This year marks the 10th anniversary of when I first discovered Eurovision in 2003 as a study abroad student studying in London while a junior at The University of Washington.  This year also marks the first Eurovision I will attend in person! 

So this article is the first of many articles to come that will let me share everyone what I hope to be a memorable experience.  This is only my opinion and should not be taken to reflect the views of ESC United in total.  So please forgive me if I’m a little too excited!

Today I recap my very first day on the job as press for ESC United.  FYI, pardon the lack of pics initially.  There are more that I post in the second half.



Today marked the beginning of a period of time I was dreading: covering the rehearsals.  I don’t know why I was dreading it, but I guess that little naysaying voice inside of me was telling me I couldn’t do it, that I wasn’t good enough, and I wouldn’t do as well as the more established press.

But then I had to reassure myself that perhaps it’s best that I don’t look at myself as an ESC journalist, but rather as a fan who has been given this awesome opportunity to work with other fans and meet the acts who have put in their time and effort to give us one hell of a show.

Because this year, SVT decided to not open first rehearsals to the press, we were sequestered off to the EuroClub where we watched them from a theater room.  Most of us didn’t mind, but then there was Nikki, a fan from the UK who has been to 10 Eurovisions since 1998.  Poor Nikki, who you will all meet in a week or so when I interview her and many other fans, is in a wheelchair.  And the theater was on the second floor.  And the EuroClub had no elevator.  I couldn’t help but be annoyed on her behalf.  Luckily the staff knew they screwed up and worked out a solution.  That solution included me and two of the other staff persons carrying her wheelchair up step by step to make sure she wasn’t left out.  One of the guys was particular eye candy for me so I didn’t mind when he had to take his blazer off.  Win-win situation for me and Nikki right?!

Anyways, we got Nikki up to the viewing area as Austria was going through their second run-through of “Shine.”  You can go here for more on my thoughts as well as the thoughts of my colleagues regarding the rehearsals and the remaining 7 acts from the 1st half of the first semi-final.

What struck me was that the rehearsals, despite being already well polished, still had some work to do, and the delegations knew it.   For example, at one point in Slovenia’s performance, they toyed around with how Hannah and her backup dancers would from the main stage to the smaller stage.  Someone from Ukraine’s team shouted “STOP” when the choreography with Zlata’s “giant” caused her to be late for her cue to begin singing.

It was also cool to realize that with these rehearsals and with my tickets, I will be able to witness both what one would see there as well as on the TV.  People have told me that what you hear live is totally different from what you here on the TV.  Someone told me that Kati Wolf sounded spectacular in Dusseldorf, but his opinion changed when he saw a YouTube clip.

After lunch, the press meet-and-greets started, and the best way to describe it is ORGANIZED CHAOS.  Press were supposed to ask one to two questions so that everyone could have a turn, and unfortunately some individuals decided to ignore that rule. They gave the staff a lot of work, but the staff stayed gracious.  I made sure to thank them when possible. It wasn’t really kissing up.  It was more acknowledging that I know they’re work is hard, the press can be demanding at times, but nevertheless, we appreciate all their hard work to give us this opportunity.

So now, onto who I talked to…

Natalia Kelly was the first person I interviewed.  I was very nervous and admitted that she would be the first act from Eurovision I ever met and interviewed but she was so sweet and encouraging.  We talked about her US roots.  She was actually from Connecticut and spent some time in Silverdale, Washington, which wasn’t too far from where I lived in Washington state as a teenager.  It definitely made me want to cheer for her more. I remember a reader also asking if she had Portuguese roots. The answer is yes, her mother is from Brazil!

When I was done, I had the chance to talk to three of the five very talented backup singers.  All were from Austria and have been singing since they were little.  I asked them about if they would ever want to represent Austria and be on center stage, and as expected, they said it would be a great honor.

The Estonian delegation was next.  Birgit was very nice and spend a lot of time with the press.

Estonia Meet

But the organized chaos made me go straight to the three backup dancers.  One guy was new to the Eurovision experience, but two of the guys were actually veterans and took part of the 2001 act.  Yes, they were two of the four members of 2XL!  I of course had to ask if either of them were the one that did the backflip.  They weren’t, but the one in the hat below did show off his moonwalking skills! I replied all I know how to do is shake my ass like a video vixen…


Slovenia came next.  Here’s Hannah being introduced.

Slovenia MEET

Matt and I were the first of all the press to interview Hannah.  She was so excited to find out Matt and I were from the US, and she let us know she was from LA, but married a Slovenian and had been there for about 6 years.  Her surprise to know there were Americans interviewing her was so sweet and genuine.  She was very excited!  After, Andy from ESCKAZ was nice enough to take a photo of the two of us!

Hannah Zack

I then of course had to go to the three handsome backup dancers after.  All three had been dancing for a long time, beginning in jazz and making their way to hip hop.  The feller in the middle actually created the choreography, and by the way is from LA!

Zack Slovenia dancers

Croatia was last before the break and I must say, these were six of the nicest guys you could ever meet!  I asked them about the klapa genre, as one of our readers recommended.  Their g0-to guy, Marko, who is to the left in the photo, told me that a klapa group typically consists of two tenors, a baritone, and bass, with additional voices added as in their case.  Another reader also wanted to know what they thought about having to sing with music, since klapa is typically done acapella.  They said they originally learned the song acapella and then the music was added to the mix.  But they are getting used to singing it acapella as well since they’ve been getting so many requests to do so.

Zack Croatia

Ante, who is the second to the left in the photo, also mentioned that UNESCO actually has designated it part of the “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.”  They were proud to represent Croatia with a piece of their national heritage.  We also talked about their outfits, which I called “costumes,” and I regret doing.  Their outfits were actually special because they were originally worn by knights and not for common folk. So they were actually some of the first non-knights to be granted the ability to wear this garb.

Their head of delegation has been in charge for the past 21 years, and I thanked him for giving us a piece of their culture. Of course, I also had to gush over how much I loved “Moja Stikla” from 2006 by Severina.  For those who may not know this offhand, enjoy the clip.  BTW, Bojan on the most right in the photo above actually was one of the Severina’s backup dancers!

All four acts were nice enough to stay behind and hang out.  As I continued working, I would occasionally hear Klapa s Mora breaking out into an acapella version of “Mizerja” or Hannah singing something from “Straight Into Love.”

The second half of the day was a bit more stressful as we had technical issues and spent most of it dealing with that, rather than meeting Denmark, Russia, Ukraine, and the Netherlands. Just our luck, but then again, there’s always tomorrow to get a hold of them!

But we had good company.  Nikki from the UK.  Morten and Per Michael from Norway, and Samantha, my fellow American who works at ESC Insider, and who I also must thank as she was one of the first people to help me figure out my way into Eurovision 2013.  I enjoyed Facebook chatting with her here and there as we both did our best to cover the first day.

My first day was quite the memorable one, and although we had some mic issues in the second half, I’m optimistic that things can only get better!  It’s amazing to think how far this small-town boy from Ha’iku, Hawai’i has come!

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  1. rajo

    May 11, 2013 at 13:58

    My compliments to Moldova and Aliona Moon. In my opinion they won the rehearsals yesterday, though they were never near my personal top 10…. this was a beautiful performance! Very well done, and very well sung!

    On the other hand, it’s obvious how small the stage and the whole venue is after all. I think this is the smallest ESC since Estonia 2002 or even smaller. Politically correct Sweden stroke again – they want to spread the message that everyone can afford hosting Eurovision inspite of hosting the biggest and most bloated national finals themselves just to pick something in the middle of the road like Robin Stjernberg.

    But, as soon as Moldova, San Marino or Malta win ESC, they will deliver something big, like Azerbaijan did last year.

  2. Zack

    May 8, 2013 at 09:55

    Thanks Mitch. It’s been great. Great support from other press members and the staff have been working so hard.

  3. Mitch

    May 8, 2013 at 00:28

    So happy for you to have had this opportunity.

    Now stop bashing NC and moonshine. You can use it for gas too ya know!

  4. Hele.

    May 7, 2013 at 00:39

    Great job so far Zack. I really enjoyed reading your reviews of first day. Thank you. 🙂

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