Since my last article on this contest, we learned, as predicted, that Russia (Yuliya Samoilova) withdrew from this year’s contest. It is reported that the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) will impose sanctions on both Russia and Ukraine after this contest, but in what form, we’ll probably find out in the weeks to come.
Anyway, moving on to the competition at hand, and I did follow the rehearsals and what we are going to expect to see on the stage, and there are some who rose in regard, and others who fell. Let us start with the major disappointments:
Belgium (Blanche) somehow failed to step up with their staging game unlike in the last couple of years. Sure, the lighting effects are similar to the music video, but the problem is Blanche is reported often looking like a deer in the headlights, and many rehearsal performances were wobbly. I also don’t like she’s in a ballgown while singing this modern song–this deserves more a sleek pantsuit or something urban–the song’s entitled “City Lights”, you know. She has fallen from a front-runner to more of a borderline qualifier.
Cyprus (Hovig)‘s choreography jarred many reporters and observers who couldn’t quite get it initially but it kinda recovered as rehearsals wore on. Still, there are reported missed cues in the jury final so despite the expected big points from Greece and Armenia, this entry is vulnerable and there is a possibility it might be shut out of the final.
Serbia (Tijana Bogićević) was actually on-point vocally but many reporters and observers were disapoointed with the generic presentation for this song. Gone is the hanging hoop chair and Tijana is just left standing statically while a man runs around her in some portions of the song–sometimes backwards–sure the man is kind ahunky and semi-shirtless, but it still feels distracting instead of enhancing the appeal of this entry. With some more interesting presentations in this round, this entry is on the verge of missing the cut.
Fans were likewise disappointed with FYR Macedonia (Jana Burčeska) as many feel the live vocal pales compared to the slickly produced recording. I’m still rooting for this entry to succeed, and hope her coquettish presentation can be her saving grace to secure that finals slot.
Now, some entries that drew significant compliments from the press at the venue. Though I still feel they won’t qualify their efforts deserve to be saluted.
Georgia (Tamara Gachechiladze) delivered on vocal firepower and was consistently on point. She may have a stronger chance to qualify than expected but which would be an upset boot to make way for her?
I forgot to mention in my song review that Malta (Claudia Faniello) has a brother who previously competed in this contest twice–Fabrizio Faniello competed in 2001 with “Another Summer Night” (placing 9th) and “I Do” in 2006 (placing 24th). Claudia garnered compliments for her consistently strong vocals, but still the song is just beneath her immense talents.
Similarly drawing raves for flawless vocals is Ireland (Brendan Murray), and there are compliments on the hot air balloon motif, but I still think this song is overly sentimental, treacly dreck. Again, a song beneath the formidable talents of this lad.
There are also press people digging Croatia (Jacques Houdek) with his two-persons-in-one concept performance for “My Friend”. It is an impressive feat (and at least I know for the climactic overlap, Jacques will hit the pop high note and have the backup singers do the operatic counterpoint). Though I’m still rooting for FYR Macedonia to advance and hold the ex-Yugoslav fort, there is that possibllity this will overtake her.
Now garnering the biggest raves and almost securing their slots in the final are as follows:
Finland (Norma John) got the press and observers spellbound and it turned from a possible borderline qualifier to a near-shoo-in. I am indeed rooting for this to succeed.
Though for the first and second rehearsals Portugal (Salvador Sobral) had to bring his sister, Luisa to stand-in for him due to his fragile health condition, but the press and observers are impressed enough that this is deemed a new possible front-runner, possibly upsetting the almost iron-clad road to victory for Italy (Francesco Gabbani). When Salvador finally showed up for the dress rehearsal, he also received universal praise and acclaim. Anyway, Luisa did a great job, and well, that was expected since she co-wrote the song in the first place.
Moldova (Sunstroke Project) delivered on the fun, as they amplified their national presentation to a grander scale, with grander visual effects and an outfit change for the female backing singers. Fans were initially less bullish over this entry’s prospects to advance especially since it doesn’t have teh support of Romania in its bracket, but with a presentation like this (and, well, the return of Epic Sax Guy), it will be a major injustice if this is shut out.
Armenia (Artsvik) is regarded by many in the press as one of the top highlights of the first semifinal with her superbly choregraphed ethno-centric performance. From being simply a middle-of-the-board contneder, many are putting this in their Top Ten and even higher.
Austria (Nathan Trent) has been very active in the promotional circuit and charming the reporters off their feet, and he delivers a strong performance on rehearsals that he is deemed a shoo-in for the final.
Romania (Ilinca and Alex Florea) has an over-the-top presentation that works very well with the novelty of pop yodeling. The duo exhibited the chenistry of the highly regarded duo Paula Seling and Ovi (and they also delivered a great cover of the latter’s big Eurovision hit “Playing with Fire”). They can also likely figure in the Top Ten.
Also garnering universal praise from the press are the harmonies of Netherlands (OG3NE). Many have said their impressive live vocals elevate the pedestrian quality of the song, hence they are also poised of securing a finals slot instead of being a possible shock boot.
With these inputs factored in, I’ll make some slight revisions in my forecast.
1ST SEMIFINAL: SWEDEN, AUSTRALIA, BELGIUM (barely), FINLAND, PORTUGAL, AZERBAIJAN, GREECE, MOLDOVA, POLAND, ARMENIA
BUBBLING INDER: GEORGIA, ALBANIA, ICELAND, CYPRUS, LATVIA
2ND SEMIFINAL: AUSTRIA, FYR MACEDONIA (barely), ROMANIA, NETHERLANDS, HUNGARY, DENMARK, BELARUS, BULGARIA, ESTONIA, ISRAEL
BUBBLING UNDER: SERBIA, CROATIA, NORWAY, SWITZERLAND
Now among the automatic finalists, rising in stock is United Kingdom (Lucie Jones) as the press raved about the very polished presentation and Lucie’s consistently stellar vocals. Will the televoting bloc also give this entry some love? Anyway, there was also a dance remix of this song by 7th Heaven, and as I had suspected, it sounds awesome–if only this remix is made the official version (though the poppier revamp sounds good, too).
With that, here’s my take on who’ll end up in the Top Ten in the final:
SWEDEN, AZERBAIJAN, PORTUGAL, POLAND, ARMENIA, ROMANIA, BULGARIA, ESTONIA, FRANCE, ITALY
BUBBLING UNDER: AUSTRALIA, FINLAND, GREECE, MOLDOVA, NETHERLANDS, HUNGARY, DENMARK, UNITED KINGDOM
It is still expected that Italy (Francesco Gabbani) will win, and although the press complimented on his charisma and energy, they quibble that the gorilla tends to end up being blended into a dark backdrop instead of popping out as it ought to be. So it is felt that instead of a “Fairytale“- or “Euphoria”-style domination, Portugal and “Russian Bieber” (a.k.a. Bulgaria [Kristian Kostov]) could conceivably close in and pull off an upset. I’m so looking forward to see how it all unfolds. Let the games begin!