Yesterday’s semi-final reminded us that Eurovision likes to surprise, though the fact that all the big hitters were grouped in one heat was always going to make an upset or two more likely. I don’t think we should jump to any conclusions based on last night’s result, beyond the fact that the jury system and semi-final allocation based on splitting voting blocs is obviously doing its job.
The second semi-final has always appeared more clearcut to me, although it remains true – as I wrote yesterday – that it wouldn’t be a Eurovision semi-final without a few assumptions being overturned. Denmark and Bosnia had impressed in earlier rehearsals, whilst the other front-runners – Sweden and Estonia – needed to step up their game. Jedward were the jokers in the pack.
All this made this afternoon’s first dress rehearsal an intriguing affair. Once again, we should take into account that it took place before an empty auditorium, which won’t have helped those songs which require the lift of an audience.
Bosnia’s Dino Merlin and his merry crew have already got their routine down pat, so we didn’t learn much: it’s a fantastic show opener. The camera shots mercifully play down the antics of the trumpeter, who skips around like Jimmy Jump (last year’s stagecrasher during the Spanish performance).
Next up is Austria’s Nadine Beiler, who delivers another great vocal performance. I’ve been asked why I think the song has limitations. Well, ‘The Sercret Is Love’ sounds like something from Whitney Houston’s first album – which is no bad thing, except that was released over 25 years ago.
This has been a popular choice in the qualification markets, and whilst the failure of vocal powerhouse Aurela Gace up early in Tuesday’s first semi for Albania may cause some anxiety, I think Nadine and ‘The Secret Is Love’ offers a far more attractive and traditional package that works better on the Eurovision stage.
I must have been in a good mood, because Netherlands, Belgium and Slovakia – which I had down as no-hopers – all sounded better than they have done all week. The lead singer of the 3Js for The Netherlands does, however, need to get his suit trousers to match his jacket – his ‘off-the-peg’ look is not attractive. At least the Slovakian Twiins are telegenic, and were vocally much improved, but ‘I’m Still Alive’ still feels like a long three minutes.
I’m not yet feeling a Lithuania moment coming on, as these three have a far worse draw to contend with than last night’s shock qualifier. But they have reason to be happy with the progress they have made.
Next up, in sixth, is Ukraine. Having loved the sand gimmick in first rehearsals, I had mixed feelings on the second rehearsal and I now feel that on balance they’d be better off without it. Perhaps it’s because I’m not a multi-tasker, and it just requires too much effort to follow both the song and the etching. Mika Newton and ‘Angel’ are serviceable enough on their own, it turns out.
Moldova remains an excellent contrast to what has gone before it, though the hatted unicyclist looked a little more concerned this afternoon. Perhaps she was worried about what the juries were going to think of her schtick tonight.
Sweden’s Eric Saade is still looking like he might not be as ‘Popular’ as he hoped on the Eurovision stage. Vocally he wasn’t strong, but given that it’s all about the routine, I’m more concerned that we haven’t seen a run-through where the glass box gimmick has worked effectively: the cameras didn’t catch any glass breaking at all this time. As gimmicks go, it’s a non-gimmick so far.
Cyprus is a little bit bland right now but added effects such as dry ice, along with an audience tomorrow night, may lift it. Christos Mylordos is now looking at the camera, he just needs to do it like he means it. This can’t be discounted, partly because it’s the most ethno piece in the semi-final which contains more of the voting countries that this kind of thing might appeal to.
Bulgaria’s Poli Genova is also carving out her own niche and remains in fine form for ‘Na Inat’, now with a black jacket that comes off towards the end of the song over her white dress. Vocally strong and performing with conviction, she remains a possible qualifier.
I fear that Macedonia can be consigned as a hopeless case, however. I didn’t realise that ‘Rusinka’ had such a great introduction, but Vlatko Ilievski is rough with his vocal from the very off, and whilst the backing dancers do their best, this just has too little impact.
Talking of which, Dana International isn’t quite dead in the water yet, as it’s hard to judge how her catwalk strut will look when she’s surrounded by thousands of flag-waving fans. They will, however, have to lift ‘Ding Dong’ well over and above what we saw this time and in the first two rehearsals.
Slovenia and Romania remain as solid as they have been all week. Both contain strong and contrasting central performances that suit their songs; Maja Keuc does dark defiance with a hint of Christina Aguilera for ‘No One’; Hotel FM’s David Bryan is all dimples and bonhomie for ‘Change’.
Estonia is getting there based on this run-through. The introduction remains the best we will hear this year, contemporary and cute. The staging is still very Disney Channel, but is becoming far more slick, and Getter Jaani is wisely leaving more lines to her backing singers. The vocals are not ideal for the chorus, but that will always be the case and not too much of a hindrance in a number like ‘Rockefeller Street’.
Belarus is this year’s car-crash; the clip they will save for a future programme entitled ‘100 Greatest Moments of Eurovision Kitsch’. Anastasiya Vinnikova’s vocals steamroll through ‘I Love Belarus’, flattening everything in its path.
In terms of qualification, Latvia’s ‘Angel In Disguise’ is definitely moving up through the ‘maybe’ category with all it has going for it, not least engaging performers and a great draw. There was nothing new about today’s performance, but seeing it immediately after the bombast of ‘I Love Belarus’ emphasised Musiqq’s unassuming charm.
Denmark gave another very solid, even, strong rehearsal, and this is still one to watch out for, especially once A Friend in London are playing to a crowd. I’m not sure the lead singer’s sprint down the catwalk for just a few lines before running back is adding much to the performance, but we’ll only know when the audience is there.
We finished with the irrepresssible Jedward, the subject of a major plunge in the last day or so and now remarkably top-priced at 8.0 second favourite to win the whole thing at the time of writing. They’ll have to look and sound a lot more polished than they did in today’s rehearsal to justify that kind of position.
I’m still in the dark about how Europe will take to Jedward’s hyperactivity on stage – but however well it goes down with televoters, I’m guessing that the juries are going to be less impressed.
The juries vote on tonight’s second dress rehearsal, which I’ll be watching here in the press centre. Based on my impressions of that, I’ll be writing up my advice for the second semi tomorrow morning.