COUNTRY ONE - Albania (Festivali i Këngës) WINNER: Jonida Maliqi - Ktheju tokës BACKGROUND Festivali i Këngës (fondly labelled ‘FIKmas’ by fans) is the first ‘national selection’ of the season, taking place in December. Despite it being the means of selecting Albania’s artists (and song most of the time), this is less of a national selection and more the little sister, wait no, cousin of Italy’s Sanremo festival. It IS a bit of a slog, being spread over three nights, but I found myself really enjoying this year’s selection. RTSH made an effort to promote and modernise the festival, and the outcome was the strongest batch of songs in its history. Soni, Mirud, Eranda, Lidia, Orgesa, Artemia and of course Jonida...CLASSICS - some of my favourite NF songs this season. Of course, the same tomfoolery still occurred, being an Albanian state broadcast; Elton Deda, a PRODUCER of the festival and the conductor of the damn orchestra was not only allowed to compete with his own entry, but also floated through to the final night over fan favourites...which was 100% jury vote. My gurls mostly made it through unscathed, but we lost my dear hunty Mirud (check out his Insta nn) and Aurel Thëllimi - both of whom had some of the best ‘man pain’ ballads of the season. They did Mirud particularly dirty by telling him that the jury hadn’t put him through ON AIR on the after show...brutal. It’s such a kii to me that the Albanian HoD (who works extensively on FiK) is only now ‘possibly considering’ introducing the televote...sis. Like, Jonida and Eugent would have absolutely won their respective televotes too, so trust the public. Regarding the debate of whether it’s time to abandon FIK altogether and start finally internally-selecting a slut-bop from the growing pool of smutty Eastern pop girls that Albania seem to be churning out...I’m in two minds. As much as I think that would be a competitively wise choice of RTSH, we could miss out on the likes of Mall and Ktheju Tokes in the future. I am torn I am torn. If you want to learn more about the behind-the-scenes on Albania’s POV for the contest, check out this excellent interview with the Albanian HoD by ESCInsight. RESULTS Voters: 13 My vote is highlighted in bold for #transparency 1) Soni Malaj - Më e forte (6 votes) 2) Orgesa Zaimi - Hije (2 votes) 3) Eranda Libohova - 100 pyetje (1 vote) 3) Marko Strazimiri & Imbro - Leyla (1 vote) 3) Artemia Mithi & Febi Shkurti - Dua Ta Besoj (1 vote) 3) Lorela Sejdini - Vetmi (1 vote) 3) Klodiana Vata - Mbrëmje pa fund (1 vote) LIVE STUDIO VERSION WHAT HAPPENED? Well, she miraculously made it through the jury vote and into the final night. I say ‘miraculously’ because this is kinda the first time we’ve had an Albanian slut-bop in FiK and with a hidden jury...you never know. But even then, Miss Soni managed a respectable 5th place out of 14 finalists, so well hello, let’s celebrate that. I do wonder how Sandra Bullock would have fared in ESC; sis would have absolutely qualified, and I reckon she would have given Albania another mid-table result. This is pure guesswork, because she has revealed that an English version of the song (called “Stronger”) exists, but has yet to be released. Even if this version is well-done, I think it merely would have split Tamta’s votes in the final. Overall, as much as I bop, Albania the jury made the right call here. That said, I think do think Mirud’s Nene could have maybe scored even higher than Ktheju Tokes. But that belongs in an alternate reality. In this reality, Jonida is a gay icon and Mirud remains posting thotty pics for likes from NYC. Special mention: CRITICS CHOICE WINNER and Albanian Cher Eranda Libohova’s “100 pyetje”, which is everything Leonora was TRYING to achieve. It has made zero impact on even the most niche sects of the fan community but this is one of my top 5 national final songs ever. There’s such a warmth and effortless joy to this song that I can’t even articulate. I actually think this would have done fairly well in ESC too, it takes a lot of stereotypical ‘twee’ tropes but packages them in a very...not twee way. Ugh it’s just divine.