The second semi-final is a difficult one for punters to eke out some value because the market looks to have things about right. As in the first heat there’s also the fact that the seemingly near-certain qualifiers are priced up at short odds whilst it feels like a bit of a coin-toss between those countries which are fighting it out for the remaining places.
A list of definite qualifiers starts with favourite for this semi and the whole contest, Sweden’s Loreen. A video of her jury rehearsal performance has leaked online today (many thanks SED for posting it in our comments section), so that everyone can assess what those in the press centre saw.
Things came together better for Loreen here than in previous rehearsals. She wisely ditched the top with the fringed arms in favour of her Melodifestivalen one; she is clearer in the verses; and the whole thing sounded more polished. I think the juries will very much like what they have seen.
There is still the question of how televoters will take to what is a very different offering than they are used to on the Eurovision stage. Untried doesn’t mean that it won’t be popular enough to win this semi or indeed the final, but it does make me hesitant about taking short odds about ‘Euphoria’.
According to bookmakers, Loreen’s main challenger to win this semi is Serbia’s Zeljko Joksimovic. He was dependable as always in the jury rehearsal. He seems likely to mop up votes among his many neighbours and the relevant diaspora, and that will see him qualify with ease at some high place on the scoreboard.
His position as curtain-raiser, followed by another Balkan effort from Macedonia’s Kaliopi, will mean he’s not doing so much among neutral televoters, who make up the majority in 16 of the 20 other countries deciding results tonight. The many other Balkan-esque slowies, particularly prevalent in the first half of the draw, won’t help here either.
For that reason, I can’t bring myself to oppose the untested routine of Loreen with Serbia in the win market for this semi-final, though give Zeljko the utmost respect.
We do have the kind of upbeat number that Eurovision viewers have come to expect later in the show from Norway. Tooji’s vocals are not the strongest, and that was true of the jury rehearsal as it has been all week.
That’s not really the point of ‘Stay’ though. Like Eric Saade’s ‘Popular’ last year, it’s all about the routine, and that remains very slick. Admittedly, I could do with the camerawork being tighter to reflect this. Some have suggested it is not a definite qualifier at this point based on last night’s jury rehearsal, but offering what it does at this point in the draw, ‘Stay’ is on my list of those that should go through.
As is Turkey. The staging of Can Bonomo’s ‘Love Me Back’ is excellent, adding fun to this well-drawn, ethnic-flavoured shanty. It’s this semi’s equivalent to Moldova in the first heat. With more voting allies. A top three place is possible, though one caveat puts me off.
When I wrote about the song’s chances a few months ago, I expressed my worries about how juries would take to it. The staging certainly feels as though it lifts the number. However, I still feel that uptempo ethno stuff is not their favourite genre, and that opinion didn’t change when trying to watch the rehearsal through their eyes last night.
Ukraine’s Gaitana offers televoters a straightforward if poorly structured, upbeat anthem, and is capable of delivering it brilliantly. As the lone singer, also doing work you would expect from backing vocalists in the “naaaa-na-na-na-na-na” parts, a lot rests on her shoulders. This leaves me with a slight sense of hoping it’s ‘alright on the night’. She was more than alright for last night’s jury rehearsal.
Estonia’s Ott Lepland is this semi’s equivalent to Albania’s Rona Nishliu in the first heat. In case you failed to spot the resemblance. Ott put in a superb vocal performance for the juries last night, which I think put him one foot in the final. He added even more flourishes to ‘Kuula’. I had warned against this, partly because if you’re going to do that you have to nail it. He did.
For non-Balkan juries, this offers a more accessible ballad. ‘Kuula’ feels suitably different from the rest in this semi-final, aided in this case by Ott being alone, with no instruments or creative staging, just a highly effective backdrop that reveals a shower of rose petals for the biggest moments. Ott has been known to suffer from nerves, so it may be worth waiting for his performance tonight, but he was in very confident form last night.
Add the allies, draw and juries that should see Bosnia through and you have the seven I am confident will qualify. None of them are at tasty prices, unsurprisingly. Next up in the market and thus the shortest-priced act that I am less confident of is Slovenia. ‘Verjamem’ is a rehash of 2007 winner ‘Molitva’. It therefore offers a recognisably Eurovision-y three minutes, and allows young vocalist Eva Boto a chance to show what she can do, as she did for the juries last night.
It’s never going to be easy for Slovenia among all the Balkan nations though. They’re last in the queue when it comes to dishing out votes to neighbours. The Balkan ballad is a crowded genre in this semi, and she’s back-to-back with another one, from Croatia. For neutral televoters, the staging that has the look of a wedding but the feel of a funeral is rather alienating.
I think ‘Verjamem’ is rather relying on jury support, and there were one or two off moments from the ghostly backing vocalist last night. Nina Badric raised her own game afterwards too. Yet the song and Eva’s spirited rendition may still be enough to see it through.
Of its neighbours, Croatia had looked pretty dead in the water with the way ‘Nebo’ was staged. Nina Badric seemed to understand she faced an uphill task when performing the arse off it for the juries last night. I still think it’s too dull to qualify, but I’m not completely discounting it any more
Macedonia’s Kaliopi has long been a bit of a fan favourite, a position cemented by her performances in Amsterdam and London over the last few months. She’s another who I think will be partly relying on jury votes. She was in fine form last night. It is a terrible draw though – the dreaded number two – coming straight after Serbia. She is selling a rather dated song with a change in tempo too, though selling it well. It will be a close call either way regarding qualification.
As if there weren’t enough songs of this kind tonight, we get one from Portugal as well. Filipa Sousa also does a great job of delivering this rather dated song. ‘Vida Minha’ is very competently done but it does have a lot against it: the draw; native language; and all those other rivals in the same genre.
Georgia’s ‘I’m A Joker’ alarms me but I can’t bring myself to oppose or back it. It looked as it has done all week for the juries last night: a big hot mess of theatrical vocals and antics. I really can’t see jurors feeling much love for it but it has a good draw and voting allies. One more reason it can’t be ignored for qualification is that it can’t be ignored on stage.
Lithuania’s Donny Montell with his blindfold and cheesy number ‘Love Is Blind’ gives us something memorable from the pimp slot. But as with Georgia, I’m just not sure if enough jurors and televoters will think it’s memorable in a good way. It’s a shame he wasn’t in quite as good form when it mattered last night as he was earlier in the day.
The Netherlands face another uphill struggle with the poorly staged ‘You and Me’, though Joan Franka was vocally more assured in the jury rehearsal than previously. I still think it’s wishful thinking on the part of fans to think this will qualify, but I would love to be proved wrong on that.
Malta give us the upbeat Eurovision cheese of ‘This Is The Night’. In its favour, it’s got a cute dance routine, plenty of energy on stage and had a solid enough first two minutes from Kurt Calleja last night. Against it, there’s its poor draw, lack of identifiable allies and an out-of-tune backing vocalist who gets a small turn in the spotlight.
On the basis of what I saw last night, I am now discounting Bulgaria and Slovakia. Max Jason Mai was flat or sharp in too many places for the juries last night. Meanwhile, Belarus hasn’t been doing it for me all week. So, here’s the coin toss: I am going to suggest Macedonia, Slovenia and Malta to add to Sweden, Serbia, Norway, Turkey, Bosnia, Ukraine and Estonia as tonight’s ten qualifiers.
A tip? You want a tip?! Well, Eurovision only comes round once a year, so if you wanted an interest in this semi-final, I’d suggest something that’s well delivered and getting points from all over but remains a big price. That’s a little each-way flutter on Ukraine at 25-1 with Stan James.
Let us know what you think below. I will add something to the comments section if anything comes to light from the last dress rehearsal which runs from 6-8pm local time.