Teen wins first step towards Eurovision

She was the youngest of all the participants and she won the most votes: Nora Foss Al-Jabri, the teenage Norwegian singer with a grown-up voice, topped the first of three semi-finals in Norway’s qualifying rounds for the Eurovision Song Contest, and claimed she almost fainted along the way.

Nora Foss Al-Jabri after winning Norway's first Eurovision semi-final, called "Melodi Grand Prix" on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Saturday night. PHOTO: NRK/Views and News

The 15-year-old Al-Jabri could be seen bending over, trying to ward off a fainting spell, while waiting for the voting results at Saturday night’s live broadcast from a hangar at the Ørland naval air station on Norway’s north-central coast. When her name was called last, as the gold medal winner of the first semi-final, she let out a few strong words but otherwise seemed speechless.

Al-Jabri, born in Gjøvik to a Norwegian mother and Iraqi father, did manage to quickly thank the two men who wrote her song, “Somewhere beautiful,” Eivind Rølles and Christian Ingebrigtsen. And then she belted it out again, to an enthusiastic audience.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) kicked off this year’s annual round of the Eurovision preliminaries, called Melodi Grand Prix in Norway, with eight performers vying for three spots in the final round that will be held in the Oslo Spektrum Arena on February 11. Before that, two more semi-finals will be held, in Larvik on January 28 and in Florø on February 4. The actual Eurovision show will be held in Baku, Azerbaijan, on May 26.

All told, 24 performers are taking part in the competition, often referred to as the “Melodi Grand Prix circus” because of its media hype, flashy costumes, pyrotechnics and boisterous songs, some of which border on the silliest of pop music presentations. The entire Eurovision spectacle, though, has been known to launch the careers of several musical legends and it attracts widespread interest in Norway as in other participating countries every year.

The second-place spot in Saturday’s semi-final went to rock group The Carburetors, and third place to another powerful singer, Reidun Sæther. They all beat out some music veterans in Norway, including Lisa Stokke (who starred in the original cast of the hit musical Mamma Mia in London) and Benedicte Adrian, who’s been on the London stage herself.

It was Al-Jabri, though, who walked off the stage with the most support and it’s not the first time she’s won big. She started singing as a child and grabbed media attention in Norway at the age of 10 with her version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” which was published online by her older sister and later featured on national TV. She also won a spot on US television star Oprah Winfrey’s show featuring the “World’s Most Talented Kids” three years ago. Al-Jabri’s version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” won high praise from Winfrey. and Al-Jabri released her debut album last year.

She’ll be 16 by the time the national final rolls around next month, with her birthday coming up next week. She already has quite a bit to celebrate.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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