Tuesday 14 May 2013

It's Eurovision today!

The day of semi 1 has arrived, and despite (or maybe because?) following lots of rehearsals, we really are none the wiser, are we? Nevertheless, I'll dive into it and predict tonight's ten qualifiers. And to make sure I make an even bigger fool out of myself, I'll even throw in a more or less complete ranking of how I think it'll look when the full results are out on Sunday morning (or before, 2005-style).

So, here you go!

1: MOLDOVA- A little bit of a risky guess here, but I think it's going to do very well with the juries, and see no reason why at least some of the televoters shouldn't too.
2: DENMARK- I haven't "felt" it properly all season, and think it is far weaker than it's made out to be, but it's bound to do well. I never got the hype about Greece 2005 either, and we all know what happened there.
3: UKRAINE - She knows how to sell it, and it's pretentious enough for several of the jury members to lap it up, despite it having no structure or anything. Oh, and it's FABOO, of course.
4: IRELAND - Coming across very well, both in the hall and on screen - it manages to balance nicely between being modern and traditional, both visually and sound-wise. Would've been even better if he had the attitude to pull it off.
5: RUSSIA - Rock solid.
6: NETHERLANDS - Comes across very well after Ukraine. They have to make it with this one.
7: BELARUS - May well be punished by some juries for being a cheap pile of bouncy cheese, but for what it is, it's quite solid. Just remember to smile... CHA CHA HEY
8: ESTONIA - Stands out as a nice, warm standard ballad with a strong melody, performed well. Might not do too well with televoters, but I think the juries will make sure this makes it.
9: SERBIA - Looks horrible and it's a horrible song, but it somehow still works. Won't be shocked if they don't make it, but should be through.
10: CROATIA - The tricky tenth spot... Not at all sure about this, despite being confident all season.

11: BELGIUM - Opposite of Croatia here - I've had no faith in it all season, but it has crept up on me during rehearsals. In those cases I'm often better off sticking to my initial instinct.
12: MONTENEGRO - I hope I'm wrong - the final needs this!
13: LITHUANIA - Love the song, but it's somehow all lost.
14: CYPRUS - Might not hit a single televote top 10, but some oldfashioned jury members should keep this away from last. And it's cute.
15: SLOVENIA - I love them for trying, but I'd love them more if they'd both tried and actually found a proper song to go along with it. And why cover up the boys with massive masks?! :-(
16: AUSTRIA - Nothing to make it stand out, no friends, no pyro, no petitfours... A shame, really.

Semi-final 1: Where's the value?

Betting on the Eurovision Song Contest has become big business, with literally dozens of online bookmakers (and their high street equivalents, if you happen to live in the UK or Ireland in particular) offering odds not only on the grand final, but also on the most obscure and specific of "markets" - from which Balkan country will finish the highest, to whether Israel will beat San Marino in the second semi-final.

Even with excellent sites like Oddschecker at hand to help, it can be difficult to get an overview of what's available in terms of interesting prices and opportunities to make a few euros. So let's kick off this series of three articles by taking a look at the odds for tonight's first semi-final - with a particular view to the insights that have emerged from the rehearsals that have taken place in Malmö over the last week or so.

(NB. In a break from tradition, I'll be using decimal odds throughout this piece, since they're becoming increasingly commonplace even in the change-resistant UK!)

The logical place to start for most people is the "to qualify/fail to qualify" market. Things are complicated this year by the fact that 10 of the 16 songs will make it through, meaning that the odds on qualification for the big favourites are particularly measly - Denmark, Russia and Ukraine will net you a mere 1.02, 1.02 and 1.06 respectively. At the other end, the least-fancied qualifiers are currently Cyprus and Slovenia at 3.75 and 4.3. In terms of movement during the week, Moldova has impressed a lot of punters and is now seen as a near-certain qualifier, priced at 1.2, while Belgium - previously the rank outsider - has moved in to a shorter but still tempting 3.25 following a solid set of rehearsals.

These low prices mean that the real value is to be found in the non-qualification market. For example, Anouk from the Netherlands has delivered a set of low-key, uncommercial rehearsals. If you think she'll fail to connect with the juries and the televoters to a sufficient extent, you can get 4.5 for the Dutch to stay in the semi-finals yet again. Belarus and Croatia can both be found at 3.25 in the non-qualification market - and I'd personally be surprised if there's room for both of them in the final - while if you think Moje 3's outfits will be enough to put off all but the most ex-Yugoslav of ex-Yugoslav voters, they're at 6.5.

Those aren't the only available options, though. You can also bet on the winner of the semi-final - though bear in mind that, even if successful, you won't get your money until after the full semi results are revealed following Saturday's grand final. Denmark is currently the hot favourite at 2.5, and it's hard to argue with that, though semi-finals often throw up unusual discrepancies in this respect - Kalomira beating Dima Bilan in 2008, for example - because the base of countries voting is so different to in the final. Russia (4.5) and Ukraine (5) could be worth a look for precisely this reason - whereas, at the other end of the market, Betfair will give you a whopping 249 if you think Despina Olympiou will walk away with the crown tonight. (OK, OK, I'll try to stay within the realms of possibility here!)

One particularly interesting avenue is the "top 3 finish" market. Bear in mind, again, that songs can often do extremely well in a smaller semi-final then underperform (comparatively) in the final. Recent top 3 finishers in the semis include Donny Montell in 2012, Maja Keuc and Paradise Oskar in 2011, Hera Björk in 2010, Simon Mathew in 2008... you get the idea!

So where might the value be this time? Ireland and Moldova have gained a lot of momentum in the press centre over recent days, and you could easily see either of them sneaking onto the podium tonight. Ryan Dolan can currently be grabbed at 8.0, while Aliona Moon is priced at 5.5 - both quite tempting, I'd say. Among the more predictable contenders, Russia at 1.58 seems like a particularly decent option if you're the kind of person who treats betting less as an opportunity for big rewards and more as a way of getting a return on your money that's better than what a savings account can offer! And even Denmark at 1.22 appears more than fair, since a finish of 4th or worse for Emmelie seems highly improbable even if she doesn't ultimately live up to her favourite status in the grand final.

Finally, a small number of bookmakers are offering head-to-head markets for tonight's show, most notably Bwin. In terms of achieving balance, it can certainly be good to bet on a relative placing that's unconnected to the absolute placing of the song in question. Bwin will currently give you 3.55 if you think the Netherlands will beat Russia, or a particularly tempting 2.2 if you think Anouk will get the better of the Moje 3 girls - something that could easily happen if she eats up the jury votes. Meanwhile, a similar 2.1 is available if you think Zlata and her giant will come out ahead of the earnestness of Russia's Dina Garipova.

Those are just a few of the options available to you if you feel like having a little flutter on tonight's proceedings, anyway. Whatever you do and however much you decide to bet, have a great evening!

Jury Semi 1

Hello from a rather empty press centre (much of it has gone to the Israeli party - but no need for me, if I want a bite of my native cuisine, every second restaurant in Malmö has it for ridiculously cheap). Unless something shocking happens, I'll report only the songs from this event, as Jonas has already mentioned everything else.

While you wait (and while I watch the Euphoria kids), I'll treat you to the latest ESC-related goat video.

AUSTRIA - The fear in Natália's eyes is obvious to see. The poor thing is shivering too. Vocally she's just fine. Some audience reaction is visible towards the end (a bit of flag waving), but it's not audible.

ESTONIA - Well, this is a more confident one. The first chorus with her in the satellite surrounded by audience looks great on screen. I haven't really rated this before, but she's really selling it.

SLOVENIA - Spotlights are missing Hannah's face for much of the first verse. The press centre went iiiiergh when she tried to hit the first "Straight" in the chorus. Ouch! She looks good though, more charisma than I've seen of her so far.

CROATIA - Sounds exactly like it always had in the reharsals, and as expected, vocally competent. Lead singer looks like he's scanning the audience during the instrumental to see who's reacting.

DENMARK - Big applause for the tin whistler. Emmeli's hair is now properly messed just like in DMGP. Audience is illuminated in the same red/yellow light as the stage, which makes it looks like part of the act. As effective as it can be for this. And she gives a lovely smile at the end.

RUSSIA - Dina had her hair done nicely. She's vocally perfect, although the gooseberries still look awkward to me. The audience has illuminated bracelets that light up during the last chorus - looks quite nice, although this one could have benefited from a bigger arena.

UKRAINE - Good choice on using the beige dress, it looks great on Zlata and against the blue background. She's vocally flawless, she knows what juries are after.

NETHERLANDS - For much of the song you can see the audience that's behind the catwalk. Some are looking at Anouk, but many are looking the other way (at the screens maybe?). Nevertheless Anouk did switch on her charm for a change and is selling it to me.

MONTENEGRO - The fan media (including me) went wild for this, but the audience doesn't seem to react much. I guess they're mostly Danish. Vocals are good, although the microphone feed was lost for a few moments for one of the boys.

LITHUANIA - Yep, the eyebrows are back at work! I wasn't convinced by this earlier, but the many audience shots do help this a lot. Several camera issues though - visible stage crew, and a woman in the audience with pink hair blocking the view from Andrius for much of the last chorus. Hmm.

BELARUS - Will they be having fun? Well, a bit less robotic than in the rehearsals. And hot dancer is still there. Alyona seemed to have some problems with her neck mic, as she was adjusting it, but it wasn't audible and she sounded just fine. Well, I enjoyed it.

MOLDOVA - Pasha is wearing a sleeveless tight white shirt (thanks!) Aliona sounded like she's about to swallow her words during the first verse, but didn't in the end, and sounded perfect. This looks as great as in the rehearsals, but lacks some audience shots.

IRELAND - The audience bracelets are green now (which makes sense being Ireland and all that, but it really clashes with the red background). Ryan is singing well and looks like he's enjoying it, and so does the audience, who's jumping along to the chorus.

CYPRUS - Despina has been tricking us all week, she's giving a rather impressive vocal performance when it actually matters. Her glittery eyelids look lovely, I'm not too sure about the black nailvarnish though. Can this surprise?

BELGIUM - Easy on that pink lipstick, Roberto! He's vocally mostly fine, but singing out of synch with the song at parts - don't know if people who don't already know the song would notice this though. Some ear piece issues it seems.

SERBIA - The lighting and most camera angle issues have been fixed (good!), I still don't get what this act is about (despite being explained the concept), but after the Belgian performance this does come across as somehow more genuine, so I'm guessing they've done enough.

And now that I've received an email about Moldovan Dancer #5 (from the Hotties blog) becoming a father today, I'll say good night and head off to a party or two. Thanks for tuning in!

UPDATE: Belgium was allowed another performance after the interval act, which will presumably be cut and pasted in its place for the juries. I didn't see it, but heard he was much better.