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.

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

Eurovision 2016 — the BIG Songs

What would Eurovision be without big anthems, massive stage shows, and over the top performances? And 2016 promises to be no different, with some heavy hitters making their plays for the crystal microphone trophy.


This year, some of the highly tipped winner candidates are big and supersized, starting with Iveta’s “Love Wave” from Armenia. A beautiful singer with a giant voice that wails with the best of them, Iveta could easily match or top Aram mp3’s top five placing from 2014.

Czech Republic, or now known as Czechia, has not had a single entry qualify since their debut in 2007. This year they have a fantastic singer and excellent song (aside from an unfortunate ungrammatical choice in English lyrics). Gabriela seems certain to qualify and a good bet for top five.

Iceland chose to send back Greta Salome as their artist this year, after she made the finals four years ago in a duet with Jonsi. She wrote and performs her big country folk-tinged “I Hear Them Calling” with a big shadowy stage performance.

The bettors’ choice so far (and most Eurofans aren’t too happy about it) to win this year is Russian superstar Sergey Lazarev with his big, dramatic, and somewhat outdated schlager ballad “You’re the Only One”. It ticks off a lot of boxes, and Russia really wants another victory. If ESC is off to Russia next year, count me out.

Another big, over-the-top song and singer comes from Serbia. Sanja has the pipes and the song sounds great in the studio version. Watching her over emote in the live performance takes a bit away from the entry’s winner potential. Let’s see if she tones it down a notch by May.

We could very well see a winner come from this group–we’ll know more once rehearsals start in two weeks.

(Addendum: How could I have forgotten these two, some of the biggest and most overwrought entries of all?!)

Macedonia is another country that chose to send a returning artist this year, this case Kaliopi. “Dona” is a big, excellent song, but is there enough support outside the Balkans for an original-language entry in 2016? Outside of the ex-Yugos and expats, I don’t think this will have the votes to get very high in the final scoreboard (though it will qualify).

Ukraine has had a great record when they send big overproduced pop numbers, but this year they chose instead big-voiced Jamala and her heartfelt plea to stop violence that harkens back to Russian mistreatment of Tatars in “1944”.

Filling in the Blanks

As in most years, you can’t really get an idea of the quality of a Eurovision before the last weekend of national finals. And as in most years, the fans have been crying “worst Eurovision ever” since the very first entries were chosen or announced. But in the last two weeks the national entries chosen have drastically raised the quality of this year’s contest. So let’s play “catch-up” and listen to some of the recent entries.

Yesterday San Marino unveiled their song for KBH, and it’s fine (if a bit dated). Valentina’s third try in a row, with her third song by veteran ESC composer Ralph Siegel, is a great “grand lady” ballad in the style of 1970s Shirley Bassey. If this were 1994 this would immediately be in contention to win, but I think it skews a little old for today’s Eurovision voters. Here’s the Italian version, which is a bit more distinctive.

Also yesterday we found out the song for previously announced artist Aram MP3, and it is surprisingly strong. Armenia has skyrocketed up in the betting odds to the top 5, and may even win their semifinal. A gritty midtempo ballad, here is “Not Alone”:

France used a real selection show this year, after internal selections that didn’t make much impression with ESC voters in the last three years. They have a quirky indie-ish party song by Twin Twin, and most fans are glad they chose the riskier entry that could get them back up into the top half of the voting board.

Greece had a couple of ethnic ballads in their selection, and most fans figured that the Greeks would choose local heartthrob Kostas Martakis. But instead they are sending Freaky Fortune featuring Riskykidd and “Rise Up”, a poppy rap hiphop with a Balkan beat. Not the strongest entry I have seen, but no doubt Greece will get its usual top ten placing

Georgia is another country that usually does well. This year they paired up an established band with a jazzy guest vocalist, and came up with a polished entry that might be too free-form for first time viewers to warm up to.

Germany had a great group of contestants to choose from, but I don’t think Elaiza was their wisest choise. Here is the German entry for 2014.

This weekend or early next week the remaining question marks should be filled in, as Azerbaijan, Russia, Norway, Belgium and Portugal complete their selections or announce their songs. It’s starting to look like a good year for Eurovision in spite of it all!

Human Rights issues play a part in future Eurovision membership

According to the DN, the Swedish “Daily News”, a group of European broadcast associations is pressing the EBU to issue new stronger ethical standards that require Eurovision member nations to adhere to a strong code of human rights and press freedoms. The associations come from Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, and are joined by groups in the United Kingdom and broadcasters in Germany and Austria.

European Broadcast Union

European Broadcast Union

The initial targets of these rules seem to be Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia, though Belarus’ atrocious human rights record would seem to be worthy of scrutiny as well. Recent harrassment of gay groups in Russia would also seem to be a natural subject of inquiry.

Here is the Dagens Nyheter source for the story:

“Eurovision song contest 2012
Diktaturerna ska ut ur Schlager-EM

Publicerad 2012-05-30 09:07

Diktaturer och länder med brister i demokratin kan tvingas ut från Eurovisionsschlagern. Norden och Storbritannien har pressat fram nya etiska regler för tv-gemenskapen EBU.

Detaljerna i de nya etiska reglerna finns i ett dokument som tagits fram vid ett möte under ledning av Norsk Rikskringkastings VD, Hans-Tore Bjerkaas i Oslo. Cheferna för public service-bolagen i Sverige, Danmark och Finland var med.

Förutom de nordiska länderna pressar även brittiska BBC och en rad tyska och Österrikiska radio- och tv-stationer på för att det ska bli hårdare krav på de länder som vill vara med i EBU. De kräver också att EBU får rätt att utesluta befintliga medlemmar eller att vidta andra sanktioner som till exempel att inte få delta i Eurovisionsschlagerfinalen om de bryter mot de etiska kraven.”

Here is my best English translation:

“Dictatorships and countries with lack of democracy could be forced out of Eurovision. The Nordic countries and Great Britain have pressed for new ethical standards for the EBU tv association.

Details of the new rules of ethics are in a document taken from a meeting led by the Vice Director of the Norwegian government broadcaster and joined by public service companies in Sweden, Denmark and Finland.

Beside the Nordic countries, even the British BBC and a number of German and Austrian radio and tv stations press for the adoption of tougher requirements of the countries that want to belong to the EBU. They also would require that EBU has the right to exclude offending member countries or take on other sanctions such as not allowing them to take part in Eurovision finals if they break ethical standards.”