In the second half of our exclusive interview with ERT's Eurovision project manager, Johnny Kalimeris we ask about Greece's decision to announce their 2009 Eurovision Song Contest representative in July of this year, the power of the Greek promotional tour, why Greece is determined to keep participating with English lyrics and whether Greece will ever send a gimmick or joke entry to the contest.
When it was made known, back in July, that Sakis Rouvas would go to Moscow for Greece the EBU had not yet announced the return of the juries in the final. Do the changes worry you? Did you give the composer, Mr Kontopoulos, different directives after the announcement?
"No, no I did not! We had selected Sakis anyway. He is quite known in some parts of Europe, mainly the East, and the jury members are bound to be familiar with him. One votes differently for a pop song by a completely unknown singer than a singer they are familiar with so I imagine that the juries will not affect us much.
I am not 100% sure I agree with the return of the juries, though. In the sense that one of the things I like about the Eurovision Song Contest is the fact it is the most democratic contest in the world wherethe people get to vote for their favourites freely. Ok, some may be voting for their neighbours more than others, but it is still very democratic. Finland for example did not win because of neighbourly voting, neither did Turkey. They won because they worked very, very hard.
This is something I told our British peers at the BBC. I told themthat they made no effort at all for a few years. They organisedsmall national finals, made no promo tour, did nothing to communicate and support their entry, absolutely nothing. They go directly to the final, because they are in the Big Four, which is an incredible thing. We have said that we, also, want to pay the extra fee and become Big Five together with the current Big Four! Many countries complain, such as France or the Netherlands, about theirpoor results but they forget they make no effort at all.
On the other hand, you see, say… the Georgians, the Greeks, the Serbians or the Maltese organising their finals painstakingly and promoting their songs heavily. The Eurovision Song Contestis the only arena where a small country, like Malta for example, can beat the mighty France. You cannot usually have that in football or basketball.
And I am not convinced that the juries will eliminate the effect of neighbourly voting altogether. I feel that if, for example, a member of the Belorusian jury liked equally the French and the Russian song, then the top vote would go to the Russians. What could happen, and that is a plus for the juries, is that some different, more complex types of songs will be rewarded by the jury vote. But on the other hand, Serbia 2007 was what you'd call a "difficult" song in the musical sense, and it won anyway, not because of neighbourly voting but because it was the best song that year, a beautiful ballad with an exceptional melody. Neighbourly voting does not produce winners. What you need is a good song, that sticks to mind and a good stage performance. You can't win if you have one but not the other."
From what you've told us so far it seems you believe in the promo tour.
"I believe in promotion, period! Part of the promotion is the tour but only if it is accompanied by TV appearances. I believe in the help of the government, the Ministry of Tourism, embassies etc. I believe in a good video to be played on local channels. Because what good is a song that noone hears apart from the three minutes on the night of the contest?"
Would you ever send a funny act to Eurovision?
"Never! I would never send a funny act from Greece to the Eurovision Song Contest! It shows disrespect for the Eurovision Song Contest. Besides, funny acts never get voted to win."
Greece took everyone by surprise this year, when you announced Sakis for Moscow as early as July. How come you decided to go public so early?
"We had already agreed with Sakis Rouvas so there was no reason to keep it a secret. We were aware that it was about to leak and thus decided to make a short announcement early on to avoid the usual speculations and rumours which could do more damage than good."
Do you feel that having to go through the semi final will deter some of the bigger names in Greece from participating?
"Not really! Initially I thought it would but I realised it did not. And to be honest I am quite happy with the two semi finals. When it was first announced, I objected. We had strived for a top ten position with Sarbel and suddenly we were back in the semi. But when I experienced it I saw it offers you two nights of high ratings and one night of huge ratings, which is great! And they should remain the way they are, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Some may be complaining that the delegations have to stay extra days but it is only a couple more, so not a big deal.
Have you made any final decisions on the format of the Greek final this year?
"We are still between two options. We are considering two ways to do it, one the traditional way in a large venue like the previous years and the other, to make it like a concert with the crowd in the seats and the arena of an indoor stadium. The second option might present us with some problems regarding the nature of the event, you know commercial breaks, long voting period etc. But in this case, we will just have to keep it shorter.
And what about the voting? Will we see any changes in 2009?
"The voting remains the same. 60-40 televote and jury vote."
You have repeatedly stated that you insist upon sending songs in English,so a song in Greek is out of the question?
"I have indeed said it repeatedly and I will say it once more. You cannot have a song without lyrics, meaning lyrics that either you understand or stick to your mind and you can easily remember and repeat, like chewing gum. The competition is not just about the music, it is about the lyrics as well. If we send a song in Greek, noone will have the slightest idea what we are talking about. If we want the European vote, we had better make it easier for them to remember our song in a language that more people would get. Of course, on the other hand there is Molitva which contradicts what I just said. But the Serbian song had some kind of magic, which swept you away.
Now, do I exclude Greek altogether? No, if there is a song that will convince me it will do well, I will not be negative. If, for example, Alkistis Protopsalti wanted to go to Eurovision, I would have no objection to a song in Greek, but since we are sending pop, it has to be in English."
Greece is often accused of sending the same type of song year after year, what do you have to answer to that?
"Greece has no heavy metal tradition, we don’t even have any considerable rock tradition. We have pop and Greek popular music, what we call laiko. The second is a very particular genre, which would appeal possibly to people in the immediate neighbouring areas only, but it is very restrictive, if we send a song like that it will leave most of Europe cold."
Johnny Kalimeris was together with Sakis Rouvas in Istanbul, in 2004, when the semi finals were introduced for the first time and now they are back together having to face a new challenge, that of the juries in the final “ For luck!”, he smiles.
To read the first part of the interview, click here.