Quick: name a charismatic Belgian. If you're struggling to answer, then you understand the dilemma of 23-year old Tom Dice. The young Belgian certainly has talent: his voice soars on his Eurovision entry "Me and My Guitar." But talent alone does not a Eurovision star make. Dice lacks the arrogance, flamboyance and showmanship that characterize Eurovision's most successful entries. Last year's winner, for instance, played the fiddle while muscular folk dancers turned somersaults and performed mountain dances. Try beating that with an acoustic ballad.
In any case, "Me and My Guitar" romanticizes a struggling artist torn between two paths: the risky one that could lead to stardom or poverty, and the traditional one that results in a secure, if unfulfilling, desk job. The lyrics paint the picture of a brazen young man fighting the convention of his peers: "People always say/ 'Tom this has gone too far'/ But I'm not afraid to chase my dreams/ Just me and my guitar."
That kind of passion is admirable, but Dice struggles to give it resonance. He lacks stage presence and frequently comes off flat--dare I say boring? And while mellow can sometimes translate as cool, you get the sense that the most daring thing Dice has ever done is walk past a Victoria's Secret boutique.
Close your eyes, though, and you'll appreciate Dice's pitch-perfect vocals. Unlike a number of Eurovision contestants, he understands intonation and interpretation, and sounds as good live as he does in his digitally enhanced preview video. In that video, set somewhere in the United States, Dice pawns his guitar and then wanders around a city, a desert, a field and a beach singing about his dreams; curiously, he strums the same guitar he just sold. His acoustic sound is among the most mainstream at Eurovision this year and you could seriously mistake him for Tracy Chapman if he weren't white and male.
As Dice prepares to compete in the world's largest singing competition, his lyrics about the struggling artist seem apt: "Tell me they'll play my songs/ Tell me they'll sing the words I say/ When darkness falls/ All of the stars will see/ Just me and my guitar."
For weeks bookies have had Tom down to finish third in the first semi-final behind Greece and Slovakia. That well-deserved position reflects his mainstream sound and solid vocals. After a five-year absence, Belgium will finally qualify for the Eurovision final.
Unfortunately for Tom, this year's line-up includes an unusually high number of ballads. Over the course of a two-hour show, that's going to render them all less memorable. On a good night, Belgium can count on finishing between 10th and 15th position in the final.
Follow Will Adams on Twitter: www.twitter.com/wiwibloggs