Things need to start coming together by the end of these second practices. There’s only one run-through in the full dress rehearsal between this and the jury performance. It’s a case of tick-tock for delegations and performers.
We start the first semi with a visually arresting show from Armenia. The lights pulse with the music of ‘Not Alone’ and the camera angles are coming together. Aram’s looks and Doctor Who-style outfit have polarised opinion, but there’s no doubting his passion and commitment to the performance, and I think that’s the most pertinent thing of all.
Joran and his merry band are all smiles for Latvia’s ‘Cake To Bake’. It’s hopelessly amateurish in this competitive semi-final and has a mountain to climb given its draw and the jury element. This was a more promising rehearsal for Estonia’s Tanja, with improved camera angles meaning the stage doesn’t swallow her up so much, and we get more involved in her fine performance. Unlike Latvia, there is probably enough quality on display to overcome an unhelpful slot in the running order.
Sweden’s Sanna and her hidden backing singers are producing fine vocals for ‘Undo’. I find the staging a little too static and dark, however. The spotlights surround Sanna for far too long, a tactic used on British X Factor to distance an act from their audience. It’s a much colder affair than the last Scandi ballad to wow televoters – Iceland’s Yohanna. Talking of Iceland, Pollaponk provide plenty of colour in contrast. They have their routine down pat for ‘No Prejudice’ so they’re tweaking and improving the minor stuff: now in suits, they shout out the word ‘Love’ just in case we don’t know what they’re spelling out with their arms at the climax.
Albania’s Hersi had an improved beige dress and lighting today. She still sounds good too, but the song rather sucks out what energy the Icelandic boys have given the show. It feels like it’ll be the first moment of the night when you consider putting the kettle on or looking for other distractions. At least the Russian stage show reignites the interest even if it’s one of Fokas Evangelinos’s lesser efforts. There is plenty to mock – from the tied ponytails to the rising sun – but it just about hangs together, and by the final run-through the vocals are strong.
Azerbaijan currently feels like the pinnacle at this part of the show. Dilara and her trapeze artist are in similar red dresses. The backdrops, camera angles and vocals are all on-point. There’s really nothing to fault for how ‘Start A Fire’ is being presented. Ukraine’s running man still looks a little ragged in comparison, as are Mariya’s vocals. But the camera angles are starting to come together for ‘Tick-Tock’ and you rule out a strong Ukrainian performance on the scoreboard at your peril.
Whatever your opinion of the song, Belgium’s Axel really connects with the camera for ‘Mother’. The staging hasn’t and won’t change – neither will your opinion on this marmite entry. Moldova is failing to impress me much. Cristina’s vocals were raspy today (they weren’t great for the first rehearsal), and although there’s nothing particularly wrong with the dramatic Roman-themed staging, this song is relying on Moldova’s plentiful allies in this semi.
The staging and performance of San Marino’s Valentina Monetta is rather musical theatre, with her sparkly plinth and hamming to the camera. We also get to see some old-fashioned arm movements from the backing singers. I still think this is too dated to have enough of an impact on the scoreboard. I rather fear for Portugal’s Suzy with slightly different reservations. ‘Quero Ser Tua’ is just what the audience needs at this stage – a bit of light-hearted fun – but the delivery just isn’t convincing enough right now.
That definitely can’t be said for the Netherlands, whose staging was a revelation within about ten seconds of the first rehearsal. The wonderful, intense atmosphere created then has been reinforced by a sepia effect on the camera shots, which longingly swirl around the two engaging performers in close-up. It looks and sounds great.
Montenegro is a disappointment in comparison. For the instrumental moments, the focus is on the ice skater, and when Sergej is in shot, he’s failing to show the camera enough love. It’s also being shown up by the highly professional Hungarian staging that comes after it. There is progression and interest at every point of Hungary’s ‘Running’. My only quibble is I wish they’d leave the masks off the dancers as it’s better to put a face to the protagonists. Otherwise, Andras and the story are highly compelling.
Do let us know how you feel this semi is progressing below.