All Kinds Of Everything

Semi Two rehearsals as seen by Keith Mills

After a rather long adventure in getting to the arena this morning, I only just made it for the second run-through of Malta. I am really worried as to how people make it out here and back to the city on the show nights.

MALTA has some lovely backdrops giving an outdoor feel. Firelight are lined up and there are some nice panning shots from the front. It’s vocally perfect, and while I don’t think the photos in the backdrop add anything they aren’t as distracting as I thought they might be. This is very competent and a better show opener than Armenia in the first semi and should qualify pretty easily.

ISRAEL is much stronger than I thought it might be. Mei is a woman of amble thighs and we’re certainly seeing a lot of them in this performance but the semi-oriental staging is fantastic and the choreography is slick but at times not caught properly on camera with too many shot changes. Vocally it’s very strong but something here reminds me of Cyprus 2008 and Bulgaria 2011, neither of which qualified. However with only five songs to beat, this should make the cut. As good as I could have hoped for.

NORWAY is just a perfect contrast to Israel. It’s dark, moody angst-ridden and intense. Carl is good vocally, engages with the camera in a much better way than before and the violinists on the stage pedestal provide some variety of shots. Call me old-fashioned but I’d prefer not to see the tattoo on his arm. I’d prefer more use of the storm cloud motif in the background, but these are all minor quibbles. This should qualify easily.

GEORGIA is not only different from anything today but probably different from anything we’ve ever had in the contest. It reminds me of the folk/prog fusion and bands like Steeleye Span and Jethro Tull from the early 1970s. I’m not a fan of the paracute gimmick but otherwise I really like the staging. The female singer in lurid green is really pushing this up my ranking but I have the feeling that it might just be too different to appeal on just one listening and could lose out on qualifying.

POLAND has gone 100% ethno-pop in the staging and costumes. Cleo looks and sounds great and while I don’t see the point of having two girls doing nothing bar pretending to wash clothes. It’s got a pumping beat and the basic dance moves work very well and while the staging is just too busy in the arena it works on television. I think this benefits hugely from coming after Georgia and it could well qualify.

AUSTRIA is the bloke with a beard wearing a frock that everyone has heard about. The song reminds me of a rejected Bond them from 1974 and the backgrounds has the flame cliché that Azerbaijan didn’t go for. Vocally it’s a little shaky on the chorus and after a 25 second lead in before you see the singer, once you get over the shock value, it becomes rather dull very quickly.

LITHUANIA is another contrast with very minimalist staging and lighting and clever (possibly over-thought) choreography. Vilija is very strong vocally and really looks strong on camera. I could do without the leg wobbles and hands coming through the skirt and the 40 shades of blue staging lacks variety but otherwise I see little wrong with this. This is different and strong enough to sail into the final.

Keith's impression of the second half of Friday's rehearsals

The catering area for the press is well stocked with lots of tasty lunch options and isn’t overly expensive. There’s also free water and coffee so well done Denmark. It compensates for dragging us out to the middle of a post-industrial wilderness.

AZERBAIJAN was first up after the break and Dilara is in a beautiful deep red dress that becomes quite revealing with the lighting. The backdrop goes from gothic to Gotham and avoids the obvious fire cliché. Vocally this is better than I’ve heard it before and Dilara looks beautiful on the close-ups. The only issue I have with this is the trapeze, which I think is too distracting at the start of the song. I would have used her for the last minute only, after the initial crescendo, to add variety. Sailing into the final and a good bet for the Top 5.

UKRAINE is by far the worst vocal of the day so far and no amount of gimmicks using a man running in a hamster wheel or wind machines or mechanical backdrops can cover over the screechiness. The basic song was never up to much and it comes to hiding the basic frailty, Russia has done a much better job than Ukraine. If this was almost any other country I would say it was a non-qualifier, but almost all Ukraine’s neighbours are voting in this semi so it will undeservedly make the final.

BELGIUM Performance as in the national final but there’s less focus on the dancer. It’s not vocally perfect, but it’s good enough. The main issue I have here is the placement of Axel’s mic, which hides his mouth when viewed from the centre of the screen. The staging is also too dark for my liking. I think this presses buttons that the other ballads don’t and as long as he can deliver it, it should make the final.

MOLDOVA Christina was a little wayward on the first run through but really got her act together after that. She’s mixing a blue and gold in her half and half dress. The gladiators are a bit unnecessary at the start but when the song gets going they add some nice camera shots, especially from the overhead shots. The key change with added wind-machine really adds something. This is dividing opinion on whether it qualifies but I think it’s in the mix.

SAN MARINO isn’t helped by coming after Moldova as it’s a little pale in comparison. Valentina looks fantastic and is note perfect. She really has matured brilliantly in two short years. The white dress and background look nice and the overhead swirl of yellow look great on screen. The problem is not with the singer or the staging, but with the song, which sounds far too like a song that would have finished 7th in Sanremo in 1988. Not qualifying, I think.

PORTUGAL comes after a long lunch and after an ad break on the night. Suzy looks comfortable and the “suzyshake” is back. The green, red and yellow backdrop looks fantastic. On the night Suzy will be wearing be wearing a red dress with tassels. I love this, although there are elements of the presentation and lighting that I would change.. It’s got great energy and it’s fun, which is very welcome after the songs that come before it. I have a sneaky hunch that this will do better than many people think.

NETHERLANDS is another complete contrast to what goes before it. The overhead road traffic effects and long camera shot which introduces the singers at the start is great. Having them face one another is an inspired move as it makes the connection between the singers that wasn’t there in Amsterdam. Simple, effect staging, no gimmicks but is it instant enough? This is more likely to be a jury winner than a televote favourite but it’s back in the qualification mix for sure.