8 out of 10, which is about on trend for us and appears to be the modal result for most folks we follow in the Eurovision community.
The show kicked off with a lovely reprise of “Rise Like a Phoenix” by Conchita Wurst, backed by the ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester. It introduced us to the stage, and the writhing balls on the ceiling, which was a nice effect.
Conchita worked the green room throughout the evening and was clearly the star of the Austrian hosts, doing great one-off interviews with the countries during the intervals. In contrast, the three main hosts were rather bland and low energy.
The postcards feature each representative engaging in an activity with the host country, consistent with the “Building Bridges” theme. They’re great. The interval packages in this first Semi…less so.
But let’s talk about the performances.
Moldova kicked us off with a high energy performance that was a good fit for the arena. Eduard Romanyuta sounded great and was moving well. The backing singer harmonies were unusual but striking. However, as we have observed in the past, the Tuesday night voters tend to be a bit more conservative. Had he been in the second Semi and with a later draw, his Eurovision journey might have looked different.
Armenia was the first of the two picks we missed. The staging was effective, and they made particularly good use of the floor projections. The overhead shots worked, and there was a nice visual effect post-chaotic-musical-moment-that-scatters-the-Armenian-diaspora-across-the-world where the singers are standing on the continents of their origin. Also, the use of lavender lighting is unique to the Contest. We don’t think Armenia hit a home run with the vocals, but then, a lot of countries fell short in that regard tonight.
To wit, Belgium had us worried tonight. “Rhythm Inside” lacked intensity and the backing singers were poorly tuned and shouty. Loïc Nottet sounded good, but even he had moments where he looked self-conscious on camera. We chalk it up to opening night jitters. In the past, we’ve seen Eurovision acts with good songs miss the mark vocally in the Semis, only to come back with confidence in the Final. We’re pleased that folks saw what we know is there – a great song from a promising talent – and we’re hopeful that Belgium will attack on Saturday.
Sorry to say, but The Netherlands misfired tonight. It started off on a bad note, with an off-putting extreme close up shot through the black veil that lasted the entire first verse. They never were able to find a look for Trijntje Oosterhuis that worked. Tonight’s outfit (the third and final try) looked like a belted parachute. As for the rumored “augmented reality,” we’re not sure if they scrapped it or if the word about it was overblown. On second viewing we noticed that when they went to black light, the word “love” was written on her knuckles in fluorescent paint. Was that the augmented reality? If so, it was too subtle. And folks, there is no room for subtlety at the Eurovision Song Contest.
During rehearsals, the Netherlands lost control of their media narrative over the challenges with wardrobe, and as they tried to salvage a package that just wasn’t working, we wonder if it all took a toll on their morale. At the end of the day, the performance lacked spark.
We thought Finland was great. PKN brought a lot of energy to the arena, and the askew camera angles accentuated that energy. They were punk, they did their thing, and they should be proud of that. Their undoing was song quality. It’s hard to argue that “Aina mun pitää” was one of the top 10 songs in this Semi. We may have picked them to go through, but we’re not necessarily disappointed that they didn’t.
Greece was up after the break. Maria Elena Kyriakou was in fine voice and damn, did she work that mic stand. Am I right, boys? But the real star of the Greek staging was the wind machine. Trust Greece to take a simple, clichéd staging trope and remind us how effective it can be. We’ve prepared a chart to show you how the wind machine mirrored the arc of the song:
Estonia: wow, just wow. They told us a story with a beginning, middle, and end. That’s huge. The opening lighting effect on Stig was stunning, and when the door opened up on Elina, we got chills. We hereby take back what we said about Slovenia outperforming them in the Final. It was so good, we forgot we don’t like the song.
Poor Macedonia had to follow that. By all accounts Daniel Kajmakoski seems like a lovely person, but unfortunately, this is another package that didn’t come together. Daniel’s vocals were ropey, and they didn’t mesh well with the members of Blackstreet, who were his backup singers. The choreography was toned down from rehearsals, but it still didn’t feel like a fit with the ballad.
Bojana from Serbia was our unconventional pick that went right. She seemed to have trouble with her monitor early on, but she managed to turn out the full diva vocal. We thought she did great. The disco transition got a big pop from the crowd, and she got a huge reception from the hall.
Hungary is pretty. The melody is pretty, and Boggie is pretty, and the tree is pretty, and the floor projection is pretty. And, as you know, war is bad.
Belarus was our other pick that didn’t make the cut. Uzari’s vocal was good but not flawless. He and Maimuna looked good on camera. It just wasn’t enough. If only they had given us the giant hourglass from the promo video.
Russia’s Polina Gagarina looked nervous, but after the first verse she settled in and did fine. As with Belgium, we are confident that she’ll deliver a stronger, more confident performance on Saturday.
In our predictions, we felt that Denmark’s innocent, 1960s-throwback number would be hurt by the gravitas of the songs that surrounded them in the draw. That is exactly how it played out.
Albania was the surprise qualifier. Elhaida Dani’s performance was at best uneven, and at times it went completely off the rails. We hear she had similar problems in the jury rehearsal. However, we know that a lot of folks feel passionately about the song. It goes without saying that points are earned when people feel passionate enough to vote.
Romania was the class act of the night. In an evening where a lot of vocalists struggled, Voltaj’s Călin Goia sounded perfect. We particularly liked the floor projection effect of the children’s images underneath the suitcases that were placed on the stage.
Word from the Stadthalle is that Georgia’s Nina Sublatti has been fighting a cold. There was no sign of that tonight. Her vocals were good and her silhouette was strong. The dry ice and backlighting made her feathered shoulder pads look kinda cool instead of kinda ridiculous. Georgia also made good use of the backdrop. The camera pans out to reveal wings (similar to what Conchita did last year, yet it still somehow felt fresh) and later pulls back for a striking beauty shot of her eyes. We got ourselves a new diva.