Swiss hope for Eurovision wonder

Paolo Meneguzzi, singing for Switzerland in Belgrade Keystone

"It was wonderful", according to Paolo Meneguzzi, this year's entrant at the 53rd Eurovision Song Contest in Belgrade, but does his song stand a chance?

This content was published on May 22, 2008 - 11:14

Meneguzzi's pop ballad, Era Stupendo, is one of a record 43 acts hoping to do their country proud on Saturday.

There are two schools of thought regarding the Eurovision Song Contest. One sees the annual competition as a shameless celebration of camp and kitsch that makes you despair for the future of humanity. The other thinks it is a shameless celebration of camp and kitsch which is harmless fun and can bring nations together.

"The Eurovision Song Contest is a big, big show that can launch the careers of a lot of young artists," Meneguzzi, a platinum-selling artist in Italy and a chart-topper in France, told swissinfo.

"For me it's a big opportunity to reach a lot of countries that my music at the moment doesn't reach. Eurovision is watched by at least 300 million people."

The exact number of viewers singing along or shaking their heads – Ireland's entry this year is a puppet turkey called Dustin – is unknown, but Eurovision is definitely one of the most-watched non-sporting events in the world.

"It's also a dream to represent my country," he adds.

Winning chances

The 43 acts - including newcomers San Marino and Azerbaijan but excluding a sulking Austria - will be split into two semifinals. The first was on Tuesday and the second is on Thursday, when Meneguzzi will perform.

Each semifinal comprises 19 acts, of which ten will go through to the final. Five countries qualify for the 25-act final automatically: Serbia as host, and Britain, France, Germany and Spain as they chip in the most money.

Era Stupendo is very different from the Swiss entry last year by DJ Bobo, a Euro dance piece about vampires, which totally failed to impress.

"From my experience in festivals it's very important to have a catchy song that you like the first time you hear it and can remember," Meneguzzi says. "I think most people want a romantic song that they can listen to and dream about."

And vote for? Bobo fell at the first hurdle and complained of political voting from the Eastern bloc. This year's competition is being held in Serbia – can Switzerland pull of a coup?

"I never stop dreaming and I certainly dream of winning! But it's the public that decides. I think that in the East people love Italian music, so the fact that I'm singing in Italian could be an advantage for Switzerland," Meneguzzi said.

"Italy hasn't taken in part in Eurovision for at least ten years [since 1997 because of lack of interest] and maybe people in eastern Europe miss the romance of songs sung in Italian. So this could be a good opportunity."


The 31-year-old from Lugano, in Italian-speaking Ticino, used to work in a bank but gave that up "to follow his dream".

He got his first break in 1996 when he won the Viña del Mar International Song Festival in Chile with the song "Aria, Ariò". Since then he has released eight successful albums.

"I'm a very emotional person," he says. "And my song is a really emotional song – romantic, very sweet – and if you're not emotional when you sing this, you can't touch the audience."

Nevertheless a mild controversy broke out earlier in the year when a 15-year-old Swedish girl, Amy Diamond, accused Meneguzzi of ripping off her song It Can Only Get Better.

"Well, I've listened to the song and yes there are similarities," he admits. "But I think a lot of songs nowadays have bits that sound similar. Pop music has been around for 50 years and if you come up with a melody, you can be sure that it sounds like one that has already been written somewhere in the world!"


Meneguzzi also has an opinion on novelty acts at Eurovision.

"It's important to be as professional as possible. I think that any stage where a lot of people can see you is a great opportunity. I think it's stupid to go to Eurovision just as a joke or simply to pass the time. I'm going with my heart to Eurovision."

And although he has dual nationality – both parents are Italian – he says he will be "absolutely proud" to represent his homeland.

And if Switzerland meet Italy in the finals of Euro 2008?

"Good question! But the answer's Switzerland because I always support the underdog and I think Switzerland is a little less strong than Italy... But it would also be good if Italy won!"

swissinfo, Thomas Stephens

In brief

Initiated by the Geneva-based European Broadcasting Union in 1956, Eurovision is one of Europe's most popular annual music events. Switzerland has only won twice, the inaugural contest in 1956 and in 1988, when it was represented by Canada's Céline Dion.

Attempts to inject an international flavour into previous Swiss performances met with some success, although there were no wins. Estonian girl band Vanilla Ninja finished eighth in 2005 and multinational group six4one ended up 16th in 2006.

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Paolo Meneguzzi

1996: wins the Viña del Mar Festival in Chile with his song Arià Ariò.

2001: took part in the Sanremo Festival in Italy in the "Young Musicians Section", where his Ed Io Non Ci Sto Più came seventh.

2002: first Italian hit with In Nome Dell'Amore. In just a few weeks this track raced up the charts, staying at the top of the singles charts for over two months.

2003: In October his third single Lei è was released. The album of the same name went double platinum, selling more than 200,000 copies.

2004: Meneguzzi debuted in France with In Nome Dell'Amore, a duet with Ophélie, who won the French edition of Pop Idol. The track broke into the top ten in France and after barely a month had sold 100,000 copies.

2007: Came sixth in the 57th Sanremo Festival with the song Musica. The single went straight to number one in Italy and stayed there for six weeks.

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