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Eurovision Rehearsals: Day 1 Review

The Eurovision rehearsal season kicked off with military precision today: a far cry from last year’s delayed start in Baku.

We were all based at the cavernous Slagthuset venue just a stone’s throw away from Malmö central station.  Unfortunately, the organisers didn’t think to locate any screens in the main hall, so 100-plus members of the accredited press had to cram into a dingy cinema and battle for the available power sockets.

With four of the highly favoured entries on show, who would leave the day happiest?

Austria’s Natalia Kelly was the day’s first victim and the 18 year old looked distinctly uneasy during the first performance of Shine, where she was joined on stage by five backing singers, each of whom were obscured by a line of glowing pendants.  These eventually raise before the bridge, at which point the backing singers move forward to join Natalia.

Vocally, Natalia Kelly was acceptable, but she lacked the star quality to convince me of her qualification capabilities.  She did miss the big note during the first recital, but nailed it during the subsequent performances once she’d loosened up.  It was at this point that Natalia’s smiles and subtle gestures became more natural.  Nevertheless, Austria appeared somewhat flat on screen where obvious opportunities have been squandered to emphasise the Shine moments within the stage lighting.

Natalia’s inexperience may be charming at national-final level, but on the Eurovision stage it all works to convince me of Austria’s impending doom.  The vultures are definitely circling!

aMjXWbU7nToEstonia starts in classy monochrome, which eventually transforms into full colour as soon as the main arrangement builds.  Birgit wears a long white flowing dress concealing her recently announced baby-bump.  Though, during the first performance, the baby very nearly gets a bump of its own with Birgit almost taking a tumble.

Birgit’s performs Et Uus Saaks Alguse from the satellite stage with three male backing singers complementing her vocals from the main stage.

The first two rehearsals were visually flat, but by the third run through, the long camera shots were vastly improved.  The main improvement came just before the big note where Birgit raises her arm; the camera now delicately tracks and zooms in to effectively mimic the gesture – thus producing the perfect money-shot.

The Estonian delegation sampled a number of backdrops featuring kaleidoscopic patterns, but it was the final configuration where they appeared the most effective.  This can be seen on the official rehearsal video.

Compared to Austria, Estonia is in a different league and presents a real dilemma in terms of qualification.  The markets appear to be undecided, whereas with Austria, they were quickly backed into evens for the non-qualification (thanks to Rob and I).

Slovenia’s Hannah Mancini, joined by three dancers, brought a much needed lift to the morning with the first up-tempo number of the day.

The first performance was quite frankly disappointing, but Hannah’s vocal chords soon warmed up.  Hopefully she doesn’t require that level of practice when it comes to the jury rehearsal.

It may appear that Hannah is going solo; however, I was reliably informed of two secret singers deployed to assist her during some of the trickier elements of the choreography.  The American is more than capable of belting out the big notes, but as we’ve learnt over the years with these upbeat songs, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

The choreography is reminiscent of David Lindgren’s 2013 Melodifestivalen performance, with an impressive display of armography to open the song.  With shiva-esque interludes, the routine continued to impress and by the time the final run through arrived, the camerawork was capturing the energetic, street-dance essence to far greater effect.  Clearly impressed, the technical host awarded Hannah ‘douze point’ for navigating the stage in her tall stilettos.

Straight into Love is an entry I don’t recommend getting involved with at this point.  It’s far too borderline, yet it displays plenty of promise going into the second round of rehearsals.

Croatia’s answer to Il Divo took to the stage before lunch and proceeded to set the standard while singing in front of an idyllic starry constellation with aurora borealis cloud effects.

The six members of Klapa S Mora were all presented in traditional dress and not only looked the part, they sounded the part.  Having highlighted their potential during ourdenmark ticker tape2 first podcast, why oh why were they still so underrated in the markets?

Mizerja has a thoroughly authentic and charming sound.  What’s not to like?  Not only will this genre compete strongly for Balkan votes, the patriotic overtones might stir one or two Bloc nations into awarding a respectable points haul.

Denmark’s Only Teardrops was a facsimile of the Danish Melodi Grand Prix performance, which somewhat nullified the impact of Emmelie’s flawless performance.  One could also suggest that the choreography seemed rather mechanical and hollow. There was arguably an underwhelming feeling among those honest enough to admit it!

Throughout the entire rehearsal slot, Emmelie seemed confused by which camera to look at.  One might have assumed they’d follow the same camera plan used at DMGP.  For what have should been a routine undertaking, they certainly made a right hash of it.

The only time Denmark remotely lived up to its market-leader status was during the final recital when the pyrotechnics were introduced.  During the key change, ticker-tape was released over the stage and fan standing area.  This was complemented by a highly effective sparks shower, which lifted my growing pessimism.

Denmark didn’t feel like a winner today, though it’s sure to perform extremely well!

dina garipova rehearsal 3I was sceptical of Russia’s ability to challenge for a high finish, but those fears have, for the most part, largely subsided despite a few nerves.

Dina wouldn’t be the first Russian female found to be hiding a set of balls, but in this case, Garipova is surrounded on stage by large glowing balloons.

During the early part of the Russian slot, Dina looked exceedingly nervous with her hands visibly shaking.  She soon settled down for the second attempt and gave us more mature, assured recital.

Dina is assisted by four backing singers and they really do complement the ensemble.  The two males are holding a pair of balls throughout the performance, but in what could be seen as the most inappropriate staging ever, the balls are offered up for Dina to fondle.  After which, they are unceremoniously ditched into the crowd.  During the recitals, one of the balls is dropped, which brought howls of laughter and a succession of innuendos.

Dina was wearing an old-fashioned beige dress, which unfortunately blended into the effective background of glowing orbs.  I would be happier so see a much stronger contrast, but the other dress they displayed for the cameras was a dreary grey.  I guess that’ll have to do!

There are old-fashioned overtones to What If and it’s dangerous to assume universal support in a highly contested female-ballad market.  It is a Western leaning composition, but is it assessable or memorable enough?  Either way, it’s sure the rank highly on the jury tally and with Russia’s tight grip on the televote, a very high finish is on the cards.IMG_5176

Where Russia was simple and effortless, Ukraine was overproduced, and overall, a disappointment of giant proportions.  

Zlata was expected to journey through a mystical forest in what was billed as a fairytale presentation.  After one false start and four run-throughs, the Ukrainian fairytale has fast become a horrific nightmare.

The Ukraine is addicted to gimmicks. Like a nicotine urge, the addiction is only satisfied once a sufficient number of bells and whistles have been attached to the song.

Zlata is brought to the stage in the heavy arms of the 2.4 metre giant, Igor Vovkovinskiy and clumsily plonked onto a stone podium.  In all of the rehearsals, the colossal giant failed to land his feet in time with the pre-recorded boom sound-effects.  What’s more, once he’d dispatched Zlata onto the platform, her hair was left covering her face – not an attractive look for our fairytale princess.

That aside, the whole package looked desperate and amateurish like it had been choreographed for a high school production.  It’s a great shame, as Zlata’s powerful vocal is undermined by farcical theatrics.

Rob from entertainmentodds.com suggested this is what the term car crash is reserved for.  I added that train wreck was a more suitable analogy, as there are usually more casualties!

There is much improvement required from the Ukrainian delegation to land Gravity anywhere near the top-10 positions!

Anouk did exactly what she told everyone she would do.  The Netherlands representative just stood on the spot and belted out her song.  No gimmicks.  No frills.  Just silky smooth, note perfect vocals that will attract a huge points total from the juries.

The staging could be bit too simple for the majority of TV viewers, especially considering the Netherland’s traditional lack of support.  I understand and applaud the simplicity, but it concerns me that the Netherlands could be taking things a little too easy!

Who were your winners and losers today? Don’t forget, you can keep track of the day’s events by viewing our live blog and chat room.


About Gavster

Owner & Chief Editor   I’m a qualified designer and the official geek in the crew, dedicating most of my free time to keeping the ESCtips show on the road. My family routes allow me to support the UK, Ireland and Italy.


  1. Thankyou as ever for your hard work Gav.

    The big winners today in relative terms were Russia and Estonia.
    Russia for all the snide comments from the usual suspects is a quality 3 minutes with a very down to earth likeable vocalist.No doubt at all this is a win contender.
    Birgit was perfection as i always new she would be.She oozes class and charisma.Simple and old fashioned but classy with it.
    Birgit is what juries were brought back for.Songs and performers with bad draws and low diaspora that deserve to go through helped by the juries.
    If in dress rehearsal she delivers as she surely will i expect a top 4 jury score (i did before today).

    Denmark was what id expect from the favourite.They didnt care who was watching or what it looked like.They were simply testing every angle,and every look.It was a real rehearsal in that Emmelie has no doubts about her ability so they ran through camera angles etc.Still the favourite by far.

    Anouk was fabulous.I love the simply delivery and the birds flying over her.Obvious massive jury score but might not get a high televote.

    Ukraine was what i thought it might be.A disaster.The song is badly structured and the last thing they need is a ridiculous stage show.Now we have a badly structured song with the biggest mess iv seen for years.What are they thinking?Juries will destroy it if it stays like that.Top vocals wont save a chernobyl of a performance.Its almost like some sort of freak show,very dickensian.

    Luckily tomorrow its schlager day when the lovely Balkan sirens take to the stage.With the shananigans from Ukraine the door is wide open for them to top 3,,,you can keep your giants,,schlagers back tomorrow.

  2. Guys, I need to catch-up today but congrats again for the work you are doing and also for the fact you work together and exchange the info on the fly. I’m amazed you find time to place any bets after all 🙂

    • Frankly, 99% of the hard work is done by Gav. He’s still a git for getting a press pass, though. 🙂

      • With “guys” I was referring to Gav-Daniel-Rob trio 😉

        Anyway, after a quick read it seems to me that first 3 will not qualify and 4-8 will (despite the giant crash).

  3. I first read that Austria’s backing singers were obscured by “a line of glowing pedants”. Which frankly would be more entertaining.

    • I always feel dirty going against an entry that won you money in the national selection but Birgit one side Loreen the other will just show up Austria as a middling x factor song.
      Nothing wrong with it really,nice enough,but its going home i think/hope.

  4. Thanks for this helpful review.
    More info on Netherlands, please. Does “just stood on the spot and belted out her song” mean she doesn’t interact with the camera?
    She knows it’s a TV show, right?

    • She did what Anouk does. It’s like she’s singing in a bus shelter or something. So casual. I think a little to casual, as I referred to in the article.
      On camera it’s fine, but it is far removed from the typical choreographed ESC performances we’ve become used to.

  5. PRESS RELEASE: Zlata Ognevich brings her team to the stage – first rehearsal from Ukraine

    6 May 2013. Today Zlata Ognevich from Ukraine had her first rehearsal on stage in Malmo Arena.

    “Everybody was so welcoming that I immediately felt confident about everything. I know everything will work out the best way possible,” shared Zlata her first impressions.

    Today the name of Zlata’s giant became known. Igor Vovkovinsky, the tallest man living in the United States flew all the way from Minnesota, USA, to be part of Ukraine’s entry performance. Igor is originally from Ukraine when at the age of 7 he moved to the States with his family. Igor, the fantasy giant, will symbolize Zlata’s inner strength which helps her overcome obstacles on the way to her dream.

    Igor Vovkovinsky: “The Arena is very overwhelming and very big, which I wasn’t even expecting. I’ve been inside big arenas but none of them looked so beautiful. The first rehearsal went well but I will take more time to practice my part. I love my costume which was first revealed today. I can’t believe that somebody took so much time to make it look so good. I wanna wear it not just to the show but everywhere”.

    4 powerful backing singers bring the culture from all around the world and add ethnic sound to the song. Ann Bailey-Simons, Hollie Petrie, Cleveland Watkiss from Great Britain and Dasha Mineeva from Ukraine all have a track record of touring and recording with the world known celebrities starting from Stevie Wonder to Bob Dylan. Cleveland Watkiss boasts being known as the best jazz male voice in the world.

    Cleveland Watkiss: “The song is fantastic and has been chiseled to perfection. So now it’s very concise and streamlined. The stage was surreal and felt like another dimension. And the sound was great. The in-ear monitoring was probably one the best I’ve had in my life.”

  6. do you think Netherlands might fail to qualify Andy,,should get a big jury score but televote hard to judge,its not really instant for a quick fire semi is it,

  7. I feel they might fail for two reasons. 1. The Dutch voting strength is almost comically weak. 2. Birds is not remarkable to the first-time listener. Think Finland last year.
    Though obviously I’m not sure. I don’t deal in certainties. Which is why I don’t bet very often.

    • Not to stir the cauldron at all, but speaking as somebody who loved Finland’s entry last year, I have to say Birds made a distinctive impression with me on the very first listen this year. I can understand fully how somebody accustomed to ESC would find it dreary and boring, but during off season I listen to quite a bit of haunting folk and otherwise contemplative music from the likes of Jo Hamilton, Eivor, Nitin Sawhney, Anoushka Shankar and Imogen Heap. Take it from someone who is more familiar with the style – Birds is a great song.

      It’s true and a valid point to say the song might be slightly out of place in the Eurovision Song Contest, but coming after slightly kitsch Russia and reportedly messy Ukraine, I think that to say the Netherlands won’t qualify this year (and they don’t always fail miserably even in the semis) is going too far.

  8. Netherlands is just so underwhelming to me. I appreciate it is well sung and is ‘meaningful’. but I find it dreary and boring. I just can’t see many people voting for it, so it will be relying on the jury. if it gets through, it’s scraping through and no threat to the top 3. in the final it won’t be top 10… no way!

  9. Its interesting but as much as i love the song myself iv backed France and Uk against it for top western Europe and France and Italy against it top big 5.

    I just cant see televoters going for it in a quick fire show like ESC.Iv backed it at 67s so im covered.

    SVT and the EBU need it to qualify though so its almost certain it will get top jury scores.

  10. Great coverage and review, Gav!

  11. Fast forward to 2 minutes and you get most of the Ukraine 1st rehearsal,

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-3cjHM-DZU&w=350&h=263%5D

  12. Great work Gav(and the rest of the team.)

    I’d share the pessimism for the Netherlands chances – to me the song is very inaccessible for a first time listener unaccustomed to her music, particularly on a Saturday night. I think the songs following will be enough to see it through semis night, but for me it will be a lay in the final as I don’t see much casual support heading it’s way.

    PS That Estonian camera shot you mention gav sounds eerily similar to Yohanna’s ‘arm shot’ in 2009 which for some reason is one of my most vivid Eurovision memories.

    • You’re right Beanie. Once you’ve seen the whole semi-final, Estonia doesn’t offer anything more than perhaps Cyprus and the other big-hitting ballads. Cyprus could be the nap qualifier from this semi given how effective it looks on TV. Netherlands NQ and laying Ukraine top-3 are also great shouts. Second rehearsal will confirm some of these speculative thoughts.

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