Our Predictions: 2017 Semifinal 2

It’s not often that we both have the same qualification picks. Even though we often appear to be of the same mind, you don’t know how much we agonized separately to narrow this potentially epic Semifinal down to just 10. We then agonized together because looking through historical voting data is no fun by yourself.

Jen:

  • Austria
  • Romania
  • Netherlands
  • Hungary
  • Denmark
  • Croatia
  • Belarus
  • Bulgaria
  • Estonia
  • Israel
Chris:

  • Austria
  • Romania
  • Netherlands
  • Hungary
  • Denmark
  • Croatia
  • Belarus
  • Bulgaria
  • Estonia
  • Israel

Serbia: Tijana Bogićević – “In Too Deep”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Medium.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: Medium.

As Serbia worked on its staging this week, we realized that “In Too Deep” is saddled with a poor vocal arrangement, which makes the song sound muddy and hurts the overall impression. We have a feeling this is going to play as a bit of throat-clearing before the show kicks off in earnest with Austria.

Austria: Nathan Trent – “Running On Air”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Medium.
Chris – Q. Confidence: Medium.

A decent song elevated by a charming performer and a fun staging. To think we were worried. Nathan’s gonna swim like a champion.

Macedonia: Jana Burčeska – “Dance Alone”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Medium.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: Medium.

We love this song, but we hate the way Macedonia staged it. Shi from escgo! sums the problem up nicely. With any luck, this will go through instead of Netherlands, but we’re not holding our breath.

Malta: Claudia Faniello – “Breathlessly”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Low.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: Medium.

Look, a lot of artists at Eurovision this year have plastered their mugs all over the video backdrop. But does anyone look more conceited than Claudia when doing it?

Romania: Ilinca featuring Alex Florea – “Yodel It!”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Low.
Chris – Q. Confidence: Low.

We expect this to qualify, but something has been bothering us about the staging for “Yodel It!” Romania’s key selling point is Ilinca and her yodeling. Yet in the camera clips we’ve seen, they cut away from her when she is yodeling. Granted, Alex is the more charismatic of the two singers, but the song is called “Yodel It!” It’s like Romania is missing the point of its own song.

Netherlands: OG3NE – “Light and Shadow”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Low.
Chris – Q. Confidence: Low.

If the results of the first Semi are any indication, there isn’t a lot of patience for dated crap like this. Still, it’s hard to pick against it when the Vol sisters are singing well.

Hungary: Joci Pápai – “Origo”

Jen – Q. Confidence: High.
Chris – Q. Confidence: High.

We’ve been listening to the ESC Insight podcast, and on Sunday’s episodeMonty Moncrieff and Ewan Spence discussed how the staging for “Origo” tells a Romeo and Juliet story. And gosh darn it if Joci and dancer Alexandra aren’t telling that story better than the song in this Semi actually inspired by Romeo and Juliet.

Denmark: Anja – “Where I Am”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Medium.
Chris – Q. Confidence: Low.

Anja is a singer to be reckoned with. Even if the song isn’t the best, she is gonna drag it to the Final through sheer force of will.

Ireland: Brendan Murray – “Dying to Try”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Medium.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: High.

Stop watching “Dying to Try” if you experience the following: nausea, stomach pain, suicidal thoughts, or ringing in your ears. Call your doctor immediately. Do not watch “Dying to Try” if you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, have been pregnant before, have never been pregnant, or have boy parts.

San Marino: Valentina Monetta & Jimmie Wilson – “Spirit of the Night”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Medium.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: Medium.

We like that San Marino decided to give “Spirit of the Night” a disco club atmosphere. If we were in a disco club it would be fun. Here, it just looks like an unfocused mess.

Croatia: Jacques Houdek – “My Friend”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Low.
Chris – Q. Confidence: Medium.

Do you even realize how hard it is to switch from pop voice to opera voice like that? Yes, the song is insane and the staging is even more insane, but like Cesar before him, Jacques rises above it all.

Norway: JOWST feat. Aleksander Walmann – “Grab the Moment”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Low.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: Low.

“Grab the Moment” is a cool song and we hope that voters watching tonight agree. But we’re afraid it’s going to get lost in the shuffle.

Switzerland: Timebelle – “Apollo”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: High.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: High.

The Barbara Dex Award competition is going to be fierce this year, but at least Switzerland is in with a chance to win something in Kyiv.

Belarus: NAVI – “Historyja majho žyccia”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Medium.
Chris – Q. Confidence: Medium.

Belarus should sail right through the Final, so long as they don’t crash into the Forbidden Desert.

Bulgaria: Kristian Kostov – “Beautiful Mess”

Jen – Q. Confidence: High.
Chris – Q. Confidence: High.

Kristian is the youngest competitor at this year’s Eurovision, but he is one of the most mature performers. He will qualify with ease.

Lithuania: Fusedmarc – “Rain of Revolution”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: High.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: High.

This is the week where we envy the folks in the press room, but we also recognize that to pay for that privilege, they are forced to listen to songs like “Rain of Revolution” again and again. Their ordeal will be over soon.

Estonia: Koit Toome and Laura – “Verona”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Medium.
Chris – Q. Confidence: Low.

Falstaff wishes he ate that much ham.

Israel: IMRI – “I Feel Alive”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Low.
Chris – Q. Confidence: Low.

The song and the staging are fun, IMRI is eye candy and has drawn a good slot, and… well, the vocal may be a bit dodgy. No matter: the plusses outweigh the negatives.

Recap of 2017 Semifinal 1

Jen:

  • Sweden
  • Georgia
  • Finland
  • Azerbaijan
  • Portugal
  • Greece
  • Moldova
  • Cyprus
  • Armenia
  • Slovenia
Chris:

  • Sweden
  • Georgia
  • Finland
  • Azerbaijan
  • Portugal
  • Greece
  • Moldova
  • Poland
  • Cyprus
  • Armenia
Europe:

  • Moldova
  • Azerbaijan
  • Greece
  • Sweden
  • Portugal
  • Poland
  • Armenia
  • Australia
  • Cyprus
  • Belgium

Chris got 8 out of 10 and Jen got 7 out of 10. Jen in particular is annoyed with her result, but she is happy that juries are no longer forcing through songs like “On My Way.”

What have we learned? First off, Portugal feels like a legit contender to win. The gentle, controlled performance of “Amar Pelos Dois” stood above all the other songs tonight. We include the clips of Spain, United Kingdom, and even Italy that were shown in the interval. Francesco Gabbani needs to dial back his energy a bit so that it looks infectious and not manic.

Sweden does not seem like a contender to us. Robin Bengtsson seemed to be performing on autopilot and we’re wondering when he is going to turn on the jets and really perform. The immediacy he had back in that third heat of Melodifestivalen has slowly disappeared. It’s still good, but it could be so much better. Maybe he’ll find it in the Final.

Of course, Portugal and Italy are both drawn into the first half of the show and Sweden is drawn into the second. There are only three slots left to fill in the second half of the show, so if there is another contender coming through Semifinal 2 (say, Bulgaria), they are likely to get drawn in the first half as well. This could turn out to be very interesting indeed.

Are we ready to admit we are wrong about Belgium? It looks like YouTube views and digital sales of “City Lights” went up after Blanche’s performance. Obviously, the song has something that people besides us get. So much for our smugness!

We were very surprised Australia and Greece made the Final. Neither Isaiah or Demy (or her back-up singers) really delivered in our book, and there were a lot of bum notes being thrown around in both performances. We are really looking forward to see the split between the jury and the public votes. Did juries help put them through?

The biggest disappointment on the night for us was Finland not qualifying. We thought “Blackbird” was ravishing. At least we can understand how Belgium went through. How this did not is a mystery to us.

Otherwise, there were no big surprises. We absolutely adored Azerbaijan and Armenia. Armenia in particular seems cruising for a top 10 finish this year. What does it say about us that we thought Azerbaijan’s performance was straightforward? Cyprus and Poland were solid, if not spectacular. All were deserved qualifications.

Then, we come to Moldova. Sunstroke Project are drawn into the first half and we are guessing that they will be chosen to open the show. In a way, we hope they aren’t because they would be the perfect palate cleanser between, say, “Flashlight” and “Skeletons.” But we can see the producers looking at “Hey Mamma” and saying to themselves, “Let’s get this party started right.”

Our Predictions: 2017 Semifinal 1

It is now the time of the year we make our predictions and then immediately regret three of them after seeing the live show and then still end up with 8 out of 10 correct. Let’s see if that pattern continues this year!

Jen:

  • Sweden
  • Georgia
  • Finland
  • Azerbaijan
  • Portugal
  • Greece
  • Moldova
  • Cyprus
  • Armenia
  • Slovenia
Chris:

  • Sweden
  • Georgia
  • Finland
  • Azerbaijan
  • Portugal
  • Greece
  • Moldova
  • Poland
  • Cyprus
  • Armenia

Sweden: Robin Bengtsson – “I Can’t Go On”

Jen – Q. Confidence: High.
Chris – Q. Confidence: High.

“I Can’t Go On” is a fun and, more importantly, memorable way to open the show.

Georgia: Tamara Gachechiladze – “Keep the Faith”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Low.
Chris – Q. Confidence: Low.

Neither of us are fans of the song, but it’s hard to ignore how many friends Georgia has in this Semi. Not to take anything away from Tamara, who has been singing it well.

Australia: Isaiah – “Don’t Come Easy”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Low.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: Low.

It may seem harsh to judge this based on a 40-second glimpse at the camera work. But when we consider how much of a selling point Australia has made Isaiah in its staging and how little he engaged the camera while strolling on his needless prop, we wonder if he will connect with anyone watching at home. Going third may just seal his fate.

Albania: Lindita Halimi – “World”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: High.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: High.

Albania’s kitchen sink approach has made for a mess of a staging. Lindita may try to oversell her vocal, which will only make it worse.

Belgium: Blanche – “City Lights”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Medium.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: Medium.

Putting aside whether or not Blanche is going to give a confident performance, Belgium’s staging and costuming are nowhere near as cool and urban as the song. The disconnect between the stage picture they’ve created and the song they are presenting is striking.

Montenegro: Slavko Kalezić – “Space”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: High.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: High. 

All this needs to work is a good vocal performance and two back-up dancers. Unless Slavko has met some friends at the Euroclub he can throw onstage last minute, he is totally screwed.

Finland: Norma John – “Blackbird”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Medium.
Chris – Q. Confidence: High.

Gorgeous, sophisticated staging for an ethereal ballad. We expect this to pack an emotional wallop. First chills of the evening.

Azerbaijan: DiHaj – “Skeletons”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Medium.
Chris – Q. Confidence: Medium.

We always welcome Azerbaijan’s penchant for high concept staging. Anyone who says that this is too weird to qualify should remember that they have qualified with weirder stuff than this.

Portugal: Salvador Sobral – “Amar pelos dois”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Medium.
Chris – Q. Confidence: High.

Shamelessly old-fashioned, but charming. This year, Portugal rethought what it wanted to do at Eurovision and they will be rewarded for their efforts.

Greece: Demy – “This Is Love”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Low.
Chris – Q. Confidence: Low.

Even with Greece missing out on the Final last year, we have learned to bet against them at our own peril. (To wit, they had an unusually bad entry in 2016.) We’re not entirely confident “This Is Love” is going to come together in the end, but we are willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Poland: Kasia Moś – “Flashlight”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Low.
Chris – Q. Confidence: Low.

Jen thinks the song is not good enough, the juries will not respond to it, and Poland lacks voting allies in this Semi to overcome all that. Chris thinks there is something to be said for having an emotional connection to your song. Kasia is selling “Flashlight for all it’s worth. ($5.99 or something like that.)

Moldova: SunStroke Project – “Hey Mamma”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Medium.
Chris – Q. Confidence: High.

It’s a bit hokey and a bit self-aware, but “Hey Mamma” is so full of glee and charm that you can’t help but enjoy it.

Iceland: Svala – “Paper”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Low.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: Medium.

Svala is uncompromising, and we like that. She is still singing the song “Paper,” and we don’t like that.

Czech Republic: Martina Bárta – “My Turn”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: High.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: High.

Ugh, poor Martina looks like a sad, discolored disco ball in that gold lamé jumpsuit. The Barbara Dex Award was made for outfits like this. Even if it were actually flattering, it would still derail what is meant to be an intimate, emotional ballad.

Cyprus: Hovig – “Gravity”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Medium.
Chris – Q. Confidence: Medium.

You have to hand it to Hovig: this is an ambitious choreography to attempt. If he and his dance crew can pull it off, it should go over quite well. Also: G:Son wrote this song and Greece, Spain, and Sweden, who all vote in this Semi, usually buy what he is selling.

Armenia: Artsvik – “Fly With Me”

Jen – Q. Confidence: High.
Chris – Q. Confidence: High.

Artsvik is fierce. Armenia has one of the best marriages of song and staging this year.

Slovenia: Omar Naber – “On My Way”

Jen – Q. Confidence: Low.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: Low.

Jen thinks the juries will eat this up. Chris hates this song and is picking against it out of spite.

Latvia: Triana Park – “Line”

Jen – NQ. Confidence: Low.
Chris – NQ. Confidence: Low.

As much as we like “Line,” the presentation is a bit of a visual assault. There’s too much going on to process and, seeing as we’re not at a rave spaced out on ecstasy, we’re not sure this is going to go over well.

May 7, 2017 Rehearsal Recap

Today, Ukraine and the Big Five get their second chance to rehearse on the big stage. Here are your Eurovision words for the day:

  • Mirrors
  • La scimmia nuda balla
  • Good luck, and don’t fuck it up

O.Torvald replaced the mountain props and the clocks in their chests from Ukraine’s national final with a big giant mirrored head. We are having a hard time connecting to this song, and the staging doesn’t help us.

Italy is using a tweaked version of Sanremo staging, including the break-dancing ape and the audience-friendly choreography. This week Francesco has solidified his standing as the Song Contest’s presumptive winner. His task between now and Saturday is to stay in the moment and not let the pressure get to him. Which is a Buddhist concept, after all.

There are not enough words in the English language to describe the existential horror one feels when enduring Spain. “Do It For Your Lover” makes us long for the slick professionalism and songcraft of “Cake to Bake.” The silver lining is that Spain has announced that for Eurovision 2018 it will revive Operación Triunfo, a selection format that resulted in a strong run of songs for them in 2002-2004. Doesn’t help us right now, though.

Germany has produced an inoffensive package, in grey tones, for a song that wasn’t memorable to begin with. With so much attention given to Spain’s awfulness, it’s easy to forget that it’s usually the mediocre song that lands at the bottom of the table. We can’t come up with one country that would include this in its Top 10. We think Germany could be looking at another nul points, not because it’s the worst, but because it has not given anyone a reason to vote for it.

It’s like the United Kingdom saw San Marino’s 2014 staging for “Maybe” and said to themselves, “You know, that actually was a good idea. It could really be something with a budget.” So UK made the fan mirrored, which reflects Lucie and the lights on the floor. To their credit, it is a unique stage picture this year. Our issue is with Lucie, who is a good singer but insists on treating Eurovision like it’s the West End. Not only is she singing “Never Give Up on You” like a showtune, word on the street is that she does not connect with the cameras. If Lucie only plays to the house, she’s not going to make the necessary connection with the viewers at home.

France, who before rehearsals was looking at a possible Top 10 finish, has disappointed. They kept the tango across Paris concept but have left out the tango dancers onstage. This is a huge unforced error. Alma sounds confident singing the song, but in the rehearsal footage she looks alone and exposed. France is going to need a camerawork miracle to make this succeed.

May 6, 2017 Rehearsal Recap

Judging from today’s rehearsals, Semifinal Two is shaping up to be a magical evening.

Here are your Eurovision words for the day:

  • Dance with who brought you
  • Cheese
  • JACQUES

OG3NE from Netherlands are delivering exactly what you would expect: tight harmonies, stomping positivity, and perky encouragement. It’s all a bit cheesy, but it’s wrapped up in such an appealing package it’s hard to hate on it. I mean, we still do, but we are determined to do so.

Joci is doing exactly what he did at Hungary’s national final. The stage picture is him and a Roma dancer. And, like the national final, it still feels like he really doesn’t catch fire until he does the rap in the third minute. We’ve learned not to worry about that, though, because “Origo” is a compelling package.

Anja keeps the string of strong performances going, largely retaining her staging from DMGP. As far as we can tell, Denmark is keeping those cameras locked in on her for much of the song. Good idea. She’s a dynamic performer and she makes “Where I Am” a lock to qualify for the Final. As it turns out, Anja was the artist Australia should have sent, with the staging Australia should have used.

Ireland is hopeless. They set up Brandon with a giant balloon, but he looks completely lost on it and he does nothing to engage with the prop. The backdrop for Ireland looks like a YouTube sleep hypnosis video. Between all of that and a song that is dull as dishwater, everyone in the audience is going to be lulled into slumber.

Fortunately, San Marino arrives to wake us up. (Wait, is that something we just said? It is.) Valentina and Jimmie look like they are having the time of their lives up there. “Spirit of the Night” is vibrant and entertaining and would have been fabulous in 1978. I mean, can you imagine the lines at Studio 54?

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a bombshell: Croatia is successfully portraying Jacques’ duality as pop diva and opera singer! The Croatian delegation has nailed the tone of “My Friend,” which is possibly the most remarkable staging achievement at Eurovision this year. Jacques, as the front man, is exuding confidence and sincerity while clearly enjoying the moment. Everything behind him, however, is over the top. His stylist has triumphed with a coat that’s part tux, part leather jacket – it underscores the different vocal colors, but yet still works as a single piece of clothing. The staging features daisies and rainbows and violinists and, of course, pyro. Yes, it’s cheesy, but what a delight it will be for everyone on Saturday if it qualifies.

Norway has preserved the cool staging they did at MGP, including the on-screen camera tricks. Aleksander sounds great and it is all very chill and quite fun. But we wonder, with its laid back vibe, whether viewers at home will watch and say, “Yeah, I like this, this is good, but what the hell was that from Croatia?” That would be a shame.

So, that Beauty and the Beast movie was a hit this year, right? Timebelle took note and had Switzerland spring for a mullet version of Belle’s yellow dress. It’s a timeless look. See, Belle, Timebelle, get it?

Hey look, NAVI are dressed in white. Belarus has opted for more of a dream-like staging of “Historyja majho žyccia.” We’re not sure that it works. Plus, the duo are confined to a little airship seemingly stolen from Albania’s staging. It’s reining in their exuberance. Still, it’s such a fun song and a joyful performance it’s hard to imagine this won’t win over first time viewers.

Watching Bulgaria’s rehearsals doesn’t tell us much besides Kristian being in good voice. There are apparently a lot of camera effects that will be on full display when watching the show. How much that adds or subtracts remains to be seen, but based on strength of song and singer, Bulgaria looks to be in good shape.

Lithuania is next and Fusedmarc’s performance is unchanged from their national final. If you’re Sweden or Hungary or Denmark, this is not a problem. If you are Lithuania, it is. Now we’re getting closer to Two (Semifinal Two!), we don’t feel the “Rain of Revolution.”

Hey look, Laura’s wearing white. Koit’s in black, though, so we get it. He is the yin to Laura’s yang, the chocolate cookie to her creamy center. Anyway, watching the rehearsal footage for Estonia, our big problem with the staging is that Laura and Koit are standing nowhere near each other. In context of the song, it makes sense. But since the camera work is going to be all close-ups on the two of them, why have them stand so far apart? Move them close together so they can feed off of each other’s energy. Maybe that’s why their cheesy facial expressions are so amusing to us. They are over-emoting to make up for the lack of a real connection.

This year, Israel lacks the epicness of “Golden Boy” or even “Made of Stars.” But “I Feel Alive” is a perfectly enjoyable pop song that will add some flair to the Final if it makes it. We hope it goes through, but in rehearsals IMRI has been teetering on the edge of Tooji-ing his performance. Then again Tooji still qualified, didn’t he?

May 5, 2017 Rehearsal Recap

Today’s rehearsals in Kyiv wrap up Semifinal One, kick off Semifinal Two, and give the hosts and the Big Five their first taste of the big stage.

Here are your Eurovision words for the day:

Armenia kicks the day off and whoa, do they pack a wallop or what? Artsvik sounds great and she looks like she’s having fun. The choreography is tight, the backdrop is beautiful, and the color scheme is gorgeous. Potential winner of the first Semi?

Now look, we are no fans of “On My Way.” But by god, does Omar from Slovenia wring every drop of theatricality out of his 11 o’clock number. Plus he looks like he’s enjoying every moment of his second bite of the cherry. It’s like he’s found his corner of the sky. This one scares us.

It is hard to tell which way Latvia is going to go. We love “Line,” but we recognize that it is flawed: how many times do they sing “Where we draw the line?” They sing it a lot. Singer Agnese’s vocal has been varying in quality. And it is an absolute day-glo explosion. Yet it is catchy and energetic and a refreshing jolt of modernity after the preceding song. So… It’s not gonna qualify, is it?

Now it’s time to get into Semifinal Two and hey look, Tijana from Serbia is in a white dress! It’s made of a thin fabric so you can see the swimsuit underneath. We had thought that, after Armenia last year, swimsuits were going to be the go-to gimmick for Eurovision this year. We’re not fans of this as a show opener, mainly because we thought the producers should have lead with “Yodel It!” This one may get lost in the shuffle when it comes time to vote.

In the weeks leading up to Eurovision, Austria’s Nathan Trent went on a full-on charm offensive, recording acoustic versions of Eurovision entries of yore. It looks like he’s carried that charm right onto the Eurovision stage. The big moon may come off as a bit hokey, but Nathan gives it all a playful little wink and makes it work. He’s approaching this one from a place of joy. Oh and hey look, he’s wearing white.

Macedonia is a tough one. It’s a fun song, but it’s called “Dance Alone,” so they made sure Jana was dancing alone. Except that it doesn’t really provide a good stage picture. At least it conveys the desperation and sadness of dancing alone? We want this to qualify, because it’s a great song, but Macedonia has done itself no favors with the literal translation. Oh, and in case you were wondering if “Dance Alone” was innuendo for something, the trashy choreography seems to be confirming what you’re thinking.

Hey look, Claudia from Malta is wearing white. “Breathlessly” is a song for those who think “On My Way” is too edgy, so it’s no surprise it is staged as safe as a bench seat on a carousel. Of all the acts that have splashed images of the performers on the video backdrop, Malta takes the cake for seemingly projecting the biggest ego. It makes Isaiah look modest by comparison. And big Claudia head singing along with herself is creepier than those twins in The Shining.

For awhile now we were lamenting that kitsch was slowly dying at Eurovision. Then Ilinca and Alex from Romania came along and patted us on the head and gave us yodeling and glitter cannons. It’s terrible, but boy, it is glorious.

After Romania, the Big Five and Ukraine began their first rehearsals. As such, we’re not going to write them up yet because access to footage is limited. But we would be remiss if we did not note that Ukraine’s stage prop is a big head. Not a big head on a screen, an actual big, fat head.

May 4, 2017 Rehearsal Recap

Good evening, chickies, it’s Semifinal time! We have now seen two rounds of rehearsals for almost everyone competing in Tuesday’s first Semi.

Here are your Eurovision words for the day:

  • Diaphanous
  • Lumbering behemoth of ego
  • And the color: white

Sweden opens the show. As expected, Robin has preserved his Melodifestivalen staging, except the dancers are now mic’d and providing the backing vocal. The sound and set is not quite as slick as the Swedish national staging, but it’s fine and has allowed Robin to remain largely free of unwanted fan attention during rehearsals. We just wish he didn’t look so freaking vacant.

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Georgia has opted for a red and black staging. Tamara begins her performance in a see-through red cape, which she ditches as the song builds. It’s a simple staging that relies heavily on Tamara’s big vocal. We have been indifferent to “Keep the Faith” thus far, but we can see this qualifying if Tamara can deliver on the night. Side note: we neglected to mention in our original review of “Keep the Faith” that Anri Jokhadze co-wrote it. It’s always nice to have Anri around Eurovision.

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As good a track record as Australia has with their songs, they really are terrible at staging. Isaiah’s concept focuses on him, with massive sensitive Isaiah images on the video screen. Unfortunately you’ll be seeing a lot of that sort of thing this year. It turns out that enormous faces on projection screens are this year’s mullet dress. Anyhow, Isaiah is standing on this plinth that moves kind of like a flat circular treadmill, so he can walk in place. His Semifinal draw is bad luck in this respect, as Sweden’s staging uses treadmills to much better effect. Oh, and they throw in that au courant 2011 innovation, the pyro curtain. Australia’s stock has fallen.

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In the belt-fest that is Semifinal One, Albania distinguishes itself from Georgia because Lindita’s see-though cape is white, not red. The backdrop echoes her steampunk-inspired music video. It’s just… a lot. Albania is more vulnerable to pitchiness than Georgia, which is not great news for them.

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Poor Belgium. Despite all the adoration from fans (which we never shared, and we’re kind of smug about that), “City Lights” was always going to be a challenge to stage. What is panning out is pretty much worst-case scenario. Blanche has taken a beating from the fans during rehearsals. She’s not been finding the camera and her vocals haven’t been good enough. Folks on the ground have been reporting that her confidence is low. And the staging has lost all the charm of the admittedly cool music video with the big glow ball. Qualification is by no means assured for what was many thought would be a top five finisher.

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Montenegro. Montenegro. Whoo boy, where to begin? Disco entries often struggle, and we see no evidence that this will disrupt the trend. Slavko is pitchy, and for the life of us, we don’t understand why he insisted on hiding his backing singers. Wouldn’t you want to have as many people on stage as possible to ramp up the party atmosphere? Maybe he’s afraid he’ll take someone’s eye out when he whips his ponytail around.

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Finland has preserved their staging from UMK. Since the national finals “Blackbird” has largely flown under the radar with fans. In part that’s because the song is a downer. But what folks don’t know (or have forgotten) is that this song is better live than on the recording. It’s professional, lovely, and emotional. Mark our words, it will be rewarded.

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Bless Azerbaijan, always going high concept. Dihaj is enclosed in a chalkboard room, and she writes on the walls. When her backing singers appear, she writes on their backs. Azerbaijan has thoughtfully supplied us with choreography you can do at home. Dihaj is in great voice. To wit, we can’t understand most of what she’s saying, but we don’t care. There’s also the small detail of the dude on a ladder wearing the horse’s head. We got a live one, folks!

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Portugal has given their staging a little oomph for Eurovision without losing their song’s intimacy. We haven’t seen Salvador in rehearsals due to health issues that are keeping him from Kyiv until the dress rehearsal. His sister, who wrote the song, has been pinch-hitting for now. It all looks lovely and promising, and we have high hopes.

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Greece is the anti-Australia. There’s a lot of razzle dazzle that tries to distract us from the mediocrity of the song. Shirtless dancers, rising plinth, holographic underwater effects. None of it helps Demy find her high notes though.

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Poland has gone for a rudimentary staging, which is appropriate given the rudimentary song craft. Kasha is wearing a white dress with a lot of see through material (surprise surprise). There’s a violinist on stage and there is liberal use of the wind machine. Kasha sounds fine, but the song is just a snoozer, with the worst, most cliché rhymes out there. Still, whenever anyone from Poland is in good voice, ignore them at your peril.

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Moldova is giving the good people of Eurovision what they want: a catchy tune, playful dance-along choreography, and epic sax. Sunstroke Project knows exactly who they are and what they’re good at. It helps that they look like they are having the time of their lives up there. Their enthusiasm is infectious. Sign us up for more!

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Hey look, another white cape! At least Iceland’s cape is conceptually justified. When it is under lit, it looks like paper. We get it. Svala is a seasoned performer and looking fab in white with a plunging neckline. And she has a moment at the end with lasers. We just wish the song was better.

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Czech Republic—blessed with a jury-friendly song and prime placement in the first Semi—was one we had earmarked as a potential surprise qualifier. Yeah. Not gonna happen. The backdrop echoes the lovely music video, which under other circumstances might have worked. Unfortunately, the Czech delegation has done nothing else to help themselves. Martina is decked out in an unflattering gold lame pantsuit that wears her more than she wears it. Worse, it detracts from the minimalist Dove-Real Beauty concept that made the music video work (and, again, is being broadcast behind her). The final nail in the coffin: Martina starts off the song seated, sapping energy from what was already a low-energy ballad.

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Cyprus is attempting the most difficult choreography in this Semi, simulating the heaviness of gravity. It requires core strength and balance. Hovig and his dancers have had some challenges with the movement, but they been using their rehearsal time to master it. The performance is coming along, and we think will play nicely on the night.

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Things We Learned By Reading the Bios of the 2017 Eurovision Participants

It’s time once again to comb through the bios of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest participants to discover the little nuggets of trivia that will enhance our enjoyment of their performances. Or at least to find out which acts truly intend to bring the Nordic metropolitan charm.

  • Isaiah (Australia) comes from a family of 11 siblings. Getting attention from mom don’t come easy!
  • Marta (Czech Republic) is “an extreme goat cheese lover.” We prefer to think that “extreme” is describing the type of goat cheese she likes.
  • Before a performance Koit Toome (Estonia) has “a habit of walking around the room in a specific, yet peculiar way.” Meanwhile, Laura says that “her favorite way to treat herself is on a Sunday morning with her grandma’s pancake recipe.” Below, Koit is sad he did not get an invite.

  • Alma (France) says she needs to receive a “love dose” before she goes onstage, which means she randomly hugs people and not what you thought she meant.
  • Germany’s entry for the Eurovision Song Contest 2017 is the perfect liaison of Nordic metropolitan charm, a husky voice of international class, and a song that will delight Europe.” Also it is “a contagious, border-crossing pop hymn for a modern Europe.” Boy, that song sounds amazing! We wonder why Germany replaced it with “Perfect Life.”
  • Despite being an award-winning singer, Demy (Greece) is “a diligent law student” in her free time. Always prepare for a second career in case your first one goes all MC Hammer.
  • “Believer, fighter, singer, dreamer, father and Samurai – these are the many faces of Joci Papai (Hungary).” In the movie version of his life, he will be played by Tony Randall.
  • Svala’s (Iceland) lucky routine before a performance? “I bathe myself in unicorn tears and take a shot of snow on fire.” Svala’s awesome, y’all.
  • Francesco Gabbani (Italy) says, “As for the ape, she’s happy. She adores being on stage.” Like many Eurovision legends before him, Francesco Gabbani is challenging our preconceived notions of gender!
  • Arturs, the guitarist for Triana Park (Latvia), is “one of the best baristas of Latvia,” which as we all know is an underrated skill in the music industry. Also, the band’s favorite food is “banana pancakes with Nutella.” They need to come with us to visit Laura from Estonia on a Sunday morning!
  • The music of Fusedmarc (Lithuania) “is not an experiment but a fusion of maturity, true emotions, and inspiring energy.” It sounds like Fusedmarc is a bit tired of people saying their music is an experiment.
  • “A unique voice. A million emotions. A girl next door by day and glamorous diva by night with a passion for music and life. That’s how Claudia Faniello, Malta’s representative in the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest, has been described.” By herself.
  • Setting aside the levity here, we feel that Sunstroke Project (Moldova) could use some advice on how to pick the right headshot. We recommend they pay particular attention to points one, two, and seven.

  • “Artist. Theatre. Music. Movies. TV series. TV media. X Factor. One man show. Vegetarian. Cosmopolitan. Those few words describe the diversity of Slavko Kalezić (Montenegro).” You may be surprised to learn Slavko has a background in drama. In 2009, he “started a masters in acting where he perfected movement as an important tool in 21st century theatre.” He doesn’t say if he finished it.
  • OG3NE’s (Netherlands) name comes from the Vol sisters’ mother’s blood type. They’ve got the same type blood. Type O.
  • Jimmie Wilson (San Marino) says, “Eurovision is important to me as a singer because you reach a multi-million international audience with ONE performance!” Not on Logo, you don’t. Anyway, he must not like San Marino’s chances to qualify.
  • Omar Naber (Slovenia) says, “I have been saving this song for ten years. I have been saving it for a special occasion.” Only the ten years?
  • Manel Navarro (Spain) says, and we quote verbatim from the Eurovision website, “I’m an honest and natural guy, , I write my own songs…. and I look good on camera!” He could use an editor though.
  • Robin Bengtsson (Sweden) entered Swedish Idol and “literally blew the judges away with his soulful and mature voice.” It’s amazing they let him on the show after he literally blew the judges away. The insurance risk alone must have been staggering.
  • Timebelle (Switzerland) says, “We don’t try to be impressive.” Noted.

BNT’s Deyan Yordanov on Bulgaria’s Social Media Strategy at Eurovision

For die hard Eurovision fans, a big part of Bulgaria’s success in 2016 came from national broadcaster BNT’s entertaining and adept use of social media. As Kristian Kostov prepares to represent Bulgaria at this year’s Song Contest with “Beautiful Mess,” we caught up with Deyan Yordanov, BNT’s editor in chief of communications management, strategy and planning, to find out more about the work that goes into maintaining Bulgaria’s online presence.

There are four people working on BNT’s social media team. “There are no assigned roles – everything is shared and discussed between the team members,” he said. “In BNT the communication team also coordinates the whole project and takes part actively in the decision-making process of the entire production.”

BNT’s strategy for the 2016 Song Contest was adapted from one they first used during the 2014 Junior Eurovision Song Contest. “Our objectives were, and still are, to create a strong brand of our broadcaster and country on a European level and to improve the awareness of the local audience,” said Yordanov. “Our strategy also follows the latest trends which show that people nowadays watch TV on more than one screen. They use their mobile devices; they want to comment, engage, connect to the program they are watching.”

While “If Love Was a Crime” generated a lot of good will from Eurovision fans, Yordanov said that BNT was also prepared for possible negative reactions as well, such as the criticism of Bulgaria’s staging during last year’s rehearsal period. “[We] always have a plan [for] what to do in case things go wrong and there is some backlash,” he said. “In all situations, we want to stay true to our most important principles – to be honest, confident and sometimes even bold and provocative in our communication. It’s better to be wrong but to make people react than to leave them indifferent.”

“Of course, the best thing is to be right and to know what your are doing. Not always possible, though,” he added with a smile.

BNT makes sure that everyone involved in its Eurovision delegation stays on message, even the artists themselves. “The performers should follow our guidelines in all situations – both when it comes to their social media presence and their interviews. We have very strict requirements on the matter, because we are the ones responsible for the brand image. If the performer says something that should not be said, we will be held responsible in that case.”

Yordanov quickly added, “That doesn’t mean we are ‘control freaks’ and create an artificial image of our performer. We just want to clarify some red lines that should never be crossed by our performers. I’m happy that everyone understands it and the performers even appreciate it. That’s why we have a team – the singers have to perform, we have to do our job.”

Things have been going well with Kostov so far. “Working with [him] is a true pleasure. No matter he is so young, he is really a top professional and handles everything as it should be,” said Yordanov.

With rehearsals kicking off this weekend, Bulgaria’s delegation is prepared for the most intense part of their year. “The two weeks are much longer as we work from the moment we launch our selection process,” said Yordanov. “As I said, we have a broad range of responsibilities and social media is just one of them. Eurovision is one sleepless experience, but it’s emotionally rewarding – especially when things work fine.”