Page last updated at 08:24 GMT, Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Lloyd Webber: Eurovision saviour?

By Michael Osborn
Entertainment reporter, BBC News


Jade Ewen sings It's My Time

Andrew Lloyd Webber's mission to improve the UK's fortunes at the Eurovision Song Contest is taking shape.

Jade Ewen and Andrew Lloyd Webber
Jade Ewen and Andrew Lloyd Webber - Eurovision dream team?

His song, It's My Time, was performed live for the first time on Saturday night.

The big, orchestral ballad could be the show-stopper from any one of his stage musicals.

Singer Jade Ewen's impassioned, soulful interpretation of the song won the public's backing over her rivals, meaning she carries the weight of expectation to Moscow in May.

But will the composer's offering bring back the UK's Eurovision dignity at long last?

Song contest online forums have been buzzing with reaction, which is decidedly mixed from the ecstatic to derisory.

'Piece of art'

Keith Mills, editor of Irish Eurovision website All Kinds of Everything, fails to see Lloyd Webber's formula working.

"It's hard to see the UK finishing outside the bottom five again this year," he says.

Mr Mills, who predicted Russia's victory last year - and the UK's place at the foot of the scoreboard - believes that Jade has "neither the talent or experience to make an impression".

As for the song, the work of Lloyd Webber and US Grammy Award-winning lyricist Diane Warren, the Irishman says it is "a cast-off from a 1980s musical".

Webber on the Eurovision challenge

"The UK may get some votes from Ireland as our only neighbour, but I fear others won't be so kind," says Mr Mills.

"That's unless they are impressed that such internationally successful songwriters would enter a song for Eurovision," he adds.

But his glum forecast is not shared by other song contest followers, including Poland's Szymon Stellmaszyk, who has reported on Eurovision since 2004.

As Lloyd Webber has said himself, eastern European countries including Poland have to be won over to give the UK a fighting chance of success.

Mr Stellmaszyk watched Your Country Needs You at his home in Warsaw, and says the public chose the best singer.

"Jade is beautiful and elegant and really suits the song, which is a piece of art.

"I'm sure her performance is going to be memorable. Whatever the result, the UK will leave a very good impression this year."

Extensive tour

Mr Stellmaszyk's only concern is that voters may turn away from an entry that is without a dance routine or gimmickry, but says the song will be a hit with the Eurovision juries.

Music industry experts from all 43 countries will determine half the votes this year, and will be looking for quality of songwriting and delivery - not peripheral novelties or costumes.

The name of a world famous composer is not something they will overlook, while his musical stamp reaches far and wide.

UK's 2002 Eurovision singer Jessica Garlick
Jessica Garlick was the UK's last success in 2002 - with a big ballad

Ballads in recent years have fared well, with a simply-staged but emotional performance from Serbia's Marija Serifovic winning the contest in 2007.

While Lloyd Webber's Eurovision solution has been revealed, the mission has only just started, which he says he is "101% committed" to.

He has three months to polish the track, work on the staging for Moscow and nurture his protegee, who has a luxurious amount of time to perfect her performance.

And the pair's pivotal task is to take the UK's offering on an extensive tour of Europe for the first time.

Jade's immediate task is to perform her song during Malta's Eurovision final on Saturday, which is likely to be followed by other appearances aimed at picking up votes.

An early start may help the UK, with some countries not making their decision until mid-March.

The path to the Eurovision final is a long one - and Andrew Lloyd Webber's task has only just begun.

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