous singer). Sure, they had a good draw (16th out of 19) but as one blogger put it, “do they know they can’t vote for themselves?” I Love Belarus was only televote friendly to the Belarussian diaspora (is there one?) and , according to the scoreboard, ex-USSR countries (10 points from Ukraine and Moldova). We Are the Heroes should be MUCH less of a jury turn-off, which should make up for potential lost televotes (no points from Moldova, but Georgia is there and in 2010, the poorly-drawn, poorly-executed terribly dated Belarussian song got the Georgian douze in the final). WAtH might not be as instant, it might be poorly drawn, and it might be competing with other rock (hi, Slovakia) but it’s more jury-friendly, less alienating to Western voters, and Belarus can call on the Ukraine, Georgia, and possibly neighbor Lithunania for friendly votes.

      Like I said, I might be overly optimistic since I really like the song myself (and I misanalyzed the MF final in a similar way) so take this with a grain of salt:)

      • There isn’t much of a Belarussian diaspora and they certainly wouldn’t have voted for that song (those who live outside the country are generally highly regime-critical). At first glance, it does seem surprising that Belarus did relatively well in the televote in 2011, but looking at the vote breakdown more closely, 54 points isn’t a huge amount, and Slovakia, who came 16th, got 40 points, so we’re talking about 7-8 countries within a very narrow points window in the televote. So basically the two 10s from ex-USSR neighbours Ukraine and Moldova made the difference between it coming 9th and 16th in the televote. Add to that the late draw and the ridiculous amount of pyrotechnics. (I was in the audience that night and even though we were sat quite far from the stage, you could really feel an instant wall of heat hit you every time those effing flames went up. It was quite disconcerting.)

        I agree Belarus might make a good lay this year. I can’t see it doing well in its semi for a whole variety of reasons – early draw, poor English pronunciation, can’t see it getting a high jury score, and the Slovak rock song is better and later. Belarus will get televotes from Georgia and Ukraine, whereas Slovakia is short of neighbours but is a more serious, credible rock song and will almost certainly be better performed on the night, so is v likely to score more highly among juries. Ultimately I wouldn’t be surprised if neither qualified, but I think Slovakia has the better chance of the two for the reasons outlined above. At a push, Belarus could theoretically even creep into the televote top 10 as it did last year (though that’s less likely given the early draw), but I just don’t think juries will go for it. Nickelback-Lite screamed by a regime-friendly glorified boyband in Belarussian English? Next pls.

  • Agree with your analysis regarding Engelbert’s likely placing Dan. Laying the UK doesn’t represent value at this stage.

    Seriously, bugger the “large European fanbase” they keep banging on about – that’s just something he and the BBC are pimping in the UK to make the medicine go down. He was a big name in the USSR in the 1970s, around the same time he was a big name in the west. However, 40 years is an incredibly long time in pop. Johnny Logan, for instance, constantly does the rounds of German schlager shows and performs across Europe all the time, but that doesn’t mean anyone would vote for him if he came back to Eurovision. Kids, teenagers, and people in their twenties, thirties and forties, right across Europe, have no idea who Engelbert is, and he’s not relevant to them. And looking at the recent run of winners – Bilan, Rybak, Lena, Ell and Nikki – it’s young people that vote. I hesistate to say “it’s a young person’s contest” because I think the Babushki will get a big novelty/sympathy/fun vote, but I’ve certainly heard people say that in the past. And as this is a year of strong ballads, the Engelballad has a lot of competition in both the jury vote and televote from Azerbaijan, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Estonia, etc.. I quite like Engelbert’s song, but frankly Kuula knocks the spots off it, and juries and viewers in the final are more likely to vote for Italy, Estonia and others than the UK.

  • stevo

    Yup, I thought that we could do ok this year with Enge, however this draw has completely ended any chance of that.

    Since when did a ‘big’ country get such an awful draw anyway?

  • David

    If I may come with a request, Daniel, I’d love some insight in Italy’s chances 🙂

  • Gary

    Was very impressed with the song & he certainly still has the voice at 75 but lets be honest the Uk results have nothing to do with songs or performers,over the years we have deserved better results.Eurovision changed in the 1990`s & not for the better in my opinion,this years song reminded me of Scott Fitzgeralds Go from 1988 the song that should have won Eurovision but didnt for obvious reasons.

  • Rob

    Hey Everyone. Engelbert has a amazing voice for his age and his fans and jury will be an advantage. he is massive in a lot of countries like Israel etc. So there is a good chance there too! The rehearsal i have seen recently isnt too promising…It is very simple but boring at the same time, the guitar player is good & dancers. Since we are going first -major dis-advantage 🙁 We need to do something memorable that people will vote for us! Any Ideas?

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