Eurovision 2018: Live blog first semi-final, first dress rehearsal

In a departure from usual practice, I’m going to try live-blogging the first dress rehearsal of the first semi-final. We’ll see how it goes before committing to a repeat later in the week. Nonetheless, update the page below to get a running update of this afternoon’s performances.

It’s our first opportunity to see the songs back-to-back as they’ll be seen by juries tonight and televoters tomorrow. In this very strong heat, it should be highly illuminating to see them in that context.

As the opener, Azerbaijan doesn’t have any context beyond the hosts introducing themselves. It’s so blue and white it could be the Greek entry (oh, wait). Vocally secure and a perfectly pleasant start. Iceland has had #2 in the running order written all over it for a long time, and a classic #2 it is. There will be some housewives and grannies that go “awwwwwww” for Ari though.

Albania feels like the least insipid thing we have seen so far, and Eugent is nailing the vocals. Another sixteen songs to go though. A reminder that we don’t have an audience for this afternoon’s rehearsal, so it’s hard to tell how Belgium’s long shots will come across. They’ve sharpened up the visuals of the introduction, though Sennek sounded strained in the first chorus before recovering.

Mikolas is showing no ill-effects from last week’s injury, and jumps off the stairs where previously he somersaulted. There was a male backing singer quite heavy in the mix. The shots of the dancers have become more polished but there’s further to go on that score for Czechia.

Lithuania is much as before except Ieva has ditched her granny jumper so it’s just the floaty pink dress. She’s followed by a break in proceedings where the green room is introduced. We had a technical issue just before the first Israeli chorus, and a slight delay follows.

Netta’s performance is excellent, but it’s hard to assess without a crowd. For every empty-looking long shot right now – and there are quite a few – there will be an audience going mad for it. Belarus’s memorable staging is making the most of what they did to the song, and Alekseev is in fine voice.

What to make of an Estonian opera singer parachute landing on stage after seeing Alekseev’s back tattoo? The guy on our table who hasn’t previously seen any performances has had his jaw on the floor for the last ten minutes. I find the verses sluggish here, but visually it looks pretty.

Bulgaria feels like a slow start too, with the early male harmonies not on-point – their faces seem to know it. Things do improve as the song progresses though. FYROM have pre-recorded the visuals for the first ten seconds, so that Marija can make a magical switch in position on the TV feed. The sound mix was off during this performance, but it wasn’t the only reason the audio isn’t coming together.

Croatia is definitely benefiting from the contrast principle. Within ten seconds it’s clearly miles better than what we’ve just seen. The camera loves Franka, and she loves it back. The question remains the raw material. There’s a green room break afterwards.

Austria’s Cesar worked the camera better than I’ve ever seen him do for the first half of the song, though the quick skip round the satellite catwalk doesn’t look quite so natural. We now have a few shots that show the backing singers on the bridge during the finale.

No blue hand any more for Greece’s Yianna. She summons up pyros and smoke effects with her movements during the instrumental break, which is more effective, as is the lighting. Her vocals are a little off in the climax though.

Finland’s Saara is in tremendous form this afternoon, emoting and sounding strong, like we saw during her UK X Factor run. Sevak is also in fine voice this afternoon, wearing a slightly different asymmetric grey linen outfit.

Switzerland is as it’s been throughout rehearsals. They’ve done as much as they can with the song, and the Zibbz siblings do their best to sell it. The Irish have done a fantastic job of presenting ‘Together’, and they’ve put themselves in with a shot of qualification.

Cyprus gets a good round of applause in the press centre – we really like nothing more than slutdropping enthnopop round these parts. It doesn’t feel like Grand Final-winning vocals though.

The recap has Austria’s Cesar still on his plinth with his image overlaid in big size, which is a good choice. Greece’s Yianna will need to be careful with her vocals after the instrumental break as it’s that moment featured. The second recap features a safer part of the song.

Do make sure you follow our Twitter feed tonight, for my in-running tweets of the all-important jury dress rehearsal.

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61 comments to Eurovision 2018: Live blog first semi-final, first dress rehearsal

  • Great idea Daniel! First time actually here and I cannot wait for tonight!

  • niko

    Prediction time!

    Q:
    Azerbaijan
    Belgium
    Czech Republic
    Israel
    Estonia
    Bulgaria
    Greece
    Switzerland
    Ireland
    Cyprus

    NQ:
    Iceland
    Albania
    Lithuania
    Belarus
    Macedonia
    Croatia
    Austria
    Finland
    Armenia

    Let me talk a bit about where I differ from the odds (I don’t think I need to say much about Czech Republic, Israel, Estonia, Bulgaria, Greece or Cyprus).

    Azerbaijan is Azerbaijan, if they could qualify with Hour of the Wolf, they are qualifying with this. I don’t think draw 1 is that big of a deal, remember it will be the first thing people see as soon as the lines open in the recap.

    Belgium is borderline, but I think it has a certain appeal in its genre and in the fact that it might be the most credible entry in the semi-final, the one that feels least Eurovisiony.

    Switzerland or Austria, I think it’s at most one of the two, I can’t see both getting enough votes to qualify. I go with the Swiss, as it’s a contemporary song with a pretty nice hook late in the running order. The Austrian entry feels dated by comparison.

    Ireland and Lithuania might be another duel. Lithuania to me feels just a little bit too calculated and treacly. Ireland also has the running order advantage. Could Lithuania scrape it by more neighbours and a bit of backlash from the gay love story? Perhaps, but I think there is value in Ireland to qualify.

  • Ron

    I think Lithuania and Ireland complement each other and there’s no reason they both can’t qualify from the same semi. They are far apart in the running order and sufficiently different in style to both be able to pull in votes.

  • Scott

    The key thing for me is what you said about Estonia. Because that guy’s reaction was the same as mine when I first watched that performance.

    Dedicated Eurovision fans are somewhat more difficult to please, especially if they can remember opera from previous years. But what happens if the casual voters all react like that on the night?

    I am strongly in danger of veering into the world of confirmation bias here, so I would be very happy to be corrected. But if I’m looking for that song which could either win the whole thing or crash out in the semis altogether – the logic that has served me well in the last couple of years – then it’s Estonia.

    • niko

      I also think Estonia is being over-analysed by now. It is so easy to see the flaws when you’ve heard it a couple of times. But I think the initial feeling from so many viewers will be one of awe. The fact that the verses are a bit boring, that it is somewhat empty on meaning, that the projections on her dress doesn’t really make any sense, none of that might matter, as soon as she goes into the chorus. People are going to see what looks like an almost ethereal being with a beautiful voice and be moved and not think any further about it. Seeing the rehearsal clips, I really am getting winner vibes in a way that no other song is giving me.

      • Ron

        Completely agree niko, when I saw that eurovision.tv clip on Thursday, I went “wow”. It looked far better than at Eesti Laul (and the NF performance itself had been pretty impressive). If a performance like this showed up on something like Britain’s Got Talent, people would be going crazy over it.

        • Scott Reid

          I’ve just seen it, and it does look more polished than last time. And as you say, it wasn’t bad first time round. I suspect a big reason for that is that she’s looking right down the lens this time round, so is engaging with the audience.

  • I’m not one of Estonia’s backers I am afraid. Gay man that I am, it takes more than a big frock and a Diva to arouse my ESC sensibilities. I am open to the idea that it may be a sort of 1995 “Nocturne”, cool and classical that will look sassy next to Netta, Fuego etc, but it all feels too remote, with no message or DNA beyond the “look”….

    If it does win I am in trouble, because I’ve always been able to reproduce the melody of the winning song ever since the 1960s (Yes I even learnt all the words to “Molitva”…sad man that I am.

    But this one would leave me stumped.

    All that said: sure qualifier and probably in top three/four slots.

    • eurovicious

      Agreed – “remote” nails it.

    • Chris Bellis

      Mark – Doesn’t make you sad, knowing the words to Molitva. Or we are all sad on this site. I have had trouble with Estonia from early on. Initially I was totally impressed. Then I did a bit of research and noted that in the world of opera, she’s just an also ran. So I have to balance my understanding that she’s an ok but not outstanding singer with the way I was impressed the first time I saw it. That’s how most voters and many of the judges will see it. I can compare it with that homeless man playing the piano outside a bookshop. Everyone is impressed on youtube, but he’s not a concert pianist by any stretch. If your audience is three parts cut, it doesn’t need to be. Susan Boyle effect.

  • markovs

    All the top songs have been 20+ at some stage, some much higher. With careful backing you could’ve guaranteed a decent profit whatever wins…….apart from Israel. The incredibly low odds for Netta have meant brilliant odds elsewhere and the ebb and flow of the other top 5 has meant there’s always something at a ridiculous price.

    For me, Israel has always been a fanwank false favourite at the odds . It may win but I don’t see it has any better chance than half a dozen others, so have backed them and left Israel well alone…..apart from a small bet at 1.04 for it not to qualify (£2 wins £50)

    Is anyone else in a similar boat??

    By the way. Latvia is 5/4 not to qualify, with Sporting bet. Look a a very good bet to me

    • Rob4

      no because they will Q

    • Scott Reid

      I don’t bet a lot of money on Eurovision so I’ve always looked for value over the favourite. It worked last year with Portugal. This time round, I make a packet if Estonia, Norway or France win it on incredibly low stakes.

      Israel could build up a head of steam after its semi-final appearance with the right coverage, narrative and PR, but there is no evidence as it stands that it should be favourite for me. Perhaps just yet.

    • Hippo

      I am in the exact same boat as you, haven’t touched Israel at all. My reaction to it was so negative and so at odds with the consensus at first that I was cautious – particularly as I didn’t overly fancy any other country either- and didn’t bet on much at all in the outright . I soon grew in confidence (perhaps to my downfall if it wins) as time has gone on and have a fine position in the market through not touching it at all. I mean, I look at that opening 30 seconds and it’s just terrible. It picks up but not as some huge televote or jury magnet. And also, when was the last time a performance won that was (significantly) worse than the video?
      I see Israel out of the top 5 all things considered.

      • It was strong tonight but I think there’s better songs, particularly in the first semi which is extremely strong. The fake vote reminded us that there will be at least one or two shock non-qualifiers tomorrow.

  • Cyprus has to be a serious contender after tonight. The hall went crazy, so with a packed arena tomorrow it’s going to be the one everyone’s talking about come Wednesday morning.

    Switzerland also did a fantastic job. Stones packed a punch. Great rock song, hot chick working the crowd, strong message. Could be a dark horse.

  • Ande

    For anyone not having caught on, this is the reason Israeli odds are tanking…
    https://i0.wp.com/www.escxtra.com/wp-content/uploads/Press-Poll-DAY9.jpg?w=340&ssl=1

  • Andy

    Looks like cyprus won. Same odds movement had happened with portugal last year

  • gcd

    I have Cyprus to win @130 and to make top 5 @ 9.2. Been trying to figure out all week if I should hold on to it or sell? (Top 5 seems like a safe bet now I think)

    • Ande

      If you caught Cyprus to win at 130 then you’ve already made a good profit. Now is a great time to lay and cash out.

      ‘Fuego’ isn’t gonna get a more favorable audience than press and fans, they love that kind of tune. There also isn’t much room for its price to contract while there the risk of recoil is quite high.

  • gcd

    Also – my prediction for SF1

    Azerbaijan
    Czech Republic
    Israel
    Estonia
    Bulgaria
    Austria
    Greece
    Finland
    Armenia
    Cyprus

    I think Armenia @1.78 is great value, as is Austria @1.43 – think the latter is exactly the sort of song that scores very highly with the juries and has a weaker televote but can’t see it falling out of the top 10.

    Azerbaijan may well not qualify but 2.22 for a country with a 100% record is probably worth a punt.

  • John

    Ugh, go home Eurovision. You’re drunk.

    Yeah, yeah… vocals.

    Me: Not backing Cyprus.

    https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DcoQdNqW4AEYjlI?format=jpg

  • HL

    Since Cyprus is now the last in the running order of its semifinal, I cannot see them giving it the last slot in the final although it would win its semi. Right?

  • RonH

    No matter what, this turns out to be one of the most interesting contests in years…..

    • markovs

      The fluctuation in betting has been incredible. Apart from Israel everything has been available at 20+ recently. Now we have another false favourite in Cyprus so still fantastic odds available. Norway will be favourite by Friday morning. Hopefully we won’t end up with another default winner like Azerbaijan in 2011 (Estonia!!!)

      • Azerbaijan 2011 was the only winner that I didn’t like since I started watching Eurovision.

        • Chris Bellis

          I didn’t like it either but I won shedloads on it. We’re in a bubble here and we’ve over analyzed everything. Admittedly it’s harder to bribe the judges these days, but Azerbaijan always seems to do better than one might expect.

        • eurovicious

          I liked it and called it as the winner after I saw the first rehearsal. I hadn’t heard any of the songs before the contest that year, so I was seeing it for the first time.

          It’s the only winner from 2009-2013 that I do like.

  • Cyprus now favs 😮

    Well done all, some market move… my feeling however is that this is a very open year. Can’t see anyhting running away with either a jury or public vote.

    In terms of tonight… Got to be against that tripe from Bulgaria and Greece are also too short, even with friendly neighbors.

    For my money Belarus are hugely underrated in this contest, I don’t think they can win but I fully expect to see them on the left hand side of the board come Saturday.

    Good luck all and hopefully another very enjoyable week.

    http://www.cherryanalysts.co.uk/2018/05/eurovision-2018-semi-final-1/

  • niko

    This settles it, this is officially the weirdest year of Eurovision I have followed. The market is totally confused now. I just can’t see any possible way Cyprus could win, this seems to be a complete overreaction. It might be a bit less tacky and a bit more modern than Cyprus 2012. But still, that only came 16th, how on earth should this be a winner? I’m not buying it, top 5 is the ceiling for Cyprus.

    • eurovicious

      This is it. Cyprus now being favourite is just a testament to how confused the market is. Since people started getting the vibe that Israel wasn’t working that well on stage, everyone has been looking around trying to find another winner. Cyprus is not it. It’s probable top 10 but you need more emotional content to get into the top 3, and it’s the sort of entry liable to drop in support in the final (especially if unlucky enough to get a first-half draw).

      I feel similarly about Norway’s chances of winning – people keep suggesting it as a potential winner, yet I can’t find anyone who actually likes the song. At least Israel’s favouritism was justifiably based in loads of people loving the song.

      No year is ever a repeat of another, but this year is reminding me more and more of 2011, where going into contest week, the favourites were Sognu, Rockefeller Street, What About My Dreams, Haba Haba, Lipstick and I Can (all of which except Lipstick failed to make the top 10), as well as Popular and Running Scared, the only two songs from the higher end of the betting market that did end up doing well. People had no idea that year.

      So Sweden and Spain are the ones I’m eyeing this year. I think Sweden’s stylish, memorable, visually striking entry does a good job of presenting Benjamin as a star/conveying him as a personality, and stands out from the field. Similarly I think Spain is charming, sweet and has absolutely magical chemistry (as well as being a good composition) – it’s a fairytale, the song tells their story and it’s incredibly authentic (including the language factor), very few artists this year have as personal a connection to their song or as much of a built-in story. The interaction on stage is joyous and Amaia’s vocals are excellent. I think the fan bubble is somewhat overlooking its charms because a) the original NF performance was nowhere near as strong as this is b) it beat a lot of other good songs/artists in the NF, which some people are still unhappy about c) it’s about puppy love, something most gay men missed out on/didn’t have a chance to experience, so they may not personally connect with it or may even feel rubbed up the wrong way by Spain’s teens flaunting their passion. Even in this cynical day and age there are still tons of straight couples out there who met in high school/married their teen sweetheart, and this will awake certain feelings in them and in a lot of other people. To me it combines Running Scared’s paean to heterosexual love (but with way better chemistry) with the disarming sincerity and sweetness of Amar Pelos Dois. I may be barking up the wrong tree but I think it deserves to be right up there, and it has a lot of the narrative, personality, aspirational, sacral and timeless factors we’re looking for but not finding in the other entries.

      • johnkef

        Last night i had the feeling that something would happen. Having not touched at all Estonia, Cyprus and having Norway just to the Top 3-4-5 markets i went to bed and i was sure that i would see a different market when i would wake up. I was sure that Norway or Estonia would be the leader on the market.

        When i saw Cyprus i didn’t know if i should laugh or cry. This might not be my year and i might end up on loss but Estonia, Norway and Cyprus cannot be winners even in this poor year.

        • Alpie

          I just have tried to give you some different thought on Semi 1 final. I still think that the competition is between Semi 1 winner or Norway. As there are so many serious contender in Semi 1 it is hard to predict. Cyprus or Israel or Czechia?

      • Chris Bellis

        EV 100% agree. Look at the audience reaction to Spain in one of the earlier showings. Grown men with a tear in their eye. We might be made of harder stuff, but I think Spain’s song will have its market. There are loads of boy girl duets, especially featuring pianos, that have done well at Eurovision. Anyway, the odds for its coming last are ridiculous.

        • 1nce

          If Pastora Soler only managed 10th in 2012 Spain will never win

          • Chris Bellis

            Matter of opinion, but it was a boring song, and very dated. Plus she didn’t get some of the high notes. Quédate Conmigo. What a cliche, even in the context of Eurovision.
            Please also note that people said that Portugal would never win. I’m not saying that Spain will win: I’m saying that the odds for its coming last are ridiculous, and there’s value in there.

          • eurovicious

            Quedate Conmigo was a fantastic song and the best performance of the night. I loved it. It also didn’t tell a story, doesn’t allow you to get to know Pastora as a person/character, doesn’t present her as relatable or aspirational figure, and doesn’t communicate a particular emotion or sentiment that audiences can relate to based on their own life experiences – it’s a great ballad, but not speaking Spanish, I still have absolutely no idea what it was about.

        • Chris Bellis

          EV I do speak, read and write Spanish and believe me Quédate Conmigo is as corny as it gets. If you want to hear the same message done properly, there’s no competition.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oR_SZR_tmxM

          Or even Dusty’s version:
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyCVxPEPx5Y

          The Spanish bint is singing without any sympathy for the message, like a sort of flamenco singer, which I suppose doesn’t matter for most people, but I didn’t like it. I still don’t think that the fact that that song didn’t win has much relevance to what is going to happen in this year’s Eurovision

      • Playing Devil’s Advocate for a second, what if this is the year a message, story etc isn’t what’s needed – and Europe just goes for a stomping party song?

        We have so much shit in our lives, this year maybe we need to party? Oh-way-o-way-o-way-o… Fuego!

        • Agree. We had Ukraine 2016, Portugal 2017. Those were not typical Eurovision winners. I think this year we’re gonna get a classic Eurovision winner. For me it’s either Cyprus, Israel, Norway or Sweden. As I said on esctips some time ago, fireworks will win this year. Salvador won’t like it but oh well. And also according to this theory France has no chances this year.

          • johnkef

            This is the reason why i don’t get it. You don’t win Eurovision with an avant guarde track but the last few years the winner had something special. It don’t think that we will go back to the late 00’s early 10’s winners.

  • niko

    By the way, something to consider for tonight is that the Armenian diaspora probably isn’t focused on Eurovision because of the political situation in the country where the opposition leader has just been named prime minister.

    • Chris Bellis

      Niko I take your point but I’ve just visited my local East European “Polski Sklep”, and the Armenians in the shop seem to be interested in both the political situation and Eurovision. If you tune into Armenian TV you will see that Eurovision is featured as much as other news items. People need a break, even in wartime.

  • RonH

    I suppose it could only become more weird than this if Israel goes out tonight

    • Chris Bellis

      RonH
      If only. That would deserve an early celebration in the Bellis household.

      • markovs

        Me too. I’ll have covered all my bets and made a healthy profit already if Israel miss out. Very unlikely but at 1.04 not to qualify was worth a small bet as it is a divisive song. Conversely, it’s gradually getting near to a backable price. The 2.7s were ridiculous

    • eurovicious

      Stranger things have happened but I wouldn’t pay much attention to that press poll.

  • Hippo

    I’ll post my thoughts on the semi later but I do agree Cyprus are too short now. Yes they’re in with a shot- and a good one with momentum- but before the semi final for this to go so low is a little extreme. I was backing at 16+, haven’t touched much since.
    It’s not a great song but it’s radio friendly enough for jurors with it’s Swedish influence and reverts back to the ethno pop era which gathered strong support when done well. Cyprus should be this price with a second half draw and a strong performance on esctracker, not this early.
    That said, they’re one of the winners now along with Norway, Czech Republic and potentially Estonia. I don’t see any other getting there.

  • Stoney

    Doesn’t look like it will be too long til Israel and Norway flip flop

  • Estonia flopping but don’t think Norway will flop. Get ready to see 5-6 odds for Rybak after Thursday.

  • Agree by the way we’ve finally got the Saara we love back. She’s loving every single moment.

  • 360

    Final-wise, what does everyone think of Russia this time round? Given that they’ve top 5’d the last two contests they’ve been in.

    Otherwise, I’m not convinced by Israel, Norway, Australia or new dark horse Cyprus as winners – although Cyprus did stand out to me from the pack as very on-trend compared to most others and a definite for top 10.

    I’m feeling Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Croatia to be strong, though I haven’t watched any of the rehearsals or live vids yet to get a better grasp. FYR Macedonia and Finland are both chasing the gay vote hard, but Saara should have the ability to pick up a lot of floating voters by a competent performance that stands out depending on how good her running order is.

    Other possible dark horses for me would include Poland, Latvia, and Switzerland, in terms of putting on a good show and standing out from the pack on the night. This is, of course, in terms of the final.

    This semi is hard to call because it seems a lot of the heavy hitters are in it! I would predict:

    Czech Republic
    Israel
    Bulgaria
    Cyprus
    Greece
    Finland
    Croatia
    Switzerland
    Armenia
    and Ireland OR Azerbaijan to Q here.
    (I feel Ireland’s package is stronger than Azerbaijan’s, but Azerbaijan always seem to qualify!)

  • That semi was like a rage cage match. I don’t know if we’ll ever see one like it again. Here are my thoughts.

    In my predictions I got 8/10. Didn’t see Albania and Ireland coming(who did?). Albania was the biggest shock, there was no scenario in which I saw him getting through. I imagine juries plus some serious diaspora work from Macedonia, Greece, Switzerland and Cyprus put him over. On the subject of diaspora I thought Greece’s and Armenia’s would pull them through. Much prefer Ireland and Albania though so I’m pleased with that.

    One has to wonder with Ireland. I reckon it was a mix of juries/late slot that did. UK probably threw him 10 televote points (after giving it’s twelve to Lithuania)

    On azerbaijan, people fell into induction bias- assuming something will continue to happen because it always has. Weak song, bad slot and no allies. The writing was on the wall.

    While I liked Belgium, the whole performance seemed to fall apart when she hit the chorus. I assumed, as did most people, it would be the big casualty of the semi.

    Austria was great. Good song, great performance. Could be show opener. That’s five finals in a row for Austria.

    I was very close to putting Finland and Bulgaria in NQ column, but kept them in. Finland’s package is a hot mess but she does have star power.

    Lithuania’s qualification was obvious. They had allies and the package was touching. One to watch.

    • Chris Bellis

      Nicholas – agree with all of that. Shame about Switzerland, particularly since I had money on it. It deserved to qualify, but they don’t seem to have many friends.

    • RD

      Ireland looked like a very jury-friendly package. Vocally spot-on, great camera work that didn’t let the performers get swallowed by the stage (compare that with SuRie’s video…). I also think that it did great with the televoters: it’s scoring well enough in the iTunes charts of Western Europe since the SF ending and the performance has gained more views than the likes of Bulgaria, Austria and Finland (and will probably catch-up Estonia soon).

      I actually wouldn’t be surprised if both Albania and Ireland made the top 5 in this SF, tbh. Albania turned out to be quite a hit on YouTube so it has proved to have plenty of USP (his jury appeal was never in question).

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