Eurovision 2016 – Semi Final One: Results

The qualifiers from Semi Final One are as follows:

Nine of my 10 predicted qualifiers got through – Estonia failed to qualify. Shame. That was my absolute favourite of the night.

Finland turned out to be just as I feared it would be: shouty and challenging vocals. Bosnia and Herzegovina looked cheap and ponderous, and my theory that the creepiness of San Marino might actually make it an unexpected qualifier turned out to be wrong too. In short the voters and the juries appeared to wheedle out the crap in the first semi-final (with the exception of Estonia).

I think Azerbaijan is the weakest of the bunch – the vocals weren’t, to my mind, totally secure. Russia confuses me visually. What I’m fascinated by is getting a sense of how much my issues with the presentation and the song will be reflected in the voting by the mainstream audiences on Saturday night. I fear they won’t and they’ll go on their instinct and vote Russia.

There was a rather beautiful and incredibly moving choreographed number as part of the interval act which was the most compelling piece of entertainment of the entire night. The dance sequence reflected the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe.




Eurovision 2016 – Rehearsals: Day Seven

It’s a much a shorter day of rehearsals today – just the ‘Big Five’ and Sweden are gracing the stage.

Sweden’s has kicked off proceedings. This is the first time I’ve seen Frans’ ‘If I Were Sorry‘ on the big screen as you’ll see it on TV. For all of the talk of how Eurovision is about music entertainment (ie making it visually arresting), Sweden’s song is surprisingly dull on-screen. Frans strides around stage in front of a screen which helpfully illuminates the keywords in his song – words like ‘dance’ and ‘devil’. Very helpful.

France’s ‘Ja’iCherche‘ act is similarly straightforward in terms of presentation. Amir stands tall and wide in a pair of bright white plimsolls (I’m currently focussed on whether or not he’s wearing socks – I hope he is – I think its important that standards of dress don’t slip), leaping around excitedly, stretching his arms wide to make everyone feel included. He is irresistible to watch on screen. The effect is incredibly uplifting.

It’s the first time I’ve seen ‘Say Yay‘ on the big screens too. There’s a surprise in it – a mildly dramatic moment – when the music stops and the lights drop out which may make you gasp. I loved this in the previews but seeing it in vision, it seems to lack the energy and attack that Belgium’s choreography did yesterday. The backing singers do look like they’re directing traffic.

For all the colour in Jamie-Lee’s costume – she looks a candy store – it’s not helping Germany’s mid-tempo ballad. Musically this is possibly the dullest of Germany’s entries in recent years. People will laugh at it on Saturday night. Italy’s number ‘No Degree of Separation‘ looks OK with better lighting, but the props do cheapen it somewhat. I do still love it though.

And the last rehearsal of the day, from the UK. Joe and Jake are still coming across well, though without the context of the other songs in the running order and the lack of excitement I experienced yesterday in the run up to their first appearance, I didn’t get the tear in the eye. No problem. They turn in a good performance. Nothing to worry about here, I don’t think.



Eurovision 2016 – Rehearsals: Day 6 – UK, Italy and Semi Final 2

Some of the reactions in today’s round-up post are from rehearsal videos the EBU has published on YouTube today and some from watching rehearsals in the press centre. This post will be updated throughout the day.

Francesca Michielin’s vocal stamina slipped a little during the second run-through in Italy’s first rehearsal. I still like the song – it has an endearing bittersweet quality, a sort of wilting flower defiant in the face of its dwindling levels of chlorophyll. The plant reference isn’t some flight of fancy, by the way. Francesca stands in the middle of a row of fake plants stuck on the top of stalks. It’s as though she got lost in amongst the exhibits at the Natural History Museum. And that’s disappointing, because the imagery jars with what is otherwise quite a beautiful song.

Joe and Jake, singing for the first time at the Globen, had three run-throughs of their song ‘You’re Not Alone‘. There is an pleasing simplicity to the number which is complimented by a backdrop which lacks pretension, serving to underline the boys obvious enthusiasm on stage.

Joe and Jake with their twinkling eyes and bright white smiles are striking in close-ups, particularly in the opening sequence. They bound around on stage together like brothers too. The may well start by giving the impression it doesn’t have much impact, but the repetition of the hook and seeing Joe put arm around his singer partner’s shoulder, makes for something rather touching come the final chord. There were some mild (and I mean mild) intonation issues in the opening intervals during run-throughs one and two, but what really impressed me was how these seemed to be completed ironed out come the third time through.

Lithuania’s song ‘I’ve Been Waiting For This Night‘ makes for an entertaining watch though not for the reasons their singer Donny Montell might hope. Since his arrival and first rehearsal, a few days ago, Donny’s now got his hair done and it looks ridiculous. His moves on stage are clearly channelling Justin Bieber, making the whole thing look really rather overblown. I’m actually feeling a bit sorry for the guy – someone needs to step up and take control.

The press centre is enthusiastic for Austrlia’s ‘Sound of Silence’ and I remain so on the whole. But, on the high definition screens here, there’s a cheap look to the quality of the outfit Dani is wearing (despite the sequins on the long flowing dress) which starts me wondering whether this might possibly jump the shark.

Slovenia’s ‘Blue and Red‘ has worked itself into my brain. I now whistle it to myself a great deal and know that in a year’s time when this year’s songs have matured into the soundtrack for 2016, this song will be a key musical shortcut. That means I’ve lost all objectivity about it. Keep an ear out for the key change though – some shakey intonation.

I had a bit of a notable moment watching Bulgaria’s ‘If Love Was a Crime‘ on the big screens this afternoon: I wondered whether this might be the surprise success of the Contest. Not a surprise winner, but something that takes us unawares. Its competent, polished and quirky without veering into the ridiculous. The hook is mysterious but catchy, and singer Poli clearly loves performing. I think it will qualify, which means my list needs to change.

Words cannot convey quite how awful I think Denmark’s ‘Soldiers of Love‘ has actually turned out to be. I suspect it would be pretty cheesy, but rehearsals have surpassed those expectations. Either the vocals are high in some places for all of them, but they’re all struggling to pass something solid – the expressions on their faces are, really and truly, over the top. I don’t want it to qualify, but I fear it might just.

Ukraine’s ‘1944‘ from Jamala is far and away the most sophisticated song, and the most sophisticated presentation too. It looks even better on the big screens which means it will be striking for TV audiences. This is the one that will make people sit up and say, ‘that’s the one’. That’s what I’m hoping. And when the initial hook is reunited with the vocal in the final chorus, I feel physically moved. It’s an incredible thing.

Second time around, Norway’s ‘Icebreaker‘ remains infuriating – it doesn’t make any musical sense to me at all. Similarly, nothing has changed for me with Albania ‘Fairytale‘. Not a Grimm tale, more of a set of operating instructions for an old washing machine. Georgia’s Brit-Poppy ‘Midnight Gold‘ has been pushed over the precipice by their ridiculous lighting.

Belgium‘s choreography remains beyond amazing, and Laura’s performance is remarkable. An absolute corker of a stage act.


Eurovision 2016 – Rehearsals: Days Four and Five

I’m a bit behind with my blogging, so I’m combining too day’s rehearsals in one day. I hope that’s OK with you. I can’t really see why it wouldn’t be.

Slovenia‘s song still remains a favourite of mine, and now I see it on a big stage, and see her contribution to camera backstage, the Taylor Swift influences seem like less of an issue for me. I expect it to qualify and I want her to do well, largely because she seems so very very nice. That is of course completely the wrong reason for wanting something to do well. I know that.

Poli Genova has a fantastic presence on stage and oozes an infectious charm about her, transforming Bulgaria’s song from something I’d dismissed to a number I’m more interested in keeping an eye on. I’m wondering whether it might just make it to the final after all.

Not only does Denmark’s ‘Soldiers of Love‘ remain irrevocably bland on the Globen stage , but Lighthouse X’s backstage ‘interview’ backstage in their first rehearsal video takes their complete package to a whole new level. I don’t like to use the word ‘hate’ – it’s such a strong word – but I think it might be apt here.

Jamala for Ukraine still can’t do any wrong as far as I’m concerned. I cannot wait to see it on the TV monitors over the next few days.

Conversely, I still haven’t warmed to Norway’s weirdly disjointed ‘Icebreaker‘. I see lots of people getting animated about it for reasons I cannot relate to. So much so that I’m wondering whether I’ve overlooked something really obvious about it.

Georgia‘s static performance of their grungy number ‘Midnight Gold’ isn’t doing anything that makes me change my mind particularly. It sounds like quality grown-up stuff, but I’ll be honest and transparent about this: it doesn’t flick my switch and I don’t think it ever will.

Fairytale‘ for Albania on the other hand might be one I end up changing my mind about. What sounded underwhelming (and what I assumed wouldn’t translate especially well on stage) actually looks solid on stage now. Sure, there are no pyrotechnics, but singer Eneda holds her own well and has a presence about her which is as striking and convincing as Poli Genova for Bulgaria.

I basically adore Belgium’s ‘What’s the Pressure‘. The choreography is tight on stage. Another one I can’t wait to see on the monitors.

Of the second run of rehearsals from Semi-Final rehearsals (Day Five), Russia‘s inevitably catches my eye. The visuals have such impact first off that seeing it a second time around something of the thrill (such as there was one) is lost. And I think that is another way of looking at ‘You Are The Only One’ – that without the visuals this could easily sink. And so if its the visuals which is keeping this number afloat, is it really the best song to win the contest?

San Marino’s ‘I Didn’t Know‘ has its fate sealed now. It does look creepy. It does look weird. None of it especially makes sense to me. Juri Pootsman singing for Estonia on the other hand can do wrong – that’s a surefire qualification.

Of the Big Five countries who automatically have a place in the final, France‘s stage presentation seems like a lost opportunity. Good as the song is, I wonder whether some of the impact of it will be lost if just having Amir on stage singing into a microphone is all they’re planning on doing. Spain’s ‘Say Yay‘ is good though – all looking good.




Eurovision 2016 – Rehearsals: Day Three

Day Three of rehearsals and we’re on Semi-Final 2. They’re not wasting any time in Stockholm.

I note with interest that Latvia’s singer Justs and his team read my blog. When I reviewed his song I suggested he needed to lose the brown leather jacket because I felt it didn’t suit his natural colours. In his rehearsal video published today I notice he’s not so much lost the leather jacket as changed the colour instead – a good compromise.  It remains a good song, but I’m wondering whether its path to the Final may not be as straightforward as I first thought. I suspect the act may look a little bland on screen.

Nowhere near as bland as Poland’s ‘Color of Your Life‘ which is going to struggle to look anything other than a musical and visual cliche. The miming violinsts on stage in the background of his rehearsal footage do make me roll my eyes. Might it have been better to have just to have him on stage on his own?

I may well be in the process of changing my mind about Switzerland’s ‘The Last Of Our Kind‘. I don’t like the outfit Rykka is wearing – maybe its a work in progress – but I wonder whether it will clinch more votes than I first thought it would and knock Belarus out of the Final. It won’t be a resounding qualification, but it might just do it.

(left to right) Switzerland, Latvia, Israel, Lithuania’s Donny Montell backstage on stage, Australia.

Israel’s ‘Made of Stars‘ is definitely a number to keep an eye on. It’s really growing on me. I wonder whether people are over-looking it, or not giving it the attention it is due. Singer Hovi is articulate and sincere, and him and his song are a real tonic for the bombast we’re seeing in some of the other acts. The simplicity of the staging may make for a refreshing interlude in the running order, keeping attention on the song and its heartfelt lyrics.

IVAN from Belarus had previously been PRed from here to oblivion a few weeks ago when talk spread around the internet like wildfire the singer would appear on stage naked, with a wolf. In today’s rehearsal footage Ivan appears fully clothed, and the wolf is in footage which appears on the multi-screen backdrop. Phew. Dodged a bullet there. What’s interesting for me is that in a bigger arena (and now that Ivan has had his hair schuzzed up a bit), the song doesn’t sound anywhere near as dire as it did a few weeks ago. Without that notoriety (or rather, the whiff of notoriety), Ivan will struggle to get past the semi-final, I think.

I still adore Serbia‘s song and can’t wait to see it in the dress rehearsal running order – I really hope it does well. So too Australia – still a class act. I fear Ireland will sink – the static stage act only emphasises the dated quality of the song. The live vocals on Kaliopi‘s song for FYR Macedonia are unsettling. Similarly, Donny Montell’s intonation hints at potential bigger trouble. He definitely needs to bulk up on the carbs – he’s looking way too thin in the face.