Late Late Eurosong Special: Only RTÉ could make Eurovision stranger than it already was

You wonder if you are watching television or are trapped in a waking dream, writes Ed Power

You have to feel for RTÉ, which is challenged with staging a Eurovision Song Contest in miniature on a blustery February evening in Montrose. So it is to the credit of all involved that this Late Late Show Eurosong Special (RTÉ, Saturday, 9.35pm), which faces the task of selecting Ireland’s Eurovision 2022 representative, gets within yodelling distance of the real thing.

]It’s splashy, earnest and over the top as only Eurovision can be. There are moments you wonder if you are watching television or are trapped in a waking dream where everyone wears a luminescent chemise and in which Ryan Tubridy is a Duracell Bunny ring-master with demon eyes.

The most “Eurovision” aspect of the night is winner Brooke Scullion, from Derry, whose song, That’s Rich, is a Transcontinental take on Dua Lipa that has the potential to go down a treat from Antwerp to Azerbaijan (her inspirations include Blondie and The Gossip). But if her performance has lashings of Europop camp it is throughly eclipsed by the over-caffeinated energy Eurovision super trouper Marty Whelan brings as he interviews the entrants in the green room.

Well, we say “green” and “room”. For some reason, RTÉ has seen fit to decorate the backstage area as a camp site in the woods, with the six finalists (shortlisted from 300 hopefuls) arranged around a fire. Whoever is responsible for the set has gone all in. There’s even a stuffed fox whose snarling face is soon doing the rounds on Twitter. It’s hard not be impressed: only RTÉ could make Eurovision stranger than it already was.


On the subject of social media, it is a surprise to discover Eurovision devotees from around the world are tuning in. They, like most everyone else, are baffled by the intermission performance of Riverdance by hoofers dressed in their civilian garb of leather jackets and shiny jeans. This is billed as a historic first yet it really just makes you pine for Michael Flately and his magical blouse.

Ireland’s recent Eurovision record has been pretty lamentable. You know something has gone wrong when you find yourself pining for the glory days of Jedward finishing eight. And so RTÉ has gone to lengths to ensure that it sends the best singer and song to Turin in May. And, to that end, it has divided the judging panel in three.

Four industry adjudicators are in the studio: Bláthnaid Treacy of 2FM, Paul Harrington, who won the competition with Charlie McGettigen in 1994 (a few people on Twitter wonder why golfer Pádraig Harrington is on the panel), Caroline Corr of The Corrs and Lucia Evans, winner of the 2006 season of talent show You’re A Star.

Zooming in from across the Continent meanwhile is a quartet of Eurovision experts. And then there is the public, whose votes ultimately prove decisive. [/P2]

The panel in the studio brims with enthusiasm, almost to a fault. They presumably feel obliged to be positive about all six contestants.As television this doesn’t quite work. The format cries out for a Simon Cowell-type villain to deliver the blunt truth that, if several of the compositions are memorable, a few are instantly forgettable Euro-puddings.

The singers meanwhile run the Eurovision gamut. That’s Rich is the catchiest track by some distance. And Scullion is chatty and personable off stage(and tells a zinging joke about a priest). All of which is sure to go down well in Turin. ]She places ahead of Janet Grogan’s Ashes of Yesterday, an Adele-adjacent hairdryer ballad performed with gusto but which feels far too generic to get Ireland out of Eurovision semi-final purgatory (also, why is it named after a Warhammer 40K expansion?).

Grogan is tied in second place with Miles Graham, whose chirpy singalong Yeah, We’re Going To Get Out Of It suggests Ed Sheeran starring in a Black Mirror episode in which he is trapped in a never-ending instalment of Sesame Street.

If That’s Rich is the stand-out composition, the most eye-grabbing performance is by Patrick O’Sullivan, singing One Night, One Kiss, One Promise. The syrupy belter is co-authored by Westlife Nicky Byrne and The Coronas’s Danny O’Reilly. Yet it is chiefly memorable for the two dancers who caper on a spare bed as O’Sullivan warbles.

An aura of Eurovision-by-numbers meanwhile hangs over Rachel Goode’s I’m Loving Me, a proficient disco romp penned by a trio of Swedish writers. And The Script, Justin Bieber and Sheeran are among the influence discernible in Brendan Murray’s Real Love, a quicksilver ditty that simply isn’t barnstorming enough to leave an impression.

The public gives top marks to That’s Rich. That is also the consensus of the European panel. So it’s slightly alarming that the studio adjudicators are wildly out of step and award Scullion the second lowest points tally (they award maximum points to Grogan). Somebody has made a bad call – but is it the RTÉ nabobs or us?

Scullion won’t worry about any of that. Having achieved lift-off in Dublin, she will hope to soar in Turin. Her song undoubtedly has potential. And she will have learned a great deal from the Late Late. Once you’ve negotiated an unenthusiastic RTÉ panel and Marty Whelan surrounded by a menagerie of stuffed animals, you truly are prepared for anything.