Today began the first rehearsals for the second semi-final. My overall impression of this heat beforehand was that it would be a far more clearcut affair than the first semi.
What we seemed to have at the pre-rehearsal stage were four or five sure-fire qualifiers, the same number of no-hopers, and a mass of borderliners with whom I didn’t want to get too heavily involved.
If the most anticipated showings yesterday were Hungary and Azerbaijan, there was no doubt that today’s feature presentations were two of the apparent sure-fire qualifiers from this second heat, Bosnia and Sweden. How did they measure up?
Bosnia did nothing but cement its position. I’ve not been the hugest fan of ‘Love In Rewind’ in previews, but it’s the kind of thing that works very well on the Eurovision stage. Dino Merlin and his his team are in fine form vocally, though there are some issues that remain over the staging, especially the role of the trumpeter which tends to distract and detract.
Given Dino’s fame and the nature of the song, this was always going to be hoovering up votes within the Balkans and among its diaspora. Today, for the first time, I could envisage its reach extending beyond that. That means not only is ‘Love in Rewind’ indeed looking like a sure-fire qualifier, it is also looking like natural Top 10 material in the final too. Though a good draw in the final would be useful, it can’t be discounted at this stage as a contender for the whole thing.
Sweden certainly did not cement its position. In fact, it was much worse than yesterday’s disappointing practice from Hungary.
The rehearsal felt more like a ropey episode of ‘So You Think You Can Dance’. Eric Saade didn’t sing for large portions of the song, especially in the chorus. He looked pained, exhausted and not very well. He was going through the motions with many of the dance moves. They didn’t bother with the glass-smashing gimmick.
Although I have never had too high an opinion of ‘Popular’, nonetheless I think that reports of its demise may be exaggerated, precisely because Eric was so clearly not giving it 100% (as I felt that Kati Wolf clearly was for Hungary yesterday). There are rumours of an injured shoulder, and loss of voice following a very early flight.
And ultimately, rehearsals are there to sort out problems – in this case, Eric’s challenge in multi-tasking the vocals and some complicated choreography. Let’s wait for later rehearsals before writing the obituaries.
Of what I considered to be the pre-rehearsal borderliners, Austria’s Nadine Beiler told us nothing we didn’t already know: she can belt out ‘The Secret Is Love’ to great effect, and I think the juries are going to be impressed despite the song’s evident limitations.
The Netherlands have a song that would be good enough if this were a radio contest, but the current staging is dullness personified and only emphasises the shortcomings I discussed in an earlier piece.
Ukraine’s song may also be dullness personified, but – always happy to surprise – they have introduced what can only be described as etch-a-sketch performance art into their staging. Kseniya Simonova, winner of ‘Ukraine’s Got Talent’, steals the show during Mika Newton’s rendition of ‘Angels’ with some nimble manipulation of sand that’s projected onto the backdrop.
Mika managed to stay largely in tune during this rehearsal, not that anyone noticed, what with those amazing beach doodles being created. With 30-odd points guaranteed from voting allies by my calculations, at this admittedly early stage I can see the gimmick being enough for this to qualify – even if juries desert it, the sand could go down a storm with televoters.
Neighbours Moldova, represented by Zdob si Zdub, also manage to mask the weakness of their song ‘So Lucky’ with the right amount of crazy on stage, in this case a hatted unicyclist. Plenty of friends in this semi and the band’s following among ex-Soviet states could provide the other wheel to ride them into the final.
The songs I considered no-hopers failed to advance their cause: Belgium will do well to make it to double figures on the scoreboard; Slovakia is just too strained and dull; whilst Cyprus was not helped by the gimmick of a woman practising to compete in the Hammer event at the 2012 Olympics on the small central stage of the arena. All of them seemed far longer than the allotted three minutes.