As a country that suffered the ravages of dictatorship for so long, it's nice to see the Spanish take to democracy so heartily - and nowhere is it more evident than their Eurovision selection process.
Three years ago, fed up with a string of poor to middling results, some genius at RTVE had the brainwave of opening their pre-selection contest up to the masses and not only allowing anyone to enter, but giving the whole world the opportunity to vote on them. No filtering or fine tuning - anyone could enter, from the most professional record-company endorsed act to the most lowly bedroom artist. Now that's the kind of democracy I like!
So they put out a call for songers across the land to display their wares on MySpace, not realising the mild controversy that would ensue. The plan was that punters would vote for their faves, and the top few would battle it out in a televised final. All very good, but it didn't take into account that fabulous human instinct for making things cheekily difficult. Inside days an unlikely contender raced to the top of the vote table. Antonio 'El Gato' González was an elderly man who had his croaky homespun warblings set to a bizarre mininal techno backing track for the song La Bicicletera. It was racing away into a huge lead when someone at the Spanish TV station noticed that a bulk its votes all came from the same few IP addresses. It subesquently had around 100,000 votes taken away from it, but still finished respectably well up the table.
This may have been good news for those hoping for a more traditional song, but their previous fears were soon doubled by one Rodolfo Chikilicuatre with his faux reggaeton stomper Baila el Chiki-Chiki. Chikilicuatre (local slang for good for nothing), was the comic creation of comedian David Fernández, a regular cast member on rival TV station LaSexta's late night show Buenafuente. With plenty of free publicity, and a groundswell of populist funtime opinion behind it, the song walked the final, and finished in 16th in Belgrade - still one of Spain's best results in some years.
The following year RTVE tried it all again, only this time in a much more complicated way. Once again, songs were submitted via MySpace. Of the 978 entries, only 455 were considered to be within the rule. These songs were then divided into genres. The top 5 songs in each of the ten categories then qualified for a protracted series of auditions and ever decreasing heats. Runaway leaders throughout the contest were a flamenco dance act called Melody y Los Vivancos with their difficult but exciting song Amante de la Luna. But despite tieing for the lead in the final with the severe-haired songstress Soraya and her more traditionally-Eurovision flavoured dance piece La Noche es Para Mí, they missed out on a trip to Moscow on a countback technicality.
Soraya eventually came 23rd out of 25th in the final.
So bless RTVE for their persistence - they're trying the whole thing again this year. Thankfully though the process is much simpler. This time, 480 songs were submitted, of which 319 were banged up onto the TV channel's website for a straight open vote - the top ten going on to fight out a gala final. But there was immediate controversy. Each viewer to the site could vote up to five times a day from the same email address. This led to accusations that those artists signed to big labels would benefit from dedicated PR departments flooding the table with votes sent from a string of specially created email addresses. But despite this, a surprise candidate flew to the top of the leaderboard inside 24 hours.
The song Soy Un Tsunami by a botox-powered old gal calling herself Pop Star Queen stormed to the head of the field. It was soon discovered though that the performer was in fact one Karmele Marchante, a presenter from another minority channel - this time TeleCinco - who wanted to pull a similar stunt to old Chiki Chiki two years before. Close checks were then made on the content of all the submitted songs, which saw Pop Star Queen disqualified, along with a few other popular tunes (sadly also including the rather ace La Fiesta del Fuego by old-skool Valencian rave head Chimo Bayo). This meant that the table was now topped by Coral Segovia and her formula Disney-esque ballad En una Vida - particularly ironic as it was Coral who was beaten into second place by Rodolfo Chikilicuatre two years since.
But that isn't the end of it. It would seem that the curious forces behind Pop Star Queen are attempting to rocket another hapless hopeful to unexpected stardom. This has seen the unlikely rise to glory of a surly looking body-builder called John Cobra, with his raspy piece of bedroom business Carol. Leaping from near the bottom of the table to a solid third place in a few short days, RTVE are bound to cobble up some reason to disqualify it, but I for one hopes he makes it - if only to see how the poor soul is going to perform it live on a big stage in front of a whole bunch of people.
But it's the lower reaches of the voting table that holds the most joy. Mainly populated by transvestites and old men hammering away on guitars, there are many splendours to behold, and I highly recommend a quick visit to the official site to sample some of them yourself. If for nothing else than to sample the glorious marvel that is SuperEddy...
With a week of voting still to go, almost anything could happen. Coral Segovia will probably win it, as there's a general feeling among Eurovision fandom that it's her turn. But I suspect that there'll still be some thrills and spills along the way - particularly as our old mate El Gato has suddenly started creeping up the charts again!
Y Viva España!
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