ESC Countdown 3 days: Who will Shine at Semi 1?

Tonight is the first actual broadcast of Eurovision week, as the 18 contenders in the first semi are whittled down to ten finalists via juries and televoters. About eight of the finalists are pretty sure bets with Sweden, Portugal, Armenia, Finland, Cyprus and Australia the closest thing to certain qualifiers. Add in  perennial votegetters Greece and Azerbaijan and the qualifying list is almost full.Kyiv2017

Let’s look at the top three contenders tonight. Armenia has a striking stage presentation and great vocals.  Her votes from the East could put her at the top tonight, though of course the actual scores and rankings from the semis aren’t made public till after Saturday’s final.

Portugal should end up with their best placing ever this year. Working for them is their touching, charming singer and performance, with his sympathy-getting story of Salvador’s heart condition that prevented his from attending last week’s rehearsals (with his sister, the song’s composer, standing in before his Sunday arrival).  The question marks are whether votes turn out for a fine song that is in Portuguese and sounds like it could be 50 years old.

Sweden has been consistently near the top of the final scoreboards for the last seven years, and this year should keep up that record. Robin is goodlooking and a fine singer with a great modern song and stage package. If juries and voters prefer something that screams international radio hit, he could walk away from tonight with the highest score.

We are only a few hours away from tonight’s Kyiv semifinal broadcast, and as always in Eurovision, there will be surprises and disappointments when the top ten are announced. But if any of these three powerhouse entries somehow fail to make the finals, it will be a stop-the-presses shocker.

ESC Countdown 5 Days: Bottom of the Heap

Cheat sheet for American viewers of ESC 2017

Some Eurovision entries are just bad in a WTF-sort-of-way. Some entries are great songs with the wrong singer, or vice versa. And some are just too anonymous to find a voting audience.  Pick a few from all these  possibilities, and you have the bottom of the fan lists and betting odds for 2017.  There’s a very good chance that the home viewers won’t see any of these entries more than once, since they will either fail to qualify out of their semis, or they are automatic qualifiers you will see only in the Grand Finals before they ignominiously drop like a stone in the final voting.

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Little San Marino’s disco mess with Valentina and Jimmie

This year we have two of the Big Five automatic qualifiers that are destined to fail. Spain is recent years has been alternately VERY good or very lame.  Unfortunately  Manel and his summer beach disco reggae falls in the latter category. He is young and attractive, but the song is so repetitive and filler-ish that it is hard to see this as anything but bottom three in the Saturday night scores.

Germany, despite a recent win in 2010, has more often presented poor-quality entries that scrape the bottom of the barrel in the last decade. This year “Perfect Life” is a nice-ish little song that is okay and inoffensive, but it is hard to see who (if anyone) will pick up the phone and be moved to vote for poor Levina.

Czech Republic has struggled since it joined the ranks of Eurovision nations, only last year qualifying for the Finals (and landing with a thud in last place there). This year they tried to recreate their formula from 2016 with an attractive, competent singer and a big ballad, but this time the magic just isn’t there. Without any history of neighboring countries voting to help them, the Czechs seem destined to fail in the semi and fail to qualify.

Lithuania did well last year, even cracking the top ten with handsome and athletic Donny Montell and a Swedish-composed entry. This year their home-grown alternative rock is sinking like a stone, and there is almost no scenario that sees them getting past the semi with “Rain of Revolution”.

And tiny San Marino is the little country that could–one time only in 2014, after several failed attempts at qualification. Returning for a 4th go-round is local jazz vocal star Valentina Monnetta and her favorite composer Ralph Siegel (creator of a dozen ESC entries in the last four decades). The song this year, with duet partner Jimmie Wilson, is a disco mishmash that has camp appeal. But that alone doesn’t seem enough to save this throwback from the lowest ranks of semi non-qualification.

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!

Eurovision 2016 — Rockers and Rappers!

Every year at Eurovision Song Contest has its share of rock bands or singers and the inevitable rap act. As a rule they haven’t scored highly, but every year one or two rock acts break through into the top half of the scoreboard. This year’s crop has some top five and bottom five contenders.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has a pretty stellar record in Eurovision, but this year’s entry will challenge that. Dala and Deen start out with an ok, standard-issue Balkan ballad, then the annoying rap section comes in… Because the Ex-Yugos support each other in the voting, this can’t be counted out of qualification, but it doesn’t stand much chance in the Finals.

Cyprus, on the other hand, has had a spotty record that has improved in recent years. Their rock entry towers above the rest this year and should make top ten if their stage show has anything to offer.

Georgia has done pretty well with some strange acts in recent years. Young Georgian Lolitas are probably not going to set the voting lines on fire this year with their standard alt rock.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Greece has a great record of qualification, but if that string of successes is going to end, it will probably be this year, with their rockin/rappin anthem “Utopian Land”.

Hungary has done well recently, even with weaker songs. Freddie is an attractive and charismatic performer, so his somewhat pallid song may still propel him to the Finals in May.

Montenegro has never been a top contender since they broke off from Serbia in 2007, and though Highway and “The Real Thing” is credible alt-rock, it is not exciting enough to draw voters and qualify this year.

If there is a rock band to watch, look for Cyprus to score well in the semis and attract votes in the final.

Eurovision 2016 — Jazzy Girls and Pretty Boys

I realize this might be something of a “catch all” category, but there are a bunch of entries this year that don’t fit comfortably into the other posts I have put up or planned, so here is a motley group of swingy/retro girl singers, and pretty boys in groups or solo performing anthemic, pure pop or country-tinged entries.theme_eurovision_2016_small

Belgium is represented by 17-year old Laura who has a gutsy style reminiscent of classic Lulu or young Wiktoria from this year’s Melodifestivalen.

Belarus often sends somewhat “left-field” kooky entries, and this year Ivan has expressed his wish to perform on the big Eurovision stage naked and surrounded by live wolves. Since both of these options are a clear violation of Eurovision rules, we can look forward to some bizarre staging to make it appear in line with his vision.

Denmark seems to have a weak spot for goodlooking boybands, and this year Lighthouse X fulfills that Nordic need. “Soldiers of Love” is competent and catchy, but will it strike a chord with Eurovision voters?

Finland also follows its own heart when choosing entries (as last year’s Downs Syndrome punk band can attest to) and this year they have a big band retro girl singer in Sandhja who just wants to help us “Sing It Away”.

Ireland have mostly stumbled in recent years, after decades of being the powerhouse of ESC victories. This year Nicky Byrne of Westlife hopes to reverse that trend with lightweight pure pop and “Sunlight”.

Lithuania surprised fans in 2012 when Donny Montell took his unappreciated “Love is Blind” straight to the finals without any particular fan love. Goodlooking Donny is older, wiser, beefed-up and better-looking than ever this year, with his Swedish-penned anthem “I’ve Been Waiting for this Night”.

Netherlands have mostly upped their game in the last few years, and again for 2016 chose an authentic local pop star, this year Douwe Bob. This Everly Brothers-ish soft country pop goes down easy, but will it be memorable to tv viewers?

Spain chose Barei this year with jazzy singalong pop “Say Yay Yay”. The fans like it, but what about the Eurovision voters? Some reports say her staging is a little too close to the mood of Germany’s nul pointe entry from 2015.

Probably no winners among this group, though a few could strike a chord with the juries and voters in May.

The Scores from Last Night’s Finals

It was a clear, unmistakable victory for Conchita and Austria in the Finals, and a breakthrough for the Netherlands and their new country duo the Common Linnets. And there are a few more trends to notice from the scoreboard.

The Big 6 were all across the board this year, from host Denmark at 9th place and Spain at 10th, UK and Germany at middling 17th and 18th places, Italy getting its worst score in recent years at 21st, and France finishing dead last again this year with just 2 points.  France’s Twin Twin and their party anthem “Moustache” were quite popular around town this week, and their failure, and the low placement of Greece’s party song “Rise Up” at 20th, shows that Europe was in the mood for something a little more serious this year.

Meanwhile, Russia and Belarus were the recipients of extra votes this time from their few Eastern allies, as the scores seemed more polarized than usual between East and West. Armenia was the big winner for the East, and got a deserved 4th place.  Azerbaijan sent an excellent song this year with few gimmicks, and lost most of its buzz, ending with the country’s worst score since entering the contest. (Maybe the vote-buying scandal and subsequent EBU security measures had a real impact.)

Now that the former Yugo republics are diminished as a voting bloc, the Nordics are the most powerful friendly neighbors in the Contest. From Sweden at third place, Norway at 8th, Denmark at 9th, Finland at 11th, to Iceland at 15th, once more this year every Nordic nation qualified for the finals and scored well.

Here’s the scoreboard, though you probably can’t read it without clicking to enlarge the image.

scoreboard

“Fighting Irish” Turn Eurovision Selection into Jerry Springer Spectacle

Who says that Eurovision is a polite, friendly competition? Watch last night’s dustup between contestant mentor Billy McGuinness and jury panel member/Eurovision winner Linda Martin during Irish Eurosong finals.

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Don’t mess with Linda Martin–she’s the queen of outer space!

Billy had been in the headlines for saying that the judges’ panel was not impartial and so the contest was basically fixed. Linda doesn’t miss the chance to get up off the couch and into Billy’s face, calling him an “odious little man” who is only wrecking the chances for his artist.