And they’re off! For the first day of rehearsals, an assorted group of bloggers had a cinema seat for the Odeon-like surroundings at Euroclub. But just who was going to be The Good, The Bad and The Ugly?
Austria’s Natalia Kelly wasn’t any of them. She was vocally reasonable for ‘Shine’, but as it stands the performance isn’t dynamic enough: there’s some walking to different parts of the stage; a bunch of suspended pendant lights rise up in the air; and her five backing singers join her in an outward-facing circle. Overall it feels average and lacks bite right now, especially as a show opener. It needs to improve from here on in.
I thought it was soon overshadowed by Estonia’s Birgit Oigemeel, the staging for whom currently looks more effective. That’s because the visual signposts to differentiate various parts of the song worked much better. We started with a Yohanna-esque close-up camera swirl, the picture went from black-and-white to colour before the first chorus and after that chorus, Birgit walked back along the catwalk to the main stage.
She sounds great, including for the big note that’s been added to the new version, and looks more comfortable in front of the camera than Natalia at the moment. We’ll see if she can maintain that lead in the coming week.
Slovenia’s Hannah Mancini could also take some lessons from Birgit on engaging the camera. She currently makes singing ‘Straight Into Love’ look like hard work, though to be fair to her, it’s not an easy number for the lead vocalist.
The bodypopping choreography is good in theory given the dubstep opening, but it veers into Hungary 2011 territory with the three dancers looking rather removed from the action at certain points. They join Hannah on the catwalk for her purposeful strut later on. Unfortunately for her, it’s a particularly demanding part of the song, and every run-through saw an obvious missed note or two at different points. This is another one that needs work in the next week.
There were no vocal problems for the Croatian Klapa team. Their outfits were initially a bit off-putting, until I realised that they were traditional garb to go with the old-world feel of ‘Mizerja’. This was a strong rehearsal, showing it to be perfectly placed after Slovenia, and I continue to think it’s been underrated in this semi.
The afternoon’s big four were eagerly awaited. Emmelie de Forest essentially has the same shtick as in the Danish national final. Having to re-work camera angles all over again meant that it looked less polished here, but the whole focus of the rehearsal was on getting these right.
Emmelie’s vocals were strong, and if some commentators were underwhelmed by this practice compared to the finished article they witnessed in Copenhagen, the show-stopping ticker-tape and curtain-of-fire effects in the last run-through had them reconsidering.
Russia’s Dina Garipova, like Emmelie, offered a precocious lesson in looking the consummate professional. Her vocals were excellent, and with some effective backing vocalists, created an impressive wall of sound.
The staging was generally as safe as the song with one exception: there’s a strange moment when the two male backing singers, holding a ball each, bring them up for Dina to touch before throwing them into the audience. I can only assume these will be balloons on the big night.
It’s nothing, however, compared to the bizarre introduction for Ukraine’s ‘Gravity’. Zlata Ognevich pretends to be asleep as she’s carried onto a plinth by a Shrek-like giant. The process is awkward, and leaves Zlata looking dishevelled and bemused as the giant wanders off, job done. If it wasn’t so unintentionally funny – there were collective guffaws around the press centre – it would be creepy.
Zlata tries to recover by belting out the song, though the plinth and tight dress don’t give her much room to manoeuvre. She makes up for this with some major head-tossing, so the song now looks as well as sounds like a shampoo commercial. Her vocals are pretty amazing, however.
It’s worth bearing in mind that Ukraine ditched a dancer after their first rehearsal last year, so the opening cameo could magically disappear, though the giant seems an integral aspect of the concept.
The simple, understated staging for Anouk’s ‘Birds’ was a relief in comparison, and who’d have thought it would be the Netherlands teaching Ukraine a thing or two on this subject. She was vocally strong, and the Dutch press contingent I ran into were understandably delighted with a good first rehearsal.
The official videos uploaded onto eurovision.tv are, as feared, not terribly revealing. Nonetheless, do give me your thoughts on the day’s events below, and feel free to ask any questions you may have.