As well as a quicker tempo to the day, there are fewer new things to describe for the second rehearsals. Finland is a case in point: it’s largely the same as before, though the vocals and camera angles had tightened up – apart from her catwalk strut, where both still mildly suffer at the moment.
We got to hear Greece this time, and the female vocalists are only adequate. The visuals are carrying ‘Utopian Land’ as far as the song can go, but the last minute drags on the repetition of the chorus. Moldova’s Lidia has a cute, see-through little black dress with metallic detail, her cosmonaut is now in full silver attire, and there’s a verse in French. None of these feel like enough to lift the song into the qualification mix.
What I’m asking myself regarding Hungary’s ‘Pioneer’ is: how does it compare to the same country’s light-anthem-rock borderline qualifier in 2012? I think ‘Sound of Our Hearts’ is a marginally better song, and Compact Disco provided more energy on stage, although the addition of the monk drummer and his Kung-fu moves helped today. But Freddie does have looks in his favour, even if I’m not sure how well his gravelly voice works here.
He’s also helped by Croatia looking and sounding less than convincing straight afterwards. Like Elhaida Dani last year, Nina feels like a good vocalist trapped by a song that’s not ideal to perform. She’s still encumbered by her big tentacle dress too, and now her backing singers are hooded like evil monks. Nina biffed a few early notes in each run-through, but was generally secure for the finale; her feathery, metallic undergarment is fine.
The reliable, straightforward charm of The Netherlands stands out at this point. There are more close-ups now, though not enough in the early part of the song. The guitarist makes the most of his 15 seconds of fame during the instrumental bridge, and the only unknown is how the audience singalong will go. I don’t envisage too many problems for this brief interlude with a bunch of enthusiastic fanboys; plenty of them will presumably be Dutch.
Armenia is much as before. Iveta alone in a skimpy leotard and cape, red light occasionally shining on her face, thrusting her hips around. I think the connotations are unfortunate, and viewers prefer females who behave more demurely, like Zlata Ognevich. But she’s making a decent fist of carrying this demanding song alone on stage.
Plum-suited Serhat is alone for the first 1m45s of ‘I Didn’t Know’ until his silver-clad backing singers – who aren’t doing their main job well enough – join him off their plinth. This makes him look creepy and aloof, and the styling is dated in the worst way. San Marino could learn some lessons from Belgium on staging a disco number. This is the amateur night version.
Russia are still working out small problems with the very technical ‘You Are The Only One’. The screen doesn’t quite align properly for one of Sergey’s stepping stones, and the spotlights obscuring the swirl came back for one run-through before being ditched again. There’s another long close-up, but Sergey needs more, and the stage is far too dark. But it sounds very strong, and I have no doubt will look very slick by Tuesday. The whole routine says action hero rather than romantic hero, and the big question remains how much neutral televoters and jurors will respond to that.
There wasn’t too much that was new for the Czech staging. The first and last parts are still more impressive than the middle section, and I’m not sure there’s enough visual development, but at least we got more close-ups. Gabriela remains in good voice. Cyprus is another in the “doing well enough” category. There were less distracting cutaways to CGI wolves, which only now happens in the latter part of the song. Otherwise, this is much the same.
As was Austria. You know what you’re getting here: three minutes of charming whimsy. I still don’t think it’s the kind of thing juries take kindly to, but I understand its appeal. Estonia had come on nicely from a leaden first rehearsal. The camera is working much more in Juri’s favour, and it’s helped that he’s ditched the glasses. I’m not totally sold on the blue suit that makes him look like a young investment banker, tied into the playing card theme, but he seemed to have more confidence today.
Azerbaijan’s Samra couldn’t have been any less confident in her first rehearsal. She came along a little bit today, which is to say the vocals were merely poor, and she didn’t look completely lost. She tried out a few racy outfits, whilst her backing dancers looked like extras from a Mardi Gras parade in their kinky American Football-style clothes. They will be throwing every pyro at the finale.
Montenegro have black outfits now, and what feels like an even darker stage for their growlathon. It doesn’t keep the interest. Iceland, on the other hand, really upped its game today. There were new effects in the floor, and a great moment when what looks like a real Greta dissipates, and the real thing comes right back into shot. Every camera angle was working for ‘Hear Them Calling’ today, and the backing singers were lifting the tune.
Bosnia is also very ably performed but their styling is incredibly off-putting. Someone needs to tell Deen that wearing an all black-outfit with leather trenchcoat and jackboots behind a barbed wire fence looks very unfortunate. Dalal is wearing an ugly pair of curtains, and Ana has tights with cutouts. The girls still start out in bacofoil too. The fashion roadkill is distracting from an otherwise earnest entry.
Malta have made plenty of changes. Ira’s hologram now starts out in bigger form on the floor, and she’s in front of her backing dancer in a more flattering, flowing black slitted dress. She stands at the edge of a watery LED floor, as a predominantly blue backdrop turns to predominantly gold. The ineffective technology has been ditched, which is an improvement, but this means it rather lacks a concept.
Moving onto the much-anticipated French rehearsal, Amir was alone on stage in an informal blue suit with a gorgeous blue cosmos backdrop. He gives a Sergey eagle pose to start things off, in what was a rather tense and static set of run-throughs. Vocally, the hidden backing singers are giving him great support in those places that he needs it, apart from the first line of the freestyling section, which was notably off on each occasion. Amir needs to relax and play on his charm to get the best possible result. Without it this time around, the press centre reaction was muted.
Spain’s backing singers are not doing such a good job in their sparkly basketball top dresses, whilst Barei in a similar metallic number, fakes a fall at the point the music stops in the video. I started off rolling my eyes at this gimmick, but had come round to it by the last run-through. I don’t think it’s persuading juries to like ‘Say Yay’.
Tomorrow sees the remaining Big 5 give their first rehearsals, followed by all of the second semi-final on their second tries. Please keep the conversation going below.