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Eurovision 2012: The Babushki Make It To The Final

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Eurovision 2012: The Babushki Make It To The Final

Eurovision 2012: The Babushki Make It To The Final

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is a week when Europeans can forget about the debt crisis and politics for a moment and throw themselves into rooting for their home country. Eurovision 2012 is underway. About a half-a-billion viewers are expected to tune in for the finale on Saturday. The song contest began in the 1950s, and each country that's competing is represented by a single singing group or artist.

Eurovision is being staged this time in Baku, Azerbaijan. And that's where we reached William Lee Adams. He's a writer for Time magazine, and also editor-in-chief of wiwibloggs.com. That's a site dedicated to covering the Eurovision contest. And we reached him at his hotel in Baku.

Welcome.

WILLIAM LEE ADAMS: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

MONTAGNE: Of course, it's good to remember Azerbaijan won last year, which is why it's hosting this year. But I guess, you know, say the people in Greece could use a distraction. So why don't we start with their entry? How strong is the Greek song this year?

ADAMS: Greece is one of these countries at Eurovision that's kind of invincible. They have a huge Diaspora of Greek people living in other countries and other countries, you know, cast the votes. So they always do incredibly well. And they typically bring the exact same song. It's kind of cheesy. It has an ethno-Greek background. It's upbeat and danceable, and that's what this year's contestant, Eleftheria Eleftheriou, brings.

MONTAGNE: OK. Well, let's take a quick listen to Eleftheria Eleftheriou.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "APHRODISIAC")

ELEFTHERIA ELEFTERIOU: (Singing) Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh. You make me dance, dance like a maniac. Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.

ADAMS: Greece takes Eurovision incredibly seriously and each year they stage a mega national selection contest. But this year, because of the economic crisis, they actually had to move from a theater into the food court of a shopping mall. But still, thousands of people showed up and, you know, they proved that austerity is no excuse to stop the fun.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's go to another entry in the neighborhood of Azerbaijan, and that's Ukraine. I gather that this particular performer is part Congolese.

ADAMS: That's right. Gaitana is her name. And her father is actual from the Congo and her mother is Ukrainian. And there's been quite a bit of controversy about her selection because after she won the national final, a right-wing politician said that she quote, "wasn't an organic representative of the country." And while this right-wing politician made these statements, the Ukraine has actually embraced her. The fact is, millions of people voted for her with open arms. And her song is actually called "Be My Guest." It's all about love and harmony, and welcoming people into your country. And she says, if anything, the Ukrainians have proven their love for her.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BE MY GUEST")

GAITANA: (Singing) You can be my guest. Guest. Guest. Guest. You can be my guest. You can be my guest.

MONTAGNE: Well, I like her voice.

ADAMS: Absolutely. We may have lost Whitney Houston, but we've gained Gaitana.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MONTAGNE: Well, we don't want to play favorites here at NPR, of course, but we do have sentimental favorite. And that is a group that our colleague, David Greene, met last year in Russia when he was based there, and they're representing their country in the contest. It's a group of six grandmothers - and a grandmother is known in Russia, as a Babushka. And their song is called "Party for Everybody."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PARTY FOR EVERYBODY")

BURANOVSKIYE BABUSHKI: (Singing) Party for everybody, dance. Come on and dance. Come on and dance. Come on and dance. Come on and boom, boom.

MONTAGNE: Well, that's a little jacked-up version of what they usually do. But tell us about the Babushki.

ADAMS: So the Babushki hale from a region called Udmurtia near the Ural Mountains. Some of them don't actually speak Russian, they speak the native language of Udmurtian, which is the language they sing in during the song. It tells the story of six grandmothers who are welcoming their children home, who have been away. So on stage in Baku, they actually bake bread in a fake oven. They bring it out, they carry it around.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ADAMS: I mean, they say how excited they are.

MONTAGNE: Oh no.

ADAMS: You know, this song itself is kind of appalling, but Eurovision isn't about the best song, it's about the best act. And this one comes with attitude, and spunk and spirit, and the belief that you can keep on moving no matter how old you are. If you watch on YouTube, you see panelists at the Russian National Selection looking at these ladies with scorn, but these ladies stare right back at them and, you know, they kind of shoo them away with their walking sticks.

People have embraced them. And here in Baku, wherever they go, there are crowds, there are our cameras. And they quite like it. They're always smiling. They're always happy. They can't necessarily communicate with words, but their smiles say a lot.

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you very much for bringing us up-to-date on Eurovision.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MONTAGNE: We appreciate it.

ADAMS: Oh, no problem. I hope you get to watch it on the TV or on the Internet.

MONTAGNE: William Lee Adams is a journalist and Eurovision expert. He joined us from Baku, Azerbaijan where the finals of the competition take place tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PARTY FOR EVERYBODY")

BABUSHKI: (Singing) Come on and boom, boom. (Singing in Udmurtian language)

MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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