ESC2011: Notes on the First Semi-Final

Eurovision 2011 – Düsseldorf

FIRST SEMI-FINAL!

At long last the Eurovision Song Contest 2011 is finally here!  And, for the first time since 1997, taking place in Western Europe outside of a Nordic country (something I will explain more in-depthly in a later blog).  A bit of history now, 2011 marks the 50th Anniversary Luxembourg’s first victory (1961), Nous les Amoureux performed by Jean-Claude Pascal and the 25th Anniversary of Belgium’s only victory (1986), J’Aime la Vie performed by Sandra Kim.  How awesome would it be if Luxembourg had returned this year, on the golden anniversary of its first victory?  Surely that story would have outshines Italy’s return (or at least shone as brightly).  I am bursting with excitement and anticipation to see if the bookies are right to pick France, Sweden, and Estonia as the three countries to battle it out for the top spot.  Personally, I have a sneaking suspicion that this will be the first year since the new scoring system was introduced that there will be a difference between the jury selection and the televoting.  I think fans will go with the electrifying performance from Sweden that Mr. Saade has promised us while the jury may go for the classical and reserved entry from France. Who knows, maybe Estonia will be able to split the difference and reclaim the crown. I will be saving my revised prediction of the winner for my live commentary notes on Saturday.

As always, please remember that I write this commentary live, the first time I see the Contest.  Also, I do not mean to offend any person, peoples, or countries and try to be tactful yet entertaining in my notes.  I also want to point out that each of these performers, all 43 of them, are already winners, having won their country’s national selection process, whether it be wooing voting audiences, professional juries, or clandestine television executives.  They all deserve respect and appreciation just for making it this far.  So, without further ado – Enjoy!

As usual, being the fan of wild speculation that I am, I will present to you my predictions for the ten qualifiers from tonight’s semi-final. Again, please remember I am basing these predictions off of 30 second preview clips, the bookies’ numbers, and the ever-so-important web chatter.  My prediction is that: Armenia, Turkey, Greece, Azerbaijan, Iceland, Hungary, Russia, Norway, Poland, and Albania will make it through. I think, despite the huge promotional tour and EuroClub party, San Marino just won’t be able to keep up with the countries that most can place on a map (for those who don’t know, San Marino is an enclave country within Italy).  I think Serbia shot itself in the foot with its retro-sound this year.  And Finland and Georgia just won’t be able to charm the audiences as much as the web folk think they will.  All others never stood that good of a chance of moving through anyway – but I do wish everyone the best of luck!

The Opening Act: 😦 Another semi-final without an opening act.

Wow! Could Stefan Raab’s accent be anymore generically German?  Wow, what a high percentage of jokes to fall flat in such a short amount of time.  I think Italy got the same amount of (if not more) applause than Germany. Really, did they let Raab write all of these jokes?  Please tell me that they will have better jokes and banter on Thursday and Saturday.  Another year with voting at the beginning of the show; I still don’t like this.

Looks like the postcards will return to the theme of presenting the host country, but at lest they incorporate folks from the upcoming country and the slogan in that country’s language.  Not to mention the shot of the performers at the very beginning.

01. Poland – Jestem performed by Magdalena Tul

This is a pleasant enough song and a decent way in which to start off the show, but the performance is a little lackluster…the little dance break was a nice touch, but I think it is too little, too late. She has to hope that others will put up an equally as tepid performance, which I don’t foresee, especially with the up-tempo Norwegian act that will most likely obliterate any memory of the Polish act from viewers mind.

02. Norway – Haba Haba performed by Stella Mwangi

You can definitely tell that she is a rapper turned singer – and I can understand the Norwegian people’s disappointment that she won (though, she won in a landslide, so they can’t complain too much). I will say it’s nice to see black people on the ESC stage, especially one that is favored to do well.  Despite Mwangi’s weak vocals, the performance is pretty exciting and the song is well-arranged to give the backing singers a bigger role. It’s just such a pleasant song, it definitely felt like a Stella Mwangi concert, not a one song performance.

03. Albania – Feel The Passion performed by Aurela Gaçe

This is a bubble song (one that has an equal chance of moving through or staying behind) so she needs a really strong performance to convince the televoters as this does not sound like something the juries would like. She definitely gets stronger as the song goes on.  I really like this but I don’t think she is quite powerful enough to grip Europe (think of her as a lite version of Ukraine’s Svetlana Loboda from 2009).

04. Armenia – Boom Boom performed by Emmy

Yuck! Her voice is grating – how did this win the Armenian selection?  The other songs seemed to be a much better match for her weak voice.  “Boom boom, chucka chucka, you kiss is like a, like a” what is this dribble?  This sounds like some UK rubbish!  Or better yet, something from the wasteland years of the Contest in the early 2000s.  Armenia, I suppose, wants to test the strength of their diaspora. This song shouldn’t move past tonight (though it probably will), but I think it will definitely be Armenia’s first entry to fall outside the Top Ten.

05. Turkey – Live It Up performed by Yüksek Sadakat

After Lena’s success last year, I guess Turkey thought it would be a good idea to send a singer with a heavy accent.  I don’t understand why he just didn’t sing in Turkish.  I also am very confused by the dancer in the sphere.  For those with any doubt that the music is piped in, the keyboardist pretends to play his notes on the camera.  Oh, I see, the dancer “breaks” out of its shell.  It’s an alright song.

I liked the little video during the advert break, it was great to see all the different artists singing the same song.  It reminds you that ESC is a friendlier competition than most.

06. Serbia – Čaroban performed by Nina

I love the retro sound and I positively love the lyrics.  I think the staging is also quite cute and perfectly fits the song.  My biggest fear is that televoters will whine about the retro-ness of the song, despite its awesomeness.  My favorite song thus far.

07. Russia – Get You performed by Alexej Vorobjov

What a cute boy!  I dig the intro, though, I’m not quite sure what he said.  This was good until the refrain began, then it turned into a Justin Beiber song, complete with lazy lyrics and cheesy kid-bop choreography.  This is okay, the staging (particularly the glowing lights on their backs) is by far better than the song itself.

08. Switzerland – In Love for a While performed by Anna Rossinelli

Hahaha!  That was awesome – they had all four Swiss languages represented in the postcard!

The dress is much too sexy for this song and staging.  Oh, I think the Swiss had a really strong chance of charming Europe this year, but I think Rossinelli is letting her nerves get the best of her because I refuse to believe that if her voice was this shaky when she was performing on the streets, the songwriter would have continued walking past her.  At this point, the Swiss’ only hope is for some major catastrophes to arise throughout the next few performances, particularly Georgia’s.

09. Georgia – One More Day performed by Eldrine

From little kids on the playground to a screeching rock band – quite the transition!  I didn’t want to like this song because I thought Eldrine’s lead singer got a raw deal, being replaced for unknown reasons after she led the group to victory.  But I do like this despite myself.  Rapping!  Oh, no, no, no!  Georgia doesn’t have the diaspora of Armenia, Greece, Turkey or any of those other countries that can send whatever they want and still do well.  Georgia has to work for votes and nothing stops European votes faster than rappers.

10. Finland – Da Da Dam performed by Paradise Oskar

Welcome back?  Welcome who back?  Finland has always been here.  Welcome back to people who took a 30 second advert break?

Let the parade of cute boys continue!  The melody and the harmony don’t seem to fit together all that well.  “Call to Action” songs tend to be received with high applause or stern consternation, I’m not sure which this will receive.  It helps that it is contrasted against two up-tempo numbers.  I’m not sure what to make of this one.

11. Malta – One Life performed by Glen Vella

Has any song with this message or title ever done well?  Let’s see, Belgium 2004, nope!  Macedonia 2004, not really!  Austria 2007, nope!  Malta 2011, nope!  This song is okay; I think Vella’s vocals could be better for a renowned vocal coach.  I do want to give Malta props for a relatively subdued stage show as I am sure the was great temptation to make it wild and exuberant.

12. San Marino – Stand By performed by Senit

Yay!  Welcome back San Marino!!!  I think this song has an awkward arrangement.  It doesn’t know if it wants to be a rock ballad or a pop ballad or an R&B ballad and it’s this weird mix of all three; I think it would have behooved the Sammarinese delegation to take advantage of Senit’s jazzy voice and arrange this song to be a jazz ballad.  Putting it in Italian would have made it even better.  With that said, I think this song is about one to two years late, and would have fared much better in Belgrade or Oslo then hear in Germany.  Oh well, hopefully San Marino will continue to find money for the Contest and come back next year.

13. Croatia – Celebrate performed by Daria

Whew!  This intro is too low for her.  Wow!  Daria is bringing back the costume change!  Interesting, at one point, costume changes came standard with most entries, now it a rarity and makes Croatia stand out.  However, I don’t think the two stunning costume changes are enough to push this through to the Final.  That second costume change was dazzling, by the way!

14. Iceland – Coming Home performed by Sjonni’s Friends

Come one Iceland, now’s your chance to capitalize on following two weaker entries.  I like this, though I think that the performance is a bit hammy.  There are some vocal issues to take care of, but these are six professionals and I am sure they will tighten up their performance come Saturday.

Is it appropriate to interview an entrant while voting is going on?  I think not.  Come one Germany, you’re better than this!

15. Hungary – What About My Dreams? performed by Kati Wolf

The biggest favorite tonight, she has a lot of support from fans and bookies alike.  So many comments remark on her voice.  I think there’s a reason she only got sixth on X-Factor.  I think this is probably one of the more overrated acts this year (though, time will tell on that).  The song isn’t bad, and it probably sounds great as a studio version, just not live.  I like the costuming (not Wolf’s but her backing performers).  The longer this song goes on, the more she hurts her chances.  I think it would have been a stronger entry had the last ten seconds or so been omitted.

16. Portugal – Luta É Alegria performed by Homens Da Luta

They’re not so much singing as they are chanting.  The music is quite pleasant, but the chanting gives it a preschool song vibe…a socialist preschool.  Though, the lyrics themselves are not pro-socialist, the performance is.  How did the Portuguese vote for this?  Haha, a Twitter person on eurovision.tv page quoted her husband as saying, “They look like protesters outside a children’s TV show,” I couldn’t agree more.  The question isn’t whether or not Portugal will make it to the Final, the question is whether or not Portugal will get nul points or not (I think they will).

17. Lithuania – C’est Ma Vie performed by Evelina Sašenko

I like this, but the “C’est ma vie” should have been a much bigger note!  Hopefully it is the next time is comes up.  Oh, sign language, nice!  They copped out; adding in the rest of the backing arrangement when Sašenko should be hitting a big note.  People are right, though, it definitely sounds like something out of a musical, which the singer said she takes as a compliment.

Is anyone else getting part of the screen cut off?  Is a NDR technical issue or a Eurovision.tv issue?

18. Azerbaijan – Running Scared performed by Ell/Nikki

Once again, Azerbaijan brings American pop to the Contest.  The staging really lets you see just how big the stage and arena are.  I really like the staging, actually including the sparks, the lights and the backing singers wandering around the stage – it all kind of makes you forget that this is the song sung by a kept boy and cougar.

19. Greece – Watch My Dance performed by Loucas Yiorkas feat. Stereo Mike

More “rap.” Interestingly enough, Stereo Mike has not only won Best Greek Act at the MTV VMAs, but is now a professor at a London university.  This reminds me of Slovenia’s act from last year; it’s attempting to mix two styles that are normally at odds with one another (this time it’s folk music and rap).  And again, poor execution proves that fusion songs are good ideas but are rarely done well by its artists.  Honestly, this was a Stereo Mike song featuring Loucas Yiorkas and it was disappointing; for a song called, “Watch My Dance” I expected another Greek foot-stomper.  They should have performed a remix of the song.  I will give it to the choreographer, though, the dance routine was pretty solid.  It will move through because it’s Greece, but I think that it may be Greece’s first song outside the Top Ten in the Semi-Final era.  All good things come to an end, right?

My Top Ten on the Night Who I Think Will Progress on to the Final
1. Serbia (great lyrics & music) Turkey (will probably win tonight)
2. Albania (I feel the passion!) Greece (will move in b/c it’s Greece)
3. Lithuania ( Azerbaijan (it’s a nice American style pop song)
4. Norway Iceland (sad story and benefitted from its lead-in entries)
5. Iceland Hungary (it’s a favorite to win and is a pure dance tune)
6. Georgia Finland OR Poland (not both – will move in due to juries)
7. Switzerland Georgia (enough weak competition to move it through)
8. Azerbaijan Norway (it’s popular and fun)
9. San Marino Russia (duh, it’s Russia and it’s a cute boy)
10. Finland Lithuania (I think the juries will carry this through as well)

I like the use of the postcards as filler during the voting period.

The Interval Act: Hey! A black drumline from the US!  How about that!  And from North Carolina A&T at that – my brother attended that school.  For those who don’t know, marching band is a fairly American tradition, originally established for military bands and parades, Notre Dame University were the first to bring marching bands to football games.  The tradition grew from there.  And in the Black colleges and universities, the marching bands really excelled, creating dazzling shows, bucking the traditional marching styles seen at most schools.  One of the major sections of any marching band, particularly Black bands is the drumline – or the percussionists who march on the field playing snare drums, bass drums, tom-toms, and cymbals.  This tradition of Black marching bands of the South was the subject of the movie Drumline.  The school that was the focus of the movie “Atlanta A&T” does not exist – the band they used was actually from the school North Carolina A & T – where the Cool Steel Drummers met and started playing together.

This Jan Ola guy is no Svante!  We want Svante!  (only joking, of course…or not) I wish and hope that Mr. Sand has a long and successful tenure as Supervisor of the ESC and that he is able to take the Contest to newer highs and new frontiers.

The Ten that actually make it into the Grand Final:

-Serbia!  Huzzah!  This was my favorite!  I didn’t think it would move through, but it did – yay!

-Lithuania! Another one of my favorites I didn’t really expect to see move through, that had to be due to the juries.

-Greece – of course

-Azerbaijan – of course, but they actually did deserve to move through, though

-Georgia – and the rocking rappers move through

-Switzerland – WHOA!!! WHAT!!!  I mean, yay! But this is highly unexpected!  Dare I say Hungary and Armenia may be kept on the sidelines come Saturday?

-Hungary – well, there’s Hungary, and there’s three spots left.

-Finland – well, there goes Poland’s chances. Interesting, Russia, Turkey, and Armenia, three heavy hitters, are left with only two spots remaining.  Also left, fan favorite Norway.

-Russia – of course, it’s hard to say no to a cute boy, especially if he’s Russian.

-Iceland! – WHOA! I cannot say that I expected Iceland to move through with Norway, Turkey, and Armenia yet to be called.  Wow.

Final Comments: I am happy that Switzerland is finally returning to the Grand Final, a place they haven’t been to since 2006.  And they’re going with such a charming song – Bonne Chance la Suisse!  I am also pleasantly surprised that Lithuania and Serbia moved through, both are more-than deserving of a spot on Saturday and they should give the other 23 entries a run for their money.  I am also incredibly happy that Armenia got left behind; even with a large diaspora (many of whom participated tonight) a crappy song still fails.  I am utterly shocked that Turkey didn’t move through; not because I thought it was a great song (it was alright) but because it’s Turkey and it has definitely moved through on the backs of weaker entries.  Not to mention Sadakat is one of the country’s biggest stars.  I wonder if he would have been left behind if he had sung in Turkish instead of English.  One thing to note, four out of five of Turkey’s biggest vote givers (Germany, France, Belgium, and Bosnia & Herzegovina) were not voting tonight; I bet that had a huge impact on why Turkey is now going home as opposed to gearing up for Saturday.  Lastly, I am mildly surprised that Norway failed to make the Final; recently, it just seemed to have picked up so much steam that I thought it was going through for sure.  That just goes to show you, even a popular act can’t overcome the Number 2 starting position.  It also didn’t help that Mwangi’s singing left much to be desired.

Let’s see, eight out of ten for my post-show predictions, only six out of ten for my pre-show predictions.  That makes me feel good, I tend to be about the same on both, so it’s good to see that televoters are seeing what I am seeing and are not simply voting by name of the country.

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