Today was the last day of second rehearsals – for the final five songs in semi 2 and the automatic qualifiers. You can watch them here. Tomorrow the dress rehearsals start and the schedule changes. Look at the second page of the official document for full details – in Baku time.
This Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I will write a review of each first dress rehearsal after it finishes at 8pm local time. The second and crucial jury dress rehearsal starts at midnight local time. I will tweet any standouts or disappointments from these. Like last year, during the press conference straight after each semi-final, when the qualifiers get their draw for the final, I intend to update you as it happens in the comments section. This is a crucial moment for punters.
By Tuesday and Thursday lunchtime, I hope to post my semi-final analysis. The third and last dress rehearsal from 6-8pm local time for each semi matters comparatively less, but I will tweet if I feel that something important comes to light. On the day of the final, I will write two articles, the first looking at the top 10 and specials markets before the last dress rehearsal (which runs from 5-8pm here), and then a look at the outright market after that finishes.
Anyway, here’s my take on today’s events.
Estonia’s Ott Lepland is sounding and looking confident. He was ad-libbing occasionally on ‘Kuula’, adding flourishes, especially to the first chorus. He needs to cut this out, as the song loses its simplicity if he starts attempting Mariah Carey-style vocal acrobatics with it. He keeps his eyes closed some of the time, but is adept at flirting with the camera when they’re open.
‘Kuula’ presents a quandary in this semi, because despite its use of the Estonian language, it feels more accessible to western ears, and juries in particular, than many of the Balkan ballads it is up against. It is also better drawn than all of them bar Bosnia. On the flip side, Estonia can’t rely on the same kind of bloc voting.
Slovakia were up next. Max Jason Mai has ditched the beanie for some 80s-rock hair – think Def Leppard. He’s working the stage well today and is doing a good job of selling ‘Don’t Close Your Eyes’ – this is also something that will clearly be lifted when an audience is present. He wasn’t singing the repeated “let me get out of here” line in the bridge today. With Belarus looking geeky and boyband-ish in comparison, this is fishing in its own pond; it’s just a question of how big that pond is. I’m not ruling out qualification at all.
Norway’s Tooji and his black-clad street dancers have their routine all sorted – it’s looking very slick indeed. Tooji’s vocals are a little thin in places but adequate enough for a song like ‘Stay’. As the last fully upbeat number of the semi, and a strong one at that, this should be easing its way into the final.
Bosnia’s Maya Sar has a dress with shoulders that Ming the Merciless would be proud of. They’ve ditched the architectural backdrop and left it completely plain, which I don’t think is an issue at all. She sings ‘Kroatke ti znam’ beautifully actually, though the song itself is far from exciting. Allies, juries and a favourable draw should see this in the final too.
The last minute of Lithuania’s ‘Love Is Blind’ is a guilty pleasure of mine – it takes me back to 80s school discos. However, just when I’m getting into it, the song stops. This is because Donny Montell has spent the first half of the number looking daft in a diamante blindfold. A change of tempo is a vote killer at Eurovision, where you only have three minutes anyway. In his favour Donny has the pimp slot and his vocal prowess. Thanks to these conflicting factors, I don’t see myself getting involved with this one in the qualification markets.
Moving onto the automatic finalists, Engelbert Humperdinck was improved today but is still falling a little short on the notes that really matter in ‘Love Will Set You Free’. There’s nothing wrong with the staging, which suits the song, but the UK entry rises or falls on those big moments near its climax, and I’m afraid they’re not quite convincing enough yet.
The French gymnastics team is still warming up for the Olympics, and oh yes, Anggun is singing ‘Echo (You and I)’ whilst they do so. She was improved today as well, but all the tumbles going on around her remain incredibly distracting. They’re not adding anything to the song at all.
Nina Zilli significantly raised her game from yesterday. She’d put on a sparkly little blue dress and it seemed to improve her mood no end. She was much more animated and in better voice throughout. As with the last run-through yesterday, she provided some movement during the bridge before asking Europe to clap along. The clapping bit I’d ditch and the backing vocals need further fine tuning, but on this evidence, Italy’s ‘L’amore E’ Femmina (Out of Love)’ is shaping up very nicely indeed.
Azerbaijan’s staging looks absolutely spectacular. The way that the backdrop of clashing colours is also projected onto Sabina Babayeva’s dress creates a stunning effect. Vocally, Babayeva is in very fine form too. Today I felt that they were also giving greater emphasis to the ethnic wailing of her backing vocalist who sits on a platform behind her. If they want to give themselves the best chance of winning this contest, I would tone that down.
Spain’s Pastora Soler continues to give ‘Quedate Conmigo’ lots of welly. I still find the backing singers a ridiculous distraction when she hits top gear. They’ve been hidden up to that point, so it confuses the viewer just when the focus should be on Pastora. Their cheesy choreography continues to distract until the end.
Meanwhile, Roman Lob was giving us a fashion parade. The German team were trying out different colour combinations for his beanie, vest and shirt. In the spirit of Gok Wan, the plaid shirt we saw in the national final that was used for the second run-through today was my personal favourite. Otherwise, ‘Standing Still’ is much as before: ably-performed jury fodder sung by a pretty face with a good draw.
Let us know what you think of today’s rehearsals below.