Sorry, Marija, we didn’t think you’d win

Our apologies to Marija Naumova, because we didn’t think she would win. The night before the Eurovision Song Contest was to begin in Tallinn, my daughter and I sat down at her computer and watched all 24 videos of this year’s entries. Our conclusion was that Naumova and her song “I Wanna” certainly was well above average, but not necessarily good enough to win the contest.

If we had any favorites in addition to Latvia, they were Austria, Denmark, Macedonia and perhaps France and the United Kingdom.

Austria’s Manuel Ortega—who, despite what his name suggests, was born in Linz—surprised us with his upbeat “Say a Word.” We also liked Denmark’s Malene Winther Mortensen and her performance of “Tell Me Who You Are.” The video especially brought smiles, as the singer vandalizes the apartment of her lover whom she suspects of having walked out on her (but returns bearing a couple of baguettes).

And Macedonia’s young pop star, Karolina Gocheva, sang wonderfully the tune, “Od nas zavisi” (It Depends On Us). Her participation in Eurovision saw one of several minor scandals this year. Gocheva wanted to perform the song in English in Tallinn, but was convinced by the powers that be back home that Macedonian was the way to go.

France’s Sandrine Francois performed “Il faut du temps” (“It Takes Time”), a fittingly moody French song that was a refreshing change of pace from the all-too-happy pop songs offered by many other artists.

Finally, the United Kingdom’s Jessica Garlick, who many thought was a virtual shoo-in this year thanks in part to heavy pre-contest promotion, seemed like she would do well with the soulful “Come Back.” When I interviewed Naumova in April, she said Garlick’s song was her favorite among all the entries.

But when I booted up the computer mid-afternoon Saturday to check the results, I was surprised to find that voting was still underway. The Webcast from the Saku Suurhall in Tallinn reported that Latvia was in the lead with 118 points, tussling with Malta for control of first place. My jaw must have hit the keyboard as I watched during the next half hour as Latvia’s score continued to mount. And then Lithuanian television reported that Latvia’s neighbors to the south were giving 12 points to Naumova, boosting her to a score of 176 and clear victory.

Malta’s Ira Losco, who performed “7th Wonder,” came in second with 164 points. The U.K.‘s Garlick tied with Estonia at 111 points. (We were a bit disappointed that Estonia employed a ringer: Young Swedish singer Sahlene sang “Runaway,” a tune with lyrics and music created by Estonians.) And France was next with 104. Unfortunately, one of our favorites, Denmark, ended up in last place with only 7 points, right behind Lithuania in 23rd place.

Yes, Eurovision is a silly contest, but it’s one that’s been running for 47 years. Yes, most of the songs are nothing special. But the point, at least this year, is that in Latvia’s third time in the Eurovision contest it has come away with a victory. Coupled with Estonia’s win last year, the results should help convince any doubters that the Baltics are not some backwater region of Europe.

I guess it’s time to start saving for airfare to next year’s Eurovision contest, which is to be held in Latvia as part of the spoils of victory. The next months are sure to see a debate about whether Latvia can even afford to pull off a Eurovision event and, if it can, whether it should be held in Rīga or in Ventspils, which is where the national runup to Eurovision has been staged.

In the meantime, our congratulations to Marija Naumova, even if we didn’t think you’d win.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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