“Calm down dear, it’s only a first rehearsal.”
This was my mantra today. At this stage of proceedings last year, Russia looked a Top 5 contender and Georgia a non-qualifier. Had the ghost of Eurovision future told me that Eldrine would comfortably place above Vorobyov in the final, I would have shooed him away with a mocking laugh.
Today’s nine rehearsals, comprising those entries making up the first half of the first semi-final, contained three countries I had included among my previews of the leading contenders: Iceland, Romania and Greece. It is here that we will turn first.
Iceland’s rehearsal was the slickest of the lot. An impressive backdrop reminiscent of the official video, an effective wind machine, good vocals and a routine already down pat, there was nothing to fault in terms of preparation, especially as it followed the omnishambles of Montenegro’s curtain raiser.
There are dramatic hand flourishes and half-turns for Greta and Jonsi. I suspect the overall effect will reinforce what people already think of ‘Never Forget’ – many fans are drawn to its dramatic intensity, sceptics consider it overblown and pompous. Either way, there’s no doubting the professionalism they brought to the stage today.
The same can be said of Romania’s Mandinga. Their rehearsal of ‘Zaleilah’ saw a group who knew exactly what they were doing. The lead singer was vocally flawless throughout and worked the camera well.
But I do have some concerns that if this is their routine, it has lost some of its spontaneity. This wasn’t just because accordion guy doesn’t get to be epic anymore, as he was in the national final (though that did make me want to exclaim, ‘Cancel Eurovision!’ in disgust).
The movements are a little robotic, which made it look more static than I envisaged. The routine is not as fun as the song right now – there’s no need to copy the opening of Azerbaijan 2011, for example. Still, some whoops and smiles for an audience will lift it immeasurably.
It was not a particularly good day at the office for the Greeks though I think that reports of their demise are exaggerated. What we saw of the choreography was disjointed and uninspired; Eleftheria took a while to warm up; and she didn’t appear to receive enough assistance from the one backing vocalist – I had also expected the inclusion of two female backing dancers to help out here, to no avail.
This was also a problem for Armenia’s Emmy – a shock non-qualifier from an early draw in 2011, and you can see why some were drawing this comparison today. But it’s early doors yet. I still think that ‘Aphrodisiac’ will end up offering far more as a package than ‘Boom Boom’, though there’s no doubting that the Greeks will need to make the most of the rehearsal period.
Next in the qualification odds amongst those who rehearsed today was Albania’s Rona Nishliu with ‘Suus‘. It’s not my cup of ‘qaj’ at all but it is what it is. The fact that Rona keeps her eyes shut for much of the performance and looks in great pain doesn’t help make it any more accessible, but for her fans it’s all about her vocals and these are undeniably impressive.
Moving on to some of the outsiders, Latvia is all charming incompetence. ‘Beautiful Song’ opens with Anmary chatting to her friends in front of a colourful 70s-style backdrop, reminding me of Abigail’s Party. The choreography is from the era too, but her vocals were very strong. This has a million things to overcome, including ridiculous lyrics, a poor draw and few friends but I love it anyway.
Regarding Switzerland, Sinplus looked the part and sounded the part, the lead singer walking around almost a bit too cool for school, striking the appropriate rock poses and showing off his leather cuffs. The vocals were decent, and there was nothing here to change your opinion.
The Belgium / Finland conundrum continues to divide opinion. As two midway ballads that tread a fine line between elegant simplicity and soporific dullness, they are rather jury-dependent, but plenty of points are up for grabs here in a heat short on slow songs.
Belgium’s ‘Would You?’ is a straightforward number that Iris sells appropriately in her little-girl-lost way. Finland’s Pernilla Karlsson is vocally more assured though ‘Nar Jag Blundar’ has to climb the language barrier. But whilst the cellist on stage with her is the kind of thing that juries appreciate, I think the overall package that Belgium offers is far more contemporary, and that’s definitely my preferred choice right now.
I’m glad I could reach one conclusion because generally it felt like everything was as clear as mud! Do let me know your opinions of the day’s rehearsals below.