The Version Interview... Scott Mills on Eurovision 2016

The biggest music extravaganza on the planet returns this May as the Eurovision Song Contest, one of the longest-running and most-watched non-sporting events in the world, is broadcast live from Stockholm.

The Swedish capital will play host to the competition for the second time in history following Måns Zelmerlöw’s victory in Vienna last year when he won the 60th contest with his song Heroes.

This year marks the 61st edition of the competition, with a total of 42 countries competing in the contest, including two semi-finals that will be broadcast on BBC Four, and the grand final, which will be broadcast on BBC One and BBC Radio 2. A jury final will also take place on Friday 13 May, however this event is not televised.

As one of the 'Big Five' countries (United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, France, Italy), the United Kingdom does not have to qualify from the semi-final stage of the competition and will gain automatic access to the Saturday grand final. Sweden, as the incumbent champion, will also not need to qualify from the semi-final stage.

In order to find a song to represent the United Kingdom this year the BBC undertook its biggest song search ever, working with a number of partners and providing as many routes into the selection process as possible, whether amateur or professional.

Songs were sourced via a number of places - an open submission process, via the UK branch of the OGAE (Eurovision fan site) , the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA) and by working alongside music industry expert Hugh Goldsmith - former MD of RCA and founder of Innocent Records - who is acting as Music Consultant to the BBC. All of these routes resulted in a national televised final where six final shortlisted acts performed in front of a live audience in London.

Joe and Jake won the public vote and were therefore chosen to represent the United Kingdom as winners of Eurovision: You Decide.  The brand new music duo will head to Stockholm to perform their debut track ‘You’re Not Alone’, an anthemic pop song with a universal message on behalf of the United Kingdom this May.

Scott Mills is your Eurovision Semi's host...

What do you make of this year’s UK act, Joe and Jake?

I think this year we have sent an entry that really fits in with the other contestants. A lot of European countries send artists from The Voice or reality shows and as a result, a lot of them are young singers that have had to perform live and well because they are being judged on it on live television. Look at some of the acts this year - Sweden, he’s 17, Francesca from Italy is 21. I think it’s important to send someone young this year, and we have done that with Joe and Jake. It’s a song that’s very catchy from the outset, and when you look at our entry and everything about it, the song doesn’t look odd or out of place so I think we are in with a good chance.

At what point do you like to get involved in the build-up to Eurovision?

The first thing I did this year was go to the Eurovision Party at the Café de Paris in London where 22 acts from Eurovision performed, so it really gives you an idea of what to expect. I got a chance to meet the contestants there and I chatted to all of them, which you can see on the BBC Eurovision webpage and iPlayer. It’s good for me to do that ahead of the semi-finals because you get to know the acts, you get to see the performances on stage, and before that you’ve only seen a video. Then the next thing I will do is go to the semi-finals!

You have commentated on the semi-finals for the last few years. What’s it like? What are you looking forward to?

This is the sixth year, so I know what to expect now. I’m not nervous anymore, but on the morning of the show I wake up and get the feeling that you get on Christmas Day - that excited feeling - so it’s nice to get that twice a year, not just once. I love it, it’s so hard to describe. It’s almost like a football atmosphere when you’re in the stadium itself and its fever pitch. It’s like an important sport event, and you can’t beat the Eurovision atmosphere in the arena that night.

What is it that you love so much about Eurovision?

I think it’s just an escape from reality for a week, whether you are watching it on TV or in the host country. For me, you go into the bubble and you don’t hear much apart from Eurovision music. You don’t hear about anything else that’s going on the in world, and actually for a week it's nice. Also, everyone is there for the same reason and it’s the friendliest place on Earth.

Do you have any inside gossip you can share with us?

Frans, this year’s Swedish entry, looks like the Swedish Justin Bieber, but he speaks like a cockney because his nan lives in Croydon and he lived with her for two years. 

You are being reunited with Mel for the semi-finals this year. What’s it like working with her?

It’s the most fun working with Mel. I had only met her once before, and you know when you just click with someone immediately. We had been together for about two minutes and we were laughing, and I thought this is a good co-host. She’s totally into Eurovision like I am. When we’re not working on it, we are talking about it, geeking out about it, and sharing comments about the songs, the artists and what we think, and any gossip we have. I’m looking forward to my week in Stockholm with Mel as, if Vienna last year is anything to go by, it’s going to be hilarious.

One of the best things we did last year was go around the streets of Vienna on a horse and cart filming an insert for the semi-final, and as Mel deals with a lot of cake, she was holding a massive gateau, which we were meant to eat together romantically - but as we were going over cobbles the cake went all over her dress, so in the end we just ate it!

Are you excited about this year’s competition taking place in Sweden? Have you been before?

I went to Sweden for the first time when the contest was in Malmo in 2013 and I loved it so much I have been back to Sweden twice since. It’s still my favourite Eurovision to date, so I’m really looking forward to going back to Sweden. It’s a nice, fun place to be - the people are very friendly and they put on a great Eurovision show because they love it so much.

What is the atmosphere like in the host city?

It depends where you are - in Sweden the atmosphere is off the scale. I think it all depends on how much the host country and people love it. In Sweden over fifty percent of the population watch their selection show and when you go there you can tell that.

Have you heard many of this year’s entries - and if so, do you have any favourites yet?

I like Amir from France a lot, as I think it’s a really good song. You don’t realise it at first, but I think Sweden has a deceptive and very catchy song and he looks like a Swedish Justin Bieber. I also really like gateau from FYR Macedonia. She is a massive star in the Balkans and has a massively powerful voice. The song is in Macedonian, so you won’t really be able to sing along, but it has a great chorus. 

Who are your favourite past Eurovision entries and why?

Loreen’s Euphoria, which won it for Sweden, has made Eurovision more modern. There were lots of modern songs that year, but it was a world-class pop song - it had an amazing hook, she’s a great artist, and it was the first Eurovision song in years to become a proper hit in the UK. It made people think a bit differently about Eurovision - people often think Eurovision equals bad songs, but not necessarily anymore. Also, in terms of ridiculousness, the Russian Grannies - Buranovskiye Babushki - were incredible, and they were the six old ladies from Russia who baked some bread on stage. It doesn’t get any more Eurovision than that - it was brilliant!

The Version