Although I had previously caught some of the Sanremo final in 2013, I think it was, I had never watched the 5 night bonanza before. But all that was about to change this year.
Sanremo is of course the daddy of all song contests; it predated and inspired the Eurovision Song Contest. For those of us who love Festivali i Kenges because it still has that sense of 'old Eurovision' with the orchestra and conductors, then Sanremo is also a must-see. There are no badly translated songs in English here either: it's native language all the way. And as languages go, Italian is probably the most musical of all.
I was impressed by this year's team of presenters, although as I have virtually no knowledge of the Italian language I can only go on the professionalism which came across - I believe though that there were a few gaffes, according to some coverage on the internet. This year, Carlo Conti was accompanied by last year's winner Arisa, and last year's ESC representative Emma Marrone. I thought Emma did very well and all those fancy gowns showed off another side of the 'rock chick'. As for Arisa, I found her speaking voice quite irritating.
It took me a while to understand how the two competitions worked at Sanremo. A couple of years ago, Antonio Maggio won the newcomers category with "Mi Servirebbe Sapere"and I couldn't understand why he was not allowed to either compete in the final night's contest or indeed represent Italy at Eurovision. But some research later, I know all the rules and this helped me to understand the contest better. So we have the 'nuove proposti' (newcomers/young artists) section, which runs alongside the 'campioni' (big artists) over 5 nights of Italian music and mayhem. Sanremo has been responsible for launching the careers of Eros Ramazzotti, Laura Pausini and Andrea Bocelli, and this year's winner of the 'nuove proposti' was Giovanni Caccamo with "Ritornero da te". I like this song a lot, and hopefully we'll hear more from him. It was certainly a very successful year as he also wrote Malika Ayane's lovely ballad "Adesso e qui" which ended in 3rd place in the 'Big Artists' category.
This year's line-up boasted some big names: Raf - yes, the Raf of Gente di Mare/Self Control fame. But fame doesn't guarantee success, and he failed to make it to the 'Big Artists' final night. Nina Zilli also returned but made less impact this time round.
It became very apparent very quickly that Sanremo 2015 was going to be about one artist only for me. I had become a Nek fan in the early 2000s ironically not through his Italian-language music, but his Spanish-language recordings. On my first trip to Barcelona in 2001 I bought his "Las Cosas Que Defendere" album and was hooked. However as the years went on I 'lost' Nek so it was good to find him again. And do you know what? It was worth the wait.
"Fatti Avanti Amore" marked Nek's return to Sanremo and in a generally 'meh' national finals season (for me anyway, sorry) it had something which was lacking in many of the entries chosen to date. It was punchy, lively and dynamic. However I was realistic enough to know that if Nek won Sanremo he would probably not compete at ESC so I just accepted this and enjoyed his performance for what it was.
There were two very strong contenders sung by female artists: "Una finestra tra le stelle" by Annalisa and "Straordinario"by Chiara, and I thought earlier in the week that one of these might win. But it was Malika Ayane's low-key, soulful ballad "Adesso e Qui" which impressed me, and it also impressed the juries and televoters
Meanwhile the three young men who make up Il Volo (or Il Divo Juniors if you prefer!!) had also grabbed my attention. They impressed me a lot with their vocal prowess on "Grande Amore". I had come to terms with the possibility of Nek not winning, and decided that I would be very happy with this winning Sanremo.
And so it came to pass. When the juries and televoting totals were added together, "Grande Amore was the big winner, with "Fatti Avanti Amore" in 2nd place and "Adesso e Qui" 3rd.
It had been a very long night, thanks to that Icelandic final followed by the epic final night of Sanremo. By the time it was all over it was late and I felt emotionally exhausted but happy that I had not only survived my whole Sanremo experience, but that it had given us a worthy winner.
We didn't have to wait too long for confirmation that, yes, Il Volo would in fact represent Italy at this year's Eurovision Song Contest. "Grande Amore" has gone on to become one of my favourite ESC entries this year.
And Sanremo? Well yes, it's overlong, yes there are far too many stops and starts and random special guests and interviews along the way, but it's a true event which is a must-see if you love Italian language music and want to discover new and established artists. I'll be watching it again next year!