I was looking forward to today’s set of rehearsals, and I wasn’t disappointed. Latvia offer the ideal opener. PeR have fun on stage in their glittery outfits, asking the (so far cardboard) audience to scream and make some noise. They slow-motion march down the catwalk during the bridge and there was even some crowd-surfing in the final run-through, thanks to the support of a burly group from the production team.
The fact that one half of PeR is beatboxing isn’t made clear enough, but that would be my only criticism of the way ‘Here We Go’ comes across. Otherwise, the best possible job is being made of selling the song. Whether that’s enough to qualify is another matter.
San Marino was highly anticipated given Ralph Siegel’s track record. What we got was based on the official video and surprisingly muted. Valentina sits on the floor looking into a glowing ball, whilst two backing dancers lie almost hidden behind her. Each are wearing dark shawls over red dresses. Valentina stands, ditches the ball, and her two assistants remove her shawl for the gear change before removing their own. Cue swirling of arms and the red fabric attached.
Valentina’s vocals were good, but she needs to be careful not to over-emote – she’s not as impressive when she does. The stage is also rather dark, moving from a heavy blue to a heavy red to match what’s being worn. The fanboys watching lapped it all up, but this didn’t feel like it was going places with a neutral audience coming to it for the first time. I remain open-minded on the question of qualification.
The problem with Macedonia is the incompatibility between its different elements. At least the two backing singers, who assist both Esma and Lozano, help create a greater sense of continuity. Whilst it became more polished during the various run-throughs, when Esma is left to sing completely alone the whole thing still falls to pieces.
Azerbaijan offered the talking point of the day. Staging guru Fokas Evangelinos has come up with a greatest hits of recent Eurovision gimmicks (many his own), adding an extra twist. Farid starts atop a glass box with someone in it, Ani Lorak-style; at some point we get Russia 2006’s rose petals swirling around inside it; Farid’s love interest has a red train on her dress longer than Carola’s that same year. The twist? Whilst guy-in-box mirrors the movements of Farid on top (the actual mirrors of Cyprus 2005 were clearly not enough), he stands upside down.
The only thing that’s missing is a Greek stapler topped by a conveyor belt, but it’s already a kitchen sink production. All the while, the camera loves Farid and the vocals sound excellent. The song is as immediate as it’s aways been and the watching press couldn’t take their eyes off each run-through. Opinion was split on what the staging did for the chances of ‘Hold Me’ based on whether you joined the ‘overkill’ or ‘memorable’ line.
It’s lucky that Finland’s Krista Siegfrids, following it with ‘Marry Me’, is able to hold her own. It’s pretty much as we’ve seen it performed in London and Amsterdam, with a sparkly Las Vegas-themed backdrop. Krista is not short on confidence, camera angles improved with each run-through and the lesbian kiss was included every time. Whether you love or hate this, today didn’t change opinions one way or another, being what was expected.
There weren’t too many surprises with Malta either, though ‘Tomorrow’ brings a nice change of pace. Gianluca starts with his band all spread out, walks around telling Jeremy’s story amiably, then uses the catwalk before they all gather together on a park bench for the song’s climax. Vocals were fine, he’s charming and they should be happy enough with this first rehearsal.
Bulgaria bring something very different to the stage. I know some Sofabet commenters have backed it at reasonable prices to qualify (full disclosure: I have too), so first off I should assure you ‘Samo Shampioni’ was as I hoped it would be.
They have gone the full ethno – you might as well given the song – with three backing singers in traditional costume and a young bagpipe player who whips out a tribal mask at the end. Elitsa and Stoyan bring a huge amount of energy to the stage, topped off by a nice skip down the catwalk to finish. Clever little touches like luminous drumsticks indicate they’ve done this before, and it’s going down well with those who like this kind of thing.
As is Iceland’s Eythor, who sang well on an effectively simple stage and sensibly switched to a black jacket – I hope because someone told him he looked like a cruiseship waiter in the white one. There’s a big note he nails and some earnest faces at the camera. He’s not quite Ott Lepland, but that’s what he’s going for. ‘Eg a Lif’ is a rather familiar-sounding composition, but there’s nothing wrong in the way it’s being put across here.
Overall, it was a strong set of rehearsals, especially from Azerbaijan onwards, and my sense that this is a tough semi was only reinforced. What about you? Do watch the videos and give us your own thoughts.