ESC Countdown 4 Days: I Miss Jury Rehearsals!

This is a little departure from recent posts, and is more of a personal rant.  Of all the wonderful things I miss from not attending Eurovision in person this year, the one I’m pining for the most might come as a surprise. I REALLY loved going to the three Jury Rehearsal shows, which are the first public dress rehearsals and take place the nights before semis and the Grand Final.

The Jury Rehearsals are watched by the professional juries from each of the participating nations, whose scores have a 50% bearing on the final scores each country awards.  So even though we can can these full show runthroughs a dress rehearsal, none of the artists give anything less than 100% in their performances (if they have any brains in their heads).

stage

The show is also the very first time anyone sees the full semi or Final as it was designed to be seen, in real time, no do overs, with all the bells and whistles and special effects in place, and before a cheering live audience. When you spend a week at Eurovision with tickets for all the shows, the excitement of the Jury Rehearsals and seeing every performance live on stage for the first time is probably what you remember most fondly.

Of course, there is nothing so much fun as watching the scores mount up on Finals night and hearing the roar as the winner is announced and brought to the stage for their victory lap performance, but the relatively calm and yet focused energy on rehearsal nights is something I will always treasure and look forward to sharing again, maybe next year?

ESC Countdown 6 Days: Rehearsal Week Shockers!

Cheat Sheet for US Viewers of Eurovision

Ok, I guess I have been watching too much social media clickbait.  Maybe this year’s first week of rehearsals in Kyiv has only produced one or two actual shockers, but there are definitely a host of surprises, good and bad. Some entries have turned out to be remarkably better than the press and fandom have previously judged, and a couple favorites have proved to be far WORSE.ukraine-stage

Let’s start out with some happy surprises. Slovenia’s Omar Naber is returning after 12 years, with a song called “On My Way” that would have sounded dated back in 2005. The bookmakers had this in absolutely last place of this year’s crop of 43, and no one considered it as any contender for the finals.  But Omar’s well-trained voice and stage professionalism, as well as a nicely understated stage production, have turned this “Meh” song into something that absolutely might qualify for Saturday’s big show.

Another entry that was supposedly dead in the water was Nathan Trent for Austria, who is a charming and attractive singer with a slight song.  Given its “death spot” of number two in the semifinal running order, its fate was sealed.  Until the first rehearsal, that is, when the press voted Austria as having the very best rehearsal and runthrough of the nine entries that day. Now t looks like he is a fairly certain qualifier. It’s cute, fun and well-performed…

Greece is a usual powerhouse when it comes down to the voting, partly due to the large number of Greeks in various countries across Europe who contribute to a powerful diaspora contingent across the continent.  This year they chose local pop superstar Demy, but unfortunately the Greek viewers also chose the worst and slightest of the five songs she was offered to use for her official entry. But the strength of her voice, stage presence and the beauty of the stage production propels this into an undeniable contender for the top ten at Finals.

Now for some of the bad news… Australia’s Isaiah Firebrace is a young man of 18 with a big deep voice, and bettors have compared his chances with hot favorite Kristian Kostov of Bulgaria who is only 17 and also competing with a modern, radio-friendly ballad.  But rehearsals this week by the Australian have failed to impress, and his chances have slipped to “borderline qualification”.

Iceland’s Svala also has a modern pop hit on tap for her entry. “Paper” was warmly welcomed into the Contest when it was chosen in March, and she was cautiously viewed as a finalist, providing that the stage production was warmer and a bit lighter than the dark weirdness she showed in the national selection show. Well, from all reports she has become less engaging and more offputting, so her fine song looks to be headed into obscurity after Tuesday’s Semifinal 1.

And the big shocker… Belgium’s Blanche is a reality show winner with a deep, mysterious voice and a surefire chart-ready song in “City Lights”. Her prospects were unlimited, not just as a certain qualifier, but as the 4th-place favorite to take home the trophy as this year’s winner. A case of nerves at London’s Eurovision party put a scare into fans, and then Blanche took it easy and bowed out of the next few public appearances. But this week’s shambolic rehearsals have confirmed her paralyzing stage fright, dropping Belgium out of the top ten in betting odds, and ESC press now see her as an almost certain casualty in the first semifinal.

Ahh, Eurovision… you never know what you are going to get till you see all the entries up on the same stage battling it out for real!

Miss Congeniality?

After seeing and hearing Greta Salome from Iceland performing her entry “Hear Them Calling” two nights in a row, last night at the Nordic party at Euroclub and tonight as a special guest in Hera Bjork’s solo show, I am very impressed with her talent, musicianship (tonight she actually played the long violin introduction to the song live) but especially her warm, down-to-earth personality.  She seems like someone I would be friends with in LA, fun and normal with a little bit of a bitchy sense of humor.

I think Greta will pass through the semis and we will see her competing in the Grand Final, but no matter.  If there was a Miss Congeniality portion of the judging, Greta would be my number one contender for the victory.

greta-salome-585x400

Monday Eurovision Village and Semifinal One Jury Show

This afternoon I took Conchita’s Facebook tip about her afternoon performance and hightailed it over to the stage in Eurovision Village to catch her show.  With a stage sound system, she sounded even better than last night at the disco, and I think she’s going to do very well this week.  Here are a couple photos:

Monday-Conchita Monday-Conchita2Then I attended tonight’s first big stage show of Eurovision week, the jury “dress rehearsal” before tomorrow night’s tv broadcast. My mind wasn’t completely changed about any of the entries, though I was not as impressed as I thought I would be by Armenia or Azerbaijan.  I think the winner tomorrow night will be Sweden, Ukraine, or Hungary (though we won’t find out till the end of the week).  And if any of the hopeless entries has the power to surprise and qualify, it could be Portugal, that is upbeat and fun enough to get the crowd going.

Here is a flickr set of the fantastic theatre and great show tonight.

You Gotta Trust Me On This One

I am sure my friend, client and boss Matt will empathize on this one.  Tonight just when things started to get amazing, my camera battery wore out.

Because tonight’s jury judging show is the backup they tape in case of a technical breakdown, they can’t have any empty seats showing on camera.  So from my crow’s nest up in the cheap seats, I got upgraded to the $150 seats in the fourth row center.  I got a few shots as the show was starting, so you can see how close I was to the action. The show was great, the OGAE fan party afterward even greater, but it’s 2:30am and I need sleep.  Talk to you all in the morning?

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ESC Semi 1: My Night in Eurovision Heaven

So this is what makes all the scrimping and saving worthwhile.  Even more fun than seeing the arena show last night, and as much fun as hanging in the Euro Fan Cafe as an officially accredited fan–tonight I hung out, drank a few beers, laughed, cheered and screamed with a couple hundred disorderly Euro-gays at the extremely wonderful Heaven Club in the center of downtown København.  Watching the show on all the big screens around the club with cheering sections from Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland, and especially all the fantastic Danes cheering on Emmelie and “Only Teardrops”, that is what the magic of Eurovision is all about!

I waved my Danish flag and yelled like there is no tomorrow every time Denmark was onscreen, and for this week I feel like Europe opened its arms and made me one of them.  On top of everything else, with my Danish mobile phone I was able to do the one thing an American eurofan is not allowed to do at home– I VOTED!!  I know it sounds quite ridiculous but tonight my heart is so full of excitement and happiness I feel like it might burst.MGP

Eurovision is a spectacle designed, made and optimized for television, and I would like to thank the pitfalls at ticnet that prevented me from ordering tickets for all the televised semis and finals.  This way I get to experience the show one time live on stage, and then the next night see it on a tv screen with a bunch of people who love it.

As to the show itself, it looked even more beautiful and impressive on the tv screen where it belongs.  All the competitors brought their A-games tonight, but only ten of these first sixteen could make it to the finals.  As usual there were some BIG surprises.  Most shocking is that perennial powerhouses from the former Yugoslav republics in the Balkans ALL cancelled each other out and NONE qualified for the Saturday finals.  Meanwhile all four big superstar female singers from tonight made it through, plus some that were evidently underestimated.  The biggest shocker was that Lithuania qualified tonight, and borderline entries (according to most) Estonia and Belgium both sailed through.  I think it says something positive about the viewership, since the young and fresh faces qualified over such predicted votegetters as Croatia (whose target audience must have been strictly 55+).  Here is the full list of tonight’s qualifying entries.

Moldova
Estonia
Lithuania
Ireland
Belarus
Denmark
Russia
Ukraine
Belgium
the Netherlands

For Belgium and the Netherlands, this is more than just qualifying.  Neither country as had much luck in making it out of the semis for years, so practically speaking, they have already won this year.  I am SOO looking forward to tomorrow’s semi 2 jury rehearsal and then watching the show again Thursday with my new friends at Heaven.  Heja Danmark! and yayyy for Europe!

(ps.  All four entries that I thought could use my votes and SMS’ed for–Estonia, BBelgium, Moldova and the Netherlands–made it through to Saturday!)

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.