ESC2011: Semi-Final Two

Here’s Part Two of my preview for this year’s Contest.  Once again, it looks as if the Second Semi-Final will be the stronger of the two heats, how does this always seem to happen?  From a returning champion (Israel) to one of ESC’s most beloved novelty acts (Moldova) to a singer who garnered international attention after reading results last year (Sweden).  Oh, it’s going to be an awesome show, of that I am sure.  While the Ukraine, Sweden, Moldova, Israel, Denmark, and Ireland all seem like sure things this year, I think this Semi-Final will bring us a few surprises.  Also in this post, I will discuss the three automatic qualifiers who will be voting in Semi-Final 2, France, Germany, and…ITALY!!!

Bosnia and Herzegovina – Love in Rewind performed by Dino Merlin

Typically, former Top Ten placers tend to be a shoo-in for a spot in the Final, even if their previous song was terrible (which Mr. Merlin’s was).  Funniest online comment: “This guy is like a mix of Cat Stevens and Ringo Starr.  The coolest grandpa ever.”  And the bookies predict this finishing in the top ten.  I’m not convinced from the lyrics and internet buzz that this entry has what it takes to make the Top Ten, but I definitely think that it will pass through to the Final.

Austria – The Secret is Love performed by Nadine Beiler

When it comes to Austria, the entries I like do poorly and the entries I hate do well, judging by the competition Beiler beat out to make it to Düsseldorf, I am assuming she is going to do well.  Okay, that’s not fair, as there were several songs I did really like from this year’s Austrian selection.  Most of the buzz focuses around her powerful voice, not so much around the song, and we all know that this is a SONG contest not a talent search – better luck next year Austria.

Netherlands – Never Alone performed by 3JS

Not all things are better with age.  Having done a little research on the 3JS when they were first selected to represent the Netherlands, I liked a lot of their stuff, now, hearing the four songs that failed to win Nationaal Songfestival 2011, I don’t have much faith in the Dutch this year and neither do the bookies.  But the fans (all 20 of them) seem to love it – which, given their small numbers doesn’t mean much, but an interesting point came up, this song should be fodder for the juries and this prediction might just ring true.

Belgium – With Love Baby performed by Witloof Bay

An a capella group, how exciting!  In the US, a capella is predominated nowadays by university students, so it’s a very different experience for me to see a group of middle aged folks performing a capella, but they’re really good.  I hope and pray that they make it to the Final (apparently, LAT2006 is the only other entry to ever be done a capella, it got 16th).  The bookies think that this entry will do horribly, but it’s Belgium – the only country to succeed with a song in an imaginary language (though, they also failed with a similar concept six years later).  So, if any country can pull this off, it’s Belgium.

Slovakia – I’m Still Alive performed by TWiiNS

So, the TWiiNS bring us Slovakia’s first-ever English language entry and it’s reception is….piss-poor.  People don’t seem to necessarily love it, with the general consensus being, “it’s good enough for the Final.”  With such lackluster support I turn to the bookies who seem to feel similarly.  Songs that fall in this position tend to finish right outside the top ten of their semi-final.  So I would expect Slovakia to get 12th or 13th place in the Semi-Final, narrowly missing its first trip to the Finals.

Ukraine – Angels performed by Mika Newton

Again, the Ukraine has a controversy around its national selection, but at least this time, it was all taken care of prior to the entry submission deadline.  With that said, Ukraine had a stereotypically strong national final this year, I predict that this song will do what all but three Ukraine entries have done before, finish in the Top Ten on Saturday (but it won’t win).

Moldova – So Lucky performed by Zdob şi Zdub

Another returning artist that I wished had stayed home; the Moldovan rockers are back at the ESC, though this time they are minus the grandma.  It’s interesting to see how the tide turns in online comments.  The same people who have been routinely trashing the ballads and the poppier entries seem to love this and vice versa.  With that said, I just can’t see Moldova succeeding with this kind of level of negativity going on.  I expect them to make the Final (partially because people will recognize the band’s name, partly because Romania, Bulgaria, and Ukraine are all in this Semi-Final) but to not do all that well once they get there.

Sweden – Popular performed by Eric Saade

I remember this guy from last year; he had a wretched song that got second place in Melodifestivalen.  I also remember that his stunning good looks while reading the votes for Sweden last year helped that same wretched single land on some top 100 charts around Europe.  This year’s Melodifestivalen reminded viewers why the Swedes had the biggest, most watched, most popular, and most successful national selection year after year, and I think it will continue it’s role as a kingmaker.  Expect Eric Saade to restore some honor to the Swedish throne and land a Top Ten placing for the land of ABBA.  With that said, I have a feeling I will dislike this act and its show.  Saade has openly stated that he wants to cheapen ESC by promoting an increase in stage performers so that there can be “big pop acts” apparently six people isn’t enough for him.  He also dislikes the fact that he can’t use backing vocals.  I think how successful he is come the Grand Final will dictate a lot about where the ESC goes in the future, particularly since there is a new Supervisor at the helm who will be looking for ways to make his mark on the Contest.  I plan on doing a blog entry regarding this topic in the weeks following the Contest, regardless of how the Swedes finish.

Cyprus – San Aggelos S’Agapisa performed by Christos Mylordos

Like many other songs, this entry seems to have a high percentage of positive comments, but a low number of comments overall.  CyBC has done a very poor job of promoting this song and that, and only that, is the reason Cyprus will be left behind in the Semi-Final despite an easy 12 from Greece.

Bulgaria – Na inat performed by Poli Genova

Okay, I can’t even bear to make it through a recap of the Bulgarian selection (don’t worry, I went back and finished it); this does not bode well for its winner. With that said, there seems to be a healthy level of support for this entry so Bulgaria just might sneak into the Final after all, I think it will come down to how she does in the Second Dress Rehearsal, actually, when the juries cast their votes.

Macedonia – Rusinka performed by Vlatko Ilievski

Time for another funny comment from the web: “song is bad…video is funny…boys are cute.”  If you think seeing Azerbaijanis and Armenians (or Serbs and Albanians for that matter) whine amongst themselves on the various ESC forums was annoying, you haven’t seen anything you’ve read the dialogue between Macedonians and Greeks – sickening is what it is!  Anyway, Macedonia never seems to be able to get any love; it has always been an “also ran” at the ESC and I don’t foresee this entry changing that.  Short of some sort of miracle, Macedonia will most likely be sent home in the Semi Finals yet again.

Israel – Ding Dong performed by Dana International

The fabulous diva returns to the Eurovision stage after winning it all for her native Israel back in 1998.  Back then, she made herself an icon and a heroine for many queers across Europe, not only that, but her victory helped lead a revival for the Contest into the new era of exciting stage shows, and televoting.  Winners are all but guaranteed a spot in the Final, so I don’t expect the Semi-Finals to be that big a hindrance for her.  Though, like many returning artists from pre-2004, she needs to be ready to handle how much the Contest has changed over the last decade, including the more elaborate stage performances, the advent of the semi-final (which, for those that make the Final, mean nine rehearsals on top of the two performances), and the return of the jury something Dana International didn’t have to contend with in 1998 or in 2008 when she returned as a song writer (while the juries voted in the semi-finals of 2008, Israel was a clear favorite to progress that year and easily sailed through to the Final).  Though, she has stayed fairly involved over the years, so I imagine these changes won’t affect her too much.  I am inclined to listen to the fans and my own personal preference for Ms. Dana International – I expect this to be in the Top Ten.

Slovenia – No One performed by Maja Keuc

Hmmm, for the first time in a long while, Slovenia seems to have garnered a lot of positive interest from the bookies and from the fans.  Honestly, I must say that I am a little surprised at how well Slovenia is being predicted to do this year.  I expect this song will move through to the Final, but I dare not venture a guess on it’s final placing.

Romania – Change performed by Hotel FM

Romania seems to be getting similar coverage as the Slovenian entry, just less of it.  So I think that this song will also progress on to the Final, but I feel confident in saying that it will not be a Top Ten hit barring some kind of miracle.

Estonia – Rockefeller Street performed by Getter Jaani

Surprisingly, this is a big bookie favorite, something that is new for Estonia (even when it won in 2001, it was quite a surprise)!  The lyrics seem very interesting, and I have seen the magically appearing wand from the National Final.  There seems to be a lot of negative feedback about her voice, but a lot of positive feedback about the song otherwise.  What she lacks in voice quality can more than be made up in a stage show – and they’ve already promised us a good one.  I think this will be Top Ten for sure.

Belarus – I Love Belarus performed by Anastasiya Vinnikova

What is this, the jESC?  That’s the only place for outright patriotic songs; there is no way Europe will stand for this, I don’t care how catchy a tune it is.  Interestingly enough, it’s not biggest longshot to win the Contest according to the bookies.  Also curious, it’s a song about her love for her motherland, but it’s in English, can you say “неконгруэнтность”?  Expect this song to finish near the bottom of the Semi-Final.

Latvia – Angel in Disguise performed by Musiqq

This song seems to not be getting much attention from anyone, fans or bookies.  My impression is that it is a pleasant song, but not memorable, which is a kiss of death for this competition.  Not to mention, R&B/hip-hop tends to not do very well at ESC; so I expect this song to flounder behind in the semi-finals.

Denmark – New Tomorrow performed by A Friend in London

It’s a pretty lousy song, but the bookies seem to like it.  Fan forums are dominated by the plagiarism/not plagiaism controversy.  For an in-depth look at my opinions regarding this entry and the controversy, click here.

Ireland – Lipstick performed by Jedward

Once again the Emerald Isle disappoint with another gag act.  Despite the trend towards more serious ballads and elaborate pop entries over the past few years, Jedward comes this year to strick another blow for comedic acts.  Due to the twins prior success on X-Factor (leading to massive name recognition), this song will probably go through to the Finals.  Hopefully, it will fail, but I think it stand a decent shot at Top Ten.

With that, I now conclude my coverage of the Second Semi-Final.  For those who like summaries, I predict the following ten entries will move forward to the Grand Final: Bosnia & Herzegovina, Ukraine, Moldova, Sweden, Israel, Slovenia, Romania, Estonia, Denmark, Ireland.  Sorry, no real surprises here, there is just too much evidence to go against the popular opinion.  Now, looking ahead to the automatic qualifiers who will be voting on Thursday.

Italy – Madness of Love performed by Raphael Gualazzi

WELCOME BACK ITALY!!!  Yay, it’s always good when a previous winner (not to mention a founding ESC member) returns to the Contest, it’s even better when that former winner is a Contest titan!  Fans have been begging Italy to return since the day it left and will jump at the chance to vote for Italia come Saturday.  The bookies, too, are showering Italy with much love with the general consensus pointing to a Top Ten placing.  With that said, there seems to be a small, but LOUD contigent that really hates this song – but that is the same contigent who seem hate anything that not a fast club thumper, so I am not quite sure how much we should worry about them.  I think Italy will be in the Top Ten.  Many fans of the song fear that they will be in the bottom ten.  I hope regardless of its finish, Italy doesn’t withdraw from the Contest again.

Germany – Taken by a Stranger performed by Lena

So, Dana International is not the only winner trying to pull a Johnny Logan this year, Lena is back and becomes only the third artist (behind Lys Assia and Corrie Brokken) to attempt to defend her crown in the year immediately following her victory.  If she wins again, does that mean she will continue competing for Germany?  It’s amazing to see how much Lena has grown and matured over the past year.  She still has that funky accent, but who cares?  It’s become a part of her performance at this point.  Interestingly enough, the runner-up song, Push Forward appears to be much more popular among the fans, but domestic and international, than Taken by a Stranger.  I think Germany will have a respectable finish (somwhere in the top fifteen songs), but it will not win again.

France – Sognuperformed by Amaury Vassili

France, for only the second time, enters a song employing Corsican, a language closer to Italian than French.  France is entering the Contest as the favorite among bookies and fans, not a heavy favorite, as Estonia, the UK, and Sweden are expected to battle it out for the vicotry.  I just don’t quite see it.  He’s not the first opera singer to take on Eurovision and he won’t be the last.  One thing every opera-inspired entry seems to shar in common: overratedness.  Remember SWE2009 – Malena Ernman was supposed to be an easy pick for the top ten; she finished in the bottom five.  And what about SLO and LAT2007?  They were both heralded as the first to bring opera to the Contest, both received a lot of fan love and support and neither one made it to the Top Ten.  I’m not saying that France can’t win, I just wouldn’t put money on it.

My predicitions for the Top Ten come the Grand Final on Saturday:

France, UK, Italy, Sweden, Greece, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey, Estonia, Bosnia & Herzegovina.

In terms of a winner, I just can’t say.  The fans are all over the place, and I just can’t see any of the current top three (France, UK, Estonia) winning right now.  I also doubt Sweden will be able to give a winning performance given the rigor of the stage show they plan to put on.  So we will see.

I now bid you adieu.  My next posts will be my Notes from the Contest – live commentary I write as I am watching the Contest for the first time.  Until then, happy readings!  Only 14 days left until the Grand Final!

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