Firstly it has to be stated that the Eurovision In Concert is by no means an ideal situation to be assessing the chances of this year’s Eurovision entrants. The audience is largely made up fanboys of a ‘certain age’; hardly representative of the actual viewing and voting audience. Most of the artists simply stood on stage and sang, but the key variable of vocal ability is what’s of interest here. Twenty-four countries made the effort to travel to Amsterdam this year.
You’d have thought that absolutely no one in their right mind would’ve picked Poland’s ‘In The Name of Love’ to get the party started, but there you go. Monika sang from her wheelchair in what was a static and boring performance. Vocals and diction were fine, and the song definitely improves at the key change. It was clear that no one was particularly impressed by this. Let’s just say that Poland are very lucky they were given the pimp slot this year.
Montenegro were next, with Knez alone on stage without his backing singers. ‘Adio’ is not one of the most exciting songs of the year, but Knez does well enough trying to sell it. This will hopefully be much, much better in Vienna where the female backing singers will surely be present. Montenegro could well ‘benefit’ from the likes of San Marino, Malta and Azerbaijan being in the same semi too. Value probably lies with backing this for qualification right now, but it’s extremely borderline.
I was excited about seeing Latvia’s Aminata live, who has one of the most intriguing songs with ‘Love Injected’. She delivered a flawless vocal and stood alone on stage. But the problem here is the song. It comes across as odd on first listen, as well as being very jarring and left-field. I could tell the audience were really not feeling this, despite some quite diva-ish armography. I love the song yet I’ve been laying it to qualify on value grounds. With Latvia’s horrendous qualification record and middling draw in its semi, I’m very unlikely to reverse my position unless it’s lifted by some exciting and original staging. And what on earth do the lyrics mean?
Moldova’s ‘I Want Your Love’ was a welcome change in tempo following the three ballads. Eduard Romanyuta isn’t afraid to splash his cash, bringing three backing dancers with him to Amsterdam. The performance was as in the national final, but with somewhat stronger vocals. This was better than I expected, and there is definitely a case for Moldova to qualify. Semi-Final 1 is a friendly one to Moldova on paper, and it’s worth remembering that Eduard himself is Ukrainian. Money could well be changing hands as it is alleged to have done in the Moldovan national selection. But I’m still expecting this to fail – the song is dated, barely anyone actually likes it, which I think is what is most crucial here.
Before travelling to Amsterdam, I was wondering whether or not Greece could be facing their first ever non-qualification with ‘One Last Breath’. I no longer have no such worries. Maria-Elena was fantastic and blew everyone else off the stage up until this point. Her diction was a concern, so I was listening out very carefully for this and she was fine. Vocally, she nailed it and this definitely surprised me. She looks beautiful on stage as well which will certainly help. It’s gone up in my rankings and I reckon this is perhaps one to watch for Top 10.
I had high hopes for Albania before the concert, but Elhaida Dani sadly did not impress with her rendition of ‘I’m Alive’. In her favour, she looked good in a trendy white suit and she moved around the stage well. But the song did not work well live for some reason. It was suggested that she had technical problems, but to me it sounded like she bottled out of attempting the high note. Having had this down as a potential winner, I’ve now well and truly crossed it off my list. It wasn’t terrible, but rather just felt a little flat. The crowd weren’t into it as much as I was hoping either. It should qualify, but I’d be very surprised if it came into contention of winning its semi.
FYR Macedonia are sending one of my favourite songs of the year with ‘Autumn Leaves’. Thankfully, I was very impressed by this. Daniel already sounds convincing, although I’m not sure the song yet lives up to its momentum in the markets. There’s been somewhat fishy money backing them in recent weeks and we do know they’re planning some kind of ‘staging surprise’. The performance was accompanied by a backdrop of falling leaves, like in the national final. If the surprise turns out to be disappointing in Vienna then 1.5 for them to qualify is going to look short. After all, this is FYR Macedonia we’re talking about.
Hungary’s ‘Wars For Nothing’ is a sickly peace ballad which is not particularly strong. Boggie was dressed just like the princess from Frozen which would certainly do her no harm if this was her choice of outfit in Vienna. She was joined on stage by an acoustic guitarist but sans her busking backing singers. Nonetheless, she did a good job vocally and I’m beginning to wonder if this can qualify from the first Semi-Final. The question is, with so many supposedly certain qualifiers in this semi, who would she sneak ahead of? Juries should be appreciative and this cannot be discounted.
Electro Velvet closed the first part of the show for the United Kingdom. To my knowledge, this is their third public performance and this definitely seemed like an improvement. I enjoyed the interplay between Alex and Bianca and it felt like they did have chemistry together. The crowd seemed to appreciate it and I don’t think we can yet rule out it sneaking onto the left side of the scoreboard in the Grand Final. The reaction was obviously not as big as Molly got this time last year, though.
Georgia’s Nina opened the second part of the show, looking FIERCE for her performance of ‘Warrior’. I don’t think this is a particularly good thing, if you look at similar performers from last year. The vocals were strong enough but this is a repetitive song which is always a very long three minutes for me. Georgia have been in danger for too long – the pimp slot given should ensure qualification but this probably doesn’t deserve to go through on song quality alone.
One I was really looking forward to was Belarus, but I have to say I was disappointed. Problems with the diction were the worst of the whole night. This might not matter though for all of the ex-USSR countries voting in Semi-Final 1. Looking at the split results from last year, it looks like Belarus formed the odd ‘relationship’ with one or two nations, which could see their points boosted this year as well. They have been well supported in various markets but I think they’d need a big improvement to be challenging for Top 10. In their favour, the fiddling lady looks good on stage and is a positive distraction from the average vocals. This will probably needs the bells and whistles of an arena stage to look more convincing.
It felt like Christmas came early for the crowd when Serbia’s Bojana came on stage – literally. Bojana was dressed in a hideous/fabulous sparkly pink number which looked like a festive tree decoration. When the dance part of the song kicked in, the crowd went absolutely insane *rolls eyes* and I unfortunately found myself crushed between fanboys and the bar. I can’t say I blame them though; this was the first song with the sound of an old-fashioned schlager of Eurovisions past. For someone who’s supposedly such an impressive singer, I thought the vocals were just ok. Despite being a song with a clear message, ‘Beauty Never Lies’ is one of the weakest songs in the semi and I’d be surprised if it qualified.
John from Cyprus was clearly a little out of place performing his evocative ballad in a club concert environment. The staging was actually very effective with a SYCO-style starry backdrop and focussed spotlights. I thought that ‘One Thing I Should Have Done’ sounded strong and the lyrics of this get me every time. With its late slot in Semi-Final 2, I wonder if it has the potential to spring a Top 3 surprise. But the predominantly fanboy crowd here ruined it by talking all over it, obviously.
Germany’s Ann-Sophie looked and sounded much more confident than in the national final. She was rocking a black dress with a striking silver earring for ‘Black Smoke’. It went down well but I realised the main reason why – the crowd were now drunk. The vocals strayed into shouty territory but I still thought this was pretty good. The fact that she didn’t win the national final also arguably gives her a sympathetic underdog backstory. But I still think this is unlikely to trouble the left-hand side of the leaderboard.
I was looking forward to France about as much as I was for my 10am flight home on Sunday morning. It’s no secret that Lisa Angell is one of the oldest singers in this year’s contest. Is this Nicki French in a wig? She did little to convince me that N’oubliez Pas isn’t one of the worst songs this year, despite some very solid vocals. On this evidence, she isn’t finishing last but she probably isn’t going to be much higher, either. The fanboys obviously loved this a lot because it has a very old-fashioned sound. But for me and most viewers at home this will be more of a case of ‘Don’t Play That Song Again’.
Israel is obviously another fan favourite with its somewhat dated ethno-pop ‘Golden Boy’. To his credit, Nadav Guedj had a vocal strength beyond his sixteen years for the first minute of the song. It’s another fanwank that I expect to be high up the OGAE scoreboard but low down in the juries’ rankings with its dreadful lyrics. With Israel’s recent Eurovision record even worse than San Marino’s, you have to question their ability to qualify this year, even if you find the song enjoyable. Many fans love the song, but just like last year, it’s clear that we don’t beat from the same heart.
Slovenia received definite preferential treatment for their performance of ‘Here For You’. Maraaya not only closed the second part of the show, but they were also allowed to teach the audience how to sing along to the chorus before they began their song. Did I mention Jon Ola Sand was in attendance? Sadly, I don’t think we’ll be coming from Slovenia next year as this was not particularly convincing despite a strong and distinctive vocal. Marjetka Vovk had her trademark headphones which looked cool but she was also wearing an ugly dress that looked like it was fashioned from your nan’s net curtains. Fake violin lady was absent and I actually really missed her.
The audience didn’t care much for Austria, as was to be expected with their Kings of Leon-inspired ‘I Am Yours’. The lead singer of The Makemakes was surprisingly charismatic at the piano, and the vocals were good. But I can’t shake off the feeling that the song never quite lives up to its potential, and it’s difficult to predict how this will fare in the Grand Final.
Norway’s performance was always going to be a very interesting one. To their credit, Deborah’s vocals were stronger than they were at Melodi Grand Prix. But she still looked hideous and has a face like a smacked arse. At the start of the song, she made a creepy entrance at the back of the stage looking somewhat morbid with her dark lipstick. “She’s behind you!” wouldn’t have been totally inappropriate, but I managed to restrain myself. The song quality of ‘A Monster Like Me’ is strong but I can’t help but feel that it’s a bit Georgia 2013. Still, it’s creeped a little up my rankings and should be a Top 3 contender in the western-leaning semi. The crowd loved this one.
Lithuania were one of the overwhelming winners of the night with their rendition of ‘This Time’. It may have had something to do with the fact that the crowd were merry, but this was brilliant and went down extremely well. The chemistry between Monika and Vaidas was superb and seemed authentic. I believe they’re the best looking couple out of all the duets this year, which should work in their favour. They repeated the kiss from the national final performance and looked good in matching outfits. With infinitely more voting power than Malta had last year with a similar song, Lithuania should have no problems with qualification and 600.0-ish on Betfair last night looked generous in the outright. There is definitely potential for a strong finish for this, despite the repetitive nature of the song.
The last ballad of the night came from Azerbaijan. I have mixed feelings on ‘Hour Of The Wolf’. Elnur’s vocals sounded fantastic during the chorus but this was with a heavy backing track. During the verses, his diction was poor and it’s very difficult to understand what he’s singing. It was strong during the climax. I may be in the minority, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Azerbaijan achieved a similar result to last year. Its natural televote power is likely to be very poor indeed and the structure of their song is unusual, but there’s good potential for some dramatic staging in Vienna. We were then told by the host that Turkey are back next year. With Jona Ola Sand in the audience, I doubt they would’ve said this if it wasn’t true.
It was clear by this point that the bookies’ favourites in the outright were being saved until towards the end. Australia’s Guy Sebastian had a false start and asked for his track to be restarted. He was joined by one acoustic guitar player who was utterly pointless in this kind of club setting. Guy is a charismatic and confident vocalist who does a fantastic job of selling ‘Tonight Again’. I had a good look around the room to see that the audience were REALLY enjoying it, with many people singing and bopping along. The “oh-ohh-ohh-ohhhh!” hook will sound so good in Vienna with the audience joining in, a la Malta 2013. The Betfair price contracted as a result of such a strong performance and it looks like Australia are set for a very decent finish. And with the novelty nature of their participation, who knows how high they’ll go?
Sweden’s Mans Zelmerlow was introduced as the “Bookies’ favourite”. He had such a strong performance to follow and I wondered whether or not he could better it. But he absolutely did. Even without the famous visuals and any backdrop whatsoever, Mans stole the show with an extremely confident and engaging performance of ‘Heroes’. The energy in the room was infectious, and this a very adrenaline-filled three minutes. This seemed like the audience’s favourite performance of the night, and it was a total triumph. Vocals were solid and I can’t wait to see how this one looks and sounds in Vienna. Mans was allowed a short interview after his performance, where he proceeded to inform the audience that he funds schools and HIV positive children in South Africa. Hmm……Anyway, the Betfair price drifted ever so slightly afterwards as a result of Australia shortening. But mark my words – Sweden is a very dangerous red!
By this point I had forgotten that The Netherlands were even performing, but it made sense that they were allowed to close the show. After the euphoric high of Sweden’s performance, this felt as flat as a Dutch pancake. Still, ‘Walk Along’ received a polite reception and a light sing along that was actually bettered by the one the previous night at the pre-party. With many Dutch fans even slagging off the song with its piercing, irritating chorus, I doubt very much that it’s going to qualify. Hopefully it’ll be a bit of a fanwank with OGAE so that it contracts a little on Betfair.
If you were at Eurovision In Concert, tell us who you enjoyed below…