Adrian Kavanagh, 20th May 2012
Forty two countries will take part in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Baku, Azerbaijan, involving two semi finals and a final with these contests running from 22nd May until the 26th May. Six of these have an automatic bye to the final, which this year will comprise of twenty six different acts, one more than in the previous few years; these being the hosts, Azerbaijan, and the “Big 5″ countries, Germany, France, Spain, the United Kingdom and Italy. The other thirty six countries will be taking part in the contest’s two semi finals, to be held on the Tuesday and Thursday before final night, and vying for the other twenty places in the final, with eighteeen countries taking part in each of these semi finals. Ireland’s Jedward will take part in the first semi final and will perform last on the night, as they did in the second of the semi finals in Dusseldorf last year.
As noted before, the semi final draw is usually designed in such a way as to limit the effects of bloc voting and the advantages accruing to, countries which usually can bank on good neighbourly and/or diaspora voting support, but this year the draw seems to have clustered similar types of entries into the different semi final contests. The second of the semi finals is largely dominated by ballad entries and in particular ballads from the Balkan region, such as the entries from Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Slovenia, which in turn probably increases the prospects of the more uptempo acts in that semi final, such as Sweden and Norway, of standing out amongst the other acts and making it out of the semi final. (Personally, I really love Slovenia’s Balkan ballad.)
The first of the two semi finals includes, by contrast, a stronger uptempo feel but also the largest number of novelty acts in a Eurovision contest since the ill-fated first semi final of the 2008 Belgrade contest. And I am not including Jedward in the list of novelty acts either… So let’s have a look at who’s who in this semi final.
1. Montenegro: Euro Neuro, Rambo Amadeus – Commencing with some bizarre post-Soviet (or maybe pre-Soviet ranting), this segues into two and a half minutes of Montenegrin mumble rap. Let’s just say that this is different… Rehearsals suggest that there is little more to expect from this other than utter barminess and a very big Trojan donkey, while Rambo looks as if he really doesn’t want to be there… He may not be the only one not wanting him to be there come 8.15pm on Tuesday. No chance of qualifying and a storng contender to finish last in this semi final, possibly even with the dreaded nils points.
2. Iceland: Never Forget, Greta Salome and Jonsi – Ah from the ridicolous to the sublime. Those of us with a relatively long Eurovision memory will remember Jonsi from the drowning-by-ballads 2004 Istanbul Final where he performed just before Chris Doran. Despite finishing in 19th place in that contest, there was no doubting his vocal ability especially when he “let rip” in the key change (which also did for any chances Chris had of making any impact on that Eurovision). This song, in which he duets with Greta Salome, is for me one of the best songs in this year’s contest and despite getting one of the worst possible draws in this semi final this should be a likely qualifier and a contender to do very well in the Final. This is coming across very strong in rehearsals and Iceland definitely knows how to stage a ballad, as we saw with Yohanna and ”Is It True?” in 2008.
3. Greece: Aphrodisiac, Eleftheria Eleftheriou - Hot on the heels of one of the better ballads in this year’s contest comes what should be one of the better uptempo entries in the contest and Greece always does well with Med-pop acts like this, especially with female vocalists. Rehearsals are posing some concerns though and the choreography for the Eurovision contest is less ambitious than Eleftheria had in the pared-back Greek final. Greece has never failed to qualify from a semi final since these were introduced in 2004 and despite the rehearsal issues they should keep that record in 2012 on the basis of a reliable diaspora and friends and neighbours vote. If the sound issues in rehearsals get sorted out and if Eleftheria gets a late draw in the final, this could well end up doing a Kalomira and be a dark horse for a Top 3 position in the final; the performance is needing a “lot of work” at the moment but it is worth remembering that Greece has been in the Top 10 at every Eurovision Final since 2004 and this year’s entry is a lot better than many of these previous Greek entries.
4. Latvia: Beautful Song, Anmary – Latvia had a very good record of qualifying from Eurovision semi finals for the first few years after these were first introduced but it has now been a number of years since the Latvians made a Eurovision final. This hippie-ish entry is well sung by Anmary but its silly lyrics means that it gets classed as one of the sillier song in this semi final. It also name checks Johny Logan. Not without hopes of making the final, but may be nixed by the early draw and the large number of strong contenders in this section of the first semi final.
5. Albania: Suus, Rona Nishliu - This is a song that is going to divide Europe. It will have its fans, impressed by Rona’s amazing vocals and passionate performance, but others may be reaching in despair for the volume controls as this is, let’s just say, very full on and wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea. It strikes as the kind of song and performance that may work better when viewed live rather on TV, in which case it may be needing a big vote from the juries to get this through to the final. I think this could be a very likely prospect.
6. Romania: Zaleilah, Mandinga – While the Russian grannies are in this semi final and tipped as serious contenders to win Eurovision this year and Denmark are also expected to do well, there are two serious dark horses in this semi final who could well go on to pose a serious challenge for the final honours. One of those is Iceland (as discussed above), while the other is this act from Romania, a bright breezy and catchy piece of pop which also features some bagpipes to keep the Scottish televoters happy. This is going down very well in rehearsals and looks a certain qualifier from this semi final – if the Russian grannies do not win this semi final then this could be song to win it.
7. Switzerland: Unbreakable, Sinplus – Switzerland has probably been one of the unluckier Eurovision countries in recent years,n always making the effort to send a good act to the contest (their 2004 blip aside and possibly their 2010 entry also) but only having qualified for the final on two occasions over the past decade. Even when they finally qualified for the final last year for the first time since 2005, the Swiss act rather undeservedly ended up finishing last in the final. This year’s Swiss entry is a good pop-rock song and would not be out in the final by any means, but may be chasing the same type of vote as Hungary’s Compact Disco (who have the advantage of a later draw) and are also unlucky enough to be drawn to perform close to a number of other strong contenders and to follow on after Mandinga. This could yet be another Swiss “probably should have qualified” story…
8. Belgium: Would You?, Iris – Like Switzerland, Belgium is another country that probably should have qualified for more Eurovision finals than it has, although there has also been a number of less worthy efforts over the past few years also, including last year’s highly irritating Belgian entry, which came close enough to beating Jedward for a place in the Dusseldorf final. Iris is not making much impact on the bookies’ odds, but this is a well-sung and pleasant ballad from one of this year’s younger contestants. Belgium’s sole win in 1986 came with another young female soloist. They probably won’t get a similar result this year but this could well score well enough with the juries to make it out of the semi final.
9. Finland: När Jag Blundar, Pernilla Karlsson - Finland was Eurovision’s perennial underachievers untill Lordi achieved victory in 2006 and the country’s record has not been too bad over the past few years in terms of qualifying from Eurovision semi finals. The only Swedish entry in the contest (and as far as I can make out, the first Swedish entry in the contest since the abolition of the native language rule in the late 1990s) and another ballad immediately following on from Belgium, this may be lacking enough spark to stand out enough to take one of the ten qualifying spots, but it is still in contention to make it through.
10. Israel: Time, Izabo - After Belgium and Finland’s ballads comes something totally different from Israel, a bit of a 1980s throwback that mixes elements of The Cure with that music they used to play each morning on RTE Radio at the start of broadcasting. Given its position in the draw this will stand out and Israel do have a relatively good Eurovision record over the past few years, but it may also be a bit too quirky for both the juries and the televoters. But again this will be in contention for one of the final spots.
11. San Marino: The Social Networking Song (Oh Oh Uh Oh Oh), Valentina Monetta - Oh my… The sort of song that gives Eurovision a bad name. San Marino has the shortest history of any Eurovision country and their only two entries to date have been credible but non-qualifiers. Deciding that credibility has not worked, this year they’ve tried to go for the I love Belarus-so bad it’s good approach. This isn’t going to make it to the final and could well end up with nils points unless it gets a friends and neighbours vote from Italy or perplexes enough televoters to pick up a few points that way. Uh oh…indeed.
12. Cyprus: La La La Love, Ivi Adamou – Since finishing 5th in 2004, the Eurovision record of Cyprus has not been great and they have only qualified from the semi final on one other occasion since then (2010), but they should have a good chance of breaking that run of bad form this year with one of the better pop tunes in this year contest and rehearsals point to a good performance from Ivi Adamou on semi final night also. One drawback however is that the Greek entry is quite similar to this (and both entries are also fronted by young Cypriot soloists) so there may be a danger that Cyprus end up losing out on points to Greece, though the deuze points from Athens may well compensate for this.
13. Denmark: Should’ve Known Better, Soluna Samay- Presenting the song that may well get the deuze points from Ireland in this semi final (unless these go to Latvia) and probably will get the Irish deuze points in the final, this is yet another MOR/country-ish song from Denmark and the Danish formula in recent years has brought that country a relatively good level of success in the contest. This entry is amongst the ten songs tipped by the bookies as serious contenders for overall victory and on that basis would be expected to make it out of this semi final. While this isn’t really my cup of tea, I see no reason to disagree.
14. Russia: Party For Everybody, Buranovskiye Babushki – Be afraid, be very afraid, as these cuddly Russian grannies could well be the Lordi of 2012. This is virtually certain to qualify from this semi final and will be in serious contention to win the televote on final night (friends and neighbours votes in the east, guilty grandchildren votes in the west) and the juries may well be the only thing standing between Russia and a potential second Eurovision success as this song is hardly Bohemian Rhapsody and sounds, er, not very good. But this is the act with the X Factor this year and this is one of the serious contenders to win this semi final and indeed the whole contest…
15. Hungary: Sound Of Hearts, Compact Disco – One of the two credible pop-rock acts in this semi final along with Switzerland, this is coming across well in rehearsals and is definitely good enough to make it out of this semi final. Coming on immediately after the grannies may not be an ideal draw position, but on the other hand the later draw position can’t but help especially if Hungary and Switzerland are vying for just one final place for a pop-rock act.
16. Austia: Woki mit deim Popo, Trackshittaz – Prepare for the introduction to Eurovision of tractor rap, as well as a rather saucy show with these two boys effectively representing what Jedward would be like if they moved “up the country” and fell into bad company. Thankfully this is drawn to come on after the watershed however. This act has been struggling in rehearsals and if it doesn’t make enough of an impact on stage then tractor rap will have to wait another year before it makes its way to a Eurovision final.
17. Moldova: Lăutar, Pasha Parfenny - For me, along with Finland this is one of the more forgetable entries in this semi final, but it is coming across well in rehearsals and this kind-of-reggaeish tune does have its fans, while Moldova does have quite a number of friends voting in this semi final and since their debut in 2005 (remember granny and the drum?) Moldova have only failed to make it out of the semi finals on one occasion (no doubt related to some worrying singing to Teddy action) in the infamous 2008 Belgrade semi final. This will be there or thereabouts when the final places are decided no doubt.
18. Ireland: Waterline, Jedward – Hmm, I haven’t heard too much about this entry but am glad to see Ireland is keeping up with the great Eurovision tradition of bringing acts that have achieved success in reality TV music shows and indeed they’re bringing the same former reality show act that excelled in Dusseldorf last year! Yes indeed, our chances of making it to the final are helped in no little part by the fact that yet again we are sending to Eurovision…
…Leanne Moore. Yes my all time favourite You’re A Star contestant will be gracing the Eurovision stage for a second year in a row and this is no doubt a good thing. A very good thing. There’s some guys called Jedward also involved, but to be honest I don’t know too much about them… Oh yes, also watch out for the fountain, which will no doubt raise Phil Hogan’s water charging ire.
So how would I call this semi final?
Russia and Romania are virtually certain to qualify. Iceland, Denmark and Greece would also be highly likely to make it out of this semi final.
On the other hand, Montenegro and San Marino are highly unlikely to qualify and it is also not looking good for Latvia and Austria’s prospects either.
So there’s effectively nine countries vying for the last five qualifying spots. I think Cyprus should make it, though that isn;t always a guarantee… I think, given the way that juries vote, that there will be two other ballads joining Iceland out of this semi final and I think Albania will prove very jury friendly, despite the highly challenging nature and marmite qualities of this song, while I would pip Belgium to edge ahead of Finland to also take a final spot. There is probably one final qualifying spot, and probably just one, for the two pop-rock acts and voting history and draw position would probably edge Hungary ahead of Switzerland for this spot. This leaves Ireland, Moldova and Israel to probably fight it out for the last of the final qualifying spots, or the last two spots if the votes don’t go to Cyprus on the night.
I think these countries will qualify: Russia, Romania, Iceland, Greece, Denmark, Albania, Cyprus, Hungary, Belgium and Ireland (fingers crossed)
I would personally like to see these countries qualify: Iceland, Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Belgium, Ireland, Switzerland, Hungary, Austria (if they can get their act sorted out), Israel.
Photos are from the official Eurovision Song Contest website