The first semi-final remains a riddle, even after the first dress rehearsal. This afternoon saw greater polish from some of those that had lacked it previously in Dusseldorf, and witnessed a few of the front-runners look a little nervous under the weight of expectation.
This practice still offers an opportunity for kinks to be ironed out before tonight’s effort, which the juries will vote on. Bear in mind also that it was played to an empty arena, and some songs rely more than others on an atmosphere to lift them. That atmopshere will again be lacking this evening for the run-through the juries will be casting their votes on, but it will be a different matter tomorrow night for the performances the televoters will see.
So who is going up and who is going down based on this afternoon’s exertions?
Given its need for an arena full of happy people, it is hardly surprising that Norway’s ‘Haba Haba’, up second in the running order, suffered most from the lack of an audience. Stella Mwangi was off in parts, and without the waving flags and party feel around her, this was far more noticeable.
As a result, there was less of a gap than in second rehearsals between this number and first-to-sing Poland’s Magdalena Tul, who ditched the padding in her leotard for a far more flattering look. Whether it’s enough for ‘Jestem’ to qualify is another matter. It’s still not quite what it was in the Polish final.
The most positive surprise this afternoon undoubtedly was Eldrine for Georgia, which for the first time really came together, and stood out amongst those around it. Given its voting allies in this heat and its niche – ‘One More Day’ had far more rock impact than Turkey’s ‘Live It Up’ – it’s now looking like a definite qualifier on this afternoon’s evidence.
Another positive – and a song that is really punching above its weight – is Greece’s ‘Watch My Dance’. It remains an excellent ethno climax to proceedings, with Loukas Yiorkos nailing the vocals and a good amount of drama on stage.
Paradise Oskar has reason to be happy with his rehearsal, or what we saw of it anyway (the feed to the press centre cut out for about a minute in the middle of ‘Da Da Dum’). When we could catch him, he was still winsomely seducing the camera.
Just to prove how consistently inconsistent she is, Kati Wolf was good in many parts today and at her weakest in the Hungarian section of ‘What About My Dreams’, in which she has previously been at her most assured. The staging and backing singers are still failing to give this the kind of feel that excited so many fans in its studio version.
The other front-runners for this semi, Russia and Azerbaijan, were both a little underwhelming this afternoon. Alex Sparrow looked uncharacteristically nervous – perhaps it was the thought of that back flip going wrong. Whilst I had no problem with the camerawork for Azerbaijan, Nigar’s vocals continue to put a dampener on ‘Running Scared’.
Elsewhere, I’m a little unmoved by Armenia’s ‘Boom Boom’ despite it being one of the numbers I enjoy most in this semi. It’s solid enough, I suppose, and it will be another that will benefit from an arena full of people.
On the other hand, Serbia managed to convey plenty of energy despite the lack of an audience. Nina has a few vocal issues early in the song, but recovers when it matters most, and the look of the performance is full of charm.
Aurela Gace was in fine vocal form for ‘Feel The Passion’, and coming after Stella Mwangi, this was even more obvious. The song itself is a long three minutes, but she is doing her best to sell the concept and the Albanian diaspora and juries may well be buying.
The lead singer of Turkey’s Yuksek Sadakat looked like he had popped down to Accessorize before going on stage, and was a little too sparkly for my liking. This was the rather plodding number it always has been but I wouldn’t bet against Turkey being in one of the qualifying envelopes tomorrow night.
Of the lesser-fancied, Malta, Croatia and San Marino still look likely to fight it out for last place. Lithuania does stand out from what’s around it, but you have to forgive an incredibly dated song and the over-saccharine use of sign language in the second verse.
Switzerland, Iceland and Portugal were pretty much as they have been all through rehearsals. I see them all missing out, though not by a huge margin.