Eurovision 2014: Irish entry takes to the stage

Dubliner Kasey Smith sings tonight for a spot in Saturday’s final

Kasey Smith representing Ireland performs during rehearsals for the Second Semi-Final of the 59th annual Eurovision Song Contest in Copenhagen, Denmark. The second semi-final will take place this evening with the grand final on Saturday. Photograph: Nikolai Linares/EPA

Kasey Smith representing Ireland performs during rehearsals for the Second Semi-Final of the 59th annual Eurovision Song Contest in Copenhagen, Denmark. The second semi-final will take place this evening with the grand final on Saturday. Photograph: Nikolai Linares/EPA

 

Kasey Smith is optimistic and focused about representing Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest tonight. The 23-year-old from the northside of Dublin sings “Heartbeat”, accompanied by the five-member traditional Irish music group Can-Linn.

She and her fellow performers are proud of the Celtic elements in the performance, which include Irish dancing, bodhrán, and fiddle playing. “People around Europe and around the world love Irish music. We are happy to be bringing that in our act.”

Ten of tonight’s fifteen acts will qualify for Saturday’s final. Ireland has hovered between seventh and ninth place throughout the week on Oddschecker.com, while a poll in the Eurovision press centre has Ireland placed ninth.

Acts top-tipped to qualify include Norway’s stirring ballad “Silent Storm”, Romania’s retro uptempo song “Miracle”, Greece’s raucous rap number “Rise Up”, and the power ballad “Rise Like a Phoenix” sung by the bearded drag queen from Austria, Conchita Wurst.

Smith’s beautiful dress is another nod to Irish traditions: a gold mermaid-shaped gown encrusted with hand-sewn beads, it is intended to evoke a Celtic warrior princess. She wears a gold neck piece designed by Oliver Doherty Duncan, who made neck pieces for Game of Thrones.

The tabloid media have made much of the fact that Smith’s dress is very similar to that which Conchita Wurst wears, but Smith does not seem bothered by the coincidence, and speaks with respect of Wurst’s campaign for tolerance of gender and sexual difference: “She’s amazing. I really respect what she’s doing. No one should have the right to say anything about how other people live.”

Smith was less impressed with the booing in the arena on Tuesday night as the Russian act qualified for the final, which is widely being interpreted as protest against Russia’s current aggressive moves against Ukraine, and its crackdown on LGBT rights. “When I heard [the booing] I felt it in the pit of my stomach. It’s not fair to bring those politics into the arena. This is a song contest.”

Smith says the most surprising aspect of her Eurovision experience thus far is the vast size of the playing area, but repeated rehearsals have allowed her to get used to the stage and the arena. There was a packed audience of local schoolchildren at the first dress rehearsal yesterday afternoon, which gave the performers experience working with a crowd.

Smith is currently running neck-and-neck with the Romanian singer Paula Selig for first place in a poll run by the cheeky Eurovision fan website Wiwibloggs. com to be named “Eurovision’s Next Top Model 2014”; over 13,000 votes have been cast. Wiwibloggs’ editor in chief William Lee Adams says he thinks Smith is the most “telegenic presence” in the contest this year.

When asked about her plans for after the contest, Smith mentions the possibility of recording an album; returning to Nashville, where she spent time recently working on her musical career; or perhaps travelling abroad. But most important to her at the moment, she said, is the job at hand.

“I’m focused on today. (Wednesday night’s jury final) counts for 50 per cent of the votes. And tomorrow, I’ll be focused on tomorrow, and the final performance for the televoters.” About 20 family and friends are travelling from Ireland and elsewhere in Europe to join Smith here. She says that she benefits greatly from this support which allows her “to do what I’ve always wanted to do — to sing.”