One group of people walks among us without getting the attention they deserve. Without them, Eurovision would be a sad and lonely place. Without them, people outside of the press center gossip bubble would not know the meaning of half of the entries, not see half of the crazy details and not know who fights with who over what backstage. We are of course talking about the various countries’ commentators. This year, we decided to have a chat with a few of them.
Starting in our own country. In Norwegian history one commentator has outshined them all. He is our all-time-hero and role model. The most sarcastic person ever to visit our national broadcaster NRK and getting out of there alive. He is a hundred times better at trashing Sweden than Petter Northug. He has his own fan club in Belgium. And we will forever walk in his footsteps trying to recreate his dark and alluring voice and epic sense of humor while we ask ourselves what he would say about this. He is of course our very own Jostein Pedersen and we are really happy he had time for a chat.
– So, Jostein. Tell us a little bit about your Eurovision history to update the ignorant.
– As an employee in NRK’s Light Entertainment department, ESC was an annual event. When Norway hosted in 86, we got all involved and it started a wider and better approach to European pop music in general. I’ve done pretty much everything regarding Eurovision except hosting the Norwegian finale – mostly reporting, doing pre-shows and commentating for the NRK and VGTV from 1994 to 2010. For the last years I’ve been touring with ESC quiz shows and ESC discos. Always in black tie. Very amusing!
– You must really love Eurovision!
– I’m an avid pop fan, doing my own charts since childhood and collecting far too many records. ESC has that element with statistics besides diversity in genres and culture. Professionally, it’s the world’s biggest TV show, it’s a live transmission and keeps the original formula while being world leading innovative. That is quite impressive!
Malta and Italy, douze points
– We couldn’t agree more! Did you notice any good entries this year?
– Malta is this year’s surprise, an Ariana Grande pastiche I think will get many votes! For once, the UK has a good one, an old-fashioned belter sung with passion and presence. And it’s written by the Swedish winner!
– For any other reasons Iceland comes with fresh air, sadomasochism and a Rammstein light style, I think will be appreciated. Nevertheless, I find Italy and Mahmood’s “Soldi” very good. This is the sound of Europe today, a song that is on any European pop station with this engaging mix of street art, social presence and today’s sophisticated pop tastes. I don’t really dislike any song, though, I just get bored and can’t really be bothered.
– Impeccable taste as aways! Who do you think will win?
– Without seeing all the entries on stage, I think there will be an uptempo winner. It all depends on those three magical minutes live on stage and telly. My heart beats for Norway, my brains for Italy!
IKEA furniture history and Portuguese geese
– We remember you compared the Swedish entry to an IKEA shelf at some point. A great moment in Norwegian TV history, if we may say so. What do you think of this year’s entry from Sweden?
– Sweden is a good one, albeit too retro with gospel and soul flavour. I don’t think it hits the “today” factor. But it’s tremendously well performed.
– Man, you’ve grown soft. Any furniture spotted this year, at least?
– This year there is actually a desperate lack of furniture. The two chickens from Portugal in their contemporary art dance must bring a bird cage for the last chorus. We must know where they lay their eggs!
– What do you think of the Norwegian entry? Will we reach the final?
– It ticks all the boxes, which is both good and bad – it can be too calculated for continental tastes. Having said that, the joik is uplifting which demands a mind-blowing stage-show that includes all the Arctic clichés. Bring ’em on!
No points for Sergey
– What do you think of Sergey Lazarev? His entry, we mean.
– I don’t get his popularity and in what I have seen, he comes out as too sleek and artificial. He doesn’t mean what he sings. Well, “Scream” is not a scream, more a pee break!
– Ah, poor Sergey! What is your all-time favorite Eurovision entry?
– Luxembourg 1972: Vicky Leandros: Après toi
– Excellent choice! If you were to dream, which artists would you want to represent Norway?
– There are so many all over the country. My hope is that the NRK comes out of their ‘bubble’ in Oslo and wakes up to acknowledge the vast amount of talent there is outside. Actually, only fantasy can limit us.
Was banned from Café Opera
– What are your favorite stories from your time as a TV commentator? Do tell us the gossip!
– Ha ha ha! I still miss Terry Wogan. In my first finale as a commentator, he was very friendly and included me in “the gang”. We all wore black tie. Wogan had champagne, wine, food and a fleet of assistants – I was flabbergasted! I was alone with my bottle of water! Contrary to his image, he was extremely hands on and knew his stuff.
– The traditional ‘war’ between Norway and Sweden were also alive in ESC. Thanks to my commentaries I hit the Swedish front pages many times and I was actually refused table at Stockholm’s Café Opera for two years. That I’m proud of! And I’m proud of my fan clubs in Croatia, Malta and – for some reason – Belgium!
– What is it like to watch the Eurovision final from the commentator’s booth?
– The booth is too crammed, hot and has never enough water. You have to concentrate on both the TV screen and what’s happening in the hall to give the right impression. The last years I had an assistant, mostly to do the maths and scoreboard, which was very helpful.
Brotherhood of commentators
– Do you fraternize with the other commentators? Are you served champagne?
– Yes, we fraternize both socially and professionally. It has to do with linguistic issues and more often political and cultural affairs, as we have to ‘understand’ the entries’ origins. In my time the commentators used the name ‘Macedonia’ instead of the official “The Former Republic of ….” to establish what the population calls their own country. Details like that are important as they are both emotionally and politically grounded.
– Are you allowed to have the flag of Nagorno-Karabakh?
– I think any flag is allowed in the booth, as long as it’s small and you take it with you.
– OMG, we are jealous. When do you pee?
– We pee during the interval act!
– Yeah, that’s always a wise choice. We desperately miss your sense of humor on the Norwegian Eurovision broadcast. Can we hope for a comeback soon, please?
– That you’ll have to ask the NRK about.
– We surely will! Where will you be watching the final and what will you wear besides three drops of Chanel no 5?
– This year I’m hosting an ESC quiz and -disco in Stavanger interrupted by the grand finale on a big screen. As Stavanger is an international city, there are lots of flags, sing-a-long and costumes. I’m always in a black tie. Nothing flashy, as this is my work gear and I sweat litres. As a 6’6 tall, hairy, middle aged man, I never wear perfume. Pure nature!