Two-time Eurovision entrant Edsilia Rombley discusses music, love, and her contrasting Contest experiences
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
When she was barely 20 years old, Dutch singer Edsilia Rombley got her first large taste of international acclaim. Already a winner of the smaller imitation contest Soundmix Show, she decided to shoot higher. With a great deal of determination, she performed in front of hundreds of millions of television viewers at the 1998 Eurovision Song Contest in Birmingham, United Kingdom. Her song, the R&B flavored "Hemel en aarde" (Heaven and earth), placed fourth and gave her country their highest placing at Eurovision since their last win in 1975. No Dutch contestant after her has been able to place similarly.
After the accolades died down, Rombley set her sights on promoting her vision and passion through her music. Partnering with producer Tjeerd Oosterhuis became a double blessing; eventually they became husband and wife. Even a return to Eurovision at the 2007 Contest, with less than favorable results, didn't keep her discouraged for long. Today she has finished recording a live CD of her favorite English songs, and a live DVD of selections in Dutch, and is currently touring in singing engagements this spring in theaters across the Netherlands.
Edsilia Rombley granted Wikinews' Mike Halterman an interview; she reflected on her career, her inspirations, what a day is like in her life, and what she would love to do in the future. This is the third in a series of interviews with past Eurovision contestants, which will be published sporadically in the lead-up to mid-May's next contest in Moscow.
A day in the life
Mike Halterman You recently had a birthday. Happy birthday! How did you celebrate this year?
Edsilia Rombley: I'm doing a tour across 43 Dutch theatres from January until May. On February 13th, I was doing in a show in Beverwijk. I wasn't planning on much, but I was surprised with a birthday cake before the show and lovely presents and flowers, even from the audience! The whole audience sang a birthday song for me during the show, which was great. I had a wonderful evening.
MH I've visited your website and you seem to be very busy with various projects. Can you describe what a typical work day is like for you?
ER: Because I often work late and seldom sleep before 1 a.m., I usually get up around 11 a.m., check my e-mail, contact my management for day to day business, and depending on the day I might have photoshoots or interviews. I work out at the gym, get groceries and cook some dinner (yes, I really love cooking!). When I've finished eating, it's usually time for me to get ready for my real "workday", although it's more a "worknight" for me. My tour manager picks me up and off I go, performing in every corner of the country with my two backing vocals, and I don't usually arrive back home before 1 a.m.
MH You were originally part of the girl group Dignity. Did you ever feel apprehensive about placing yourself in the public stage at such a young age?
ER: The girls and I all knew each other and one time, after a birthday party we decided to form a group. It was performing with that group (remember, I was only fifteen at the time) that I found my love for performing on a stage and really started thinking about a career in music.
MH Your first international recognition came with winning the European Soundmix Show in Amsterdam in 1997. What was the experience like? What memory sticks out most in your mind even today?
ER: That I never thought I would get that far. I remember everyone being nervous and I wasn't really, because I just didn't think it would be such a huge success for me. I was just having fun backstage with everyone, enjoying the experience in general. Only when I won, the reality of having a real long-lasting career in music began to sink in, and that was a great feeling.
MH Who were your musical influences in the formative years of your career, and are they still influential to you today? You've covered many songs by Oleta Adams; is she someone you've looked up to in your career?
ER: I listened a lot to artists like Anita Baker, Betty Wright, Gladys Knight and of course Oleta Adams. In our home we listened to soul and R&B music a lot and we grew up singing their songs while doing our daily household chores, singing together using everything we could find as a microphone, from hairbrushes to broomsticks! I respect all these artists for what they accomplished in their career. They brought me in contact with the kind of music I'm still such a big fan of today.
MH You won the Nationaal Songfestival by a wide margin in 1998, and then your song "Hemel en aarde" placed fourth in Birmingham, which was the highest placing the Netherlands had seen since they won 23 years earlier. Did you find the attention and accolades overwhelming? Going into the Eurovision, did you have any insecurities about your song or your performance? Knowing the Netherlands' shaky track record in the Contest, did you expect to receive high marks?
ER: I really didn't "expect" anything at the time. I was very young and was just very proud that I was given the opportunity to represent the Netherlands in this contest. The attention was a very new experience and I felt fortunate every step along the way that I was experiencing all these amazing things. I kept reminding myself to keep both feet firmly on the ground, because as easy as the success may have come at the time, I realised that it could end as quickly as it began.
MH You and Ruth Jacott before you are frequently remarked upon as "revitalizing" the "songfestival" with R&B melodies. Do you think that the urban contemporary sound is what Dutch music needed at that time? Would you consider such a move an "Americanization" of Dutch pop music, and if so, do you think that's a good or bad thing?
ER: To be honest I didn't really place the whole experience in such a wide perspective at the time. I just did my thing and it turned out great for me, as I still have a great musical career. I think Dutch pop music has always been influenced by America, this was set in long before I entered the Songfestival; on one hand I think this is a great thing, because America has so many great artists. It's just important that we, while embracing foreign influences, don't forget all the talents in the Netherlands, who make great Dutch music.
Mainstream record success
MH Your next albums after Eurovision were produced by Tjeerd Oosterhuis, who is now your husband. How did you end up in a partnership with him? And perhaps most importantly, how did you two fall in love?
ER: I collaborated with his sister Trijntje Oosterhuis, who introduced me to her brother. So we got to know each other, friends at first, but in the end it wasn't only the musical collaboration that worked out great, we fell in love, and we've been together ever since. It's wonderful that I can share my passion for music with my partner.
MH You've done a fair bit of charity work, dedicating songs and concerts both to situations in Bangladesh and for the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami. What kind of role do you think charity and giving plays in your life? How do you feel about artists who are more concerned with their own images and song rights than coming together to help others?
ER: I always try to do good where I can, as long as the charity is something that touches me and my heart goes out to it. I cannot judge other artists on what they do, especially because I can also understand that you would want to keep those two things (your career as an artist and doing something for charity) separate.
MH Whose idea was it to participate in Dancing with the Stars? Your experience was short overall, but did you have a fun experience? What did you take away from your time on the show?
ER: It was my idea. I used to watch dance contests on TV and loved the amazing dresses of the female dancers. This was my chance to wear some of those great dresses myself! I had a great experience. The most important thing I learned [was that] professional dancing is much more difficult [than] I thought it would be!
MH You've released albums in a variety of different genres, in both English and Dutch. What genre do you feel best describes your innermost feelings? Do you prefer singing in Dutch over English? Have you considered starting a music career in the United States? You could give Jennifer Hudson a run for her money...
ER: English and Dutch both feel good to me, it's very difficult to choose a favourite language. I love to see people party to my up-tempo Dutch repertoire, but can also put all my emotion into a Dutch ballad. With English it's especially the soul repertoire that touches me, and if I get the chance to take my musical career abroad, I would jump at the opportunity! I am very happy with what I've accomplished so far, but am of course always striving for more.
MH Recently you released a CD and DVD, where you performed your past hits. How did the idea for a live album come about? Listening to some of the tracks, the sound is very intimate and personal; was this something that was a selling point for you? How did you feel revisiting your entire repertoire?
ER: The DVD is called "Live @ The Wisseloord Studios" and contains these studio sessions, which are all Dutch songs from my album "Meer dan ooit". As a bonus there are English songs from my 2005 tour, and songs from Anita Baker, Betty Wright, Gladys Knight and Oleta Adams.
The album is simply called "Edsilia Rombley LIVE" and contains a selection of my favourite English songs from the same tour, and I am so proud that these songs are finally on CD, because before I could not let people hear the English repertoire (unless I sang live to them).
Eurovision '07 and thoughts about the Contest today
MH In 2007, you returned to the Eurovision, and as someone fondly remembered from a past contest, there were high hopes placed on you. However, your song "On Top of the World" did not advance from the semi-finals. How disappointed were you that you didn't advance? Did you feel "On Top of the World" was as strong of a song as "Hemel en aarde" was?
ER: Of course I went in with a positive, winning attitude, so needless to say I was disappointed. For me everything felt perfect, the song, the team I was surrounded by, it all came together perfectly. The reactions in the Netherlands were very positive, so I had that to take with me from the experience. It's the way things go sometimes, I don't dwell on it too much.
I can't really compare the two songs, there was so much time between them, the music industry has changed, as well as the Eurovision. What was different is that at the time of "Hemel en aarde" every country sang in their own language, which was one of the unique things [about] Eurovision.
MH In the past decade, public interest in Eurovision has dwindled a great deal in the Netherlands, leading a trend that has followed in countries like France and Germany (all three share a common trait in that they haven't won the Contest in decades). Do you feel that's a big reason interest has tapered off, or are there other problems you see that have Dutch people tuning out? Is there anything NOS can do to get Dutch people watching the Contest again, especially in a television landscape populated by reality fare?
ER: As I pointed out before, every country sang in their own language before, which was one of the things that separated the Eurovision from other talent shows. With an overflow of talent shows nowadays, the diversity is gone, and you feel the pressure to sing in English more and more. Furthermore, if a professional jury had the upper hand in selecting winners, I believe that would make a big difference as well.
MH Many fans on esctoday.com have expressed a negative opinion of this year's entrant, De Toppers, saying that their music is out of touch with today's styles. What are your feelings about De Toppers, and do you think they have a good chance of advancing from the semi-finals?
ER: De Toppers are very successful in the Netherlands, so from that point of view they have a chance. Whether or not their national success will help them advance at Eurovision, only time can tell.
MH Do you ever see yourself returning to the Eurovision stage as the representative from the Netherlands?
ER: No. As I said, the experiences were great, and the first time I entered was the start of a future in music for me, for that I am very grateful. I have learned never to say never again though, but from where I stand right now, I would not participate again.
MH Will you be a part of the Dutch delegation going to Moscow this year?
ER: No, I will not be part of the delegation.
MH In closing, what would you like to say to all of your fans in the Netherlands and across Europe?
ER: I am so grateful that so many people are still supporting what I do, giving me the opportunity to do what I love to do most. It makes it so much more fun to be on stage when you see people enjoying your performance. My 2009 tour is titled: Just let me sing... (Laat mij maar zingen...) So as long as you keep enjoying my music, I will definitely not stop singing!