Whereas semi-final 1 seems to be a process of eliminating a couple of amber nations, semi-2 is much more complex, and from a gambling perspective, there’s value, but also potential losses should a big name fall or a minnow unexpectedly make the cut.
In The Green:
With two songs up for grabs from Persson & Milanov, Serbia opted for In to Deep, whereas FYRoM went with Dance Alone. I think that was a wise choice, as In To Deep delivers the most contemporary and impactful sound. Quite where that gets them in the final is up for debate, but in this friendly semi, Serbia really should be qualifying. Early evidence suggests Tijana is more vocally reliable than Jana, who lip-synced at a number of the pre-concerts. Tijana hasn’t been perfect, but then I don’t think she’s been trying. The slowed down version showed she’s capable when she can be bothered.
Despite its amateur national final presentation, Romania could be this year’s Beauty Never Lies; a song that comes alive on the Eurovision stage and sneaks a top-10 finish. I can also envisage Graham Norton calling it the dark horse on the BBC commentary. There is a certain charm about these two, and with the right stage branding – and as long as the Romanian diaspora turns up – they could nab a top-3 finish in this semi-final. If the odds are right, it’s worth a few shekels.
Hungary’s Joci Pápai will be hoping the Roma community turns out far more than they did for Esma & Lozano in 2013. On their side, Origo is at least credible, and in recognising that, I doubt juries will be unreasonably harsh with their marking. It remains an amber shade of green until we see how it comes together in rehearsals, though surprisingly, fans have been quite receptive to Hungary’s entry at the pre-concerts.
Anja’s powerhouse vocal should see Denmark make the final for the first time in three years. The song doesn’t look particularly dangerous in the final, in fact I expect it to suffer the classic jury-drop and finish around 12th-18th. It’s a slightly better version of Elhaida Dani’s I’m Alive, and like the Albanian, Anja can get a bit shouty and breathy in parts.
Norway also look set to join their regional allies in the final, with JOWST receiving positive fan reaction at all of the pre-Eurovision concerts. The song is no record breaker, but it’s refreshingly different and very well delivered. Both Nordic nations are a little short on support, but given the low bar in this semi, both should make it through to the Grand Final.
The Bulgaria debate has been firing on all cylinders of late with some arguing that Beautiful Mess lacks the punch to win Eurovision. In other years I would tend to agree with that assessment, but we’re not in a normal year. The bar is low and many of the alternatives to Italy are on the lower end of the BPM spectrum. In thinking what the juries might go for (both east and west), it’s difficult to ignore the potential of Kostov’s radio-friendly song. One never knows until rehearsals, but based on song and vocal quality, I’ve found it more reassuring to have Bulgaria on side. Would I back the current odds? Only if I was majorly red, which I’m not. Bulgaria looks a worthy favourite to win this semi-final, but given the short price, it’s always worth looking for higher odds challengers. As a side note, if Kristian wants to ad-lib during the song, he needs to settle on when and what he’s going to do, as he noticeably drifted off key in Israel. At Eurovision his backing singers need to know what he’s doing, otherwise the vocal mix will sound messy. This wasn’t the case in Amsterdam or Spain and I am reliably informed this was deliberate, so it appears he’s listening to his team. Good move!
Might Estonia be one of those long-odds challengers? If their national final chemistry is anything to go by, probably not. Verona is one of the catchiest songs in this year’s lineup, but as hinted above, the chemistry between Koit and Laura could be described as wooden. Back in 2014 The Common Linnets set the bar for staging a duet. Verona is less of a love song and more late-80s Kylie & Jason in approach. So the challenge here is get Koit and Laura to have fun on stage, rather than choreographed to within an inch of their lives like Nodi & Sophie were in 2013.
The power of the pimp slot should see Israel make the final too. I Feel Alive isn’t the new Golden Boy and nor is it particularly cutting edge, yet there’s enough energy and quality to see it through. Imri also has the vocals to carry the song.
In The Mix:
Jana was much improved in Israel and Amsterdam, but doubts remain over her ability to muster enough support to guarantee qualification, especially with stronger upbeat entries in this semi-final. It’s also fairly clear that she’s not used to performing upbeat songs – her lack of rhythm and ability to connect has been apparent throughout the pre-Contest parties. FYRoM have only qualified once since 2008, so the stats are not on Jana’s side.
Now Russia have withdrawn from the Contest, Malta’s qualification prospects have improved greatly. While Claudia’s song is dated, it is uplifting and she is convincing in her delivery. Furthermore, unlike Amber from 2015, Claudia is much more relatable and telegenic. If not Malta, then maybe Switzerland with the more contemporary song and their equally telegenic singer who is desperately pushing her Romanian roots. Timebelle were impressive in Israel, so they really shouldn’t be discounted just yet, although lead-singer, Miruna, is prone to drifting off key – one to watch with the juries!
We need to see much more from the Netherlands before calling them red or green. On song alone, they are very much red, but as some commenters have mentioned, the are vocally impressive. At this point I sway slightly more towards non-qualification due to the lack of a prominent hook and melody, but I fully respect the notion they could qualify on vocals alone.
Brendan’s vocal was a bit wayward at the Israel Calling pre-concert and was seen struggling with the in-ear sound feed. Christer has helped Ireland with this running slot, but sandwiched between the vocal powerhouse of Anja and the surprisingly good (in live form) disco number from San Marino, it’s still an uphill struggle for the 20-year old, especially if he continues to miss those big notes in May.
Being distinctive and among friends helps Croatia’s cause. My Friend is totally mad and it’s that element that could help it standout to televoters in the same way that Romania’s Cezar did in 2013, albeit with much less diaspora. I would say I’m leaning slightly more towards non-qualification, but I will be eagerly waiting Houdek’s first rehearsal in May. If the Netherlands are are hoping to qualify on vocals, then by rights Croatia should also be in with a shot.
If the pre-concerts have proven one thing, it’s that Belarus feels like a very long 3-minutes without proper staging. As is a common theme in this semi-final, it’s difficult to accurately predict Navi Band’s progression in the contest despite their infectious performance style. And with Russia out, that’s a crucial set of hard, friendly points wiped from their total. Laying or backing Belarus for qualification isn’t really something I’m confident to do at this time.
Down And Out:
Despite highlighting San Marino’s disco energy above, it’s still an uphill struggle for them to qualify, despite Shell’s ironic pro-San Marino post. I traded a green position having backed 13s and may back more if I see their chances improve at rehearsals. Valentina finished 11th in the semi in 2013, but then qualified at the third time of asking in 2014. This is arguably her best entry in what is a low quality semi-final.
Nathan Trent was quite fancied as a potential dark horse until Christer shoved him in slot 2. That makes it incredibly difficult for Austria to stand out with what comes after them in the running order. As a song it’s rather forgettable and the Justin Timberlake comparisons were rather flattering. I think Imri will drain away any ‘looks based’ support at the end of the running order.
Lithuania sort of speaks for itself. Who will vote for this outside of their diaspora? Their support still has to be respected, but I think they are exposed in this semi-final compared to last year.
We’ll have our semi-2 preview podcast published on Tuesday. In the meantime, share your qualifiers below.