Last night’s jury rehearsal did not clarify this tricky semi-final. With one or two notable exceptions, most of the acts raised their game, and a cautious approach should be adopted.
With better opportunities lying in wait in both the second semi-final and the Top 10 market in the final, in my view this first heat is one to dabble in only. I usually stake my whole six-figure bank on various bets in each semi, but I will not be going in with even a third of what is available to me for tonight’s heat.
That said, these are my thoughts on the win and qualification markets.
Finland is my each-way selection, at a best price at the time of writing of 10-1. Comparisons with Belgium’s Tom Dice – another male soloist just standing there with a guitar, who won the first semi-final last year – have been overdone. But some of the principles that led me to tip Tom back then also apply here.
By splitting up the voting blocs of the big hitters, the semi-finals allow simple, quality songs that are well liked by juries and neutral televoters a better chance. Without as much competition, it is easier for them to bag jury 12s and 10s – that’s clearly what Dice did last year.
In ‘Da Da Dam’ we have a song that is well positioned to do something similar. The staging is beautiful and performer Paradise Oskar also works the camera beautifully, clearly getting his heartfelt message across. The simplicity of the whole package contrasts advantageously with its principal opposition.
My main concern is that this is a more competitive semi-final than the one Tom Dice comfortably won last year. Finland has a couple of formidable opponents to overcome, which is why an each-way bet hoping for a Top 3 finish is recommended.
Azerbaijan is the deserving favourite to win the semi. It has a strong ballad, a great draw and plenty of friends. It’s a shame then, that Eldar and Nigar were both disappointing vocally in the jury rehearsal. I’m not ruling out a position at or near the top of the leaderboard, but on last night’s evidence, nor would I back it at 2-1 either.
Russia also has plenty going for it, not least a charismatic performer with a catchy tune. The arguments against it are that Alexey Vorobyov’s routine looks very gimmick-y in comparison to Paradise Oskar’s, and that is not something that recent juries have appreciated.
Also, far more of Russia’s voting allies are in the other semi-final; it is perfectly feasible that Finland could beat Russia in this semi only for placings to be reversed on Saturday, when all of Russia’s allies will be able to vote.
I wouldn’t completely rule out a Top 3 finish in this semi-final for Greece, given how powerful the final minute of ‘Watch My Dance’ is at the end of the show. It’s just a shame that we have to sit through the rap parts first.
Qualification is a tricky business tonight. The four I’ve mentioned – Finland, Russia, Greece and Azerbaijan – should be safely into the final. The others I would add to the ‘definites’ list are Turkey and Georgia. Turkey is competent and that will be enough, but you can currently get five times the price backing Georgia to go through, and this is my advice for the qualification market.
Eldrine cemented their dramatic improvement this week in the jury rehearsal, giving an excellent vocal performance. Here we have a country that, with the help of friends in the ex-USSR bloc and Caucasus, has attained fifth place in the semi-final televote alone on its two occasions participating in the two-heat system.
Tonight Georgia can rely on five televoting allies for its contemporary rock effort that I have described as Evanescence-lite. It may sound like stretching the point, but this kind of genre is also very popular among certain other countries participating and thus voting tonight (namely the Northern lights of Finland, Norway and Iceland).
In short, with points coming from all over, I see a similar kind of televote result for ‘One More Day’ to 2010 and 2008. Based on what I saw last night, the juries are going to give it plenty of respect too. That should be plenty enough, at a price far more attractive than the other countries in my ‘definites’ list.
After this point it gets very confusing indeed.
Armenia’s six televote allies should be sufficient, but ‘Boom Boom’ is not having the impact I had hoped it would. Everything was going well in the jury rehearsal last night until a vocally ropey final minute, which had bloggers rushing to dismiss its qualification hopes. It’s not a definite, but it’s still Armenia with a catchy tune sung by a pretty girl, so it’s at least a ‘definitely maybe’.
In the jury rehearsal, Hungary’s Kati Wolf spent the first two minutes of ‘What About My Dreams’ being vocally spot on – the best I have seen her this week. I do think some rushed to judgement on that basis, because the final minute saw her wandering around, failing to find a camera, flapping her arms and hitting dodgy notes.
However, having had that build-up to this relatively strong song, and given that she is admirably improving with each run-through rather than letting nerves get the better of her, I am adding Hungary to my list of those getting through by a smaller margin.
Also on that list is Norway’s Stella Mwangi, who raised her game in the jury performance of ‘Haba Haba’ last night. Distinctive and ultra-fun, I can see this doing well enough with the arena crowd and televoters tonight to go through.
The final, and slightly more surprising, inclusion in my qualifying list is Albania. It’s there because Aurela Gace absolutely nailed her jury rehearsal last night with an extremely powerful performance. Despite a poor draw and a rather plodding song, she could lift it over the line with the force of her voice.
So that’s my ten, and this leaves my most surprising non-qualifier call as Serbia.
Nina was vocally more off in the verses for the juries last night than she was in the afternoon. Despite a fun performance, Serbia is preciously short of televoting allies in this semi, and I’m not sure that 60s pastiche in Serbian has enough of a niche in either eastern or western Europe or with juries, even though it is professionally done.
The performance has charm though, and it is in with a chance. So are Switzerland, Iceland and Poland, who all put in good performances in the jury rehearsal. I just think a lack of friends may count against them, without songs that are quite strong enough on their own, pleasant enough though they are.
I am now discounting the other five: Portugal, Lithuania, Croatia, Malta and San Marino.
To sum up, then, my each-way selection for the semi-final is Finland. My qualification advice is that backing Georgia to get through represents the best value currently available. I think these two will definitely be joined in the final by Azerbaijan, Russia, Greece and Turkey – although, as I emphasised at the start of this piece, this heat is such an exceptionally competitive one that I will not be going in with all guns blazing myself. It wouldn’t be a Eurovision semi-final without a few assumptions overturned.
The four more marginal qualifiers I have are Hungary, Norway, Armenia and Albania, though I would not be shocked if one or two of these were replaced by any of Serbia, Switzerland, Iceland or Poland.
In the meantime, I would love to know if you agree or disagree with my reading of this semi. Who are the definite qualifiers in your book? Are you anticipating any surprises tonight, and if so who? Where’s your money in the outright market? Please do use the comments box below to let us know – and good luck!