• Norwegian pop star Ulrikke and her pyrotechnical performance at 2017's Melodi Grand Prix. (Melodi Grand Prix)Source: Melodi Grand Prix
As Australia embarks on its first ever public selection for our Eurovision 2019 entry, Chris Zeiher reflects on his time at Melodi Grand Prix, Norway's national selection competition. Since 1960, it's produced three Eurovision Song Contest winners.
Chris Zeiher

3 Feb 2019 - 4:58 PM  UPDATED 3 Feb 2019 - 4:58 PM

“Ulrikke, Ulrikke!” chant a crowd of Eurovision fans crammed near the stage door of the Oslo Spektrum. A light snow begins to fall in the Norwegian capital on a late Saturday afternoon in March. The faces in the crowd are slathered in more glitter than a RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant. The throng exudes a mixture of nerves and excitement as they brave the below freezing temperatures.

Then a convoy of cars appear, emblazoned with the name Ulrikke and brandishing a glamourous headshot of a pretty blonde girl sporting a high pony-tail. This is Ulrikke’s posse and she’s the hot favourite to win the 2017 edition of Norway’s Melodi Grand Prix and snatch the glittery ticket to represent her homeland at the Eurovision Song Contest in Kyiv, Ukraine.

This is a big deal for Ulrikke, one of the many alum to emerge from Norway’s recent boom of singing and talent contests – she was a semi-finalist in the Norwegian version of The Voice in 2015. A ticket to Eurovision could be the start of something big for her, and from the fervour of the crowd at glimpsing her entourage, there’s a good chance she could win her nation’s vote.

However, to do that she’ll need to vanquish another nine potential contestants each as eager to win the chance to perform on the Eurovision stage. Eurovision is one of the world’s most watched television events and a possible career maker. So, yeah – no pressure.

Norway’s Melodi Grand Prix or, as it’s referred to by the locals, MGP has served the Norwegians well as a selection contest for the Eurovision Song Contest. Held almost consecutively since 1960, bar three random years where it didn’t run, MGP has delivered Norway three Eurovision Song Contest winners and an impressive nine other entries to place Top 5 in the contest proper. Winning at MGP does not guarantee success at Eurovision, however – Norway also holds the infamous record for the most bottom-of-the-leader-board finishes of any nation at the contest.

National selection is the start of the Eurovision journey for performers such as Ulrikke who, like her nine other competitors, is striving to join the likes of previous MGP winners Alexander Rybak, Bobbysocks, Secret Garden and Margaret Berger. To win she’ll need to progress to the Gold Final where the top four acts will “sing again” for the all-important public vote which will determine Norway’s ultimate winner.

All week the local public broadcaster NRK has been saturating the station with advertisements for the contest. Banners on street corners, ads on the city’s extensive tram network and the general chatter in Oslo’s plentiful coffee shops all point to the one massive event happening this weekend – the Melodi Grand Prix.

“Nothing Ever Knocked Us Over” by Swedish lyricist Danne Attlerud, to be performed by all-girl vocal group In Fusion, will go up against Ulrikke’s “Places”. Attlerud confesses that the contest is “wide open”.

“I’ve written 26 entries for competition at internal selections,” Attlerud muses. “For a total of eight or nine countries… I can’t remember… [He quickly checks and it’s eight.] countries like Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Ireland, Bulgaria, Latvia, Armenia.

“Each one has been so different. And I’ve had my songs in the Eurovision twice [2004 and 2006].”

So, what of In Fusion’s chance at winning MGP?

“We’re one of the favourites at this point [alongside Ulrikke], but who knows how the Norwegian public will vote,” he admits realistically. “I’m proud of our group. You know… you never know,” he says with a shrug of his shoulders.

Attlerud is nervous. MGP has reintroduced an international jury to assess the songs and performances in the hope of improving Norway’s chances of a Eurovision victory.

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“We’ve had technical difficulties,” he admits. “The girls [from In Fusion] have a vision for their entry and it’s coming together. Vocally, they sound great, but there’s some issues with the staging that’s not coming together.”

Similarly, Ulrikke’s technical performance was not without glitches, particularly with the pyrotechnics, and there are murmurs in the Oslo Spektrum among those in the know that the intense performance and killer chorus of JOWST’s “Grab the Moment” could become the surprise winner at MGP.

Attlerud was right to be nervous with In Fusionfalling at the first hurdle and missing out on a spot in the Gold Final.

However, Ulrikke’s “Places”, a Zara Larsson lite jam, exploded into the Gold Final alongside a kooky bit of Nordic-folk performed by an antler-clad Elin from Elin & the Woods, a horrific joke-rock band as well as dark-horse entrant JOWST, whose band’s black face-masks pulsating with tiny lights proved to be a winning gimmick.

Ulrikke’s “Places” moves into the Gold Final:

After the four acts performed their entries for a second time it becomes clear that JOWST had grabbed the moment and clearly moved to audience favourite. So, for Ulrikke to win she would need the television public to support her as the winner would be determined 100% by public vote.

The four super-finalists and their posses are awkwardly assembled on high stools in front of the stage as the zany MGP hosts throw to live crosses from around the country gathering the public’s vital televotes. Sadly for Ulrikke, it becomes very clear very quickly that she will not be representing her homeland in Kyiv. “Places” ultimately languishes in fourth place during the Gold Final, unable to muster even 10% of the public televote.

Kyiv bound will be disco-masked JOWST accompanied by vocalist Aleksander Wallman, who would go on to place in the Top 10 at the final of the Eurovision Song Contest in the Ukraine in 2017.

Ultimately the MGP delivered another Top 10 song for Norway at Eurovision proving that any song could win on the night and indicating that maybe there’s some method in all this glittery madness.

JOWST grabs the moment at 2017’s MGP in Oslo, Norway:

Watch Australia's first public selection for our representative, live from the Gold Coast! Tune into Eurovision – Australia Decides on Saturday, 9 February at 8.30pm (AEDT) on SBS.

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