Monday, 17 May 2021

ESC week | Monday | First Semi-Final | First Dress Rehearsal

It really is all about to happen now! In the next few days we will be blogging about all the dress rehearsals, starting today with the first dress rehearsal of the first semi-final.

It's again a rolling post, so keep your finger glued to the F5 button, or whatever you use to refresh on a Mac.

Thirty seconds past three ... Te Deum! We start with some Dutch scenery, we see sheep, Rotterdam Central Station, a windmill and more and after 1 minute 30 we're in the arena. Some quick lookback to 2019 and then Duncan's on stage dressed in red in an augmented reality setting, singing a new song (i.e. not 'Arcade') It's a pretty short performance .... the stage is revealed in a spectacular way before all four hosts come up on stage.

Hosts are full of energy, talking quite fast, Jan's English has definitely improved it seems. Chantal also speaks a bit of French. Hell, they're quick. 

After 7.5 minutes we start with the first postcard. 

Lithuania - Lithuania is 'virtually' on the Rotterdam central station square for the postcard. Before the song starts the stage lights take the colours of the Lithuanian flag. Not much to mention about the Lithuanian performance, it's not much different from what we've seen from them. There are some split-screen moments between Vaidotas and the backing dancers. The hall is empty - yet we're hearing 'fake' applause. But it sounded already a bit less 'fake' than in ESC 2015.

Slovenia - Postcard in the dunes. Stage is mostly golden with a globe projected in the background. During the bridge the transparent LED screen comes down and shows what I think is Slovenian mountain scenery. Decent performance but not as impactful as I would have thought. The ending was very abrupt. She just stopped in the middle of a sentence 'Hey Child ...' ... not sure if that was a failure or intended, but she didn't look really surprised ....

Russia - Bad Dutchie, I have no clue where this postcard was recorded. Egg-shaped houses? [I later learned that these are the 'bolwoningen'/'sphere houses'  from Den Bosch aka 's-Hertogenbosch]. The bloggers before me have already described this performance pretty well. I have not much to add to it I'm afraid. Energetic and fun as usual. 

Sweden -  Postcard is filmed on Museum Square in Amsterdam. Some pretty awesome light effects for Tusse. There's also people on the LED screen at one point and it truly looks like they're actually on stage. Last minute looks quite impressive, light-wise. Vocally this is all very okay too. Not as hopeless as some may have thought. But of course the song is still what it is.

Australia - The football themed postcard this time is not for Spain but for Australia. Montaigne could not be in Ahoy, but she could 'be' in the Rotterdam stadium. No special announcement or so, we just get a postcard and the live-on-tape recording gets shown directly. Of course we do miss the stage lights going all Australian and there's no 'dumdumdum' moment, but the transition is seamless. Montaigne and dancers are doing a (sort of) yazbitti! \o/. Lots of visual effects here, where we see copies of Montaigne  as if she's doing a yazbitti with herself.  Montaigne sounds much better than in some clips we've heard so far. And it *is* very colourful. At the end we see the camera zooming out from the LED wall, bringing us back to Ahoy so the audience can do some cheering.

North Macedonia - Postcard is in a forest, where Vasil is climbing the wall of the tiny house. Much gold on stage again. During the part where Vasil is not singing he shows the disco ball on his costume, which looks very nice. Vocally fine even if he seems to be not giving it all yet. All in all, I think this wins the battle with Slovenia, but probably that's still not enough to make it.

First commercial break. Nikkie is now on stage to show 'the best off online reactions'. She calls it the 'online update'. There's also clips from the Looklabs. We see fans dancing. Surprise appearance by Conchita Wurst. Edsilia then interviews a fake The Roop. She doesn't use the stick herself. Nikkie also connects to Montaigne.

Ireland - We see the 'Skinny Bridge' in Amsterdam over the river Amstel in the postcard. Vocals are not very good I'm afraid. The 'book' part goes a bit quicker and smoother than we've seen in the rehearsal clip but is still not very impressive. So she's walking in all directions amonst all sort of cardboard objects like waves and trees and sometimes interacts with them, but it all looks pretty forced. It look fine - but not spectacular - and also a bit distracting at times and most of all unnecessary. She looks exhausted by the end of the performance. Sorry to say but this feels pretty hopeless :-(

For some reason we now get another break with Nikkie and Edsilia. We also see the billboards announcing what's to come next Saturday as interval act, much like we saw them in Europ Shine A Light last year. Of course this break is meant to get all the stuff Ireland brought on stage back off stage.

Cyprus - First notes were horribly off tune. Elena starts lying on the floor. Vocals get somewhat better further into the song. Visually this is very well done with the mirrors and fire effects during the last minute. It looks like more fun than the lyrics suggest, which I think is a good choice. Safe for qualifying, but not winning material.

Norway - I think that's the Muiderslot in the postcard? Never change a winning recipe, performance is again much alike the MGP one (but with less creatures around TIX). Using the stage doors with light coming from behind makes for nice effects. In the last minute the stage turns into gold. Looking good for Norway to qualify I'd say at this point.

Croatia - Postcard in a random polder. Some visual tricks make Albina appear on stage out of nothing. She's standing in front of the transparent LED screen and the effects look awesome. Dancers join her during the chorus. At one point we see five Albina's and no dancers though. The 'oh noooooos' sound a lot better than we've heard in earlier clips. I think visually this is pretty cool. The fake? applause seems to be much louder here than it has been for others for some reason.

Belgium - First minute of this performance is one long shot from one camera turning around Geike and the musicians. It must have been intentional but with the musicians so close to Geike it looks a bit messy to me. But that may be a personal thing. It's a decent staging ans well sung, but I may have expected more 'magic'.

Israel - Postcard shows Utrecht Central Station. Eden is amazing! This is a fun performance with Eden and dancers moving to the sattelite stage halfway, and then back to the main stage where she does the high notes, and they sounded near perfect to me. This has such a nice energetic vibe. Probably the best performance so far!

A break with Chantal now. And Måns. We can actually see him, so probably not live, but you won't notice. It's of course all to get people warm for the Saturday interval. Hmm, if it's not live the timing is perfect. After this interview Edsilia and Jan announce Romania's performance.

Romania - Roxen's vocals are much better than we've heard in some clips, but she seems to have a bit of trouble with the timing (think Zaleilah but less dramatic). All in all, it's still not very convincing. They should be a little worried now.

Azerbaijan - Postcard from Giethoorn (the Dutch more rural answer to Venice - at least I think it's there). Song and staging is Eurovision by numbers obviously. Lots of gold, pink and turquoise again. And another yazbitti. What did I say? Eurovision by numbers. Well enough performed. Is there still a place for this in ESC 2021 though? I'm inclined to say there is, despite the song being rather weak. 

Another billboard moment, with Jan and Chantal quickly announcing Ukraine.

Ukraine - Had some serious internet issues here, so missed part of it. Well, it's definitely standing out. Graphics look impressive too. I have a blind spot for this entry, never really got it, and as such this performance wasn't winning me over. But I acknowledge that it is probably making the final anyway.

Bit of a hiccup before Malta was going to start, with Chantal quickly standing by to interrupt.

Malta - Destiny has gone for the silver dress and high silver boots and a totally different haircut/wig, which I suppose fits with the 1920's style. Not sure if she's giving it all yet, but vocally she was already more than fine. But I feel this is not a winning performance, neither is the song. May actually be totally overshadowed by Israel earlier on. 

Some pyros before we start the vote. As usual we see the recap with the artists shown at the end of their snippet. For Montaigne we have a live connection. It's apparent that the sound quality of the Australian snippet is much worse (less rich) than the others.

After the recap there's an interval by Davina Michelle about 'The Power of Water', which is partly pre-recorded and there's dancing on stage with lots of bare-chested men.

Quick prediction: Lithuania, Russia, Sweden, Cyprus, Norway, Israel, Azerbaijan Ukraine, Malta. Then there's one left and it's between Croatia and Belgium, I'd say Belgium now, but not extremely convincedly. If there's going to be a huge surprise it may actually be North Macedonia, but I wouldn't count on it. 

All four hosts are back on stage to explain again how you can vote. And we get another recap. With again shots from the green room. At this moment none of the artists are really there, so it's just volunteers and they are having a good time it seems :-)

After the second recap there's about 40 seconds left to vote, so we quickly get to a countdown with Jan and Chantal. After that there's another break with Edsilia and Nikkie. They're standing next to each other in one shot and that looks a bit ... odd (because of the height difference). There's a flashback to ESC history with Johnny Logan, Katrina, Anne-Marie David, Lenny Kuhr, Marie Myriam and Eimear Quinn. They all tell about their experiences. And they're all sooo positive.

We then get a pre-recorded 'Eurovision Tutorial' with Nikkie. Which is very tonge-in-cheek and fun :-)  It has Manel,  John Lundvik with a sad face, Justine Pelmelay and more surprises. The theme is 'How not to win Eurovision'. Obviously we're experts on that subject.

Then we look back for a minute or two at 'Arcade' with Edsilia and Duncan Laurence.

After that there's an awkard break. But apparently this is the point where we'd get to the interviews and presentations of Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. Instead we now get to see the postcards for these three countries. 

Oh they're actually performing now!

Italy - Just looks so cool on stage. There's some parts though where Damiano is drowned into the light, not sure if that's intentional. So much pyros at the end. Yes, this is definitely a performance that could do it!

Postcard at Scheveningen beach for Germany, appropriately considering its popularity with German tourists. After the German postcard we suddenly get another intervention with Chantal explaining the theme 'Open up' and a pre-recorded video about the theme with Duncan as narrator. Not sure if and when they will actually show this in the real show.

Germany - Very colourful performance with a prominent role for miss Finger. Jendrik improvises vocally. At the points we hear a male voice 'you did not just say that' the camera zooms on the finger as if she is saying that. All in all, I feel it is missing the clever fun from the video and falls a bit flat on the stage. In the talking part he adresses in German ladies, gentlemen and everyone who's not either. And he ends in Dutch with 'tot snel!' ('see you soon').

Netherlands - Wonderful visual opening with the LED wall 'breaking open'. Jeangu is doing an amazing job vocally. During the brigde all move to the sattelite stage, before the stage turns all colourful. Obviously a lot of applause. That was a very nice performance, and very different from a lot of other things in this ESC. Not saying it is a top 10'er but it doesn't look like certain bottom 5 either.

Okay ... they're now improvising a bit because it's about time to rehearse the qualifier revelation. But first we get a look-ahead to Thursday with the usual billboards. It's mainly about the extra acts though.

They then introduce Martin Österdahl. And it seems like we have a 'valid result'! And he tells Jan and Chantal that they're 'good to go'.

We get to see three-letter country codes with square flags in the 'waiting list' below the screen insert of Jan and Chantal. When they are announced we see the full names to the right of them, as usual. [addition: as far as I recall there were no animations with enveloppes or anything of the sort appearing on screen, so it's just one of the hosts shouting a country name, and only then the name appears in the 'qualified' list]

First fake finalist is Romania, then Israel. They do this pretty quickly again. Cyprus, Lithuania and Norway are next. Also Azerbaijan makes it, it looks pretty realistic so far actually :-) Australia also qualifies and we see a happy volunteer on a couch probably not in Australia. They take a little more time now. Sweden is fake qualifier number eight. And number nine is Malta. And finally it's North Macedonia! We don't get to hear snippets of the songs when they qualify but we get a recap in the order as announced right after the last qualifier is announced.

After that the credits start running and we get views from the hall, also from the green room, which may be interesting because we'll probably see both happy and sad faces there, unlike usually when we only got to see the happy ones.

That was it for the first dress rehearsal. Tonight we continue with the jury final, for which Yair will provide commentary in this blog!

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