The process that led to Switzerland picking their representative for Eurovision 2017 started last September, when an invitation went out to songwriters to submit their songs for consideration, attracting around 160 entries. That number was whittled down to 20, who were invited to perform in front of a panel of 21 experts in December. Those experts subsequently picked their top six, each of whom got their chance to perform in this month's national final, televised live, with viewers at home determining who would fly the musical flag for the wealthy, multilingual, landlocked nation at the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest in Kyiv in May.
New rules for this year dictated that each entry must prove a link to Switzerland (with at least one performer/songwriter holding a Swiss passport or Swiss residency) and, unlike previously, there were no quotas for the different state broadcasters SRF, RTS, RSI and RTR who each represent the different Swiss regions/language groups; instead the plan was for the jury to simply pick the best six and allow the public to then have the final say.
The televised live final began with a video sequence, based around the idea of "what if?" that involved showing what a modern-day Swiss Eurovision win would look like, full of crowd celebrations and flag waving. Wishful thinking, maybe?
Back in reality, Swiss-German commentator Sven Epiney played host, reminding the audience (more than once) that Switzerland hadn't won Eurovision since Celion Dion belted out Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi back in 1988.
Epiney did a great job of keeping things flowing, interacting well with each of the six vocalists, all female, straight after their performances, the first of which was opera-trained, black-clad Swiss-German-speaking (but English-singing) Nadya lent her big voice to The Fire in the Sky, sung dramatically on a simple podium with more than a touch of divaesque, Adele-like gusto. The song has more than a touch of James Bond theme to it, and is reminiscent of Skyfall in particular. Nadya was very dramatic and serious, but she proved to be very personable and friendly when being interviewed straight after her performance.
Lithuanian-born Ginta Biku was up next, showing us around her Swiss-Italian Lugano base in a pre-recorded video clip, before launching into Cet Air La - the night's not sung solely in English. Ginta was accompanied by two men in long grey chiffon skirts and performed against a screen providing a backdrop of CGI graphics (the staging effect used to good effect by Måns a couple of years ago, and embraced by Iceland and Russia last year, still looks to be popular this year too). The dancers and graphic effects couldn't help boost what is a fairly weak song, not helped by Ginta's so-so voice. A slight revamp helped brighten the track from what had previously been presented to the expert panel, but not nearly enough. (Sorry!)
Swiss-German speaking Michele was third to take the stage with Two Faces. Nervous and a little flat at first. Again two male backing dancers. The performance looked more like it belonged in a school talent contest than something that could be eventually scrutinised by a global audience. The song improved at the end, but it was too little too late. The studio audience seemed to like her, though, and cheered her on during the post performance interview (especially the group of her supporters, who'd turned up with Michele's face emblazoned across their t-shirts.
Fourth up was Swiss-German speaking Afghani hopeful Freschta with her song Gold. Freschta looks a bit like Alanis Morrissette but without the angst, and her deep voice coped well with this power ballad. A backdrop of golden fireworks served to remind us of the name of her son, just in case we forgot - a song which is nice enough, and was well sung on the night, but lacks the wow factor. Had it made it through to Kyiv, I think this song would have struggled.
French-speaking Swiss-American Shana Pearson was up next with Exodus. If anything, the song is a little too cliched Eurovision with nothing new or surprising about it. A heavy drum beat and anthemic, clubby backing track filled out an otherwise fairly ordinary song. Pearson sang slightly flat on the night, which didn't help. Surprising, since she's a well-established singer with a fair amount of success under her belt.
Last up were Swiss Romanian trio Timebelle, who first got together at university in Bern and attempted to represent Switzerland back in 2015 with Singing About Love. Singer Miruna Manescu looked great in red (a bit like a real-life Jessica Rabbit Cabernet singer) and was ably backed by the rest of the band, who were decked out in black velvet smoking jackets. All very stylish and without doubt the most complete package on the night, thanks in no small part to the quality of their song Apollo, which is catchy, well-structured, and shows off Miruna's voice. There's something very familiar about this song without it being a carbon copy of something else.
With all six acts having performed, public voting by phone and text message began. Sebalter, Switzerland's 2014 ESC contestant (Hunter of Stars), performed his new song Weeping Willow as the votes came in. When the contestants were finally brought back out onto the stage, the winning performer (to the surprise of very few watching, I suspect) was announced as Timebelle. "Oh my God! I have no words!" announced Miruna, before launching into the obligatory victorious reprise of the winning song, which was penned by Elias Näslin, Nicolas Günthardt and Alessandra Günthardt.
Switzerland's 2017 Eurovision representatives will take to the stage in Kyiv in the second semifinal on 11 May.