Esc Countdown 3 Days: Reaction to First Semi

Well, yesterday’s first semifinal shook things up, didn’t it? Three tiny things that seem to have had a major impact last night on everyone’s view of what might happen Saturday in the Finals. One, Italy’s Francesco Gabbani had a long clip from his upcoming final performance shown during the voting interval and he suddenly didn’t seem like a runaway winner anymore. The song seems a bit slight and superficial, and his performance a bit tossed off and casual.

Second, after a week when nobody saw Portugal’s Salvador Sobral rehears due to his ongoing health issues, finally he took to the stage last night and blew everyone else out of the water.  Sure he’s quirky and weird, but endearing, mesmerising and fully committed to his performance. I’ve heard from friends in Europe who say that they usually hate Eurovision but were completely caught up in the three minutes that Sobral took the stage. Portugal’s chance to win this took a HUGE step forward yesterday.

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Third, the running order draw for the finals is taking shape with the qualifying entries drawing lots for the first or second half of the show. Sweden, Greece and Belgium are to be in the coveted second half of the running order. Heavyweight contenders Italy, Portugal and Armenia are all crowded into the first half.  This shakes up expectations a bit.

Now let’s talk about Belgium.  “City Lights” is undoubtedly a potential worldwide hit and a very current and well-crafted downbeat pop song. But Blanche is definitely a carcrash when it comes to performing before an audience. Her unsteady vocals and deer-in-the-headlights onstage demeanor had most of us thinking she didn’t qualify into the top ten. But in their usual reality show trickery, the producers had her announced tenth, knowing the surprise and shock in the arena and home viewing audience when her entry was called out over such more impressive entries as Finland, Georgia and Iceland, even Slovenia. Here is a bit of her wobbly rehearsal performance (youtube is blocking US viewers from seeing Eurovision 2017 broadcast show streams and clips due to LOGO’s ownership of rights for the US).

Today, Belgium and “City Lights” are the top charting ESC song on Itunes in most countries, with Portugal second.  Maybe viewers like the song so much they will overlook a bad performance Saturday? I suspect that juries will fear rewarding a lackluster and inept stage performer and mark down her scores at the Friday Jury Final as a pre-emptive strike against her potentially winning.

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 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).

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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?

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.