Eddie Butler 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Israel got clobbered by a band of Finnish monsters - and just about everyone else in Europe - at the Eurovision Song Contest finals Saturday night in Athens. For Eddie Butler, Israel's 34-year-old representative at the contest, the only thing uglier than the event's winners - a Finnish heavy metal band named Lordi - was the scoreboard, which ranked Israel 23rd out of 24 competing nations by the end of the night. Saved from last place by Malta, Israel's representative from Dimona shouldn't feel too badly about his own performance: a confident and clean-cut rendition of "Zeh Hazman," an uplifting rhythm and blues number featuring Butler and four back-up singers dressed all in white. What Europe wanted, apparently, was Scandinavians dressed like Gothic gargoyles and howling about salvation through rock and roll.
Finland's heavy metal-fueled victory marked a number of firsts for Eurovision, the 50-year-old song contest showcasing a representative from nearly every European country and parts of the Middle East. Saturday's show marked Finland's first ever victory at the competition, which until now has been best known for helping to launch the careers of performers like Celine Dion, Olivia Newton John and ABBA. And it was certainly the first time top honors went to hard rockers from near the Arctic Circle.
Beyond Lordi's heavy metal sound and terrifying appearance - band members resembled the bad guys from The Lord of the Rings - the Finnish group also coined several new religious concepts during the course of its performance, among them "the Day of Rockoning" and the presumably impending "aRockalypse." (Which, now that I think about it, actually makes a lot of sense - I'm almost sure Nostradamus predicted something about the End of Times starting in Helsinki.)
If Eurovision purists do indeed someday remember 2006 as the start of the aRockalypse, however, they'll have lots of places to spread the blame. TV viewers around Europe went wild for this year's Finnish submission, which won by a landslide. By the end of Channel 1's live broadcast from Athens, the Finnish hard rockers had amassed a whopping 292 points, far outdistancing runner-up Russia (248 points) and the third-place Bosnians (229 points).
Israel, meanwhile, had stayed smooth and steady at zero until almost half the participating countries awarded points to their top 10 favorites. (According to contest rules, each country awards first through 10th-place points according to votes submitted by viewers via text message and telephone during a break in the broadcast. The points are then tediously announced and added up in a process that takes nearly as long as the actual singing of all the songs.) Israel rallied briefly around the halfway point when - of all countries! - France ranked Butler's submission seventh best, earning Israel its first and last four points of Eurovision 2006.
The French, for their part, redeemed themselves in two additional ways: first by earning a point total ( f i v e ) almost as low as Israel's, and second by living up to timeless stereotypes about the juvenile Gallic refusal to speak English. Announcing the results of her country's voting from Paris, the French TV announcer pointedly read the outcome only in French, defiantly avoiding the mixed English/native language approach adopted by every other country until then. (Spain and Monaco would subsequently demonstrate some Romance language solidarity by also announcing their results only in French.)
Nevertheless, the outcome proved a surprise and disappointment for Israel, which has won Eurovision three times and roared back to relevance after several lean years with Shiri Maimon's fourth-place finish in 2005. Butler, the Israeli-born son of Black Hebrews from Chicago, had hoped to rank higher with his R & B submission, but the distinctiveness of his style evidently couldn't stand up to the black capes and battle axes wielded by the Finns. Another Israeli singer, Liel, fared better performing for Switzerland - but only slightly, with the teenage singer's multi-national pop group ranking a decidedly mediocre 17th at night's end.
If nothing else, though, Israel can take solace in knowing that Finland's winning submission was in fact a fairly blatant rip-off of KISS, the popular US heavy metal band whose fame peaked in the 1970s and whose lead singer, the Hebrew-speaking Gene Simmons, was actually born in Haifa. Further stroking the country's wounded ego should be the fact that Israel is itself responsible for one of the most unusual victories in all of Eurovision history: the 1998 performance by Dana International, the transsexual "Diva" singer who stirred controversy in the religious community here and romped to first place in that year's contest.
In addition to choosing a more flamboyant candidate for next year's Eurovision, Israel would also be well-advised to consider geography in its strategy for 2007. Watching Saturday's broadcast, it was impossible not to notice certain trends in the voting, such as that Scandinavian countries tended to vote for Scandinavian countries, Baltic countries tended to vote for Baltic countries, and - somewhat surprisingly - former Yugoslavian countries tended to vote for former Yugoslavian countries. With none of its neighbors taking part in Eurovision, Israel may want to consider a move to the continent before next year's show.
I only wish, of course, that I could take credit for this brilliant idea, which was proposed earlier this year by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad when he suggested that Israel be relocated to German or other European territory. Following Saturday's disappointing results, it's reassuring to know that at least someone is looking out for Israel's best interests at Eurovision.