RESULTS REACTION: EUROVISION 2015 2ND SEMIFINAL

As expected, the second semifinal of the Eurovision Song Contest was a very competitive affair–some otherwise worthwhile entries would miss the cut because there are stronger entries on deck.  In some ways the ones that made it to the finals are those that were expected to make it–I got eight out of ten right and two of those I missed were in my bubbling under list.

Still there was a shocker in my reckoning:  I regarded Iceland’s Maria Olafs as one of the possible front-runners in this year’s contest.  Then, when I learned that her delegation decided to eliminate the two backup contemporary dancers that we saw in her national final and music video to make way for more backup singers, I felt that perhaps her expected Top Ten finals showing would be in jeopardy, but it will still be a finals shoo-in.  And then her performance came and it turns out she has more problems–her poofy dress is distracting and most importantly her pitch turned out to be wobbly.  So from potential front-runner, this turned into the biggest disappointment in this year’s contest.

Now, let’s talk about worthy performances that fell short of the final cut.  Switzerland’s Melanie Rene had a wardrobe change, backup drummers and billowing wind machine to jazz up her presentation, but albeit she gave a worthy effort, it wasn’t enough for her to make the final cut.

Garnering glowing notices from many Eurovision fans I know even if the presentation was simple was Czech Republic’s Marta Jandová & Václav Noid Bárta.  I hope despite not making it again, the Czech broadcaster would not be discouraged and would heed the title of the song “Hope Never Dies” and continue to participate in this contest with the hopes of finally making the finals soon.

Now let’s go to the finalists.  I didn’t pay that much attention to the visual presentation of Montenegro’s Knez during rehearsals and originally believed that Switzerland would edge this out as a result.  But despite the backup singers/dancers being obscured by shadows, the moody atmospheric lighting and the water imagery on the floor makes for a flashier-than-expected impact that flatteringly accompanies the quality of the song and the singing.

What can I say about Cyprus’ John Karayiannis?  Even if I find the highly melodic ballad a snoozer and would’ve preferred him to perform the dance remix, no one can deny his geeky puppy-dog charm.

Speaking of puppy dogs (and sunshines and rainbows), how adorably cute are Lithuania’s Monika Linkytė & Vaidas Baumila?  Everything about their performance is so bright and sunny and colorful, you can’t help but feel happy after watching them.  Plus their kiss gimmick (where they pause for two seconds for a kiss after singing the line “One kiss”) was amped up further by having the backup singers (two male and two female) do same-sex kissing.  Yes, love is universal, even if there are some unenlightened folks who would vehemently disagree.  This entry is winning me over more and more every time I watch them.

The Baltic region will be fully represented in the finals, as Estonia in the first semifinal, the aforementioned Lithuania, and Latvia’s Aminata all made it.  Being bathed in red-tinted spotlights helped make Aminata’s white dreamy confection of a ballgown become appealingly cotton-candy pink, and the visual backdrop effects helped give her simple performance that needed extra oomph.  Of course, all these are solidly anchored with her on-point and on-pitch vocals.

Another region that will be fully represented in the finals is the Caucasus region.  Georgia and Armenia advanced in the first semifinal, and now they are joined by Azerbaijan’s Elnur Huseynov.  The presentation is highly theatrical with two contemporary dancers moving like feral wolves with a lunar eclipse as a backdrop.  But unlike in his first go-round seven years ago, Elnur did not join in the theatrics and was dressed very simply–it’s a very good less-is-more approach.  It is cementing its status as one of the front-runners.

I wished Norway’s Mørland and most especially Debrah Scarlett were clad in their elegant music video wardrobe, but the dreamy white outfits they sported were a lovely sight, too.  I’m still not that crazy about Debrah’s unruly frizz, but it does make sense (and well, it does make for a pre-Raphaelite look).  This is also another entry that secured its status as a favorite to win.

I’m definitely pleased as punch that Slovenia’s husband-and-wife duo Maraaya made the cut.  The presentation is a tad simple with the exception of the dancer doing air violin movements, but there is still that chance that this cool, hip, retro-pop number will bring forth this country’s best-ever finish in the Eurovision final.

I’m also very glad Israel’s Nadav Guedj finally broke his country’s four-year drought and made it through.  There are many Eurovision observers and pundits who love this entry to bits and the high energy presentation is a much-needed jolt to the mostly staid proceedings.  I still hate the chorus, but now I realize it does make sense with the rest of the song.  Also a fun observation–it’s amusing how meta the song gets in the end as it references the three-minute prescribed time limit that all entries must follow–“Okay, we gotta go / Three minutes / Bye-bye.” went the last lines of the song.  The presentation also amusingly ends with a shot of Nadav and his backup crew in an overhead selfie.

Finally, as expected Sweden’s Måns Zelmerlöw delivered a stellar performance–yes it’s almost an exact replica of his Melodifestivalen presentation with the exception of the stick figure cartoon dressed more like Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and flying with a balloon instead of an umbrella due to potential copyright issues with a multimedia performance art piece. Still clearly a front-runner, but will it win?

With Iceland out of the running, I’ll have to make adjusted in my finals “fearful” forecast, as follows:

TOP TEN:  SLOVENIA, NORWAY, SWEDEN, AUSTRALIA, GERMANY, SPAIN, GEORGIA, AZERBAIJAN, RUSSIA, ITALY

BUBBLING UNDER:  ISRAEL, ESTONIA, LITHUANIA, SERBIA, BELGIUM, AUSTRIA, LATVIA, ROMANIA, ALBANIA

Though I was betting on Sweden to win its sixth Eurovision title, I’m fretful that its long-held front-runner status, over-familiarity with the presentation, and those pesky plagiarism rumors may knock it off its lofty perch.  With the final running order now known and with Sweden performing in the first half and its biggest rival Italy performing last (and featured in the second half are other heavy hitters like Russia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan), it would be an interesting showdown how the final outcome would turn out to be.

JUST ME!

JOSEPH

RESULTS REACTION: EUROVISION 2015 1ST SEMIFINAL

The first semifinal for the Eurovision Song Contest has just concluded and the ten finalists were selected.  In general, the choices were not that surprising, though a favorite of mine was cut.  I got eight out of the ten right, plus one bubbling under entry.  The one I didn’t get, I was vacillating between including it in my bubbling under list or not, but I was trying to keep my bubbling under choices down to three at the most.

Hungary’s Boggie, to her and her delegation’s credit, jazzed up the presentation with artful cosmic backdrops and tastefully dramatic formations.  And being dressed in elegant formal clothes also helped bring an air of dignity to their number.  I’m still not expecting this to outdo Kallay-Sanders’ entry last year, but I’m not upset at this entry’s inclusion.

I’m saddened that Belarus’ Uzari & Maimuna are shut out.  Yes, the press people have criticized their presentation as lacking much visual impact, but I thought the strength of the song and the charisma of the two performers even with a relatively threadbare setting (plus Mother Russia’s support) would’ve helped power this through to the finals.  Oh well, it was still one of my favorite songs in this year’s contest.

Another one that I also felt a tad sad missing the cut despite solid vocals and the sheer merit of the song is Netherlands’ Trintje Oosterhuis.  Though she looked a bit more attractive than the way she looked in most appearances, the lace-on-the-face close-up and the poufy black jumpsuit are not really that flattering and that may have cost her a slot in the finals.  She should’ve flown in that hunk from her music video.

Now, let’s go to the highlights and top qualifiers.  Speaking of wardrobe, I dig the cape on Albania’s Elhaida Dani, but of course what most people rave about are her stellar vocals.  She didn’t win Voice of Italy 2013 for nothing…

Speaking of stellar vocals, Russia’s Polina Gagarina delivered on the vocals as expected.   It also helps she looks sexy and dreamy with her low-cut white gown.  Definitely bound for a Top Five finish in the finals.

I was concerned based on the first rehearsal how Serbia’s Bojana Stamenov would be styled, as she had frizzy hair at that time.  Fortunately sense prevailed and her hair is styled in the familiar bouffant style.  Her backup singers and dancers also delivered on the wardrobe changes so I’m pleased to see this advance.

Making striking visuals with choreography is Belgium’s Loic Nottet and his white-clad backup singers.  Some press people have dubbed it one of their Top Three favorite highlights of the night, and I agree with them.  I’m also glad it’s strongly sung, and Loic’s voice wasn’t drowned out in the chorus unlike in the recorded version.

My favorite is Georgia’s Nina Sublatti.  Some might argue her presentation might seem a tad boring as she simply stood still as she sang, but then again, she looked superbly fierce with her tigress stare that all she needed to do is sing well–and sing well she did.

Most Eurovision observers and pundits are excited about the second semifinal, as this is loaded with the big front-runners and heavy hitters.  I also just can’t wait and am rooting for Sweden all the way to advance (and Slovenia, and Azerbaijan, and Iceland, and okay, Norway).  Let’s see if my predictions for that round would hold up.

JUST ME!

JOSEPH

EUROVISION SONG CONTEST 2015 SONG PREVIEW: AUTOMATIC FINALISTS

Three of the seven non-English language entries are found among the automatic finalists, which this year consists of the “Big Five”, the host nation Austria, and “guest” competitor Australia.  Which of them will crack the Top Ten in the finals?  Since the running order will not be known until the finalists are selected, I’ll present them in alphabetical order as follows:

AUSTRALIA: “Tonight Again” – Guy Sebastian.  Eurovision fans were hoping that this country would be represented by superstar Kylie Minogue.  Many of them were let down that it was another person instead.  But then again, one must need to consider that this fellow knows all about competing, as he is the first winner of Australian Idol.  There was talk about the possible scenario on who would host if this entry wins, but though it is a strong entry, I think Sweden, Italy, Norway, and Azerbaijan are more formidable.  I’ll expect a strong Top Ten to Top Five showing for this pop/R&B jam.

AUSTRIA: “I Am Yours” – The Makemakes.  Bo Bice, what are you doing representing Austria in this contest?  Doesn’t the lead singer of this band physically and vocally resemble that American Idol Season 4 runner-up, albeit singing in a more R&B style than what you would expect from the soulful Southern-fried rocker.  This is not expected to duplicate Conchita’s victory, but it will fare respectably.

FRANCE: “N’Oubliez pas [Don’t forget]” – Lisa Angell.  After the debacle that was Twin Twin’s “Moustache” last year, this country is expected to shore up its fortunes with this entry.  It’s clearly more tasteful and respectable, but though I don’t expect this to languish in the bottom like last year, I think its best prospects is a middle-pack showing.

GERMANY: “Black Smoke” – Ann Sophie.  On its merits, it’s a well-written pop song, and also well sung.  Many Eurovision observers and pundits feel this has what it takes to place in the Top Ten overall.  I agree with their assessment.  Not bad for an entry that was actually the runner-up in the national finals.

The national finals is an interesting story.  The actual winner was  Andreas Kummerz, who previously won The Voice of Germany in 2013, with “Heart of Stone”.  Listening to the actual winning entry, I feel that there is a good basis why it won–it’s a catchier song, and Andreas Kummerz is a soulful force of nature.  So why did he decline the “honor” to compete for Germany immediately after being declared the winner? My speculation is Andreas was not really aiming to win but simply to showcase this wonderful, soulfully sung American-style number, and besides that, he probably feels he’s not the sort who can create a good visual image that is needed to make serious inroads in this contest.  But then again, I have a feeling his “anti-charismatic” image may actually work to his benefit if he actually competed in this contest.  His singing chops are just too formidable, and the song is so deliciously good, he could’ve probably have a near-guaranteed Top Five placement with that song.  Such a shame we are only left with a “what-if” scenario.

ITALY:  “Grande Amore [Great Love]” – Il Volo.  I was aware of this operatic trio a few years ago as they promoted their debut album on an episode of American Idol.  Their album made the Top 10 in America and elsewhere around the world.  I think they felt since then they needed an extra kickstart for their career, so they competed at famous San Remo Song Festival, won, and got the right to compete in this contest.  With this lush pop operatic ballad, they might even win it all judging from the buzz amongst Eurovision observers and pundits.  So far it looks like there is a North-South divide in terms on choice of winner: the Northern European states tend to prefer Sweden, while the Southern European states tend to prefer this entry.  Let’s see how this all plays out when the finals come.

SPAIN: “Amanecer [Dawn]” – Edurne.  Again Spain decides to field a female soloist with formidable vocal chops.  But unlike Pastora Soler’s “Quedate Conmigo” and Ruth Lorenzo’s “Dancing in the Rain”, this one is not really a ballad.  It’s a bit too fast to be a ballad, but I can’t say it’s an uptempo number either.  I’ll just call this a classically tinged epic piece instead.  For the performance in the finals, the Spanish contingent will feature a hunky male dancer to accompany Edurne and interpret the lyrics of the song.  A Top Ten placement seems to be assured–but now the question is, can it rank above 10th place?

UNITED KINGDOM: “Still in Love with You” – Electro Velvet.  I have a gnawing feeling the BBC has given up in frustration after Molly’s “Children of the Universe” fell short of pre-contest expectations.  Okay, so this entry is actually entertaining in its 1920s-Charleston-meets-electro-pop fusion, but many Eurovision pundits and observers are concerned that this entry could languish in last place and probably even get the dreaded “nul points” earned by Jemini (another male-female duo) back in 2003.  For their sake, I hope that dire fate will not materialize.

Here’s how I think the finals will end up:

TOP TEN:  RUSSIA, GEORGIA, NORWAY, AZERBAIJAN, ICELAND, SWEDEN, SLOVENIA, AUSTRALIA, ITALY, SPAIN

BUBBLING UNDER:  ESTONIA, SERBIA, BELARUS, ALBANIA, ROMANIA, ISRAEL, AUSTRIA, GERMANY

As I mentioned before, what I predict to make the Top Ten may not necessarily be my personal favorite choices, so let me trot out my own personal favorites.

PERSONAL TOP 10:  1) SWEDEN 2) GEORGIA 3) SLOVENIA  4) SERBIA 5) ICELAND 6) AUSTRALIA 7) BELARUS 8) ALBANIA 9) SPAIN 10) ITALY

BUBBLING UNDER:  F.Y.R. MACEDONIA, AZERBAIJAN, ROMANIA, LITHUANIA, AUSTRIA, BELGIUM

This year’s Eurovision final is looking to be a showdown of hunks–who will win between the Swedish pop hunk or the trio of Italian operatic hunks?  And can Norway, Azerbaijan, Slovenia, Georgia, or Australia overtake those two and pull off an upset?  I’m generally satisfied with the qualities of this year’s entries.  Hope merits will indeed prevail.

JUST ME!

JOSEPH