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.