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.

Rehearsal, Day 3: Second Semi Entries

So the third day of rehearsals in Baku concludes, and our first onstage look at 8 semifinalists from the second semi. From the strong rehearsals again today, we can see that the second semi will be another tough group to choose from.

First up, SERBIA, one of this year’s returning veterans and a top contender for victory. Željko brought his A-game today with a flawless vocal rendition of “Nije Ljubav Stvar”. The stage show is good, as expected, but nothing new or surprising. A very solid entry that should reach top five in the Saturday finals.

Next was F.Y.R.MACEDONIA, Serbia’s ex-Yugo neighbor, with a similarly strong performance. Kaliopi is a veteran singer with a long career atop the Macedonian music charts, and her rocky/operatic/ballad was solid (with an almost shocking belted-out high note) and puts her in a good position to make the top ten in her semi.

NETHERLANDS has had a tough time in Eurovision since the introduction of the semifinal system, and this year could have been the year they broke through to success. But from reports in Baku, Joan Franka was not quite as confident onstage as hoped, and retained her unfortunate Native American feather headdress from the Dutch national finals. Her chances are now down to borderline qualifier.

MALTA also has not had an easy climb from the semis recently, and the betting odds this year have them near the bottom. But Kurt Calleja and his crew of band and DJ do their best to create a party atmosphere onstage for “This Is the Night”. His vocals are fine, and if the song were just a bit stronger he would have a decent chance…

BELARUS brings a techno pop sheen to their formerly straight-ahead rock song, “We Are the Heroes”. The boys from Litesound perform very well and look great onstage, and this seems as good as anyone expected or probably a notch better. A certain number of rock songs make the finals every year, and this has a good chance to be one of them.

PORTUGAL has a habit of missing the mark on what ESC viewers and voters are looking for, and this year doesn’t seem to be the exception. Many hardcore fans love the “classy, authentic” fado ballad “Vida Minha” and its singer, Filipa Sousa. But a slow, unadorned ballad without a strong visual element is probably hopeless in the modern Eurovision Song Contest.

Nobody accuses UKRAINE of being too subtle and boring for Eurovision, and the contrast between Gaitana’s “Be My Guest” and the song before could not be greater. Fans had accused “Be My Guest” of being too cheesy and obvious, but its strong singer and kinetic, colorful presentation have lifted it into the ranks of certain qualifiers.

BULGARIA brings to ESC a Balkan dancefloor stomper with Sofi Marinova’s “Love Unlimited”, and viewers expected something as bright and colorful as Ukraine’s in Baku. Unfortunately, their presentation is a solo performer onstage without any strong visuals, and so Sofi’s chances have to be taken down a notch or two.

So eight of the second semi’s 17 have taken the stage, and we are that much closer to figuring out who will make the finals. Serbia, Macedonia, Belarus and Ukraine seem to be probable qualifiers, Netherlands, Malta, and Bulgaria borderline entries, and Portugal has a remote chance of reaching top ten.