Highlights from 2014

Since last we’ve written on this blog, we have listened to Twin Twin’s “Moustache” at least 40 times, because our five-year-old son Kieran loves it. We know it was at least 40 times because he was keeping track of how many times we would need to listen to “Moustache” in order for it to be his favorite song ever (replacing “Boonika Bate Doba”). We started at 100 times and counted down to 60, but we also listened to the song a lot before he started to count. A lot.

Kieran has also regaled us with entries from all 24 parts of Super Mario Brothers Eurovision. These have included “Ninety” (sung by Mario as the front singer and Baby Mario and Baby Luigi as the back-up singers), “Mushroom Boy” (sung by Toad, obviously, with Luigi as back-up), “Toilet” (sung by Bowser; it finished last in Super Mario Brothers Eurovision part 24), and “Fire Mario Shoot the Goomba” (which is like “Video Killed the Radio Star” except it’s “Fire Mario Shoot the Goomba”). Sonic the Hedgehog and Shadow hosted.

Just so you know, we’re raising our kid right.

Anyway, at long last we’re ready to pick our notable numbers from this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

Legitimately Good Song

For our consideration
Azerbaijan: Dilara Kazimova – “Start a Fire
Netherlands: The Common Linnets – “Calm After the Storm
Hungary: Kállay-Saunders András – “Running
Norway: Carl Espen – “Silent Storm
Georgia: The Shin and Mariko Ebralidze – “Three Minutes to Earth” (DO NOT ARGUE WITH US ON THIS)

Our pick: “Calm After the Storm.” Given how well “Calm After the Storm” did on the charts in Europe after the Grand Prix, it’s hard not to think that the Common Linnets were really joint winners of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Conchita Wurst gets all the adulation and all of the winner’s responsibilities, and Ilse DeLange and Waylon can just rack up the gold records. It’s nice to see a terrific song so justly rewarded.

Campiest Performance

For our consideration

Russia: Tolmachevy Twins – “Shine
Poland: Donatan and Cleo – “My Slowianie
Romania: Paula Seling and Ovi – “Miracle
Spain: Ruth Lorenzo – “Dancing in the Rain

Our pick: “Miracle.” “Miracle” was utterly ridiculous. The Paula hologram, which was goofy, at least had an internal logic: she disintegrates into a million tiny pieces and reappears on the other side of the stage… IT’S A MIRACLE! The circular piano, on the other hand, looked stupid from the get-go, but it was outright hilarious when Ovi ducked in to “play” it. “Miracle” may not go down as an all-time camp classic, but it delivered the biggest unintentional laughs on the night.

Least Self-Aware

The only candidates for this one are Paula and Ovi. Their desperation to please made them blind to the silliness of their staging. They’re Eurovision veterans: they should have known better.

Biggest Misfire

For our consideration

Azerbaijan: Dilara Kazimova – “Start a Fire
Moldova: Cristina Scarlat – “Wild Soul
Romania: Paula Seling and Ovi – “Miracle
France: Twin Twin – “Moustache
Italy: Emma Marrone – “La Mia Cittá

Our pick: “Wild Soul.” There were a lot of strong candidates for this category. We’re going to pour our vitriol onto “Wild Soul.” The song wasn’t promising, yet it still fell way below expectations. It was a dark, muddled mess, seemingly endless and excruciating to endure.

Biggest Diva Performance

For our consideration

Sweden: Sanna Nielsen – “Undo
San Marino: Valentina Monetta – “Maybe (Forse)
Austria: Conchita Wurst – “Rise Like A Phoenix
Macedonia: Tijana Dapčević – “To the Sky
Spain: Ruth Lorenzo – “Dancing in the Rain

Our pick: “Rise Like a Phoenix.” Obviously.

Eurovision 2014 Superlatives

It’s time once again for us to bestow honor on all of the songs that made it to the Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final this year. Everyone’s a winner, which is good news for France.

  • The “Yay, no rhyming couplets” award: hosts Lise Rønne, Nikolaj Koppel and Pilou Asbæk.
  • Kseniya Simonova award for best use of a gimmick to distract you from a mediocre song: Ukraine (Mariya Yaremchuk – “Tick-Tock”)
  • The Inigo Montoya award for the repeated use of a phrase that does not mean what they think it means: Belarus (Teo – “Cheesecake”)
  • Best tribute to the Big Apple Circus: Azerbaijan (Dilara Kazimova – “Start a Fire”)
  • Funkiest member of Parliament since George Clinton: Óttarr Proppé from Iceland (Pollapönk – “No Prejudice”)
  • The award for what it sounds like when bears cry: Norway (Carl Espen – “Silent Storm”)
  • The Other Svetlana Loboda Award for “more is more” staging: Romania (Paula Seling & Ovi – “Miracle”)
  • Most ironic staging given the song title: Armenia (Aram MP3 – “Not Alone”)
  • Best tourism video for the planet Pandora: Montenegro (Sergej Ćetković – “Moj svijet” )
Sergej Ćetković visits his Na’vi friends (image from SFT)
Sergej Ćetković visits his Na’vi friends
(image from SFT)
  • Most persuasive argument for churning your own butter: Poland (Donatan & Cleo – “My Słowianie – We Are Slavic”)
  • Best representation of our internal monologue when we bake a soufflé: Greece (Freaky Fortune feat. RiskyKidd – “Rise Up”)
  • Best tribute to successful urban planning in Arizona: Austria (Conchita Wurst – “Rise Like a Phoenix”)
  • Best Susan Powter impersonator: Elżbieta from Germany (“Is it right to stop the madness?”) (Elaiza – “Is It Right”)
  • Best Fortress of Solitude: Sweden (Sanna Nielsen – “Undo”)
  • Annual award for most successful theft of France’s thunder: Every participating member of the Eurovision Broadcasting Union except Sweden and Finland (TWIN TWIN – “Moustache”)
  • Best depiction of a bright, beautiful Soviet future: Russia (Tolmachevy Sisters – “Shine”)
  • Fail Caesar award: Italy (Emma – “La mia città”)
  • Best cross between Glinda the Good Witch and Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull: Slovenia (Tinkara Kovač – “Round and Round”)
This plus this equals this
This plus this equals this
(images from Oz Wikia and Examiner)
  • Act with the best excuse to play hooky from school: Finland (Softengine – “Something Better”)
  • Best Fredi and Friends tribute: Finland
  • Best representation of the plain where the rain mainly falls: Spain (Ruth Lorenzo – “Dancing in the Rain”)
  • Best multitasker: Switzerland (He whistles! He fiddles! He bangs on the drums!) ( Sebalter – “Hunter of Stars”)
  • The “thank god Poland didn’t stage this” award: Hungary (András Kállay-Saunders – “Running”)
  • Second best country song on the night: Malta (Firelight – “Coming Home”)
  • Best depiction of what Smokey Joe’s Cafe would look like if Bruno Mars joined the cast: Denmark (Basim – “Cliché Love Song”)
  • The “Shania Twain wishes she were this authentic” award: Netherlands (The Common Linnets – “Calm After the Storm”)
  • Pluckiest country: plucky little San Marino (Valentina Monetta – “Maybe”)
  • Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber award for best composer cameo: Ralph Siegel, San Marino
  • Amaury Vassili award for wettest squib: United Kingdom (Molly – “Children of the Universe”)
  • Most likely to get there, popular: Austria
Merci, Chérie!
Merci, Chérie!

Recap of Eurovision Song Contest 2014

AUS-TRI-A! AUS-TRI-A! AUS-TRI-A!

Jen:

  1. Netherlands
  2. Sweden
  3. Hungary
  4. Denmark
  5. Greece
  6. Austria
  7. Spain
  8. Armenia
  9. United Kingdom
  10. Switzerland

Last Place: Germany

Chris:

  1. Hungary
  2. Netherlands
  3. Sweden
  4. Austria
  5. Armenia
  6. United Kingdom
  7. Spain
  8. Greece
  9. Denmark
  10. Azerbaijan

Last Place: Germany

Europe:

  1. Austria
  2. Netherlands
  3. Sweden
  4. Armenia
  5. Hungary
  6. Ukraine
  7. Russia
  8. Norway
  9. Denmark
  10. Spain

Last Place: France

It was a pleasant surprise to us that Austria pulled off the win (although it wasn’t a surprise to Chinavision, who commented on our predictions post). We both thought that Conchita Wurst was going to be hurt by an early draw and homophobia. I can’t say she ended homophobia in Europe, but she did get points from all but four countries (Belarus, San Marino, Armenia, and Poland), and douze points from 13 countries. Notably, she got points from unexpected places: 10 from Georgia, 8 from Ukraine, 1 from Azerbaijan, even 5 from Russia. It was a fairly comprehensive win.

But Netherlands kept up the pace during the voting tally, finishing only 52 points behind Austria and racking up 8 douze points. The Common Linnets also won the Artistic Award (best artist per the commentators), the Composers Award (best artist per the fellow songwriters) and they probably wrested the title of “Best Song That Didn’t Win Eurovision” from Ani Lorak. This podium finish comes on the back of last year’s Top 10 finish. I really hope they can keep their current streak going.

As soon as we published our predictions, Jen regretted not picking Ukraine or Russia for top 10 finishes. I’m with her about Ukraine; the performance wasn’t very good, but I should have counted on some general support for them. But I honestly thought Russia would finish out of the top 10. They only got points from 14 out of 37 countries, but they got enough big points from those countries to finish 7th.

Watching the show, we had an inkling that a couple more of our picks were going to be off base. Specifically, the United Kingdom seemed overwhelmed by it all. We observed several similar cases of nerves in the Semis (e.g., Finland, Ukraine, Russia, Montenegro to name a few), but these folks were able to build off their first performances and were generally much stronger in the Final. The Big Five only get one chance at it, and the greener talent may be more likely to have a case of nerves when it matters.

Kudos to Germany in this respect. Elaiza was similarly inexperienced, but performed with poise.  We both picked Germany for last, but as we watched the show, we grew more concerned for France. Twin Twin’s performance felt unfocused and full of aimless movement. When Latvia had similarly aimless movement on Tuesday, we criticized them for being amateurish. “Moustache” is still one of our favorite songs, but we were pretty certain on the evening that they would make few countries’ Top 10 lists.

There’s also a jury story that needs to be told this year. After the voting controversies in 2013, the EBU published detailed voting information. We’ll be taking a closer look at the numbers this summer and putting together our thoughts. Yes, we’ve even downloaded the Excel spreadsheet. That’s who we are, that’s who we’ll always be.

We’ve kind of embraced the fact that as closely as we’ve followed Eurovision for the past eight years, we still haven’t got much better at picking the winner. It’s overly simplistic to say, but the key to victory is broad-based appeal, such that most countries put you in their Top 5. The douze points are nice, but they are more likely to come from traditional allies: again, that’s how Russia finished as high as it did. But to win, you need to pick up those 10, 8, and 7 points from the rest of Europe.

It’s also a simple fact that some songs land an impact the first time you seem them performed and some don’t. Because we follow the national finals, we end up living with all the songs for a long time. By the time they hit the big stage, we have actually have no idea what’s going to have a visceral impact with viewers who are seeing them for the first time. Still, it’s a lot of fun to guess, and if by some dumb luck I happen to pick the exact placement of three entries, then I can pretend I know what the hell I’m doing!

Our Predictions: 2014 Grand Final

At long last, the day is here, and we’re ready to make our predictions for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

Jen:

  • Netherlands
  • Sweden
  • Hungary
  • Denmark
  • Greece
  • Austria
  • Spain
  • Armenia
  • United Kingdom
  • Switzerland

Last Place: Germany

Chris:

  • Hungary
  • Netherlands
  • Sweden
  • Austria
  • Armenia
  • United Kingdom
  • Spain
  • Greece
  • Denmark
  • Azerbaijan

Last Place: Germany

Jen – Confidence: Medium. Netherlands, to me, seems the quintessential example of a song peaking at the right time.  They wowed the Tuesday night audience, and there is no question in my mind that they can do it again on Saturday. Their iTunes sales, to me, are also a bellwether. Folks in at least 4 countries have liked the song well enough to keep it in the top 10 for multiple days.

Azerbaijan is my unconventional non-pick, as I am predicting it will finish out of the top 10. As we saw with Aliona Moon from Moldova last year, even with a boatload of voting allies it’s hard to eke out a top 10 finish from a very early draw unless you really have something that stands out. I can’t say I have a good read of what takes its place instead. It could be the Kedvesem scenario–something out of left field like Poland or Switzerland.

Chris – Confidence: Medium. I am basing my pick of Hungary to win entirely on my visceral reaction to its performance in the Semis. Forget logic, forget analysis, I’m going with my gut on this. For the rest of my picks, I’ve devised a system involving odds favorites, running order, and picking Azerbaijan.

As for last place, Jen and I agree that poor Elaiza are going to get lost performing between Conchita Wurst and Sanna Nielsen.

Eurovision 2014: A Primer for Saturday Night Viewing

Every year we host a Eurovision viewing party with a dedicated group of friends, and we got a request for a Cliff Notes summary about this year’s Contest to get everyone prepared to watch the Grand Final.

The 2014 Eurovision Song Contest is shaping up to be a wide-open competition. Going into tomorrow’s Final, there really isn’t a clear front runner. Armenia spent most of the weeks leading into the Contest as the bookies’ odds leader, and Aram Mp3’s “You’re Not Alone” is still a strong contender. There are two knocks on his chances: One, the song has an unconventional structure that is entirely dependent on how well Aram sells it, and he didn’t quite land it in the first Semifinal. Two, he will be performing 7th on the night, and it is a hard ask to win a 26-song Grand Prix from early in the running order.

The other odds leader coming into this week is Sweden. They are being represented by Sanna Nielsen and the ballad “Undo.” This outing was Sanna’s 7th attempt to represent her country at the Eurovision Song Contest. The song has been a fan favorite in polls leading up to this year’s shows, and her strong performance in the Semis indicates that Sweden is heading toward another good finish. However, Sanna also received an earlier draw, and it’s unclear whether her calculated ballad will resonate with a broader audience.

Both The Netherlands and Hungary are coming off of strong performances in the Semifinals. The Netherlands are represented by the Common Linnets, a country duo performing the Nashville-ready ballad “Calm After the Storm.” It rose up iTunes charts after their performance on Tuesday, and thus far it’s the only entry to have made a dent on the international pop charts. The Netherlands comes into Saturday with an ideal draw and a lot of momentum.

Hungary, meanwhile, offer Hungarian-American singer András Kállay-Saunders, whose “Running” deals with child abuse. It has darker subject matter than your usual Eurovision entry, but the staging is harrowing without being overwhelming. Hungary have done an excellent job of getting the point across.

The wildcard contenders this year are Austria and The United Kingdom. The UK entered this year with a newfound commitment to the contest, and Molly’s “Children of the Universe” is easily the best entry they’ve had for years. Molly is closing the show, and while performing last may not necessarily be an advantage, she may be able to land the UK in the top 10 for the first time since 2009.

Then there is Austria’s Conchita Wurst, who is singing a Shirley Bassey-influenced faux Bond theme called “Rise Like a Phoenix.” Conchita is a drag artist whose gimmick is that she sports a meticulously manicured beard while in drag. She was clearly the fan favorite in the hall during the second Semifinal: when the hosts were revealing the 10 finalists, a loud chat of “AUS-TRI-A! AUS-TRI-A!” broke out.

Other story lines:

  • We didn’t even mention Basim from Denmark or Ruth Lorenzo from Spain as contenders. It really feels like a tight contest this year!
  • Poland returned to Eurovision this year after an extended absence. Donatan and Cleo’s saucy “My Slowianie” is a massive hit in Poland and it delivered Poland its first appearance in the Final since 2008.
  • It’s been a good year for the underdog. Montenegro qualified for the first time with a big Balkan ballad, Sergej Ćetković’s “Moj Svijet.” Meanwhile, San Marino finally made it to the Grand Prix round on its fifth try, represented for the third year in a row by Valentina Monetta.
  • There has been a lot of interest in how Russia was going to do in this year’s Contest, given its role in the current situation in Ukraine. They are being represented by past Junior Eurovision winners the Tolmachevy Twins, and while the crowd gave them a good reception when they performed, Russia was roundly booed when they were announced as finalists. We’ll see how much of the real world bleeds into the voting on Saturday.

Recap of 2014 Semifinal 2

First of all, what was up with the steel wool on Liise’s pantsuit? Fashion designers who create garments that make women look more hippy should be shot, or at least forced to listen to “Wild Soul” and “Nomads In the Night” for all eternity.

Anyway, here’s how our predictions panned out.

Jen:

  • Malta
  • Israel
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Austria
  • Finland
  • Belarus
  • Switzerland
  • Greece
  • Romania
Chris:

  • Malta
  • Israel
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Austria
  • Finland
  • Belarus
  • Switzerland
  • Greece
  • Romania
Europe:

  • Malta
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Austria
  • Finland
  • Belarus
  • Switzerland
  • Greece
  • Slovenia
  • Romania

9 of 10, baby! Woohoo!!! Before the Semi, we predetermined that our minimum threshold for happiness was Greece and Belarus, and, if we wanted to let ourselves reach, Austria. We got all of that, so we’re pleased mightily.

Richard and the Malta crew were full of smiles. It sounded a little rough at the start, but it came together afterward. A great opener, and how about Malta keeping their qualification streak going?

Israel seemingly suffered from nerves. Mei didn’t sing well, and Israel’s staging suffered from a general lack of interesting visual pictures. We were pretty disappointed with what we saw. We had a sneaking suspicion halfway through that we had at least one wrong pick.

Norway was at its best when the close up was on Carl, when we didn’t have to look at the overblinged staging. His vocal wasn’t flawless, but we were moved. Well done, Carl!

Georgia, because they are Georgian, made a flag out of wine for its postcard. We approve! Their performance was tight, in every possible way. Interestingly, because the visual concept was so strong, the song didn’t seem so nuts. It certainly filled us delight. We had a sneaking suspicion halfway through that Israel might be out and Georgia might be in. But it was not meant to be. Poor Georgia.

Poland was also a delightful number. Self-aware, cheeky, sexy, and a lot of fun. And very, very commercial. Also, good on Donatan to have the humility to let Cleo command the stage.

Conchita sold it. She looked and sounded terrific. Unfortunately, Austria‘s camerawork was choppy, and it distracted from the performance. That is, up until the big reveal of the phoenix lighting behind her. After that it was all good. As we expected, Austria’s qualification was called last so we all could enjoy her reaction shot.

Lithuania gave us a sneak peek of the dating scene in 2050. The vocal arrangement was a lot more effective than we heard in the national final, and the “attention” lyric was strong but not abrasive. Vilija was great on camera, but at the end it feel like the song didn’t have a strong enough melody to grab voters’ attentions. There’s always the Barbara Dex Award.

We think Finland benefited from being commercial, yet different. The concert lighting felt very tight, and the song suited the big stadium setting. Softengine sang well enough, but we’d like to see a little more by way of performance on Saturday. We figure they’ve got one performance under their belt, so they can relax and really tear it up in the Final.

So, did Kasey from Ireland hear that Molly was wearing a headband? Regardless, the vocal was dicey, and the backing vocals were off more than half the time. For a split second there we caught Kasey smiling! Like she was actually enjoying herself! For a second. Mostly, her eyes were as dead as Ireland’s chances of qualifying. We wonder if this signals the end of the mentor program that Ireland has used the past four years. We like the format, but what has it produced? Two years of Jedward, with diminishing returns, then a last place finish in the Final, then a non-qualification. RTE may need to follow BBC’s lead.

Unlike Kasey, Teo from Belarus has clearly been enjoying himself in Copenhagen, and his delight was evident in his performance. Teo is 2014’s answer to Donny Montell. And we mean that in the best possible way.

We didn’t get Macedonia‘s staging at all. There was a lot of movement, a lot of swirling shapes, and it all added up to an early flight home. And what was up with the dancer who looked like the albino from The Da Vinci Code?

We couldn’t understand a word Sebalter said, but who cares: My god look at him. The man brought charisma and a half to Denmark, and it was on full display when he performed. After Switzerland‘s national final back in December, we can’t believe that not only did we both pick Sebalter to make the Final, but we had no doubt he was going to make the final.

Greece‘s energy was through the roof. They interspersed a lot of crowd shots and a lot of camera tricks. Some of it was, admittedly, kind of cheesy, but why the hell not: it’s Greece and this is Eurovision.

In her postcard for Slovenia, Tinkara coordinated her books by color. She must be a law librarian. On stage, she sounded great and performed the hell out of “Round and Round.” She was giving us “sorceress in the middle of a maelstrom” realness. We had a sneaking suspicion halfway through that Israel and Georgia might be out and Slovenia might be in. A well deserved qualification. (Again, though: poor Georgia.)

Romania is currently our leading candidate for the year’s biggest misfire (provided it bombs on Saturday, of course). The hologram was cheesy, the round piano was pointless, and the hug was awkward. It reminded us a lot of Bulgaria last year, when Elitsa and Stoyan tried to return to Eurovision with a little something extra and all those extras did not work at all.

During the recap we were trying to figure out who was in and out. We definitely knew three acts were in: Malta, Switzerland, and Greece. And we definitely knew three acts were out: Israel, Macedonia, Ireland. After that it seemed like it could be nearly anyone’s game. It was so intensely close, we couldn’t enjoy any the interval entertainment. Not that we would have enjoyed the Australia number anyway.

STRAY OBSERVATIONS:

  • Thank you, Denmark. “Hold Me Now” is forever ruined for us. #lick
  • Hey, that was Glen Bartlett in the JoinUs dance segment! How you doin’ up there, Glen?
  • Teo’s qualification means that we are now officially on the hook to make that White Russian cheesecake.

Our Predictions: 2014 Semifinal 2

It turns out we are of one mind on our predictions for this Semi, but we took different paths to get there. Chris made his picks and stuck with them, while Jen agonized, making changes up to the last minute. Word is that the jury run through was very competitive. A lot of acts saved their best for when they needed it. We could be in for a wild ride. Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Jen:

  • Malta
  • Israel
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Austria
  • Finland
  • Belarus
  • Switzerland
  • Greece
  • Romania
Chris:

  • Malta
  • Israel
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Austria
  • Finland
  • Belarus
  • Switzerland
  • Greece
  • Romania

Malta: Firelight – “Coming Home”

Jen – Q. Confidence: High. Good staging, likable song.

Chris – Q. Confidence: Medium. I’m still not sold on this song, but the staging should tug enough heart strings and texting thumbs to see it through.

Israel: Mei Feingold – “Same Heart”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Medium. I’m not a huge fan of the song, and we’ve been led astray before by enthusiasm from the press room. But it’s by no means one of the worst 5 songs in this Semi, nowhere near.

Chris – Q. Confidence: High. Another song I’m not a big fan of, but I am betting Mei’s intensity is going to carry the evening for Israel.

Norway: Carl Espen – “Silent Storm”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Low. Before rehearsals my confidence for Norway was high. That was before I saw what they were planning for the staging. I still think the songwriting has sufficient merit to garner jury support, but Norway as a shock non-qualifier would not shock me.

Chris – Q. Confidence: Medium. Norway seems to have overthought the staging, but I’m not sure they’ve fatally shot themselves in the foot.

Georgia: The Shin and Mariko Ebralidze – “Three Minutes to Earth”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Low. I worry the song is simply too esoteric for mainstream interests. But Georgia nailed its jury performance, and that’s the one they needed. Georgia’s giving us good vocals and an interesting concept. Throw in a couple of voting allies, and maybe they’ll surprise us all.

Chris – NQ. Confidence: High. In a just world, this goes to the Final, but this is not a just world. And by “just” I mean “loves prog rock as much as I do.”

Poland: Donatan and Cleo – “My Slowianie”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Low. I don’t think Poland’s going to get a lot of jury support, but the cheekier songs that make it through do tend to qualify out of the second Semi. The tenth spot should be Ireland’s, but Georgia or Poland could easily nab it. Ireland seems to be making people feel nothing. Georgia makes us feel something–be it passion or bafflement. But I’m going with Poland, because it makes us feel other things.

Chris – Q. Confidence: Low. It’s catchy and it’s cheeky and I want this in the Final so bad.

Austria: Conchita Wurst – “Rise Like A Phoenix”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Medium. Conchita is a talking point of this year’s competition. Maybe the beard will be too much for some folks, but, as Conchita well knows, you don’t have to win over everybody.

Chris – Q. Confidence: High. This is Conchita’s Eurovision Song Contest, and we’re all just small players in it.

Lithuania: Vilija Matačiūnaitė – “Attention”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Low. Why has Lithuania qualified in previous years? Evelina Sašenko had a cabaret tune, Donny Montell gave us…so much, really. But both could sing. Andreas Pojavis had expressive eyebrows. What has Vilija got? A loud voice and a silly outfit. Enough already.

Chris – NQ. Confidence: Medium. Wesley Snipes gave me a word of advice: “Always bet on Lithuania.” Yet I keep ignoring him. HE CAN’T ALWAYS BE RIGHT, CAN HE?

Finland: Softengine – “Something Better”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Low. If Finland fails to connect with the cameras they are definitely at risk of not qualifying. However, Softengine has an immediate song and a contemporary alt rock sound, the only one of its kind on the night.

Chris – Q. Confidence: Medium.  I worry about this young band performing like Eurovision is just another gig, but I feel like “Something Better” is a catchy enough song to see Softengine through.

Ireland: Can-linn featuring Kasey Smith – “Heartbeat”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Low. This Semi is full of countries that still love it when Ireland plays the tradition card. But Ireland has been struggling this week, trying to get the right mix of Irishness, movement, sex appeal, and vocal prowess. This performance is a mess and Kasey doesn’t sell it. Does Ireland deserve to qualify? No.  But will they do enough to make it anyway? Anything’s possible.

Chris – NQ. Confidence: Low. The rest of Europe has to be as tired of this shtick as I am, right?

Belarus: Teo – “Cheesecake”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Medium. Teo is the consummate performer. He looks like he’s having a blast up there. Watching him, we will too.

Chris – Q. Confidence: Medium. If Ireland gets through and this doesn’t, I am going to throw things. Granted they will be soft pillows against the floor, but pillows are still things and I will still be throwing them.

Macedonia: Tijana Dapčević – “To the Sky”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Medium. Word is Tijana had a great jury performance, but I’m having a hard time seeing a scenario where Macedonia makes it through.

Chris – NQ. Confidence: High. I kinda want Tijana to qualify, but I kinda don’t expect her to.

Switzerland: Sebalter – “Hunter of Stars”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Low. Up until the 2nd rehearsal Sebalter was in my NQ column. But this isn’t a strong Semi. His goofy charisma, coupled with the late draw, means he’ll get noticed by audiences. Also, the few countries that tend to vote for Switzerland are all voting in this Semi.

Chris – Q. Confidence: Low. I may have read too many comments coming out of the Eurovision Press Center and let them influence my decision here.

Greece: Freaky Fortune feat. Riskykidd – “Rise Up”

Jen – Q. Confidence: High. Greece always works it out in the end, ’nuff said. <drop mike>

Chris – Q. Confidence: High. Hi, we’re Greece. Move over and let us be awesome, please and thank you.

Slovenia: Tinkara Kovač – “Spet (Round and Round)”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Medium.  Pleasant, but no gravitas.

Chris – NQ. Confidence: High. Slovenia specializes in decent little songs that you forget about until you rewatch old contests.

Romania: Paula Seling and Ovi – “Miracle”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Medium. The number has been overworked, but this is old school Eurovision. We expect it to be over the top. They’ll make it though.

Chris – Q. Confidence: Medium. Another delegation doing target practice on their feet. Won’t be enough to keep them out of the Final.

Rehearsal Roundup: The 2014 Big 6

The Big 6 are on a rather different rehearsal schedule from the rest, squeezed in between Semifinal run throughs. The post catches up on yesterday’s rehearsal action.

Germany has gone for a straightforward staging. Some streamers come down from the ceiling, but there’s little else in the way of razzle dazzle. Germany has drawn the first half of the show and is likely to get an early placement from the Danish organizers. As well as Elżbieta is singing, Elaiza seems destined for a bottom three finish.

Spain has gone all in with the rain. Wisely, Spain has allowed Ruth to stand in one spot and do what she does best, which is sing the hell of her song. With the exception of Austria we don’t have any other divas that can belt out a number like her. Ruth hasn’t been getting much respect from the English language fans, but the Spanish fans are feeling her. I’m with the Spanish fans on this one. Spain has worked it out, and I think she’s going to surprise a lot of folks on Saturday. Spain has a second half draw.

United Kingdom is playing up the anthem like qualities of the song. They’ve put the band on stage and the first half of the song is a concert staging. Molly is in a short gold dress with feathers on the shoulder pads. The backing singers are in black, also with feathers on the shoulderpads. There’s a nice Chinese lantern effect in the middle and they’ll use a fire curtain for the final refrain. She’s singing with just the right amount of grit. They’re doing everything by the book, and United Kingdom has drawn the second half. It’s one of the UK’s best efforts in years. It’d be nice to see them rewarded.

Italy is opening their performance with Emma is a white diaphanous cape. No idea why. But that gets lost tout suite, revealing a short white dress with tons of gold. Emma’s performance relies on a lot of bad girl rock posing. Color me unimpressed. Italy has drawn the second half.

France has complemented its high energy dance tune with color vomit. The second rehearsal suggested they are now doing a better job at covering the stage than in the first rehearsal. Encouragingly, they sound good even with all the movement.  For Twin Twin, success rests on giving the audience a good time. From what I can see, they were doing a pretty good job of having fun up there themselves. However, this one is hard to assess without a look at the camera angles. France has drawn the second half.

Denmark’s staging feels ripped from a jukebox musical. Straightforward lighting, tuxedos just a touch dressed down, high energy, and lots of simple choreography for everyone. Their big reveal is a huge tacky flag with Basim’s face and a red heart that says “Love.” They’re sounding good, but for me the flag is a turnoff. The song is still crazy catchy though. Denmark has drawn spot #23, in the second half.

Recap of 2014 Semifinal 1

Semifinal 1 is over. We’re watching it again in order to write this post. And ladies and gentlemen, we’re breaking out the pink wine. First, a summary of how we did:

Jen:

  • Armenia
  • Estonia
  • Sweden
  • Iceland
  • Azerbaijan
  • Ukraine
  • Belgium
  • Netherlands
  • Montenegro
  • Hungary
Chris:

  • Armenia
  • Estonia
  • Sweden
  • Iceland
  • Azerbaijan
  • Ukraine
  • Belgium
  • Moldova
  • Netherlands
  • Hungary
Europe:

  • Armenia
  • Sweden
  • Iceland
  • Russia
  • Azerbaijan
  • Ukraine
  • SAN MARINO!!!!
  • Netherlands
  • Montenegro
  • Hungary

Eight out of 10 for Jen and seven out of 10 for Chris, which is about par for the course. But neither of us are disappointed with the outcome. Honestly, as long as Hungary, the Netherlands, and Iceland went through we were good.

The show kicked off with Armenia. And I gotta tell you, we were not impressed by Aram Mp3’s performance tonight. The song felt plodding, and Aram didn’t bring the intensity during the dubstep rising action. However, the closing image with the yellow lighting onstage, and the way he closed out the song were first rate. But we were underwhelmed and not convinced that this is the next winner.

Latvia, during its postcard, baked a cake that looked really professional. In so doing, they denied the entire point of their song. Then they winked a lot. And every time they winked I wanted to slap them. We hope they enjoyed their Eurovision experience.

There was a debate in the Lemur household about Estonia. Jen thought Tanja nailed it, but Chris said it felt, again, plodding. It just didn’t soar for him.

We were impressed by Sweden‘s light show, but it was another number that stayed decidedly on the ground. At this point we weren’t feeling so good about the show.

Actual conversation in our household:
C: This is really dull.
J: And, just think, supposedly we’ve already heard our winner.
C: No, we haven’t.

After Sweden, Kieran, who was the watching the show with us, got up to go to the back room and play with his blocks because he was soooo bored. We talked him back because next up was Iceland, one of his favorites from this year.

Iceland was generally regarded as an unconventional pick, but our faith in Pollapönk was not misplaced. Their energy was great and they were imminently likable. It felt like they got a bit carried away by it all in the last verse and started to lose the vocal, but they had already won us over by then. Iceland is one of those countries that seems consistently underestimated but often manage to qualify. When their name was called at the end of the show, we all cheered very loudly indeed. In fact, Kieran had a hard time settling down for bed because he was so excited. On Saturday, we will be moshing.

Hersi from Albania wins the postcards, end of story. She got a mf’n tattoo of the Albanian flag, and then wore a backless dress to show it off. She sang great tonight, and for a minute there we thought she might have a shot with the juries. Ultimately, though, no dice.

Russia got the job done. The hair and teeter totter felt cheesy, but the lighting was stunning. A bit retro Soviet, but stunning. They qualified, not undeservedly, but the booing from the crowd was so loud when it was announced that it could be hid from no one.

Azerbaijan was lovely, but the trapeze artist felt like an unnecessary distraction. Another song that failed to soar.

Ukraine was rough tonight. Vocally Maria was weak and everyone else was shouty. The sound mix may need to be tweaked for Saturday. The best thing on that stage was the hamster wheel, and even that didn’t seem particularly interesting coming right after Azerbaijan’s trapeze.

Axel’s postcard showed him knitting Belgium‘s flag. My goodness, he really is a momma’s boy. Vocally, Axel wasn’t as strong as we have heard him in the past. But what he lacked in tuning he made up for in emotion. By the end of it he was nearly in tears, as big a tug on the heartstrings as he could possibly get. We both had him down as a qualifier, but neither of us are upset to see him out.

In his predictions, Chris asked “Why not Wild Soul?” And the answer is: Because it really sucked. Moldova had the worst performance on the night, and we’ll go as far as to say among the worst performances we have seen at Eurovision since we started following it closely. Bad song, bad costumes, dark staging. They even botched the camerawork when she ripped out the hair extension.

Plucky little San Marino. Who knew that the key to qualifying was to put Ralph Siegel on stage? In retrospect, Valentina benefitted from the draw, coming after the Moldovan horror show and before the break. And credit where credit is due, she sang well. We’re overjoyed for her.

Portugal‘s performance reminded us a lot of Spain’s Lucía Pérez, who you’ll recall finished in the bottom 3. Suzy’s dress looked like a fire demon spat up on her. She got a great pop from the crowd at the end, though.

Netherlands‘ Common Linnets were a revelation tonight. Everything about this performance was flawless. The opening road image was artful. We loved the relentless close up camera work, and while they primarily sang to each other, Ilse and Waylon engaged the camera at exactly the right times. The costuming was classic Tammy Wynette and outlaw Waylon Jennings. We loved it.

Montenegro by no means had us convinced tonight, but we are genuinely pleased that we’ll have a Balkan ballad in the Final. For the first two-thirds of the song, Sergej looked friendly but out of his depth. Luckily there was a lot of focus on the ice skater, who has a nice lighting effect on the stage. In the last minute, though, it all came together for him and he seemed joyful. Hopefully, with the pressure of qualifying off, Sergej can bring a relaxed and confident performance on Saturday.

Hungary. Wow, just wow. Both of us were completely engrossed. András engaged the camera, the dancers told a strong story, and the tone, as mentioned before, was spot on. The camera image on the first “running, running, running,” with the medium shot of András and the racing red background, is money. In the last minute, the adrenaline got to him and the vocal got a little rough. But no worries, he was feeling it. Dare we let ourselves hope for Budapest 2015? Chris was in tears throughout that song.

STRAY OBSERVATIONS:

  • Code brown.
  • Valentina’s reaction. No, sweetie, don’t break Uncle Ralph, you need him for Saturday!
  • They’re not booing, they’re saying Tooooooolmachevy.
  • We are loving the “Eurovision Book of Records” interval segments.
  • Hungary and the Netherlands have drawn the second half for Saturday, while Armenia and Sweden are in the first. How do you like them apples, Mr. Goldstone?

Our Predictions: 2014 Semifinal 1

We are almost of one mind this year with our predictions. We match on nine out of our 10 picks, and we both admit we could easily be wrong about Moldova. This year, we’ve added a confidence rating to each of our predictions to cover our butts on Russia.

What say you? Do you disagree? Let us know in the comments!

Jen:

  • Armenia
  • Estonia
  • Sweden
  • Iceland
  • Azerbaijan
  • Ukraine
  • Belgium
  • Netherlands
  • Montenegro
  • Hungary
Chris:

  • Armenia
  • Estonia
  • Sweden
  • Iceland
  • Azerbaijan
  • Ukraine
  • Belgium
  • Moldova
  • Netherlands
  • Hungary

Armenia: Aram Mp3 – “Not Alone”

Jen – Q. Confidence: High. When evaluating Aram Mp3’s Eurovision prospects, qualification isn’t the question at hand.

Chris – Q. Confidence: High. Aram Mp3 is the odds leader going in and he does not look like a choke artist.

Latvia: Aarzemnieki – “Cake to Bake”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Medium.  Second isn’t necessarily a bad draw in the Semis, but it’s a tough lift to expect this amateur act will remain charming after 14 other songs.

Chris – NQ. Confidence: Medium. Charmingly amateurish is still amateurish.

Estonia: Tanja – “Amazing”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Medium. Viewers will be amazed by Tanja.

Chris – Q. Confidence: Medium. The “just let the woman sing” choreography is really what “Amazing” has going for it, and I think it’s enough to see Estonia through.

Sweden: Sanna Nielsen – “Undo”

Jen – Q. Confidence: High. Sweden’s song is immediate, and the staging is professional.

Chris – Q. Confidence: High. Sanna is battling Aram at the top of the bookies’ leader board, and even though this song is leaving me cold now, I don’t see it missing out on a Saturday performance.

Iceland: Pollapönk – “No Prejudice”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Medium Low. Pollapönk’s kid-friendly act will play.

Chris – Q. Confidence: Medium. Pollapönk know who they are and what they are doing, and I bet the televoters are going to get it too.

Albania: Hersi Matmuja – “One Night’s Anger”

Jen –  NQ. Confidence: High. Much as I like Hersi, there’s just not enough here to capture viewer interest.

Chris – NQ. Confidence: High. Albania’s cold streak is going to continue. I don’t even hate it, I just won’t remember it at the end of the night.

Russia: Tolmachevy Twins – “Shine”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Low. Russia has a lot of traditional voting allies in this semi, but I can envision a lot of those votes evaporating this week. Add to the mix a poor first half draw, and I’ve got them short of qualifying.

Chris – NQ. Confidence: Low. I struggled to decide whether or not to pick “Shine” to go through. I don’t think it will qualify, but given the number of traditional voting allies in this Semi, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it does.

Azerbaijan: Dilara Kazimova – “Start a Fire”

Jen – Q. Confidence: High. A no brainer.

Chris – Q. Confidence: High. It’s a small, intimate song, and so long as Dilara can deliver that intimacy on a gigantic stage with a trapeze artist swinging around her, Azerbaijan is as good as through.

Ukraine: Maria Yaremchuck – “Tick-Tock”

Jen – Q. Confidence: High. Ukraine has put together one of the most creative stagings in the contest. She’s through.

Chris – Q. Confidence: High. I don’t think much of this song, but I figure Ukraine will get a lot of votes of support.

Belgium: Axel Hirsoux – “Mother”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Low. Word is the jury performance didn’t go well for Axel but it may not matter. I don’t think Belgium’s strategic path to qualification necessitated tons of jury support.

Chris – Q. Confidence: Medium. It’s such schmaltz, and there is a market for such schmaltz. Plus, Ruslana loves it and is Europe going to argue with her?

Moldova: Cristina Scarlat – “Wild Soul”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Low. I found 8 of 10 picks fairly easy. My last two were between Belgium, Moldova and Montenegro. Moldova landed on the outside because of the dark staging and because the song is no bloody good. The wig reveal is a sign of desperation.

Chris – Q. Confidence: Low. Nine of my 10 picks were easy. The last one came down to this and Russia. Picking this to qualify is making me think twice about picking Russia to not qualify. On the other hand, what the heck: why not “Wild Soul?”

San Marino: Valentina Monetta – “Maybe (Forse)”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: High. The song is too old fashioned, and audiences have no patience for that anymore.

Chris – NQ. Confidence: High. It’s the old adage about doing the same thing over and over again expecting to get a different result when the votes are tallied.

Portugal: Suzy – “Quero Ser Tua”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Medium. Some folks enjoy this song’s vivacious spirit. I am not one of those folks.

Chris – NQ. Confidence: High. You do you, Portugal. We’re going to do something else for the next three minutes.

Netherlands: The Common Linnets – “Calm After the Storm”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Medium. By most accounts, Ilse and Waylon are confident, assured performers. Bona fide jury bait.

Chris – Q. Confidence: Medium. I can’t tell if my opinion on this is wishful thinking or not. My hunch is that the juries are going to eat this one up like appetizers at the Bluebird.

Montenegro: Sergej Ćetković – “Moj Svijet”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Low. Montenegro lacks voting allies in this semi, but Sergej has a plum draw and has been singing well. Among the songs for which I have low confidence, this is musically the best one.

Chris – NQ. Confidence: Medium. It’s a good song with a bad ending and now inexplicable staging. I thought Montenegro had a shot at qualifying this year, but they might have blown it.

Hungary: Kállay-Saunders András – “Running”

Jen – Q. Confidence: High. Strong song, strong staging. We will be seeing Hungary on Saturday night.

Chris – Q. Confidence: High. Another resident of the top of the bookies’ table, there is no doubt in my mind András is going straight to the Final.