It turns out this year’s Eurovision Song Contest is a big nailbiter, with the lead changing hands several times and no one proving to be unconditionally dominant.  It turns out there are a lot of entries that polarized the juries and the public.  I’ll discuss about them more in a full-fledged review.

I got six of the eventual Top 10 right, with three in my “Bubbling Under” list.  The one entry that was totally outside my radar was the winner of the jury vote, Austria (“Nobody but You” by Cesar Sampson).  Yes, it’s a high quality entry, but I found the presentation generally too simple to be as impactful as the other colorful and splashy entries out there.  I didn’t anticipate the massive love the juries have for this entry, and to be blunt, I found that hype overrated.  But I have a feeling the jurors all around wanted to make an “inclusivity” statement by awarding a win to a black solo act for the first time in history*1

*1 There is a black performer that won already, Aruba’s Dave Benton who was part of Estonia’s entry in 2001, “Everybody“, but it was in collaboration with white natives Tanel Padar and 2XL.

A welcome surprise was Germany (“You Let Me Walk Alone” by Michael Schulte)’s 4th place showing.  With an effective LED presentation and heartfelt vocals,it tugged at the heartstrings of both the juries and general public to a great finish.  It more than vindicates three past years of last- or near-to-last-place showings.  Interestingly, it seems this is the time this country and Austria achieve vindication from those unfair and dreaded nil points earned in 2015.

Czech Republic (“Lie to Me” by Mikolas Josef) upended the traditional theory about how well could this country fare in this contest.  Not only that based on jury scores he has outdone the points amassed by Gabriela Gunčíková two years ago (66 over Gabriela’s 41), he also earned a massive 215 points from the public, showing that with a catchy song and a lively presentation this country can win over audiences and break through traditional bloc resistance.  Could this be encouragement enough for us to see neighboring country Slovakia back in this contest?

Despite rave reviews from the press (and myself), I was shocked at the weak 21st place finish for Hungary (“Viszlát nyár[Goodbye, Summer] by AWS).  I think it only shows that the general European audience (both juries and public) are not that ready to embrace this brand of hardcore rock.

I want to spare a thought for Australia (“We Got Love” by Jessica Mauboy)–some fans and pundits thought her mediocre 20th place finish might indicate that this country has outworn its Eurovision welcome, but I think differently–Jessica had the potential to outrank Isaiah’s showing last year but the real issue was the state of her vocals in both semifinal and final.  We hear signs her vocals was ravaged on the semifinal, but I was praying she’ll recover enough for the final.  Unfortunately it was not so and she sounded even more strained and ravaged during the final.  I felt sad for her and if you ask me, Jessica should take it easy for now and perhaps see a doctor to ensure her pipes recover so she can continue her music career.

Portugal (“O jardim [The garden]” by Claudia Pascoal) may have ended up in last place, but it’s a well-fought, respectable last place, if you ask me, as it amassed 39 points (normally in most year a last-placer would only garner single digits).  The last time a last-placer garnered this much points was back in 2009, with Finland’s Waldo’s People, with “Lose Control” actually having respectable regard.  Like 2009, this year is loaded with high quality entries that the competition proved almost cutthroat that making the finals is considered achievement enough.  But this year, I like all the entries and found them all listenable, but back in 2009, there is one song that I absolutely detest, and that song’s 11th place finish is something I continue to rue to this day–Russia’s “Mamo” by Anastasia Prikhodko.

Speaking of 2009, I know some were surprised at the middle-of-the-table showing of Norway (“That’s How You Write a Song” by Alexander Rybak).  Well, the song polarized fans since its national final debut and everyone felt this song pales behind Fairytale” in all measures anyway.  Same could also be said about Netherlands (“Outlaw in ‘Em” by Waylon) but in his case, the polarizing reaction was more towards his presentation and less of the song itself.

Many salute the United Kingdom (“Storm” by Surie) as Surie proved generally unflappable when a stage invader came and snatched her microphone to make a screed against “UK Nazis” for a few seconds before being hauled away by security.  I understand why they chose not to perform a re-do unlike what happened to Spain eight years ago. as SuRie’s professionalism amidst an untoward incident was commendable.  It probably helped her garner televote points that she probably wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, and it helped her garner a 24th place finish (when many fans and pundits felt she’ll end up in last place).

Thanks to her fiery, Beyonce-inspired performance, Eleni Foureira delivered Cyprus its best finish ever with “Fuego“.  For those who heard the demo performed by Helena Paparizou, some might speculate if Helena could have pulled off a consistent run of Top Three finishes*2, a feat that has only been achieved by Germany’s Katia Ebstein for her participation in 1970, 1971, and 1980.  But then again, one might wonder–can Helena dance with the fiery abandon that Eleni delivered in her performance?  I had previously mentioned that not only did Eleni made Cyprus proud, it also serves as vindication for all the times her country’s broadcaster rejected her bid to represent her home country to this contest.

*2 She place third in 2001 as part of the duo Antique with “Die for You” and won Eurovision 2005 with “My Number One“.

There were many fans who almost gave up on Israel (“Toy” by Netta) based on rehearsal footage as a possible champion, but she seemed to peaked when it counted, in the grand final, and with that the general public scored her high and hence preserved Israel’s 20-year cycle.

Considering disparaging remakrs last year’s champion Salvador Sobral said about her song, it was a potentially awkward moment when he handed the microphone trophy to her. Well, the handover ceremony went without incident and while some pundits thought his buss gesture serves as a mea culpa, I watched an interview he made with Wiwibloggs, and I think what we see here is more of what he termed a “yellow smile”, an idiom that means an insincere gesture as he is the sort who stands by his word.  I do respect that he’s entitled to his opinions, but I do have to note that his view of music seems to be a tad narrow-minded, and is something that is contrary to what Eurovision espouses.  Sure, there is validity that slick commercial music could be crap, but sometimes there are gems that can be found under that genre.

The spirit of Eurovision seems to be in effect with most of this year’s batch of contestants, especially those in the 1st semifinal, as many of them prove to be in a lovefest and enjoying each other’s performances and music, as exhibited in this video of them grooving to Eleni’s performance.  These artists prove to be exemplars that future editions should follow, in my opinion.





After the exhilarating but brutal spectacle that was the 1st semifinal of the Eurovision Song Contest, many observers didn’t really expect the 2nd semifinal to match the previous one.  But there were treats to be had, and again the four presenters–Daniela Ruah, Silva Alberto, Carolina Furtado, and Filomena Cautela–engaged the audience and kept the show running in a brisk pace with the trademark flashes of cheeky humour thrown in.  They also managed to deliver a performance onstage–more on that later.

Just like in the previous semifinal, there were no interval musical acts.  Instead, there were filmed segments like the much-derided Planet Portugal and better ones like ESClopedia, this time focusing on occupations and fashions presented onstage throughout history.

As an extension of ESClopedia, the four presenters also performed a “History of Dance” segment onstage showing the evolution of dance in the contest.  They began by noting there was no dancing in the 1950s as the four ladies swayed to the recently departed Lys Assia’s “Refrain” (1956).  Then, Carolina did a Rockettes-style dance to Sandie Shaw’s “Puppet on a String” (1967), followed by Silvia dancing disco to “Dschingis Khan” by the eponymously named German novelty disco act (1979), Daniela with a male dancer doing the gimmick of Bucks Fizz’s “Making Your Mind Up” (1981) and finally Filomena comically performing Loreen’s “Euphoria” (2012),then finally all of them coming together to recreate the Riverdance interval act in 1994.  I like the feminist twist they made for Buck Fizz segment with Daniela reversing gender roles with her taking off her male partner’s pants instead of the guys taking off the girls’ skirts in the original.

There was also a nod to the 1974 Eurovision entry that helped triggered the “Carnation Revolution” in the country, E depois do adeus” by Paulo de Carvalho.  It was made clear they aired a recording of the song at almost 11 PM late April to trigger the event–I was under the impression before they begun the trigger during the contest held April 5th that year…

It’s also a treat to see outtakes of the contestant postcards as they tour Portugal.  It’s nice to see more of their personalities shine.

I got seven out of 10 correct.  But all three are in my “Bubbling Under” list.  The most shocking inclusion for me was Serbia (“Nova Deca [New Children]” by Sanja Ilić & Balkanika).  Though I respect their ethno-electronica blend and appreciate their outfits, I just couldn’t connect with the song and found their presentation a bit of a hot mess.  I would rather see a certain act take this place.  I chalk this to them benefiting from bloc voting, with vingt-quartre (24) points likely generated from Montenegro and high scores from Russia, Slovenia, and the diaspora in Germany and Italy and perhaps the notoriously contrarian jury in San Marino.

Many fans were shocked that Slovenia (“Hvala, ne! [Thanks, no!]” by Lea Sirk) went through, but we have to respect she gave a terrific live performance and the “technical glitch” gimmick worked.  I love it that she made it and I’m celebrating as this is one of my personal favorites.

Many fans pegged down Netherlands (“Outlaw in ‘Em” by Waylon) for the controversial presentation, but it seems either the juries overlook the presentation and enjoyed the song’s innate virtues (which it actually has in spades) or perhaps since this is also going to be broadcast in the US, they needed something that could be a water-cooler conversation in those shores.  In the victory press conference, Waylon reiterated the good intentions behind adding those Congolese krumpers, and reinforcing the thesis that we should appreciate diversity with people and music, and angrily hurled an F-bomb at those who criticized his presentation.

Now, many people wonder who placed last in this round.  San Marino (“Who We Are” by Jessika feat. Jenifer Brening) is a possible candidate as it constently ranked at the bottom among the Eurovision fandom, but I have a feeling it got some points from Germany, Malta, and possibly Italy since the artists are from those countries.  Besides, it’s actually one of this country’s strongest entries–it’s just that it is pitted against a high caliber of competition.

What about Georgia (“For You” by Ethno-Jazz Band Iriao)?  Actually this band delivered a quality solemn performance that may have gotten some jury love across the board, so not sure about this being at the bottom.

Last year, Latvia (“Funny Girl” by Laura Rizzotto) shockingly placed last in its semifinal and there is that possibility that this shocking scenario is repeated this time.  We have to respect that no one will be able to find fault about Laura’s performance, it’s just that it’s not as memorable as the others.  Also to its disadvantage, considering Laura is half-Brazilian: Portugal was not voting in this group–they would’ve tossed points her way if they were here.

Though prior to the pre-party, many fans placed Montenegro (“Inje [Frost]” by Vanja Radovanović) at the bottom of their lists, it is unlikely this placed last in the semifinal because of both it benefited from the ex-Yugoslavian bloc, the fact that this is the sole ethnic ballad in the bunch, and Vanja’s consistently solid vocals.

It is sad that the perfect finals qualification records of Russia (“I Won’t Break” by Julia Samoylova) and Romania (“Goodbye” by the Humans) were broken, for divergent reasons.  In the case of Russia, we have to hand it to Julia that she doesn’t want her disability to be the focal point and garner sympathy votes.  The public and juries followed that directive and judged her fairly–sadly, Julia simply fell short on her end, as there are issues with the strength of her vocals, with the way her backup singers blend with her, and well that extraneous set of dancers that distract rather than enhance the presentation.  In the case of Romania, their singing and presentation were actually totally on-point.  Cristina Caramarcu delivered power and passion with her vocals, and the presentation with the multitude of mannequin props illustrate the point about how humanity is losing its connection with each other.  The problem is simply the song itself as it’s a dated late 1980s rock throwback.

Malta (“Taboo” by Christabelle) actually impresses with Christabelle’s singing and presentation.  It is undoubtedly a jury darling but again, the perennial problem of attracting the televoters may have hampered this from making the finals.  I bet it bubbled under the Top 10, along with…

…Poland (“Light Me Up” by Gromee feat. Lukas Meijer).  Many presumed this would’ve been a shoo-in, and this is probably my favorite Polish entry ever.  So it was shocking that this was booted out as I would rather have this than Serbia in the final.  So what gives?  I think this is severely marked down by the juries, and the televote points it amassed was not enough to compensate for the low jury score.  I have a feeling the jury was turned off by the “snake dance” performed by Gromee.

Now let’s discuss the highlights.  Norway (“That’s How You Write a Song” by Alexander Rybak) and Australia (“We Got Love” by Jessica Mauboy) are deemed powerhouse favorites because of previous track record (for the performer on the former, and the country’s track record for the latter).  However, as strong as Alexander Rybak is, many are starting to feel it’s not as magical as the two (or maybe three) big front-runners from the 1st semifinal.  In the case of Jessica, many observed she is sounding strained in her vocals, both on the jury show and on the live semifinal, which is uncharacteristic of her live performance reputation.  I hope she got enough vocal rest to be able to deliver a strong vocal–I want her to beat Isaiah so bad…

Ukraine (“Under the Ladder” by Melovin) would make Twilight fangirls swoon with its vampire-themed presentation (piano as coffin, anyone?).  Yes, forget about the mumbly and disjointed lyrics and just go “Oh, oh, oh / oh, oh, oh-oh, oh / Yeah!”  This guy can break the typical trend that male acts (with the exception of drag queen Verka Serduchka) from this country don’t fare well in this contest

Moldova (“My Lucky Day” by Doredos) delivered on pure, unadulterated, guilty-pleasure fun with its broad, cheeky presentation, tight choreography, and consistently strong singing.  It’s also interesting to note that the trio’s (and mirroring backing dancers’) outfits evoke the colors of the Moldovan flag (blue, yellow, and red, of course).  Like Sunstroke Projectit is likely to rank very high and exceed fans’ expectations, especially since most of the Eastern bloc was eliminated they can concentrate their points towards this entry.  Clearly Russia and Romania will each toss vingt-quartre (24) points their way, the former since the songwriter is Philipp Kirkorov and the latter, well, because of traditional strong ties.  The rest of Eastern Europe will likely score this high, too.

Sweden (“Dance You Off” by Benjamin Ingrosso) was consistently on point and looks like a solid lock for the finals Top 10.  But competition is tight and it’s unlikely to continue Sweden’s recent cycle where it’s supposed to win this year.

For many people the highlight is Hungary (“Viszlat Nyar” by AWS).  Just like Cyprus, they delivered on fireworks, and the fiery metal passion of lead singer Örs Siklosi.  It’s so cool that these guys have gotten respect for their uncompromising hard, post-metal sound, that the fact they are engagingly goofy and that the members are also good looking are secondary to their music.  I think they have the potential of delivering their country’s best finish yet.

Now, let me trot out my final Top Ten forecast:




This is one of the most exciting editions of this contest ever, with such a high quality, eclectic mix.  Lots of entries to root for.





The “Semifinal of Death” delivered spectacles, suspense, and surprises galore.  The caliber of the performances were akin to already witnessing the grand final, that in the end it was tragic that several of them had to be cut.  Before lamenting and paying tribute to those who didn’t make the cut, we need to take note of the show’s production aspects.

I have to say the show was like a tightly and efficiently run voyage.  The four-woman team of NCIS star Daniela Ruah, and RTP presenters Silvia Alberto, Catalina Furtado, and Filomena Cautela were extremely capable and entertaining helmswomen.  The comedy bits that seem to feature a retro-analog theme (like paper ballots, board games and a gag featuring a husband and wife duo answering the phones during voting) mostly landed.  I have a good feeling we’ll be in for smooth sailing for the next semifinal and the grand final.  I do have one small quibble–as Daniela Ruah presented the last third of the 19 acts she advised we’ll be hearing from “six” more acts instead of “seven”.  This statement would be true if this were the 2nd semifinal, so I’ll forgive this minor gaffe.

Eurovision 2018 presenters: Daniela Ruah, Silvia Alberto, Catarina Furtado, and Filomena Cautela

This show didn’t feature live musical guests unlike in previous editions.  However, there are some great pre-taped segments, like a look back to last year’s contest, with several 2017 artists covering Salvador Sobral‘s winning song, “Amor Pelos Dois“.  Nice to see Iceland’s Svala, Finalnd’s Norma John (yes the male half sings, too), Bulgaria’s Russian Bieber Kristian Kostov, Spain’s Manel Navarro, France’s Alma, Czech Republic’s Martina Barta, and Belgium’s Blanche take on this song.

I also like the review of Eurovision history with the ESClopedia (a pun on encyclopedias).  See the bit below:

What drew flak, though, was the “Planet Portugal” skit with a Sir David Attenborough impersonator (named David Attenburger) making like a nature documentary about the Portuguese people.  Fans of the esteemed Sir David Attenborough found this skit offensive especially since it was the esteemed filmmaker’s 92nd birthday.  Me, I found it amusing.

Now, to the contest proper.  I got seven out of ten correct, and two that I miss were on my Bubbling Under list.  But to most people’s surprise, Ireland (“Together” by Ryan O’Shaughnessy) made it, ending a four-year drought.  Almost no one expected (including myself) that he has a chance of making it.  Bringing in those male dancers from the video paid off and most likely the message of all-inclusive love struck a chord with the juries and most likely scored high with them–we’ll most likely find this out after the contest ends.  I find it amusing during the press conference after the Top 10 were announced that the host of the conference referred to him as “Ryan O’Shocknessy” (but then again, he was probably just attempting to approximate the “gh” sound of his name).  But we also have to compliment Ryan for sounding pitch-perfect in this performance.  Of course, the only criticism about this performance is that we want to see more of those dancers*1.

*1 It’s interesting to note that one of the dancers, Alan McGrath, was one of the hunky oiled-up shirtless dancer-drummers accompanying Ryan Dolan’s performance in 2013.  Could he be Ireland’s lucky charm?

Now, let’s talk about the casualties of the inevitable bloodbath… First, I have a feeling the act that placed last is Iceland (“Our Choice” by Ari Olafsson).  Yes, the white jacket he wore gave a little zhush to his presentation, and yes, he hits his high notes, but in this fiercely fought battle, it’s like bringing a plastic spoon to a fully-armed gun battle.

I still have a soft spot for FYR Macedonia (“Lost and Found” by Eye Cue) but I have to note that unfortunately the presentation is a B+ level at best when practically everyone else are bringing their A-game.  Though Marija Ivanovska is normally a great live vocalist, she sounded a bit winded during the show, and the choreography and camera work wasn’t as tight as it needed to be.  Sad to see this country getting shut out of the finals again even with a quality song like this one.  The song will always have a big spot in my heart, and I’m sure many Eurovision fans will agree with me here.

I have mentioned my misgivings about Armenia (“Qami” by Sevak Khanagyan) keeping the staging solo with no backing vocalists onstage.  The powerful climax begs a physical presence of the backing vocalists, in my opinion.  And it seems this is the problem with many of the acts that decided to use a soloist stage concept–only one act qualified that used this set-up.  This is also the key factor to Armenia’s key ally Greece (“Oneiro Mou [My Dream]” by Yianna Terzi)’s shock boot.  It’s interesting that prior to the rehearsals, we presume Greece was the sure qualifier and Cyprus was the one vulnerable to be eliminated–I’ll discuss Cyprus at the end of this article, but how the tables have turned.  Though Yianna is of course clearly the lead vocalist, the song seems to have a choral feel so I think we need to see backup singers present behind her doing some choreographed moves to create a spellbinding effect–and I think that was how it was originally envisioned, based on an early interview I happened upon on Eurovision Buddies.  The rhythmic instrumental climax would probably be more impactful if it were not Yianna alone but accompanied by a dancer or her backup singers, for instance.  Then, there was also that her vocals were a bit strained live (especially when hitting the high notes) and that compounded and resulted in the shock boot.

Another early favorite that got the shaft was Belgium (“A Matter of Time” by Sennek).  She was able to resolve most of the issues encountered during the pre-party circuit, but her vocals are just still far-from-flawless and with a brutal field like this one, such imperfections are the difference between making the final or being forced to sit out.

Again,Switzerland (“Stones” by ZiBBZ) fielded a quality entry but again was thwarted from making the finals.  There is no flaw in the performance, it’s just that there is limited support heading its way.

Belarus (“Forever” by Alekseev) has decided to bring elements of horror and drama to the presentation, with interesting angles in the perspective of a rose, then Alekseev being shot by a rose arrow, and then his chest apparently bursting with roses, and at the end revealing a bloodied back.  Fangirls may love the rose motif but perhaps were grossed out by the gore to vote for this.

Azerbaijan (“X My Heart” by Aisel) actually delivered a presentation that elevated its entry, with those triangles approximating mountains and the pretty choreography with backup vocalists/dancers, and this effort is commendable.  Still, it isn’t enough for this to make the cut–with such a front-loaded field that a song of this caliber is considered unremarkable when in other years it would’ve been a shoo-in.

Croatia (“Crazy” by Franka) may have been one of those that could be hurt by its solo singer staging strategy, but this is staging that was done right, with Franka looking glamorous in a sexy see-through black gown and she delivering pitch perfect vocals and a spellbinding presence.  I would rather have her advance over Ireland.  Also, her Eurovision postcard depicting her cooking reinforced the idea she’s a döppelgänger of Miss Universe 2016 Iris Mittenaere as her cooking a hearty meal reminded me of Iris and beef bourguignon.

Now let’s discuss the highlights among qualifiers.  Lithuania (“When We’re Old” by Ieva Zasimmauskaite) tugged hearts with her soft, wispy vocals and her meeting her husband at the stage bridge at the song’s end.

Bulgaria (“Bones” by Equinox) delivered on its status as one of the favorites–I also get to appreciate what Zhana Bergendorff brings tothe mix as she brought an ethnic wail towards the song’s end.

With an energetic and snazzy presentation, Czech Republic (“Lie to Me” by Mikolas Josef) overcame any bloc-related resistance and won over the audience and made the finals for the second time in its history.  It seems on track to deliver this country’s best finish ever.  This, and Mikolas was considered relatively restrained in his dancing–shows how much charisma he possesses that he can still be powerful in this state.  Let’s see if he’s well enough to perform backflips in the final.

Though I still have love for this number, Israel (“Toy” by Netta) is experiencing some “Occidentali’s Karma” as its status as front-runner has fizzled out and is overtaken by two sizzlers (which I’ll discuss below).  It is still likely to rank high, but it’s no longer generating winner vibes.  A win is still conceivable in the final, but for now the heaviest buzz goes to…

…what is emerging as the Elina-vs-Eleni Showdown.  In one corner is the luminous operatic beauty of Estonia (“La Forza” by Elina Nechayeva). She hits all those glorious high notes and the kaleidoscopic projection on her dress were a visual treat.  On the other corner is Cyprus (“Fuego” by Eleni Foureira), as Eleni channeled Beyonce in fierce dancing with her posse and indeed delivering on the fire.  In many ways, this could be considered a major vindication for Eleni who had been practically begging and pleading with the Greek broadcaster ERT to have her represent Greece in Eurovision for nearly a decade now, and it took Cyprus to take her in to finally realize her Eurovision dreams.  ERT must me eating crow as it reels from its shock boot.

It’s easy to envision a scenario of a Top Five consisting solely of Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Israel, Estonia, and Cyprus and it’s still highly possible that would be realized, but we may do need to contend with Hungary (“Viszlat Nyar” by AWS) probably aiming for an upset from this .

With Greece’s shock elimination and rising buzz about Hungary, I’ll make an easy swap in my Top 10 finals forecast:

CZECH REPUBLIC, ISRAEL, ESTONIA, BULGARIA, CYPRUS, NORWAY, AUSTRALIA, HUNGARY, SWEDEN, FRANCE with UKRAINE knocking on their door ready to oust anyone that would be less-than-perfect on finals night…

Now, onward to the 2nd Semifinal…