TALLINN - Beating out dippy boy bands, blond Barbie clones and a harlequin in curled shoes, a punkish Gerli Padar swept to victory in ETV's Eurolaul 's Estonia's Eurovision qualifier competition 's on Feb. 3 with her hard-hitting track "Partners in Crime." Well over 100,000 viewers tuned in to the Saturday-night TV event in which 10 competitors vied for the honor of representing Estonia at this year's Eurovision Song Contest in Helsinki in May.
In the second part of the two-round televote, introduced this year to make the contest more suspenseful, 118,949 viewers 's nearly a tenth of Estonia's population 's phoned in their preferences. A full 55,324 voters chose Padar's song in the round, giving it an easy victory over the two other finalists, "Sunflowers," a sweet, lamenting ballad performed by Laura, and Hele Kore and Kristjan Kasearu's heavy ballad "Romeo ja Julia" (Romeo and Juliet).
Padar's powerful stage presence and tough-girl voice, not to mention a strong drum backup, set "Partners in Crime" far above other entries, most of which were the same simplistic, Eurovision style songs seen in past contests.
The list of this year's entrants was also mostly a rehash of those from years past, with performances given by Ines, Diva Diva Dance and Koit Toome.
Among the more memorable entries, if only for its unsurpassed tackiness, was made by Soul Militia, a group that Postimees accurately described as five Justin Timberlakes. Their track "My place," may have been meant to shock with its explicit lyrics, but the music itself was overshadowed by the group's goofy members bouncing around the stage in white shirts and baggy jeans.
Blond babe girl-group Vanilla Ninja who, like David Hasselhoff, enjoy a mysterious popularity in Germany, provided another disappointment. Though expected to score near the top of this year's list, their entry "Birds of Peace" turned flat and tiresome after 30 seconds and fell short of a second round showing.
Padar, whose look and musical style shows strong similarities to that of American superstar Pink, was by far the least embarrassing choice for Estonians.
With so many earnest-yet-mediocre performances for audiences to cringe over, it was fortunate that organizers of this year's event put a light, comic spin on the proceedings. Between presentations, contestants in the studio could be seen clowning around with cloth snowballs, and during a voting interval one of the past Eurolaul hits, Suntribe's "Let's Get Loud," was lip synced by men in drag.
Gerli will be the second Padar to represent Estonia at Eurovision. In 2001, her brother Tanel Padar, partnered in a duet with Aruban-born Dave Benton, won the contest in Denmark, paving the way for Tallinn to host the event the following year.
While Padar's song may get Estonia past the qualifying round this year, it's doubtful that it'll get much further. The rule in Eurovision, however, is never say never 's Everything depends on just how bad the other entries are. Last year Finland took the final, proving that anything is possible.