Many fans might perceive the second semifinal this year as the “semifinal of death” but you wouldn’t know that by watching the first half–though there a couple of oddsmakers favorites in this bracket the others are less heralded.

ARMENIA:  “Walking Out” – Srbuk.  This sassy empowerment entry got many fans a-tizzy as it instantly garnered very positive buzz, with a possible play for the Top 10 in the final.  The video featured Srbuk with a multitude of backup dancers whom she seems to be battling against and fans were expecting to see a few of them at least onstage.  But when the staging is revealed, it turns out it will be Srbuk all alone and many felt it’s a misfire that might jeopardize this entry’s status as a shoo-in.  I’m still optimistic about this entry’s prospects of advancing to the final but indeed, the staging could potentially cost them.

IRELAND:  “22” – Sarah McTernan.  On its own this retro 1980s synth-pop ditty is a pleasant listen but is not in serious contention to advance to the final, and that sentiment is reinforced as the producers slated this to perform second.  So far, the rehearsals seem to show that Sarah’s vocals are not quite pitch perfect but we’re hopeful that this would be remedied by the time they have to perform for the juries.  Anyway, Ireland is not giving up without a fight as the pop-art staging is actually terrific.

MOLDOVA:  “Stay” – Ana Odobescu.  If this were 2007, it would not only qualify to the final but place in the Top Ten, as it’s of the same caliber as Natalia Barbu‘s “Fight“.  But what worked in 2007 would sound dated a decade later and that is the case with this.  One thing is certain–Ana'[s vocals are unimpeachable, as it’s consistently ferocious.  Her voice reminds me of another powerhouse vocalist:  Taylor Dayne.  It’s such a shame Ana is saddled with a mediocre song.  So what to do?  They seemed to be inspired by a scenario back in 2011 as Ukraine’s Mika Newton had the same dilemma with her song “Angel“, and what they did was hire a sand artist who would provide a stage backdrop for her performance via screen projection.  The gambit worked as this placed fourth in the final.  So, the same artist was hired for this performance.  But the fandom threw shade on this, and I have a feeling this time the gambit would not work.

SWITZERLAND:  “She Got Me” – Luca Hänni.  Sure Wiwibloggs’ Deban Aderemi may dismiss this as “DespaFuego“, but it’s undeniable this entry has all the elements that will finally deliver this country out of a five-year drought, as it’s a slick production and it’s very modern, radio-friendly and catchy.  On top of that, Luca is renowned for his dance skills, which makes him poised to become the male equivalent of Eleni Foureira.  The staging indeed follows the “Fuego” template–he ditched the suit and fedora for a more casual stage get-up and he’s accompanied by four backup singers and dancers clad in red.  And like Eleni, his vocals may not be perfect but he stays on key most of the time, which is enough for a high energy, dance-oriented performance like this one.

I would be amiss to note that for many observers who were not aware of Luca, the first thing they notice is that he resembles Nick Jonas.  Little did we realize he and Luca also share the same evolution from boyis cutie to chiseled, stubbled hunk.  Observe their transformations below.

Then and now: Nick Jonas
Then and now: Luca Hanni

LATVIA:  “That Night” – Carousel.  There are some fans who appreciate this very subdued, quiet number, especially since the lead singer Sabīne Žuga is mostly pitch perfect.  That worked with Laura Rizzotto last year, but the difference is that Laura spiced up her presentation (with a subtle change in wardrobe even if her presentation was essentially similar to her national final peformance) while this act did nothing to add more interest in their presentation and what was an initimate presentation on a smaller national final stage was drowned out by the vaster Tel Aviv stage.

ROMANIA:  “On a Sunday” – Ester Peony.  Though I’m still stewing over the fact that neither Bella Santiago nor Laura Bretan was chosen to represent this country, I have to give much respect to this entry as it actually grew on me that it became one of my favorite songs in this year’s batch.  Its mix of a laid-back jazzy groove (think Hungary’s Unsubstantial Blues” by Magdi Ruzsa back in 2007) with ominous minor key instrumentation help create an unsettling vibe befitting this tale of heartache.  There is an appropriate gothic vibe in the stage presentation, especially with the male backup dancers acting like manservants subservient to Ester’s bidding.  I can see this bringing Romania back to the finals.

DENMARK:  “Love is Forever” – Leonora.  Leonora employed an old Eurovision trick that was prevalent back in the 1960s to 1990s–peppering verses sung in other languages than the main language.  In this case, the main language is English and Leonora sang verses in French, German and Danish.  Will that old-fashioned gambit work in this day and age?  I’m not sure–the song is just a tad twee to my ears, but I have to hand it that Leonora is a good singer and stays on pitch throughout at least.

SWEDEN:  “Too Late for Love” – John Lundvik.  In many ways, this could be viewed as the successor to Cesar Sampson‘s mantle, and like Cesar he’s likely going to be a huge jury darling.  In my opinion, this is a big improvement to Cesar Sampson as 1) I always felt uncomfortable when I hear Cesar sing the title line, as I always get an image of him suddenly dressed up in a ballgown-I don’t get that vibe with John and this song as this is such an upbeat bop; and 2) unlike Cesar being the only visible onstage performer, John shares the spotlight with his backing vocalists (“The Mamas” as he dubbed them) and their presence indeed enhance the presentation.  Yes, this entry is a shoo-in for the finals and could sustain a Top Ten finish for this country.

I also have to note that the pleasure I derive from John’s entry is similar to the pleasure I get watching the climactic “Holy Holy” number from Sister Act 2.  Yes, this movie is not really well-regarded, but it remains one of my biggest guilty pleasures.

AUSTRIA:  “Limits” – PÆNDA.  The musical scout Eberard Forcher noted that this entry could be considered divisive, but to my ears, there is nothing divisive about this mellow, delicate ballad.  Divisive is what you can describe Tulia, Conan Osiris, or Hatari but not this artist.  It’s a very pleasant listen–if there is anything to debate about this entry it would be its prospects of advancing to the final.  It’s not a sure thing that this would advance even if this country has a track record for being a big jury darling.  Though there are positive notices about her stage presentation, the fact that the song tend to be deemed as low impact may hamper its chances to advance, especially with a group of heavy hitters like what could be found in the second half ot he semifinal.


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