When last year the UK internally selected Engelbert Humperdinck, I was prepared to be open-minded about it though I felt it would be difficult to overcome the large obstacle of being drawn first.
It turned out there was a far bigger obstacle to overcome, which was that Engelbert was not up to the job. I don’t have a problem with older, experienced singers taking up the mantle, but they still have to be able to produce the goods on the big night. Turned out Engelbert couldn’t – hence a finishing position second-from-last on the scoreboard.
So when the BBC announced it had internally selected 61-year-old Bonnie Tyler this time around, and we already had video footage of her live on stage hoarsely croaking out her song, ‘Believe In Me’, while a backing singer tries valiantly to carry her, I have to admit that my initial reaction was to roll my eyes.
Now that the dust has settled, I’m still not impressed.
That live video footage suggests the reason why in the studio version Bonnie’s vocals have been over-produced to the point that they sound shorn of all emotion. It doesn’t encourage you to think that Bonnie is still the vocal powerhouse who topped the charts 30 years ago with ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’.
And even if she were, ‘Believe In Me’ is not the song to bring it out.
This country-tinged number is not a bad song in its studio incarnation. But in a Eurovision context I think it commits the cardinal sin of blandness – it’s just not distinctive enough, especially in a year full of (largely female) slowies. I much preferred Engelbert’s song, ‘Only Love Can Set You Free’, which was going to suit him as much as anything would. It at least was atmospheric and had big moments. ‘Believe In Me’ falls short on both these counts.
Some of the noises coming out of the BBC suggest they have learned no lessons from last year: Bonnie is a well-known name, a proven performer with an established European fanbase. None of this helped Engelbert a jot.
Maybe they have learned one lesson, though – I’ve been encouraged by the recent news that Bonnie will be supported by at least four backing vocalists. Graham Norton has rhapsodised about the “harmonies” produced in preliminary rehersals. I won’t take that on trust, but if the harmonising on this track is effective then it might just enable ‘Believe In Me’ to score respectably with the juries, even if it’s still going to be the kind of number that passes televoters by.
Of course, at this stage last year I’d thought Engelbert could reasonably hope to score respectably with the juries, too, but his poor rendition of ‘Only Love Can Set You Free’ on the Friday night – the rehearsal on which national juries cast their votes – saw him finish bottom of the pile in this constituency.
At least we can be confident that Bonnie won’t be lumbered with opening the show, as Engelbert was. Now that producers decide the running order for themselves, rather than by means of a random draw as in previous years, it’s inconceivable that they would choose something as somnambulant as ‘Believe In Me’ to get the party started. In fact, the organisers have every reason to treat the UK kindly, it being a huge music and TV market for the event.
Last week’s revelation that there would still be a random draw to see if an entry is performed in the first or second half of the running order was therefore bad news for Bonnie. There’s now a 50% chance of her drawing a slot before the main commercial break, which would be hugely damaging for televote support. (Technically, given that host nation Sweden have already drawn berth 16, the chance is slightly higher at 52%).
Yet despite it having become substantially less likely that Bonnie will get a helpful late draw, the United Kingdom’s price has continued to shorten on Betfair in the last few days – you can currently back it at 18. This counter-intuitive move may reflect a largely British clientele on this British website encouraged by the British press and British bookmakers.
Which, naturally, can create opportunities in itself. It certainly did last year when on the morning of the final you could still get amazingly good value on a poor UK showing, such as 6/1 to be in the bottom six. Going against Engelbert in any match bets felt like free money. At this admittedly early stage of proceedings, I reckon that come May I’ll be looking for similar opportunities to oppose ‘Believe In Me’.
What do you think? Am I just being my usual curmudgeonly self or is Bonnie Tyler in trouble and holding out for a hero? Do let us know below.