We have our last group of Finalists

Tonight’s semifinal was a tough one, and many good entries got left behind. We have ten more finalists now, and Saturday’s running order will be published shortly.  Here are the remaining ten finalists:

Latvia

Georgia

Bulgaria

Australia

Ukraine

Serbia

Poland

Israel

Lithuania

Belgium

Of these ten I think the top rank are Australia, Belgium and Ukraine, with Serbia and Latvia close behind.finalists

Semifinal One Results!

With one sad exception, all the songs I was quite certain of came through and made the finals.  I am told that the great performance of Greta for Iceland didn’t really come across on television, with her backdrop projections making the whole stage show look too dark on screen.  She didn’t proceed to the finals, with most of the fans and journalists agreeing that Iceland was far more worthy than a few of the countries that made it through.semi winners

From best to worst, here are the top ten qualifiers in the order I would rank them:

1.Armenia — looks and sounds great! Top contender on Saturday

2.Malta — excellent song, nicely performed

3. The Netherlands — cool, fun countryish pop with a comfortable, relaxed stage presence

4. Russia — the overwhelming odds-on favorite, though I find it artificial and cold.

5. Czech Republic –nice song, fantastic singer.  Glad they qualified for the first time!

6. Cyprus — best of the rock numbers this year.

7. Croatia — haunting melody and strange but cool visuals

8. Austria — sweet French pop, delivered with more confidence than I expected

9. Azerbaijan — fine radiopop teen-level song, with a less-than perfect singer

10. Hungary — ok song, good-looking but not charismatic singer

 (Click the photo below to see a full album of the semifinal’s photos on flickr.)

ESC2016 First Seminfinal

Notes after Semi One Dress Rehearsal

Well, last night we had our first look at the stage setup at Globen, and our first chance to see the 18 acts of the first semifinal.  Overall no painful catastrophes, but below the top rank and the acts below there is a clear delineation.

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Finland, Greece and Moldova opened the contestant portion, and I think tonight’s semi will probably be the last wee see of them. Greece has had a perfect record of qualification, but this year’s offering is a messy rap-ish number that I think few viewers will relate to. Finland is a peppy opener, but dated and not visually exciting, while Moldova is merely bland and pleasant. San Marino offered a whispery disco number from Serhat, and I think it also will struggle to qualify. Bosnia and Herzegovina offered up a weird melange of Balkan ballad and Euro-rap, and though there are many friendly neighbors in the voting, it probably shouldn’t make it through.  And Montenegro’s hard alternative rock looked and sounded fine on the big arena stage, it will struggle to appeal to televoters.

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Croatia has been getting its share of criticism for Nina’s strange stage wear, but she was in fine voice last night. Azerbaijan has put the press through painfully offkey rehearsals this week, but on stage Monday Samra was good.  Estonia sounded good, but his weird cardplaying theme seemed a bit disconnected. Austria had a big fanbase in the audience, but her song is a little simple and sweet to make any big impact. Hungary looked attractive, but Freddie’s song is not the strongest.

For the big votegetters, I think Armenia, Malta, Russia, Iceland, the Netherlands,Czech Republic and Cyprus are all pretty safe bets to qualify.

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The hosts of the show are lively and fun, and the opener was a repeat of Måns Zemerlöw’s ballad version of “Heroes” with live children’s choir that was so striking at the Melodifestivalen finals.  It should be a great show tonight, and I will be interested to see what surprises may be in store when the ten finalists are named.

ESC 2016 Entries – The Modern Songs

This spring, as usual, the fans started out complaining that the entries for 2016 would make this year’s contest in Stockholm the worst edition EVER.  Now that the 44 entries have had some reworkings and been performed around Europe in such events at Eurovision in Concert last month in Amsterdam and the annual London Eurovision Party, everyone is starting to realize that the range of offerings is actually pretty strong.  Personally I am looking forward to seeing and hearing all these entries on the big stage at Globen (with a few exceptions for bathroom breaks etc.). I’m breaking down this year’s notable entries into a few genres for purposes of comparison.theme_eurovision_2016_small

First up, the modern songs.  Last year, diehard fans were surprised to discover how many of the most popular entries with the voting public were the songs that would fit in perfectly to any current radio station’s playlist. So we can expect the best of these to fight for position at the top of the scoreboard May 14.

First up Austria.  Last year as host, Austria offered up a pleasant pop-rock entry that vanished without a trace, the Makemakes and “I’m Yours” which tied for last plaace in the finals with Germany, both not receiving a single point on the scoreboard.  This year, Austria is back with a light breezy pop song in French.  It is not anywhere near a winner, but is very pleasant and could qualify for the finals.

Azerbaijan had a big showpiece last year that was predicted to do very well but then barely qualified from the semis.  This year they have gone to their usual Swedish songwriters and come up with a catchy radio-friendly bit of almost teen-pop with “Miracle”.

Australia was the one-time invited guest last year that did so well (finishing fifth) that they were invited back again this year for an encore.  Dami Im is an Australian X-Factor winner with an appealing big voice and a current sounding midtempo ballad.

The Baltic states did well in 2015, all qualifying to the finals where Latvia and Estonia both achieved top ten status.  This year Estonia has a gravelly voiced male singer with a modern song that deserves to make the finals, Juri Pootsman and “Play”.

France has had a string of poorly received entries this decade, but that should change with their strong, country-flavored hit for this year, French/Israeli Amir with his “J’ai Cherche”.

Latvia also did extremely well in 2015, and their  artist Aminata came back this year as a songwriter.  The singer, Justs, has a rough,warm voice that suits their strong, radio-friendly entry, “Heartbeat”. If there is any justice this should sail into the top five this May.

Malta brought back former second-place Eurovision star Ira Losco, and then switched out her song to a stronger Swedish-composed entry that has them top five in the betting for 2016.  “Walk On Water” has Melodifestivalen veteran Molly Petterson Hammar listed as a co-writer, and you can hear her influence in the song’s bluesy soul flavor.

Norway did well three years ago with a cool, Bond-theme-esque entry with a sleek blond female singer. They are repeating that formula in 2016 with Agnete and “Icebreaker”, which probably won’t reach the top of the scoreboard but should qualify.

Host country Sweden decided to buck their own trend of dazzing, tech-heavy stage productions and instead go with a scaled-down indie singer/songwriter style number with 17-year old Frans and “If I Were Sorry”, which has buring up the Spotify charts since March.

Will we see a winner from this list of modern, current pop hits? Not necessarily, though I think we are sure to see several of them near the top of the board May 14th at the Finals.

Into the Eurovision Bubble

I’ve now been in Vienna three days, and mostly avoided living, breathing, eating and sleeping nothing but Eurovision.  I have gone sightseeing around this gorgeous city, made it a point to get to the gym and work out every morning, and went to one of the renowned art museums this afternoon.

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But all this tranquil touristic freedom is about to end.  Tonight I will attend the jury rehearsal of the first semifinal, and from here to Saturday the Song Contest will occupy the vast majority of my waking hours.  After tonight’s show, look for a post with pictures and first impressions of the first group of semifinalists!

It looks to be a very tough year for the competitors, since most seem to be very talented and engaging.  But this is a contest, and not everyone can win.  It will be more difficult than usual to handicap who will and won’t go through and qualify to the finals, but after seeing tonight’s preview of what will be shown to Europe tomorrow night via broadcast tv, I will revisit my earlier prediction and revise as necessary.

Semifinals Running Order Published

In the recent past, each country’s position in the running order for the semis and finals was determined in a lotttery-style drawing, and the fans would ooh and ahh over the luck or lack of for their favorites. Now the producers choose the positions and the order doesn’t seem quite as important as it used to.  But here is the running order for the two nights of semifinals for you to pore over and see if it makes a difference for your favorite entries.

Semi-Final 1 (my choice of ten qualifiers in BOLD)

  1. Moldova
  2. Armenia
  3. Belgium
  4. The Netherlands
  5. Finland
  6. Greece
  7. Estonia
  8. FYR Macedonia
  9. Serbia
  10. Hungary
  11. Belarus
  12. Russia
  13. Denmark
  14. Albania
  15. Romania
  16. Georgia

Semi-Final 2 (my qualifiers in BOLD)

  1. Lithuania
  2. Ireland
  3. San Marino
  4. Montenegro
  5. Malta
  6. Norway
  7. Portugal
  8. Czech Republic
  9. Israel
  10. Latvia
  11. Azerbaijan
  12. Iceland
  13. Sweden
  14. Switzerland
  15. Cyprus
  16. Slovenia
  17. Poland

You’ll notice that several of my favorite songs from previous posts are not necessarily in line with who I think will qualify.  With voting patterns and histories of friendly point exchange, there are some countries that qualify whether they have a great song or not. And the stage performances and production (as we wil first see the beginning of May) also plays a big role.

Photos of Thursday’s Semifinal

Sorry I didn’t get around to posting these to flickr till the morning–these shows can be exhausting!  But of course I wouldn’t miss a second of this.  The standouts were of course Austria, Norway, Greece and Finland.  Tonight I get to see the jury dress rehearsal of tomorrow’s Grand Final broadcast.  You can see the atmosphere was electric in the arena! (Click to see the panorama in full resolution.)panorama

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