Wednesday 11 May 2016

Dress Rehearsal - Semi Final 2

Unfortunately we do not get to see any remainder of the show due to the time. They need to start letting the people in for the dress rehearsal of the evening. Therefore this is where the transmission, and in turn, this blog, ends.

Jake & Joe are in a basement bar on a stage getting ready to perform, and then they're suddenly in football kit on a field in a stadium. Though when they start playing it turns out it's actually rugby. Then we see some random British street at night time and the word United Kingdom (with the hashtag #GBR) appears.

Stage Director: "We will have the same problem tonight [...]. There is too little time between UK and Italy to take all the things in and out".

They are wearing their garbs from the second rehearsal. The stage lighting has changed a bit which seems to work better for them. The choreography however is still looking a bit too forced - Joe can't do choregraphy and Jake jumps about aimlessly. The British are all over this but I am not sure anyone apart from them is seeing what they do.

Francesca's postcard shows her playing the grand piano and walking around inside a very fancy building and outside by the water. It seems to be in Venice as there's a lot of canals and things.

And something is not right so the stage director is telling us that this will be what is being recorded but it will work when needed! We hope.

Francesca is wearing the same as she did in the first rehearsal. There is still a shot where you see a cameraperson walking slowly off stage, no rush dear! Vocally flawless, Francesca still appears a bit flustered once she finishes her performance. Still received a loud applause from the gathered press.  

Jamie Lee is in a flower shop. Lots of plastic flowers everywhere. Then she's doing some arts and crafts to make a new hat for herself. Eventually she goes outside on top of some building where she dances with an umbrella. 

Jamie-Lee's micorphone is higher than in previous rehearsals. The stage is also a bit darker, the trees are illuminated in deeper pink . Although her outfit is the same as before, the footwear has slightly changed. In this rehearsal there is no dry ice covering the stage floor. Although some of the mistyque of the song is added with the new colours of the stage, the dry ice definately is needed in order to add to the effect.

Petra says that as a single woman, the choice of Man vs Machine is not an option. Laughter erupts!

Måns introduces Jamie-Lee in German, Petra does Francesca in Italian and Måns again for Joe&Jake in a strong queen's British accent. More laughter.

It's then all about numbers - information about Eurovision in numerical form.

A metallic robot is on stage. But that is all we see, this scene has been stopped.

And it's back on. And it seems there should have been a dancer on stage also. This robotic hand dances with the human - no idea what this is all about. The machine then offers a banana to him. Two more identical robots rise on the stage. The three machines interact with each other via laser beams.

More dancers come on stage and there is a dance-off between human and machine. Electronic versions of hit (non-Eurovision) songs are done. The act name is now on screen "Man vs Machine".

The scene ends with one of the humans unplugging the machine and these go silent, in the darkness and cold of the stage.

We are going through the counting down numbers again.

(Smalltalking in Swedish)
Petra: You said you couldn't count down from 20.
Mans: There's only one more week.

We have to do the countdown again. Petra says "thunder and lightening it's getting exciting". Should there really be a reference to a competing song in the dialogue?

Petra and Måns are back on screen. Måns says that people are talking about the show and Petra's accent, to which she in turn mocks Måns' fake American one. The joke goes wrong however so they have to repeat it. We then get a second recap.

Petra is loving the fact that the fans are so respectful. She went to a Eurovision party last night and none of the guys came on to her. She asks if it's the same for Måns - to which he moves swiftly on from the topic. 

We then have the second part of the mockumentary we started yesterday.

Belgium won 30 years ago with Sandra Kim's J'Aime La Vie. It turns out Sandra was only 3 years old when she won - amazing talent! 

Europe, and Norway, start voting NOW!

Laura's postcard mainly shows her being bouncy in various locations. No specific theme or red thread.

Bouncy, bouncy Laura. She has grown extremely since when we saw her in Antwerp all those months ago. She is no longer the shy girl of before, but a confident young woman who knows how to grab the audience and make them dance with her. The staging, lighting and choreography is just screaming qualifier.   

Eneda's postcard shows her running around the Albanian countryside with a little girl (possibly her daughter) and we see images of flowers and vinyards.

The performance begins and she's in the same peach-golden fin-dress as before. Her hair is straight and parted in the middle, and seems to be shorter than it was before. Vocally there's some notes that aren't quite 100 %. Not sure if it's mainly Eneda herself or if it's the backing singers. They all seem to be slightly off-pitch a lot of times. But the stage is gorgeous and complements Eneda's look perfectly. Still, the most exciting thing visually is probably one of the backing singers who has a dress with huge Mickey Mouse-ears on her shoulders.

Nika Kocharov and the Lolitaz are rehearsing together somewhere in Georgia. To take a break they go outside to have a barbecue in some park, and we finally see a view of the city from some hill as the letters appear to form the word GEORGIA.

Although everything including the kitchen sink has been thrown at this, it strangely is growing on a lot of people. Is this because we've been through it so often that we are now oblivious to it or is it actually that we were too quick to judge it? Georgia is always one of those countries who do well with weirdness (well, apart from Joker). Wouldn't be surprised if we see it on Saturday to be honest.

Agnete has at least not turned down being part of her own postcard. She's driving a snow scooter across northern Norway and then lits a bonfire in the evening. Next morning she's dressed in a traditional Sami outfit and is joined by the whole village. Nobody can possibly miss the fact that she's from the North.

Agnete was doing quite well but failed at the last hurdle. The last verse was very weakly performed. If any of the Scandis qualify it would be this one but it is not very likely to.

Jamala is in the streets having fun with some people and then goes into a bakery to make chocolate cakes. Then she takes us to some village and gives us her best smile before the graphics appear.

Jamala is wearing her navy-blue dress. Vocally flawless, she manages to give all her emotion into the song. Leaving goosebumps and a large applause. I would possibly scratch my comment of Australia, this is also a big contender for the win.

We go to talk to the artist with Petra, who is loving the ensemble of the stage help dressed in black, and black, and black!

Petra would love to sing Wild Dances but cannot, due to legal reasons, according to her producers.

Måns is now on screen. He thanks Denmark and Bulgaria, with the song If Love Was A Crime - and informs us that in many countries love is still a crime and that he would like that to change.

The it is off to Petra who talks to us. She unfortunately has no script and is therefore a bit confused on who she is, who is standing and when people should be doing something else.

The Danish boys invite us to their apartment (they clearly all live together) where they first pose on their balcony and then serve some croissants and play the guitar. Eventually they go on a bike ride. Only one of them is wearing a helmet while the other two clearly prefer to ride together without protection.

Johannes still seems to be having issues with his in-ear. He at least has learned not to throw the mic stand down with his over-enthousiasm. It is likely that this year will be the first year no Scandinavian/Nordic country will be in the final (apart from the host).

Poli's postcard shows her in a cobble stone street in some old village. Eventually she finds a tattoo artist and gets a tattoo and then goes on a wild car drive with her three girlfriends (who are possibly her backing singers?) and end up in the mountains. Lastly she's in a square somewhere where a bunch of children are running around her feet. (They are possibly not her backing singers)

Poli is owning the stage. Vocally she is on point and has not made any errors. There is a bit of heavy breathing in the break before the ending chorus which adds to the suspense of what is to happen next. Cue the lighting of her LEDs and the chorus commences. Out come the backing vocals and we have a party on stage. See you on Saturday!

ManuElla takes her black poodle out on a biking trip by a river and then goes to drink some unidentified beverage together with a bunch of teenagers in school uniforms around a round table. To end the postcard she shows us her skills as a majorette, as she's doing a baton twirling choreography along with a bunch of other people.
Coming after Australia this feels a bit missing. ManuElla is ok vocally but the backing vocals seem to be off and the gymnast just seems to be standing on stage for most of the time he is in shot. Unfortunately not enough oomph in this to draw much of the voting public to dial for song number 11.

Dami is in a tunnel inside an aquarium and tries to interact with the fish. Then on her way home it's raining quite heavily so she goes to a greenhouse and takes selfies with koalas. (Did they run out of kangaroos?) Eventually the rain stops so she heads to the beach. And then the sun sets and we see a big bridge and the graphics appear on screen.

They have helped Dami with the ill-timed hand-movements by making the circles larger. They also made them more conspicuous. The moment where Dami needs to get off the pedistal is counteracted with the camera angle which is a long aerial shot so you can't really see her. Vocally flawless she receives a major applause in the room. Possible winner of the semi final.

Donny has decided to first take us to church, and then let us join him with his wife and child at Trakai as they are by a pond feeding the ducks. Last but not least he ends his day with playing basketball.

Keeping the bad hair, he decided for the white jacket which we commentated earlier was the least bad of the ones he had. This gets removed during the "oh oh oh" moment, just before he does his jump through the smoke. This leaves him in his slim-fit black t-shirt. Also another good vocal performance, and the diaspora will help it along without a doubt.

Kaliopi is leaning against a lamp post in front of what looks like some newly constructed ancient monument. Then she's inside a museum with old pottery and artefacts. (Are they supposed to be from the ancient Macedonia? Scandalous) Eventually she's in a tourist souvenir shop until the graphics appear on screen.

Kaliopi is floating on molten lava - or at least that's what it seems like - wearing the dress from the rehearsal on Saturday. She belts the song out with the performance of a diva - she has been holding back up to now. Even the high note is pitch-perfect. We may have dismissed this earlier due to the strength of the semi final but it could just come through and pull it for Macedonia.
The theme for the Irish postcard is first football. Nicky puts on football trainers and then plays some football inside a large football stadium. Then he moves on to a vinyl record store where he plays some music. He's pretty well dressed in the postcard. But worse is to come...

Ironic that a song called "Sunlight" has quite dark staging. Some of the angles chosen do not give anything to the song. In the second chorus, Nicky is "playing" with the camera but it just looked like he was being attacked by Greta's shadows which we cannot see. Vocally not the best however stronger than we've seen him yet. Still wouldn't advise to put money on him.

Sanja's postcard features her first inside a cinema, and then she's on top of a hill next to the Danube. Then she's in a school writing something on a blackboard. The postcard didn't seem to have any particular theme, except maybe showing us that Sanja is an intellectual person.

Well, it appears Albaniagate did not affect the stage presentation for the song. We still have red, black and more black. Apparently some lights have changed but not noticeable to all. Vocally Sanja is delivering well. No doubt that this will sail through to the final.

Petra thanks Ivan - and she cannot get the words out correctly. We move on to the Eurovision Taxi. Mr. Lordi is the one that joins the taxi rather than Verka. Not much room left in that car!

The Belarussian postcard of course has.. a wolf? It's quite possibly just a dog though. Ivan is out in the woods, but then goies into town (possibly Minsk) where he meets lots of people (and a baby) and gives them flowers. Are these supposed to be the people who later appear on stage with him as holograms?

First false start. The song didn't commence but we need to relisten to the cue music.

The holograms which should be behind Ivan being infront of him are still off-putting. Ivan is wearing the same garmets as in the second rehearsal. Vocally he is getting better until the bridge before the final chorus where he cannot reach the notes he needs to. We still do not understand the baby (or most of what is happening on stage).

The Israeli postcard starts with Hovi out walking a dog in the Tel Aviv beach front. Then he goes bowling and ends up posing with a bowling ball before we're taken back to the beach where the letters appear forming the word ISRAEL.
The face on the stage floor has been slightly changed, as have the camera angles for it. Hovi is dressed in the same attire we saw in the rehearsals before - as are the acrobats in the hula hoop. Vocally impressive, visually attractive, there is a slight issue in one of the camera angles where you see a stage hand helping the acrobats since the back of the stage is lit due to the pyro curtain. Hopefully this gets sorted before tonight. 

Rykka (who'se blonde) is on top of a Swiss mountain. Then she's ice skating and eventually goes indoors (lucky for her, she didn't look like she was wearing very warm clothes). The theme is clearly snow, ice and the Alps.

The off-putting vapour is still there. Vocally this is getting worse - the first verse is being sund in a key lower than it should be. The hair is back to being curly. The song itself we're getting so used to that it is quite bareable but for the people at home watching it for the first time, this will not be the case. The pyro curtain at the end is ot enough to save it.

The Polish postcard has Michal in various locations in Poland. The theme seems to be spring, and we see a lot of spring flowers and happy people in parks. There's also a squirrel eating a nut.

We've chosen the red jacket it appears. The camera angles appear to be mainly the same. Vocally it was going strong but there was a bad note right before the last chorus. No one is really paying much attention to it but don't discount it.

The Latvian postcard shows Justs on top of some tower. Then he's in the streets of Riga with his guitar. And then on a skateboard. Eventually he starts playing a piano and smiles into the camera as the letters forming LATVIA appear.

Justs changed his oversized t-shirt to black from the marroon he had before. The rest of the outfit is the same - black leather jacket and ripped jeans.Vocaly he is nailing it and a good applause from the room. Qualifier.

Parts of the introduction are as they were in semi final 1 but there are other scenes added into it. A beat introduction for Petra and Måns. He dressed in a shiny grey suit while she is dressed in a sparkly dress. Petra is wearing her glasses however unlikely this will be her look tomorrow.

The newcomers must be wondering what the hell is going on. Good jokes - the Swedes are doing this well. They then move on to a singing number. "Story of ESC" with lyrics of "bankrupt the hosting tv station". 12 dancers dressed in black joing them on stage. They "fail to live to riverdance" and start dancing it. The lyrics then start going into all the languages which have graced the Eurovision stage. This is an extremely attractive number - pyro, dancers,  the lot! If this is the start for the second semi final, the final must be amazeballs!

We then get told how to vote - but you can't vote for your own country, SHOCKING!

Before we Start
Well, after the surprise, jubilation and commiserations from last night, myself and J are here trying to inform you of what will be happening on your screen for semi final 2.

The eight non-qualifiers - why did they fail?

So last night we once again saw ten lucky countries advance to the final of the Eurovision Song Contest. As usual in a Eurovision semi final, the outcome consisted of a mix off expected and unexpected results. And as much as all ten finalists very much deserved to make it, plenty of people were hoping that other entries would be among that top 10 as well. Some might say that some songs deserved it even more than those who did make it, while other songs suffered the fate they deserved. I thought I'd take a look at the countries that didn't make it, and try to figure out why...

This is perhaps one of the biggest surprises among many fans, and hashtags such as #JusticeForJüri are currently being spread on twitter. Personally I had a hunch that this was coming. The song itself was possibly strong enough to be a qualifier, but Estonia royally messed up the performance. Or rather, they didn't mess it up as much as they simply made us bored. Why was Jüri completely alone on stage? Why did absolutely nothing happen? (Except a card trick which you'd miss if you'd blink). Sure, he's a charming and handsome guy. But while standing still completely alone on a stage made sense for a big ballad like the Czech Republic, it made no sense for Estonia. The big issue here was simply that their bad staging decisions lead to a performance that failed to entertain the viewers and failed to stay in their minds.

This was perhaps not really a surprise for anybody. But being the first time a Greek entry fails to qualify for the final, it may have still come as a small shock to some people.
In theory, the concept on it's own could have been enough to make Greece qualify. On a superficial level, the song had a lot in common with their 2011 entry (traditional ethnic music mixed with rap verses and a sung chorus) which won the semi final. But this year's entry lacked a strong melody and lacked cohesion. I suspect it might have done better with the televote than the jury vote. Performance-wise I think they did well with what they had, but I suspect the biggest reason for the failure was simply the song.

Just like Greece, I don't think the staging was the main issue here. Sure, it was a bit over the top with the thermal blanket capes and the camp outfits. And the song itself sounds like something that would normally have been strong enough to qualify. However, the backing track of the song does have a very bad production. It still sounds like a rather low-budget demo recording. There is really no excuse to send a production to Eurovision where the drumkit sounds as a badly sampled loop from 1971. And when compared to the surrounding entries which all had very full sounding high-quality music productions, the Bosnian song fell rather flat. This, combined with the fact that they came across as four solo acts rather than a group of performers, was probably enough to give Bosnia-Herzegovina their first ever non-qualificaton.

Sometimes it's hard to pin point just one reason. In most cases it's simply a combination of several issues. And in this case there wasn't really much that worked in Moldova's favour. The song wasn't the strongest to begin with, and Lidia sure wasn't the strongest singer of the night. The ad-lib she decided to do for the final chorus (and which unfortunately also became the section used for the recap) didn't do the song any favours, and the dancing astronaut came across as a silly gimmick. And once again, being (almost) alone on stage didn't help either. With so many elements working against it, the Moldovan song this year probably never stood much of a chance this year.

Another song that probably never really was among the songs that would find it easy to qualify. But in spite of the song and genre being a difficult choice for Eurovision, the camerawork didn't really help it either. The fast flashing clips resulted in a performance where the viewers would have had difficlt making any sort of connection with the singer. We barely even got to see their faces long enough to see what they looked like, and anybody watching this on a very large screen would probably be feeling quite sea sick. The random half naked woman surely didn't help either in terms of convincing the jury to give them points.

The only thing that I thought would maybe help this qualify was the fact that Sandhja is a hell of a fantastic singer. And she did deliver vocally, even if I would have liked to hear her vocal higher in the mix. But it simply wasn't enough to make up for the bad styling choices (her jewellery even started falling apart during the performance) and the slightly weak song. A totally different visual performance might have helped it, but most likely not.

San Marino
Let's face it. This probably wouldn't have had a chance regardless of the performance. And staging-wise they did the best they could. It had life, it had energy, and it had all sorts of silliness which is what makes many of us love the entry. But it was always going to suffer from both juries and televoters finding it too old fashioned and too gimmicky. San Marino were never really competing for a place in the final this year, but they did put on a really good and entertaining show that people will remember. And they should be proud of that.

And last but not least, possibly the biggest surprise in this semi. This one still baffles me a bit. The song is not bad at all, and it sure doesn't just blend in with the big mass of similar-sounding songs this year. Greta sang it well, and it had the draw really working in it's favour. Was it maybe the technical aspects of the performance that proved too messy? Was it the staging's similarities to previous entries? Was it the extremely ugly boots? I'm not sure. But I guess a combination of everything. And with more niched musical styles, there's always the risk that the people in the juries just happen to not be fans of that genre in the first. Every year there's always a few unlucky entries that in theory seemed like pretty safe qualifiers, and mostly it simply comes down to the fact that the jury and the televoters simply preferred ten other songs more. 

Semi 1 surprises - what did the bloggers miss?

I'm not in Stockholm this year, so, like you, I'm relying on rehearsal videos and the descriptions of bloggers watching rehearsals in the press centre to get an impression of what's going to do well. And as you'll have seen, I only got seven qualifiers right out of ten last night. So what went wrong? Who can I blame other than myself?

A key example of an artist turning it on for the night. Where did all Nina Kraljić's personality come from? She found cameras, she smiled, she was warm - it was almost enough to make you forget the dress! And she sang really well! An obvious qualifier seeing it on TV last night.

Photo credit: Andres Putting (EBU)

That silence. We were told by several bloggers that the Netherlands had put in a short silence in order to encourage a crowd singalong. That never happens, and it seems it was never the intention. Perhaps an example of the groupthink that can sometimes afflict a hermertically sealed-in press centre, and something I've certainly been guilty of in the past.

I was expecting Netherlands to be great, based on reports, and found it only okay. Throughout, Douwe Bob seemed to be struggling to keep his eyes open, and I didn't feel a real connection from him. And I suspect the silence was meant to lend authenticity - in a 'real' country gig, it wouldn't be uncommon to have a period of quiet like that, to bring up a swell of noise and applause from the audience, which would grow and grow to make a massive reaction. The gap in 'Slow Down' was too short for that to work, but just long enough to be awkward.

Nowhere near as impressive as we'd been led to believe, I felt. The first minute to so is underwhelming, you can see the shadows of both Sergey and his dancers separate from the projections, and then for the second verse and chorus, we lose Sergey's face; as the camera zooms out to show the impressiveness of the technology, we get no close-ups of what is a very warm and charismatic performer. Why get someone in like Sergey, with that beautiful face, and fail to show it? The last 20 seconds, where he could stand on the top, be natural, stop concentrating on stepping and show his face, were easily the best of the whole song.

It seems everyone in the press centre focused on Samra's bad vocals to the omission of everything else, including how the Azeris had come up with some of the best uses of the screens of any act. 'Miracle' didn't sound great (though nowhere near as bad as we might have expected), but it looked fantastic!

Okay, I have no bones to pick with the bloggers about this. It looked great, it sounded great - the projections looked much more impressive than for Russia, Greta Salome showed personality - I thought this was a nailed on qualifier and potential Top 5 contender. But then Måns said the word 'Malta' instead :(