First Stage Rehearsals Shake Up Expectations

It happens every ESC year. Just when you have listened to all the entries enough to memorize every lyric, breath and vocal tic, along come the stage rehearsal to upend every deeply held opinion of who’s great, average or below-par. Yesterday the artists took to the Malmö stage for the first time, and although there have been only a few major surprises, many of the entries have to be reconsidered. Here are the trend lines for the first semifinal performers.

Austria – trending slightly up – Natalia did herself proud as this year’s opening act, with some journalists saying she was much etter than recent live appearances. But most felt she was about in line with their expectations.

Estonia – trending up – Birgit was vocally strong and looks to do very well with juries. Her sweet, “authentic” ballad may have trouble finding televotes, but all in all very good according to most observers.

Slovenia – trending slightly down – Hannah was ok, but missed a few notes on all her runthroughs.  She needs to turn in a flawless performance to turn her borderline effort into a qualifier.

Croatia – trending up – The Klapa guys are vocally perfect, dressed in long black jackets and white shirts.  Classy and could get votes from outside the usual ex-Yugo circle of friends.

Denmark – staying solid – Emmelie and company played it a bit safe on performance, but by the last runthrough when the fireworks were added, the strong qualities of the entry shone through.

Russia – staying solid – Dina sang well, without a hitch.  The performance staging with big orbs on the stage (and some that the backup dancers toss out over the audience) could go either way, but fortunately don’t detract from the entry.

Ukraine – trending WAY down – This overstuffed number was described as a “car crash” or “train wreck”, drew more laughs than applause from the press onlookers, and left some wondering if winner candidate Zlata could even have trouble clearing the semifinals.  Needs a big improvement.

Netherlands – trending firmly up – “Birds” has always been admired for its quality, but many feared that a simple introverted ballad might get lost after the three big entries that precede Anouk onstage.  But Ukraine’s messy fairytale debacle really sets up Anouk to come out and shine as a simple, classy entry that viewers will appreciate.

Montenegro – trending BONKERS – Who knows how televoters will respond to a kooky outer space show of rapping astronauts?  Wild and eye-catching, and could go either way.

Belgium – trending slighty down – The Belgians don’t seem to have a grip on how to stage a number.  Roberto’s voice seems fine, but his fractured “Franglish” pronunciation and messy, dated backup choreography arenot helping form any good impressions.

Belarus – trending down – “Solayoh” onstage seems to be trying very hard, but to no great effect.  Not really worse than viewers expect, but it doesn’t ever take off.

Moldova – trending way up – Aliona is FAR better than most expected, with most calling here this year’s dark horse that could really surprise with a high placing.  She borrows the LED-projected dress from Azerbaijan 2012, and presents a polished, contest ready entry.

Ireland – trending up – As opposed to Belgiium, Ireland has done the right kind of work staging “Only Love Survives”.  Ryan’s vocals have turned up a notch, and a parcel of hunky shirtless drummers and dancers will get and keep viewer’s attention.

Cyprus – trending down – Despina’s vocals were disappointing for such an experienced vocalist, and for a simple ballad that could get lost in the fray, she needed every point she could get.

Lithuania – trending down – Andrius never seems to be able to look into the cameras without looking a bit off, distracted, or deranged.  His song’s possibilities for the finals seem to be fading.

Serbia – staying solid – The girls are living up to expectations in colorful dresses and seem to be at home on stage.  Should qualify.

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