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.

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!

Eurovision Rocks!

ESC is not just a collection of jokey performances and cheesy dance pop. Every year at least a few actual rock singers or bands are in the mix, often proceeding straight to the finals! Besides Finland’s own “monsters of rock” Lordi (2006 winners and Finland’s best result ever), recent entries from Norway (Wig Wam), Sweden (The Ark), Georgia (Eldrine) and Turkey (Mor ve Ötesi in 2008 and maNga in 2010) are just a few of the rock artists who have graced the Eurovision finals.

This year’s entries include several alternative rock bands, from Switzerland’s Sinplus (who can do everything well except pronounce English):

to Hungary’s misleadingly named Compact Disco:

and Belarus’ handsome outer space heroes, Litesound.

Meanwhile, Slovakia has entered a young hard rock male vocalist, Max Jason Mai, whose looks, physique and memorable refrain may propel him to the finals:

So far 2012’s crop of rockers doesn’t threaten the top of the betting boards, though I think I would wager that at least two of them make it through the semis to the Saturday finals!