Sunday 12 May 2013

Interviews: Belgium, Serbia, Macedonia, Malta, Azerbaijan

Roberto: Would pack a girl (or maybe a boy)

Moje 3 are having the same feeling

Esma does the magic knips

Gianluca: Six... no... Seven!

Fərid sings You

Fika fika fika fika...

These were the exact words Martin were humming as he skipped down the press centre. The reason for this joyful reaction was that a few tables full of various Swedish cookies had been set up in a corner here for us a short while ago! Lots of cute, old coffee cups too, it felt just like visiting old grandma Ragnhild up in Sundsvall or something. A sweet surprise!

The top right one is actually the official ESC cookie, no less! We're not quite sure what it is, but it's crumbly, at least. To such an extent I managed to crumble it all over myself and my laptop, rather than into my preferred orifice. But the crumbs tasted delicious! My favourite was the ball on the top, though, the negerboll. We won't translate that for you.

Sunday afternoon rehearals (Sweden, UK and Italy)

Good afternoon!

I spent lunchtime in Petra Mede's press conference with Martin, but now it's back to rehearsals, and very soon we'll have seen what everybody has planned on stage.

Like with Norway, the main concern here was how the Swedes were going to duplicate the sound from Melodifestivalen, where there were layers of backing vocals on the track. It's not entirely easy to tell in here, with sound echoing on various levels of delay from all directions, but as far as I can tell, the answer is that it's absolutely fine. Robin himself is singing well, nailing that final high note, and at least two of the dancers have microphones too. The effect is less 'wall of sound' than in the national final, but it's decent.

Less good are the outfits. All six are wearing what look like beige linen jumpsuits with grey or white waistcoats that make them look like they've just come from one of Farid's capoeira classes. Indeed, there's lots of arty kicking and lifting. And I hate to say it, but it's clear that the dancers have been engaged on their professional skills, rather than any other aesthetic factors.

There's a low, wide podium on the stage which is used to good effect, and as well as the whites the overriding colour here in the lighting is red. I've blogged about the effects of red before, but I'd also add here that it has the unfortunate consequence of making Robin's face look even more flushed on those high notes that it normally does.

The first run-through was incredibly messy - lots of missed shots - but it was quickly tightened up for the second try - though whoops, someone nearly got dropped on their head in the last run-through! Overall, I'm unconvinced by this - it has all the right ingredients, but somehow just doesn't come across like a real pop package, and against some of the other acts it's going to suffer for that.

A highly anticipated moment! Can Bonnie actually still sing? The answer is a very firm 'yes'. She starts the song standing to the side of a band on stage, rather than in front as we might have expected, which I think works well, as it give a more distinctive look and leaves the focus on Bonnie herself. Perhaps predictably she walks out along the catwalk during the middle 8 and continues the song from the satellite stage... WHICH GOES UP! It has an integrated lift! That's new! A phenomenal shot from below the podium as it rises and lighting from behind add a huge amount to the last chorus - a bit goosebumpy here even!

They've done a good job of creating a bit of an arena rock vibe, moving the song away from feeling potentially bland and middle of the road. Bonnie really does own the performance - she has a great combination of your favourite reassuring granny and rock goddess - though there's always the worry with an entry like this that we started with such low expectations that anything good seems great. One thing that concerns me slightly is that she's not finding all the cameras, and there are certainly sequences where she's performing down to the imaginary crowd - if she falls into that trap on the night, it could really hurt it.

Bonnie's turned up today in red jeans and a nice black cardy, so we aren't seeing the final stage outfit yet. I'm imagining leather.

And finally, the last rehearsal comes from Italy. Could we have a game-changer this late in the week?


I genuinely think this could win.

Marco is completely alone on stage, with a very simple performance. There's no gimmicks around him, he just stands there and sings the song in front of a simple blue background, punctuated with yellow spotlights from above. I'm not sure he finds a single camera in the whole performance, but it doesn't matter. He's just so charistmatic.

I already have my money on this. You should too.

(edit: oh, he half-heartedly came out to the satellite stage at the end. I hope they drop that, I don't think it needs it.)

I've seen them all! *

And I think this is going to be a very, very good Eurovision.

There's a lot of good singing - partly thanks to having plenty of good vocalists around, but mostly thanks to the good sound mix. Where in recent years the microphones seemed to emphasise every tiny vocal mistake, this year's sound editors somehow make voices sound a lot more like a studio version. The stage is great for TV, and with a few exceptions (notably Malta) it supports the act and doesn't distract from it. And as Martin has reported, Petra is promising quite the entertainment.

The rehearsals have done nothing to change my mind about what's more likely to win (I still think it's Germany or Azerbaijan), but my semifinal thoughts have changed a bit. Whereas I had previously thought Albania and Montenegro are absolute no-hopers, I now think they're within a chance to qualify (the latter being more likely). And if there's a "shock" non-qualifier (and there won't necessarily be one), my bet would be on Serbia.

And if there's one thing I learned in my time in the press centre, is that one should beware of electrical children.

Also, Swedish cardamon buns are omnomnomnimazing.

* Well that's a lie. I've seen only 38. Thanks to Belarussian wine, gremolata and plenty of Moira Starface moments last night, I've missed Spain this morning

Petra Mede press conference

The host of ESC 2013, Petra Mede, held a relaxed and informal press conference during the lunch break of today's rehearsals. Flanked by show producer Christer Björkman and director and scriptwriter Edward af Sillén, Mede came across as entirely at ease with the preparations for next week's shows. Notably, not only is her English excellent, but her English humour really works - and being light and spontaneous in another language isn't always easy.

Starting with a brief overview of her career path to date (ballet dancer -> Stockholm tour guide -> stand-up comedian -> TV game show panelist -> Melodifestivalen -> Eurovision) and an anecdote about the Gaultier dresses she'll be wearing for the shows (apparently the designer is a huge fan of Swedish cinnamon buns), talk quickly turned to the concrete build-up to her role as the host of this year's contest and what the producers will be trying to acheive script-wise.

One thing was made perfectly clear: Mede was selected because SVT specifically wanted a solo host who can provide a single, clear line while leading viewers through the contest. Inclusivity is the key - "We Are One", after all - and the script has been designed to strike the right balance in terms of laughing with people rather than laughing at people. It was acknowledged that it's difficult to find common humour that can be appreciated from Ireland to Moldova - but Af Sillén was also responsible for the script used by the Norwegian hosts in 2010, which seems a good indicator of the type of gentle but knowing humour we can expect this year.

In a cute touch, af Sillén mentioned that Mede had borrowed 20 of his old Eurovision videotapes - videotapes! - to get a feel for the presentation styles of years gone by. While she herself says there's nothing in particular she's trying to avoid (other than a Lill Lindfors wardrobe malfunction, deliberate or otherwise),
Björkman did add that he'd given her one concrete instruction in particular: NO SCREAMING. (Sorry, we mean no screaming. Shhhhhh! Some people's heads are still delicate after the Belarusian party.)

Oh, and Mede answered a question from a French journalist in more or less flawless français. Shame there won't be much of it in her script, really.

All in all, the threesome of Mede, Björkman and af Sillén seem far more relaxed and less triumphalistic and self-praising than some of what we've seen from the host broadcaster this season (including in the press centre, on occasion), and that's reassuring when it comes to the overall tone of the show. We'll learn more during the first run-through of the dress rehearsal tomorrow afternoon!

Sunday morning rehearsals, part 1 (rolling blog)

Quite impressed at myself for being up and about and in relatively fine shape at this hour after last night's Belarussian party, where we were treated with drinks in a wide variety of colours and shapes, nice niblets (on plates with a wineholder - always a success!), lots of performances, milk sweets and, well, milk sweet paper. But here I am! And even had some nice eye contact with a local pwetty on the crowded train - a good start of the morning, and a fine set-up to the first rehearsals of the automatic finalists.

Some issues with picture and sound (and the coordination of the two, most of all) in the press centre so far, but from what we can see, the Spanish singer has draped herself in a little yellow (very yellow) number, and unless they want to try out a few different outfits, I'm guessing this will indeed be what she's wearing on Saturday. And it looks good - it matches the ceiling lamps (that are mainly used to illustrate the flags before each performance, not the condom ones) and gives a nice effect.

The stage is generally in blue (again), but somewhat warmer in feel than the likes of Norway. The focus is on the lead singer, with the band standing around in the back, playing their instruments. There's a bit in the song where she's out on the satellite stage, with one of the aforementioned yellow lamps lowered all the way down with her, and then sending it off upwards - it looks a bit crap for now, but it's still an early rehearsal, so I'm assuming this will look pretty neat in the end.

In all its annoying blandness, this looks much better than I'd ever thought it would - will they manage an astonishing 23rd place or something?! :-o

A new run-through, and it appears the lowered lamp is supposed to be turned off (i.e. white) at first, amidst other, blue ones. Her touching the single lamp makes it shine up in bright yellow before it sets off, and there's a very nice shot of the hall as it joins its lamp friends, and they all turn yellow. Looks great!

More yellow! Scribbly shapes on the backdrop that seem to turn more fire-y as the song goes along - think last year's logo design.

Amandine looks pretty much how we feel... Was she at the Belarussian party last night too? On second thought, she clearly wasn't, as she's throwing herself about quite a bit. The performance is definitely about her, which is probably exactly the right thing to do. There's three backing singers too, but they don't make much of a fuss about themselves. No props, no choreography (unless her random headbanging (and other-bodypart-banging (I should probably calm down with the brackets now)) is actually carefully planned and choregraphed), just her being angry - it works fairly well in all its Frenchness, but I can't see this being a massive vote-grabber. Do you?

It's sparkly. Very sparkly. Natalie is dressed in a skin-coloured (RACIST) dress covered in shiny bits, and with a little tail of some flairy fabric. Originally not sure about the tail, but it somehow adds a little extra whoosh. She starts off on the stairs like before, and luckily, it is indeed the version with the punchy instrumental breaks. I've completely lost track of which is which (was that the Echo one?), but it's definitely the best choice.

She gets down the stairs during the glo-oh-oh-oh bit for some nice strutting about on the stage, before heading for the catwalk, ending up at the satellite stage at the end, and it works very well. Like Yami so nicely put it - it's like the catwalk was made with this song in mind. Keep an eye out for tripping during her strut, though - the dress-tail looks dangerously close to tangle up her legs on several occasions. This could be fun!

This is already looking in great shape, even after just two runs. Probably partly because there's not much new here - the stage is in pink and purple with flashing lights at the right times, and once again, she's really selling it and looking like she has the time of her life. And with that look on her face, some bad notes here and there won't matter a jot, at least not for the average televoter. Not that I could spot any so far!

Now we're basically just anxious to see whether some dishy pyro is added in the final run-through...

No pyro yet, but she's kicked her glittery shoes off, for some reason. When did this happen?

Still no shoes, but the pyro is on - some nice, little sparkly ones as the first instrumental kicks in, and falling from the ceiling all through the catwalk bit. Doesn't add as much as I'd thought - maybe it was just very good already? I've placed a nice each-way bet on it, at least - I wouldn't advise against the rest of you doing the same, before the odds drop...