May 1 Eurovision Rehearsals Summary

Today saw the first rehearsals for the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest, a day that traditionally provides us punters with a valuable initial insight into how things might look in reality after seemingly endless months of analysing national finals, draw orders, preview videos, past form – and, of course, what all of this means in terms of the available odds.

When it comes to rehearsal week (or fortnight, as it effectively is these days), the question is less about who impresses per se, since there are still several run-throughs available to them, and more about the information gleaned that we didn’t know before – such as live vocal quality, stage shows, lighting and backdrops, new gimmicks and gadgets, and the general “look and feel” of the entries on the big stage compared to the forms in which we’ve seen them to date.

As I see it, the ten countries that rehearsed in Düsseldorf today can be roughly divided into four categories: the big hitters, the borderliners, the early favourite, and the quiet ones.

There was already a convincing argument for calling at least three of today’s acts guaranteed qualifiers, and today offered little evidence to the contrary. Russia brought a typically polished choreographed number, with Alex’s solid vocals sitting nicely in the middle of a tight dance routine and an effective light/dark visual contrast – and considering their head of delegation later pronounced herself dissatisfied with everything but the singer, we can expect things to improve even further.

Turkey’s Yüksek Sadakat proved as experienced and professional as you might expect, delivering an assured performance that will overcome the slightly plodding nature of their song and see them safely through to the final with a little help from their friends (despite the somewhat baffling presence centre-stage of a woman with a painted face gyrating inside a metal ball). Meanwhile, Armenia gave us the first proper live performance by Emmy. Despite holding off on a few of the tougher phrases due to the all-pervasive “Eurovision cold”, she’s clearly more than capable of belting out a comparatively simple song like ‘Boom Boom’, and the Greek-choreographed routine with a boxing theme is extremely effective on camera even at this early stage.

Among the “borderliners”, Georgia is the only country with a 100% qualification record, but they’re really testing things this year – and this is precisely what I mean by “information gleaned”. The moment the band turned up on stage, there was a collective gasp-cum-giggle from the press centre as their outfits were revealed for the first time – a surreal combination of industrial and biker gear stylings with copious flashes of neon green on black. There are no other words for it than “fashion disaster”, and in my mind it raises a serious question as to whether this is enough to offset the band’s decent enough performance of their Evanescence-meets-Linkin Park song in spite of their many friends in the semi-final.

Unlike the Georgians, the statistics show that Serbia, Albania and in particular Poland have a patchier qualification record. Serbia’s first rehearsal met with a largely positive response from the assembled blogsters, which surprised me somewhat – while visually impressive and retaining the 60s feel seen in the national final, I thought Nina’s vocals were strained throughout and veering towards the off-key on many occasions. She also looked rather uncomfortable on stage, which is far from ideal in an entry that needs a light touch, although that could easily have been her simply not giving her all during these early days in order to avoid burnout – a factor that is always worth keeping in mind when reading rehearsal reports.

Albania was much as expected, a strong vocal performance of a solid song that might be difficult for western ears. My main concern is that Aurela looks rather harsh on camera, and her voice is something of an acquired taste. “Solid” can also be said of Poland, by and large – a professional singer doing what she does best. The visual presentation has changed since the national final, however: the boys have been ditched, and instead we have two female dancers plus two backing singers who join in with the routine occasionally. Personally I’m not convinced, and I could easily see this slightly underwhelming opener being quickly forgotten among the mass of up-tempo stompers in this early part of the draw, particularly when you factor in the language barrier too.

Norway swiftly became a favourite in the win market when ‘Haba Haba’ was selected early in the season, but drifted somewhat as the field neared completion. Very little has changed with the performance since the national final other than the colour of Stella’s dress, and their rehearsal was largely solid, though I do have concerns about the group looking a little lost on the big stage. In any case, this is a long way from the dead-cert qualifier that many fans (and fan blogs) consider it to be, but if you believe in its chances then none of today’s evidence should change your mind.

Finally, drawn 8th and 10th, it could be said that Switzerland and Finland are fighting for the same “quiet song” vote – particularly since neither of them are blessed with a huge number of natural voting allies. I would say Finland came out best today. Axel aka Paradise Oskar is far from a charismatic performer, but his little-boy-lost look is superbly complemented by a huge graphic of the planet rising in the background, and there’s every chance the long shots will look even more impressive once the arena is full of flag-waving fans. Meanwhile, Switzerland have dressed Anna Rossinelli in something a little too old-fashioned considering the lightness of the song, and the whole package seemed a bit awkward and ham-fisted to my eyes – although again, it’s important to note that costume choices can be changed even at a fairly late stage of proceedings, so they shouldn’t necessarily be given too much credence from a betting perspective at this stage.

An interesting day of rehearsals, then, albeit one that didn’t necessarily provide us with too many surprises in the grand scheme of things. Tomorrow will be more of a mixed bag, with favourites like Hungary and Azerbaijan giving us their first full live performance – and I’ll be handing back over to the capable hands of Daniel to lead you through it all.

9 comments to May 1 Eurovision Rehearsals Summary

  • Daniel

    First of all, a big thank you to Martin for a superb run-through of today’s events. There’s nothing here I disagree with, and it’s so thorough I feel that I only need to add a few of my main impressions. I only hope I can get close to providing our readers with something so clear-headed and comprehensive tomorrow, when I arrive in Dusseldorf and will be commenting from the press centre.

    The rehearsal I was most impressed with today was Alexey Vorobyov for Russia. It wasn’t just vocally assured and well choreographed. Once the camera shots are the producers’ own, the staging will look like an MTV video. My only fear is it may seem a little too calculating and efficient, but I think Alexey has enough charm to compensate for this. At this early stage, it looks like a contender, and given Russia’s many friends, a Top 10 finish seems pretty certain, as indicated in my original article on ‘Get You’.

    An honourable second for me was Armenia’s routine, which was similarly slick, vocally assured, but also fun. There’s more to come here too, both in the costumes and further props, such as a boxing glove which seems likely to be handed to Emmy for the final note. This is another that, given decent progress through the rehearsal period, seems a highly likely Top 10 contender. It’s certainly more interestingly staged than the same country’s ‘Qele Qele’ which came fourth in 2008, though we now have to factor in the national juries which may not look so kindly upon the gimmicks.

    Otherwise, although it was a day full of interest in that it contained many strong entries, we had seen most of them live already and there were not many surprises. In short, I got what I expected from the rest of them. However, watching the run-throughs, I was reminded of the overload of uptempo female numbers, which makes life a bit more difficult for the likes of Poland and Serbia. Norway operates in a slightly different niche though it’s one within which it could be out-muscled by Armenia.

  • fiveleaves

    Excellent report.
    I agree with most of it.
    Loved Armenia. I’m amazed at how poorly it polls.
    I do have a crush on Emmy though 🙂
    Georgia I really like and I can’t see the rather odd fashion affecting it’s chances to any real degree.
    The song has impact and knocks the socks of the Turkish version of Rock.

    Also, do Turkey have enough friends in this semi to make qualification a certainty?
    Mine and others calculations maybe suggest not.

    • Daniel

      Hi Fiveleaves, qualification for Turkey is not a guarantee based on the amount of friends in this semi, though they have the highly likely 12 from Azerbaijan for starters.

      After that, if it was based on televoting alone, they would get probable 10s from Albania and the United Kingdom (behind Greece), as well as Switzerland (behind Serbia), although the UK and Switzerland do have other strong voting allies involved too.

      Of course, we have juries to factor in as well, and there’s no saying that the British or Swiss ones will show Turkey any favours. However, as a solid, competently-performed number, I am expecting a respectable score from this general constituency.

      In conclusion, not a guarantee of qualification, and for the first year since I can remember, I won’t be backing this outcome heavily. That said, I will still fall off my chair if Turkey is not one of the nations pulled out of an envelope on May 10, either from the shock or novelty of such an eventuality.

  • Andrew

    Top stuff, Martin, cheers for that. As a relatively inexperienced Eurovision observer, I’m especially intrigued by Norway – as you say, nothing really has changed since the national final… except that it’s now trading at 36 on Betfair instead of 4.5. That’s quite the drift.

    So do we explain this as (a) a collective loss of punters’ senses from which they have now wisely recovered, or (b) a collective forgetting of how fresh and fun the song seemed on first hearing, unwisely given that most Eurovision viewers will be hearing it for the first time?

    Fiveleaves, you were a big cheerleader for Stella – are you still?

  • Panos

    Andrew, very well said and spotted. I heavily believe that (b) is taking place. I have been thinking this for some time now!

  • fiveleaves

    Hi Andrew.

    Yes I was a big fan of Norway on 1st listen and 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, etc listens.

    I still really like the song and the performer and performance. Her vocal isn’t great but it doesn’t have to be for a song like this. As we saw with Lena last year.

    I’d say (b). People get bored very easily these days and Norway has slipped down the polls as other countries released their songs that became the new flavour of the month/week/day.
    As you say most voters will be hearing the songs for the 1st time and for me it’s still one of the songs with the biggest immediate impact.

    If you add in the fears that have always been around that the juries won’t vote for it and that racist attitudes, especially in the East will lessen it’s public vote.

    It’s also had no real interest outside of Norway, in terms of radio airplay.
    Something which I was certainly hoping for and hasn’t happened. Unlike Satellite last year which was picked up by a number of european pop radio stations.

    A drift was justified, but I think it’s been overdone and have been adding to my green today.

  • fiveleaves

    I would just add the one song I was hoping it wouldn’t be drawn near was Armenia, which it has been in the semi.

    I hope it’s not so near it in the final, assuming they both make it.

  • jiannis

    well turkey is a favorite this year but the cage and the kiss like creature sucks big..remove it immediately ..they should have the spirit of the video which was fun and speed and rock n roll

  • fiveleaves

    This table will give us Norway lovers some hope –

    http://akoe07.livejournal.com/276115.html

    It’s a poll that has a reasonable record.
    Although the forums may have become bored of Norway, those at the rehearsals were clearly impressed.

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