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 — 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.

The Top Official Entries… So far

There have been 11 songs announced so far for ESC 2015, of which 9 are available in a more-or-less finished form for us to listen.  Of those 9 there are about 6 that are contenders for a decent placing in the finals.  Here they are, with the most recently chosen first:

Saturday Cyprus chose their entry, Giannis Karagiannis with the subtle indie love song “One Thing I Should Have Done”.  If Hungary placed well with Bye Alex‘s “Kedvesem” in 2013, this could fit into a similar niche and also get votes.

Also Switzerland chose their entry this weekend, and though “Time to Shine” is a hackneyed Eurovision cliche of a title, Mélanie René and her song both show promise.  It may need a makeover to “punch it up” between now and May.

Last week France announced its entry as “N’Oubliez Pas”, the song that Lisa Angell will perform in the Eurovision Finals (as a guaranteed Big Six finalist).  In a traditional French Chanson style, it should perform well if there is a decent staging:

Malta has emerged as a Eurovision finalist in the last few years, and though Amber‘s “Warrior” needs a bit of work still, by contest time it could comfortably fit into the finals.

Macedonia has had a rocky history in Eurovision, not always squeaking in to qualification.  This year they have a strong singer, and again, if their staging can make a decent impression, Daniel Kajmakoski and “Esenski Lisja” could make it to the Saturday night Grand Finals.

Albania has a habit of sending very talented singers that unfortunately don’t always find their audience when it comes down to the voting.  That could be the case again this year, depending upon the form that Elhaida Dani‘s powerful “Diell” comes to ESC in.  In a good translation this could be a qualifier.

One of the first announced singers this year was Trintje Oosterhuis, an experienced soul singer from the Netherlands.  Her song was presented shortly after, and here Trintje is in a live performance on the Dutch version of The Voice with her ESC entry “Walk Along”:

Next up, we should be hearing the Thomas G:Son-composed entry for Spain, “Amanecer” by Spanish pop superstar Edurne, and “Hope Never Dies”, the (possibly) strong duet from Czech Republic’s Marta Jandová & Václav Noid Bárta.  Since Czech Republic is back in ESC this year after a break (and three years of an abysmal record of no qualifications), let’s hope they have returned with something great…

Semifinal One, Second Half

After the VERY competitive first half of 2013’s first semifinal, the second half may seem a bit motley and random. Balkan hiphop followed by Baltic poprock, a dance stomper followed by a soft ballad in Greek. It is all very Eurovision. As opposed to the ladies club of the first half, this second half is more equitable, four male and four female-fronted acts. And I think there are a few more songs that we can rule out.

First up, Montenegro’s popular hiphop act, WhoSee. “Igranka” has made a big splash in the Balkan region, and after a long string of women singing ballads, it is sure to stand out. This is not the type of song that usually does well with voters, but having a modern upbeat chart-topping entry after a slow period will definitely give “Igranka” the best position possible.

Lithuania will be very hard to tip this year. Andrius has sometimes been fine on stage, and sometimes pretty bad. “Something” sounds like something The Killers might have put on an album a few years ago, only with a thick Baltic accent. Even though he has lost the top hat and tails look from the national finals and switched to something more mainstream, I think he could have a tough time reaching voters.

Alyona from Belarus made a smart move in switching songs to her faux-ethnic party stomper “Solayoh”. As the only song of this style in the first semi, with a good performance she should have no trouble reaching the finals.

The OTHER Aliona, Aliona with an “I”, comes next, with Moldova’s “O Mie”. She also switched her entry up a bit, and swapped out her indecipherable English for the Moldovan version that she seems more comfortable with. Despite Moldova’s excellent qualification record, I think “O Mie” is not a standout in this lineup, and might vanish when the televoters decide who to call in for.

Ireland chose someone other than Jedward this year. Ryan Dolan is bringing some upbeat dance pop to semi one, and that’s another welcome change. He’s pretty strong, and could be considered a contender for qualification. But coming up two entries later is Belgium’s “Love Kills”, which has a better position near the end, and if Roberto’s vocals hold up on stage he could siphon votes away from Ireland.

Despina Olympiou from Cyprus is an experienced singer, and should perform well on the Eurovision stage. But her soft ballad, “An Me Thimase”, may fail to make any strong impression. I think she will have a tough time reaching the finals in this field.

As previously mentioned, Belgium’s French broadcaster RTBF chose “The Voice” winner Roberto Bellarosa in an internal selection, and the public voted for him to perform “Love Kills”. At first this seemed really weak, but after a makeover it is a really fine radio pop song. The question is whether he can sing it well enough on stage to sell the song to the Eurovision voting public. He could not have had a better draw in the running order, so he is now in the “maybe” category.

Ending the show is Serbia with Moje 3 singing “Ljubav Je Svuda”. These three talent show winning girls have the pimp slot with an upbeat song. Even though they are singing in Serbian, the fact that Croatia, Slovenia, and Montenegro are all voting in this semi should mark them as easy qualifiers.

So there we have the first semi. Reports from the rehearsals could change everyone’s appraisals, but as of right now I would predict the following qualifiers. In the certain category, I would put Denmark, Russia, Ukraine, and probably the Netherlands (although Anouk may suffer for being last up in that string of contenders). In the fairly certain category I would put Belarus and Serbia. In the strong possibilities category I would put Slovenia (after Hannah put on a great performance last night in Amsterdam). Now we have 7 ladies and no men qualifying, so I think that we should put Ireland and Belgium in as borderline possibilities, with Austria, Montenegro and Estonia. With those 12 as possibilities, I think that makes it tough for Croatia, Lithuania, Cyprus and Moldova. We will see how the stage presentation shakes things up in just four weeks!

Is ESC2013 Turning Into ‘Ladies Nights’?

All the most recent countries to select their entries for ESC 2013 have made the same choice, a female singer.  Especially if you look at the top of the betting boards right now, where the top three are female singers from Norway, Denmark and Germany.  Germany chose their entry Thursday, and it is nominally a band, Cascada, though no one much sees anyone but Natalie onstage.

Cascada’s “Glorious” featured here on the blog a few weeks ago when I remarked on its similarity to last year’s triumphant “Euphoria”.  That being said, the song is a powerhouse that will be at the top of the charts across Europe by the time that Eurovision rolls around in May.

Slovenia announced another dancefloor stomper as the song for its previously chosen artist, American-born Hannah Mancini.  “Straight Into Love” is catchy and powerfullyy voiced by Mancini, and should get Slovenia back into the finals this year.

Meanwhile, a third Central European nation chose its entry Friday, when Austria decided its strongest choice is Natalia Kelly (yet another American-born singer).  Earlier I had dismissed “Shine” as a bit too Idol-winner’s coronation song to go far in Eurovision, but Kelly’s contest performance far outpaced her competition.

And little Cyprus also unveiled its entry, as Despina Olympiou’s song for ESC was revealed to be anthemic mid-tempo ballad “An Me Thimase”.  Well-sung and powerful, it remains to be seen if a ballad in Greek still has the appeal to voters Cyprus needs to reach the finals.

Latvia will be choosing its entry tonight, and has some strong entries from bands and solo singers male and female.  I think their national final is the strongest they have offered in years, so I am hopeful for their final choice.

And finally, Italy revealed which of the contestants at San Remo would be the choice for Eurovision, and the winner is a talented and very photogenic 24-year old MALE singer, Marco Mengoni.  His Eurovision song has not yet been decided, but here is his San Remo prize-winning competition song “L’Essenziale”.

Second day of rehearsals shakes up the odds

Another day finished in Baku, and the top ten in semifinal one became a lot tougher to figure out. The second batch of semifinal one contestants performed their entries, and were good enough that they forced me to modify the predictions I made yesterday.

First up was ISRAEL, and Izabo performing their 70s retro number “Time”. In many years this would be an easy qualifier, but so far on stage it is a bit messy and unpolished. And unfortunately (for modern ESC voters, anyway) the band members aren’t hot and sexy enough to carry the day on looks. Unless it improves, Israel is a borderline qualifier at best.

SAN MARINO‘s entry, Valentina Monetta’s “The Social Network Song” was surprisingly well-sung, but the song and its presentation are both so dreadful that there is little expectation that the tiny nation will finally proceed past the semifinals this year.

CYPRUS is a fan favorite that may surprise everyone by NOT crashing and burning onstage. Ivi Adamou and her catchy dance-pop “La La Love” were so good today that she overshadowed yesterday’s similar Greek entry. Ivi began with a vocal runthrough, and then surprised onlookers by sounding every bit as together and confident when the choreography and production elements were added in. Cyprus now seems certain to qualify.

DENMARK, Soluna Samay’s “Should Have Known Better” is a modern radio-friendly pop song, and had been expected to do well (possibly winning the first semifinal outright). Soluna didn’t disappoint, and now seems to be perched at the top of semi one contenders along with Iceland, Cyprus (and Ireland). A very strong performance with an easy confidence that should charm tv viewers.

Next up, RUSSIA‘s grannies, the Burianovskiye Babushki with “Party for Everybody”. This number doesn’t really appeal to everyone. The grannies are adorable, shambling around onstage, but their number is sloppy and the vocals are not exactly perfect. But the cuteness factor counts for a lot, and if they don’t make it through to the finals it will be a BIG surprise.

HUNGARY‘s rock-inflected entry, “Sound of Our Hearts” by Compact Disco, is up after Russia. Unfortunately for admirers of the radio-ready midtempo ballad, this rehearsal doesn’t point to any great success. A rather dark stage, often flat vocals and such thickly accented English that some bloggers assumed that the band was singing partly in Hungarian don’t add up to an entry that will pull in the votes. But it’s early in the game, and some of these problems can be worked out before the big night.

From rock to hiphop and rap, AUSTRIA‘s “Woki mit dem Popo” (Shake your backside) comes as a pleasant surprise. Catchy and apparently the raunchiest thing on the Eurovision stage in years, the boys from Trackshittaz put together an immediate bit of party fluff (complete with pole dancers) that viewers will certainly remember when it comes time to vote.

MOLDOVA is an even bigger surprise, and since I have already confessed that Pasha Parfeny’s “Lăutar” is my favorite “guilty pleasure” of this year’s offerings, I couldn’t be more pleased. Previously this was considered a barely possible qualifier, but Pasha’s rehearsal was vocally strong and pure fun. Combine this with the excellent position in the running order and now Moldova is an almost certain top ten entry in its semifinal.

Rounding out their semifinal in the “pimp slot” the boys of Jedward are back for a second year performing last. And IRELAND‘s entry is even more outrageous and eye-catching than they were last year. Taking their “Waterline” theme very literally with a spectacle of fountains, waterfalls and waves in the staging and projected backdrop. Jedward have gained fans over the last year, and with their prime position in the semifinals they are virtually guaranteed a place in the finals.

So today’s second half of the first semifinal brings with it a good FIVE entries that are almost certain qualifiers, Cyprus, Denmark, Russia, Moldova, and Ireland. Add in Iceland, Greece, and Romania from yesterday, and there are only two spots in the top ten left to fill. Albania, Switzerland, Austria and Israel will probably be fighting for those last two places, and Finland, Montenegro, Latvia, Belgium, San Marino and Hungary will have to improve a LOT for any chance to be in the running.

Tomorrow, the first glimpse of the second semifinal!