Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I don't hate airports...anymore!

It feels good to feel my own bed at last...

It feels even better to reach out my hand and feel 'Milly', my lovely dog, sound asleep beside met, probably dreaming of meeting the love of her life in doggie land.

I had a rather subdued flight back to Malta on Sunday. The whole Maltese contingent was sad. There's no denying that. We had got to know that only 3 countries had voted for us. It felt bad, especially after all the pain we'd been through these past months.

The Lufthansa plane landed and as soon as we felt the soft thud of the wheels touching the runway, a good feeling seeped into all the group. That sort of good feeling that one feels when he's heading back home. Almost a relief really.

As I was getting out of the plane, my eyes settled on a sizeable crowd of airport staff waiting at the bottom of the stairs together with my family and Minister Francis Zammit Dimech. Everybody was clapping and cheering. I was led into the terminal building, my head already in a whirpool of thoughts.

As I reached the escalator which takes you to the luggage reclaim, I caught a glimpse of the arrivals area of the terminal. It was jam packed with people, most of them holding banners and cheering. They must have seen me as the cheering increased.

Once again I felt so proud to be Maltese. We Maltese have such a warm and loving heart. Even though we had not managed to make it through to the final, people still came to the airport to welcome us back. And I really appreciate this...a lot. It took away any sour after taste which the Eurovision might have left me. Those few minutes at the airport made it all worth it. And I don't really feel like hating airports anymore! :)

The sound of my typing is disturbing Milly, who is looking at me with protesting sleep filled eyes. So I'm going to stop for now!

Speak to you soon! Olivia :)

Friday, May 11, 2007

At last, I found some strength...

The last envelope started with an 'M'. I hoped it would be Malta. But it wasn't.

I kept staring at the screen, oblivious of what was happening around me. All of a sudden I felt tears pouring from my eyes. All the pressure and worries of the past three months suddenly caved in on me. It felt like being hit by a huge block of stone falling over from a cliff.

All around me I could see my Maltese friends looking shocked and sad. Everyone who had dedicated so much time and work, saw it disintegrate in a matter of minutes.

Mark tried to keep his cool as best as he could. He collected my things and we rushed to the hotel, running away from it all as fast as we could. I went to bed fully clothed, make up and all. I must admit that I spent my first few hours in bed crying and languishing in sleeplessness.

Feelings of immense guilt began to seep in. Could I have done more? Wasn't I good enough? What will the Maltese say now that I have not managed to qualify for my country? These are just a few of the thoughts which kept haunting me throughout those painful moments.

Finally I slept. Soundly.

I woke up at the sound of the door knocking. Sleepily I came out of bed and opened the door.

It was mum and dad standing there with tears in their eyes. I knew they were heartbroken. But they tried to hide it as best as they could. Mum is a tower of strength, especially in the difficult times. I hugged her as I did when I was a little girl afraid of the dark.

She said 'Olivia, life goes on. You were wonderful and the Maltese loved you yesterday'. I thought she was saying all this to comfort me, to make me feel good.

Then I opened my blog, trembling at the thought of what I would find. 70 comments came up for me to read. I read the first one, then the next and the next.

Was I reading my own blog? How could it be that after I had failed to qualify, the Maltese were sending me all these messages of support. My eyes swelled with tears, this time tears of joy and gratitude to God for making me Maltese.

It was at this point that I found the strenght to write this blog. I want to thank all of you who have been sharing my life for the past few months. You have been great company to me especially when the chips were down. I am so grateful to all the Maltese people who have shown such love and support.

We did the best we could, but we didn't qualify. And I'm really sorry for this. But Eurovision is like that. You never know what you're going to get.

I look forward to coming back to Malta, and to hugging Milly again. I want to breathe Maltese air again. Hopefully I will be doing so again on Sunday. :)

I have to go as I'm slowly but surely starting to pack. And there's a lot to pack. Believe me.

See you in Malta. Lots of love, Olivia.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The big night...

This is it, I guess.

Three months of hard work end today. Will we still be in the Eurovision tomorrow? Who knows? I hope so. I really do.

So many people have worked so hard, that it would be a real pity were it to end here. And the thing is, that there's nothing more than I can do except try and give my all tonight. That's all. The rest is in the hands of all the Europeans voting tonight. Let's just pray that they like the song.

Yesterday was full of mixed emotions.

The first rehearsal in the afternoon was an umitigated disaster. I was in a flustered mood and the contact lenses were hurting me a lot. My voice did not come out well at all and I felt something was going very wrong.

You can just imagine the mood everyone was in, in the afternoon. Nobody had the heart to tell me anything. But I knew I had done badly. Mark came into my room, pale faced. He just told me I had to do better in the evening.

I felt very low at letting down all those people and decided to go to sleep.

I woke up a totally different person. I felt strong and ready to take on the big stage.

As I set foot on stage for the second rehearsal, I immediately felt it was going to be right.

And it was. Everyone performed well. My voice sounded terrific and in control. I managed to follow almost all the cameras. And my contact lenses did not hurt at all! :)

As soon as the performance finished I met Mark and Robert backstage. Both of them had tears in their eyes. I knew we had done well. Mark could barely speak with emotion. As soon as we reached the dressing room I saw Philip, Gerard, John Claire, Mike and Joe Dalmas clapping. Yesterday morning's tragedy was over.

Now all that remains is the big night tonight. There is a lot of competition and it is going to be difficult.

I really hope we qualify. Not just for my sake, but for the sake of the 400,000 Maltese who will be glued to their television sets supporting us tonight. They deserve to see Malta perform next Saturday. And I will do my best to see that it happens!

Thank you for all your support, and I hope to have the strength to write another blog tomorrow.

Lots of love...Olivia.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

A waste of space...

You know what I did today?

In a nutshell: nothing.

Today was my off day and I decided to rest as much as I could in preparation for the coming two days' of total chaos! :)

Nothing is actually a bit of an exaggeration. I had some interviews scheduled which I did dutifully. One of them was a phone call from a BBC Radio station. The guys from the beeb seemed very interested in my dog Milly, now I've learnt she has Scottish roots. I wonder what she's doing right now. She is alone at home with my sister. Now that both Mum and Dad have left home for Helsinki, she must be thinking that end of days must be drawing near. I really wish for this to be over at the very least to be with her again.

Today, as part of the treat yourself programme, instead of having a shower, I decided to fill in my bath to the full with hot water and took an hour long bath full of soothing oils and stuff. The foam was coming up to my face, when suddenly Shasha (my make-up artist) popped in, as boisterous as ever.

'Toni Sant wants to say hello' she said. I love Toni Sant. He actually was the guy who indirectly gave me the idea to start my own blog. I have had numerous occasions to speak to him, but today's was a first. I didn't really want to get out of the bath...it was feeling so good. I looked at myself...all I could see was white foam. So I asked Toni to come in the bathroom.

He was a bit wary and red faced until he realised that the foam was masking everything. I steered clear of asking him which country would win in his opinion. Toni has a god-sent knack of guessing the winning act. He did so spectacularly last year in naming Lordi.

He volunteered this information himself. 'There is no clear winner this year' he said matter of factly. 'However I believe that Malta has never had a better entry', he concluded.

I could not resist it: 'So who will win in your opinion'.

As diplomatic as ever Toni said: 'Olivia, I know I'm biased but I believe that Malta has as good a chance as any other country doing its best in Helsinki of winning this year's contest.'

That's good to hear. I looked down at the foam and realised that it was disappearing steadily. 'You had better leave Ton...I don't want to shock you or anything' :) Toni left gracefully. I love this guy. Anyway, anyone wanting to read Toni Sant's blog can do so by clicking here.

I am now dressed and ready to go to today's choice of parties. In the meantime I continue to read the hundreds of emails and comments that are coming. Most comments have now shifted on me using the catwalk. I'm afraid that this is not possible as the catwalk is not for the performer's use. There is no easy way to access it and the sound monitors stop exactly at the spot where I'm standing. So the platform cannot be used by anyone.

The other sticking point seems to be the white drapes used by Jes and Joseph. I don't really know what to say. We've had quite a number of positive reactions regarding the stage performance here and I really think that we should not do any drastic changes. I strongly believe that on the night all will look well. Of course, this is just an opinion, but believe me that as a whole I really feel comfortable with all that we have on stage.

Tomorrow is a very big day for me. I know most of you would love to help out. A short prayer for the Maltese contingent would be appreciated.

Speak to you again tomorrow...hopefully I wouldn't have been such a waste of space as today. :)

Love, Olivia. :)

Monday, May 7, 2007

My second attempt...

I have just woken up.

Yesterday was another big day for all of us here. The second rehearsal is an all important event for a big list of reasons.

My biggest worry was the dress. Since my past has been plagued with wrong clothing choices, I still tremble at the thought of showing a dress for the first time...sort of deja' vu, don't you think??!! :)

I was ready waiting at the hotel reception at 11am. Robert insists on punctuality and even though he doesn't really say anything when I'm late, his face speaks volumes. So I did what I could to hurry and managed to land in reception in British punctuality.

Sunday in Helsinki is quite different from the rest of the week. There was no traffic at all and the trip to the Hartwell Arena took us less than 10 minutes (compared to 20 or 30 minutes during the week).

As soon as we arrived at the venue, Mark setup one of his keyboards for a voice rehearsal with Claire. Mark is an excellent piano player and has been collecting keyboards for a long time. He insisted on getting his favourite one to Helsinki: a red Korg Karma! :) He must be getting superstitious I guess!

I have learnt a lot from Claire Massa. Even though my style and her style differ, the techniques still apply. Especially when it comes to warming up your voice. I have found that a good warm up guarantees a good performance. And that's what we did. All you could hear when passing by the Maltese dressing rooms was 'La La La La La La La La La'. And all other sort of voice exercises. We spent almost an hour doing them, by which time a YLE official came knocking on our door asking us to go backstage to setup the mics.

I was soon microphoned and ready on stage. This is the first time that I'm able to see anything while performing. And the reason is simple. I'm wearing lenses. I still have to get used to them, but they make a big difference. Since I'm miopic, when performing I take off my specs. And believe, me. On stage I don't see anything at all. Everything is just a blur. This time, Mark insisted I had to follow the cameras. In order to follow the cameras I had to see the red tally lights so the only solution was wearing contacts. It worked.

In the distance I could see Mark and John Demanuele talking to the Director of Lights. This director is a swell sort of guy...spiky hair and a gentle face. He has been doing the lights for six Eurovisions. And believe me...he's good.

'Standby...first rehearsal', said a voice in the background.

I went into line with Joseph, Jes and the three girls. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the first opening shot. We decided to keep the steadycam shot with a difference. He was asked to focus on Joseph and Jes rather than show us lined up standing like school children waiting to be reprimanded by the teacher! And it was looking good. I could even hear Mark clapping in the background. I think someone suggested this on the blog. He was right.

The voice was coming out well when suddenly two big fans started running. I almost choked! :) The power of the fans is surpising. And I had to get used to it. But when I did get used to it, it was heaven. You almsot forget you are on the Eurovision stage.

After about six tries the rehearsals were over. I headed to the viewing room to see the finished product. I must admit it is all looking good. I've been reading some comments on this blog regarding wideshots. Whilst I do agree that closeups are important, some wideshots have to be included. Otherwise there would be no establishing shots. And establishing shots are very important to put whoever is on stage in a context. Apart from the fact that when the venue is full, it would look good to include shots of people clapping and waving their flags during the song. Another consideration is that since most have viewed the rehearsal on youtube, the size and quality of the picture are not really ideal for long shots. They look empty. But believe me, in full size they look so so so good! :)

And the dress seems to have pleased a lot of people. So we are definitely going to use it for the semifinal. That's decided.

The viewing room guys warily asked us if we were happy with the job. The answer was plain and simple: Yes. Very happy. Some minor adjustments and we're there. One nagging point was the delay on the backing vocalists' voice. Philip asked the sound man to reduce the delay in certain points as it was getting overlayed on the proper voice making them sound badly. It will be setup in time for the dress rehearsal...that's what we've been told.

The door is knocking...oh God...it's Robert and he's waiting for me to go for a rehearsal in the local gym. 'Come on Olivia...don't be late', I can hear him saying.

So I must go.

Speak to you tomorrow...Olivia :)

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Practice makes perfect...

I woke up earlier than I had planned.

After yesterday's rehearsal, I literally fell into bed at around 8pm, and slept all night long without ever waking up till this morning at around 7am. I woke up feeling refreshed and well rested. It's important to rest. I've learnt that your voice varies a lot with exhaustion. And after all these years, I want to do the best I can over here.

It's been quite a lazy day today. Robert (the Maltasong boss) managed to book a gym studio for a 2 hour training session for our performance. I've been watching the rehearsal on my laptop, taking notes of my mistakes and enjoying the gradual improvement we did with each take.

Now that yesterday's excitement has been consumed, I can dissect yesterday's performance with an open mind.

There will be huge improvements. That's for sure. First of all I think the choreography needs to be more spaced out so as to avoid it looking clustered. The stage was smaller than we had expected. And the Director asked us to move the gong forward in order to have space for the steadycam shot in the beginning. Mark told me that lights will be improving a lot. Since we changed all their lighting setup, they couldn't programme certain effects in time. We would obviously be expecting these changes for tomorrow's rehearsal. I'm told all in all everything will look much more spectacular.

And...I know most of you will love this...I will be wearing the dress. I must say that the Roberto Cavalli material is enticing to say the least. We will see how it will blend in with the stage and decide accordingly. There are obviously other options, which we are keeping in the closet for now.

In the meantime, today I got to meet most of the Maltese press who are covering the event. I feel that I must personally thank Norman Hamilton who has been sponsoring Maltese journalists for quite some time. Were it not for him, many Maltese journalists would find it quite difficult to cover the event.

Ariadne Massa from the Times has been convering Eurovision for quite some time. She loves Eurovision and her writing is excellent. Reporting Eurovision is a full time job. There are no two ways about it.

Jason Busuttil and Pierre Cachia from Super 1 have been joined by Deo Grech this year. Jason is the big guy in the photo. He is a good friend who has helped me a lot throughout my career. He was personally responsible for the Qormi Farewell Concert. Deo is responsible for the OGAE Malta website. He is extremely dedicated and his site is updated a lot.

Today I didn't get to meet Frederick from NET and Cyrus from ESCMALTA. The two of them are very professional people who are eurovision addicted.

The Xarabank team is simply wonderful. They have a crew of seven covering the event. PJ, Peter, Mandy, Angie, Olwyn, Charles Ahar and Pablo are all working round the clock for next Friday's programme. I am told that it will be broadcast live. It's a first for Maltese television and I wish them well.

Well...there are bound to be others, but I have to go.

Tomorrow is another big day. Second rehearsal and all that. And practice makes perfect...I hope you will like it better. And I appreciate all your comments. Have read them all! :)

Speak to you tomorrow! Olivia

Friday, May 4, 2007

My first attempt...

I had been dreading it for quite some time.

Would I be up to it? Would my voice come out well? How will the choreography look?

These thoughts were constantly on my mind as we drove from our hotel in Helsinki to Hartwell Arena, the Eurovision Song Contest Venue.

As usual we were met at the gate by security officers who led us to a metal detector. I had quite a lot of metal on me...not the lethal type mind you. :) Just belts, jewellery and other innocent stuff, which I had to take off. I find security check points so inconvenient. But then it's better safe then sorry I guess.

I must say that the Finnish are nice people. Everywhere you go, you are greeted with a smile. Everyone is willing to help and as a whole they have tried their best to make our lives that much easier. Anna, our hostess, is wonderful. We could not have wished for a better hostess. Kind and understanding. Even though I've been told that her students were actually quite glad to see her go on a ten day trip to Helsinki, thus leaving them behind. She is supposedly strict with them...she doesn't let them swear in class. Which is just as well, I suppose.

I spent the first hour at the arena warming up my voice. Travelling with us is voice coach Claire Massa, who has been just wonderful. You can immediately see she has studied voice, and she knows all the correct techniques regarding warming up and voice training. I've learnt a lot from her.

In the middle of a string of notes, a knock on the door stops us cold. It is time. I rush out of my dressing room and head off to the technical area, where the audio guys are waiting for us to help us put on our microphones and in-ear monitoring headphones.

Accompanying me are Jes and Joseph together with the three backing vocalists. Robert Abela collects all our accreditation tags so that we do not lose them. Robert is one of the most considerate persons I have ever met. He likes to give the opposite impression, mind you, but I've come to know him to well now. Mark, my boyfriend is visibly excited. He is taking care of the television part of things. He's good at that.

Norway are ready and off we go on stage. As soon as I set foot on stage, my legs began to wobble. The excitement was getting to me. I took deep breaths and told myself: 'Come on Olivia...you can do it'. The first few steps were difficult. The next steps were just fine. The stage is welcoming and warm.

As my eyes set on the empty arena, I could see Mark panicking in the background. The technical staff had chosen blue as a background but Mark wanted a reddish colour. He agreed to try out the blue one. I knew it was shortlived. Once he makes up his mind on something, he will see that it happens.

My first try was not that good. I was not comfortable enough and something was bothering me. All of a sudden, all the stage went red and warm. Mark came up to me and said: "It's going to be fine...there was a mistake in the colours...it's ok now.'

The second rehearsal was much better. And it got better and better, up to the point that I am now quite happy with it all.

Mark and John spent quite some time with the director, fine tuning the lights and choosing some shots over others. I could see that with each performance, improvements became visible. And it made feel good to know that I was in such good hands.

The 40 minutes were up and I rushed to the viewing room. Philip (the composer) asked the sound engineer for some minor changes, while Mark asked the TV director for some particular shots.

20 minutes later I was in the press conference area, answering questions and singing an unplugged version of a very nice Maltese song written by Alfred C. Sant called 'L-Ghannej'. A good number of press attended. I was told that most of the press reacted favourably to the song. I hope they are telling me the truth.

And now, here I am, sitting in bed, resting for God knows what's coming tomorrow.

One thing is certain. I am happy at the results of my first attempt.

I feel I must thank all those who have help today amongst which I really feel I should name Albert, Mike Spiteri, Joseph Dalmas, Robert Abela, Philip Vella, Gerard James Borg, Claire Massa, John Demanuele, Joseph Chetcuti, Jes Sciberras and Martin Gauci. Without the help of all these guys, we would not have made it today.

Let's just hope things continue on the up side.

I have to go...speak to you tomorrow...:) Olivia