Semi-final 1 rattled some long-held assumptions among Eurovision hawks: notably Serbia’s failure despite voting power and the pimp slot. Trading at around 1.13 to go through, it was the biggest surprise since Anna Bergendahl’s exit in 2010. I’m a big one for learning from every new piece of information, especially given the change in the way countries are ranked this year.
What we should also bear in mind, however, is that semi 2 has a very different feel to semi 1. Geographically and culturally, there’s a significant weighting towards the far south and east, only partially offset by a ‘northern lights’ brigade. There’s a much greater variety of songs on offer and more strength in depth. That was very clear in last night’s jury rehearsal.
The big four in the market are Norway, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Greece. Georgia were a little off their game last night, Nodi’s opening in particular. In my view it won’t affect their qualification chances, but it might not help them win the semi. I don’t think ‘Alcohol Is Free’ offers any kind of equivalent to Tuesday’s Serbian failure, whilst Norway and Azerbaijan give us two more obviously strong packages.
Beyond the big four, the standout performances last night were Israel, Finland and Iceland. I have them down as reasonably confident qualifiers as a result. If all jurors are truly apolitical, Moran Mazor should be scoring consistently highly among them. Let’s hope that’s the case.
Some commentators have worried that Krista’s stage show and ‘Marry Me’ as a song would be too trashy for juries. The fact that she performs with unrivalled panache makes me think it’s scoring perfectly well with this constituency, as the likes of ‘Lipstick’ and ‘Lautar’ did. A bigger concern is how it will play away from the north and west. As with Iceland, it’s partly relying on strong support from the northern lights brigade and Switzerland.
My slightly less confident choices to fill the last three qualification slots are Malta, Bulgaria and Armenia. In terms of voting power and competence, I think each have enough. I have some fears for Malta and Bulgaria, but ultimately ‘Tomorrow’ and ‘Samo Shampioni’ offer much better packages than the efforts which saw each country just miss out on qualification in 2011 and 2012 respectively.
Armenia would probably be the most controversial choice, but juries don’t have any reason to unduly punish the way Dorians performed last night and their voting power is strong – moreso than Serbia on Tuesday night, for example. One bright spark sitting next to me in the press centre used the example of Bosnia’s 2010 effort ‘Thunder and Lightning’. This was better staged but almost as dreary a rock song, and that managed a very respectable jury placing, admittedly in a weak semi.
In the battle of the rock songs, I think Armenia beat Albania in terms of polish for the juries last night – ‘Lonely Planet’ looked and sounded more cohesive and it’s in English. Albania comes off worse on voting power too.
Otherwise, Latvia have it all to do despite being a fantastic show opener; Macedonia have an even tougher task on the stats than their non-qualification efforts of 2009-11; Hungary’s ByeAlex may have cult status among some but looked petrified in front of the juries last night; Switzerland is just too amateurish for me despite a Salvation Army campaign; whilst Romania’s staging is laughable – a perfect storm of absurdity that jurors may punish heavily.
Which leads me to my final non-qualifier. At a price of 5/2 with Boylesports or a lay at under 1.4 on Betfair, the value call has to be fan favourite San Marino to fall at the first hurdle. There’s been an interesting debate in our comments section about the influence of fan voting in the semi-final. The two sides of the argument were summed up best by eurovicious, Boki and Alexander S.
I’m encouraged by the case of Sweden’s Charlotte Perrelli in 2008. ‘Hero’ was the runaway winner of fan polls that year (compared to San Marino’s podium finish). Charlotte was also a returning Eurovision winner representing the fans’ pet country, rather than a returning non-qualifier from a microstate.
Yet despite all this, and some regional support, Perrelli was 12th in her semifinal televote (from draw 2, coincidentally). Her huge popularity among fans counted for nothing in places like Latvia, Georgia, Macedonia and Bulgaria, where she received zero. Meanwhile, she managed one point in France and Hungary. Clearly fan favourite status did nothing for her in many countries (the examples used here are all involved tonight), if any at all.
Juries put Charlotte through as their best of the rest outside the televote top nine, a rule subsequently dropped. Valetina will be relying on jurors too if fanboys are not enough. San Marino have done surprisingly well in this respect from similar sources over the last two years, but the new system downgrades the potential of a jury top ranking if it’s not matched in the televote. That helps partly negate an advantage that saw the microstate still fall well short of qualifying in 2011 and 2012.
The short price to qualify is based largely on a few big key changes. It’s certainly not based on some rather dull staging, which makes the first two minutes of ‘Crisalide’ seem pedestrian. And whilst Valentina is vocally competent, she doesn’t exactly have a Premier League stage presence. This much is clear even in a Eurovision semi-final.
Still, with 10 from 17 going through, I don’t discount San Marino appearing from the envelopes tonight. If it happens, I’ll take it on the chin and continue to smash into ‘Crisalide’ as a top 10 lay in the final. But at odds of 5/2, it’s a chance worth taking.
Let us know your thoughts below. Who are your qualifiers tonight and what’s your best bet?