UPDATED: Italy announced it has changed its Eurovision entry from “Per Sempre” to “L’Amore è Femmina.” No idea why, unless they really want to establish Nina Zilli as the new Amy Winehouse. Anyway, we’ll post a review of the new entry and thank our lucky stars that Litesound decided to follow their fans advice and keep “We Are the Heroes” as their song for Belarus.
When Italy came back into the Eurovision fold last year after many years away, they announced that the winner would be drawn from the Sanremo festival line-up. Sanremo was the basis for Eurovision originally, so this made sense. However, rather than pick the winner of the established artists or newcomers competitions, Italy set up a special jury that would select the artist from all the competitions. As it turned out, Raphael Gualazzi, the winner in the newcomers category, was the jury’s pick, and as you might remember, he went on to have some success last year. But the jury needn’t pick one of the category winners at Sanremo. Although Emma Marrone won the established artists award and Alessandro Casillo won the newcomers award, the jury named Nina Zilli as their Eurovision representative this year. Zilli performed the song “Per Sempre” at Sanremo, but even that wasn’t the clear pick to be the number performed in Baku. The organizers initially told the EBU that while they jury had picked Zilli, they may use a different song at the Song Contest. Ultimately, Italy decided to go with “Per Sempre” after all (although they apparently are recording a multilingual version), so here is Zilli’s performance at Sanremo: First things first, Zilli is charismatic as all get out. She reminds me a little bit of Patricia Kaas: she just stands there and sings and commands your attention. She is not a flashy vocalist, but instead keeps it very simple and very pure. That she’s a bit of a stunner doesn’t hurt, either (messy hairdo notwithstanding). I’ve seen a few people talk about her cashing in on the retro ’60s sound that artists like Amy Winehouse and Duffy have had success with, although it seems to me more that it’s just the style of music that works at Sanremo, having now watched a few hours of it. (No, I didn’t watch the whole thing.) One of the things I need to remind myself every year is that Eurovision voters no longer go for those big ’80s-style ballads that used to dominate ESC even through the ’90s. Recent finishes by Niamh Kavanagh and Nadine Beiler, for example, can attest to that. Usually more modern sounding ballads will dominate. However, how will ESC voters go for the big ’60s-style ballad that Zilli is proffering? Swiss voters voted down Lys Assia’s comeback during this year’s… well, technically last year’s… Entscheidungsshow. On the other hand, the United Kingdom is going with Engelbert Humperdinck, whose career was made during that era with that kind of song. (More on Engelbert when his song is unveiled, by the way.) Given how the field is shaping up at Eurovision this year, it’s hard to say how “Per Sempre” will do. I am willing to bet that Zilli’s stage presence is going to carry Italy far, but this doesn’t strike me as a Eurovision winner.