Eurovision Song Contest 2016: Semi Final 1 Review

Adrian Kavanagh, 9th May 2016

The post will offer a brief review of the 18 acts competing in the first of the two semi-finals for the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest. This contest will take place over two nights, with the professional juries voting on the contest taking place on the night of Monday 9th May, while the public will vote on the televised show, which takes place on the night of Tuesday 10th May.

As well as offering a brief commentary on each of the 18 songs in this contest, this post will also rate each song/act/country based on (a) that country’s past qualification record (out of semi-finals competed in between 2004 and 2014, (b) the latest Bookie odds (based on Paddy Power odds as at 10.00am on Tuesday 10th May) and (c) placings as estimated by my Eurovision prediction model. For each of these categories, ***** will mean “almost certain to qualify”, **** will mean “probable qualifier”, *** will mean “borderline qualifier”, ** will mean “borderline non-qualifier” and * will mean “unlikely to qualify”.

(I’ll also given my own personal rating for each act/song. In this case, ***** will mean “I love this to bits”, **** will mean “I really like this”, *** will mean “I think this is pretty good”, ** will mean “Mmm, I guess this is OK-ish” and * will mean “Er, sorry, not my cup of tea”. But do make up your own mind on these entries by checking out the Monday afternoon dress rehearsals – the final rehearsal before the very important Monday night show – for all of these acts, by checking out the Wiwibloggs video playlist on YouTube.)

1. Finland: Sing It Away – Sandjha. Swedish TV choose an appropriately uptempo act to open this semi-final – and indeed this year’s contest. But this disco-styled entry seems a bit too dated, in my opinion, and isn’t really helped by the staging to the same extent that Laura Tesoro’s staging enhances Belgium’s entry in Semi Final 2.

Past Qualification: *** (6 out of 11 attempts), Bookies: **, Prediction Model: ***, AK Rating: *

2. Greece: Utopian Land – Argo. While there will be a lot of focus on Ukraine’s entry this year, Greece’s entry is probably the most political entry in this year’s contest and the recorded version of this song is perhaps only made memorable for the fact that it almost comes across as a campaign song for Syriza. It’s not helped by having to perform second on the night either – one of the acts placed between 2nd and 4th in the running order that seem to have been “sacrificed” by the running order decisions made by the Swedish TV hosts. Against that, the staging will help the live version come across much better than the recorded version, while the impact of the Greek diaspora cannot be discounted…

Past Qualification: ***** (9 out of 9 attempts), Bookies: **, Prediction Model: ****, AK Rating: *

3. Moldova: Falling Star – Lidia Isac. One of the most underrated entries in this year’s contest in my opinion, this is the rank outsider in this semi-final, based on the Bookies odds, but also because it’s been slotted in to perform third on the night, the worst position to get in a semi-final running order based on the statistics for past semi-final contests. But I think this is a much better song that it’s being given credit for and I really like Lidia Isac as a performer. Moldova also tend to qualify, or come close to qualifying, on a fairly regular basis and this is a far superior entry to last year’s Moldovan entry which finished 11th in their semi-final (although this semi-final is a much tougher one than last year’s first semi-final).

Past Qualification: *** (7 out of 10 attempts), Bookies: *, Prediction Model: **, AK Rating: *****

4. Hungary: Pioneer – Freddie. Hungary consistently sends solid entries to Eurovision and this year’s act is another example of this. Freddie’s raspy vocals are probably the main selling point for this song. In most years, this act would be an almost certain qualifier, but this is an unusually strong year and this is a very competitive semi-final and Hungary may not be helped by their poor running order allocation.

Past Qualification: **** (7 out of 9 attempts), Bookies: ***Prediction Model: ***, AK Rating: ***

5. Croatia: Lighthouse – Nina Kraljić. After a few years away from the contest, Croatia return with their strongest entry since their golden era of the late 1990s; a song that not a lot unlike sounds like an Ellie Goulding single. Based on the song alone, this would be looked on as an almost certain qualifier. However, Nina does not have a great position in the running order and the, er unusual, costume choice may distract viewers from the quality of the song and her vocals.

Past Qualification: ** (4 out of 9 attempts), Bookies: ***, Prediction Model: **, AK Rating: **** (song)/** (staging)

6. The Netherlands: Slow Down – Douwe Bob. The Netherlands brought an awful run of non-qualifications to an end with two Top 10 finishes in 2013 and 2014, although they missed out on the Final again last year. A country and  western entry from the Common Linnets brought the Dutch their best result at Eurovision for almost 40 years in 2014 and we again get another country and western entry this year. it’s hard yet to see whether this will have the same impact as their 2014 entry did, but Douwe Bob is more than strong enough vocally and performance-wise to probably see this through to the Final.

Past Qualification: * (3 out of 12 attempts), Bookies: ***, Prediction Model: **, AK Rating: ***

7. Armenia: LoveWave – Iveta Mukuchyan. In terms of the structure of Lovewave, this amounts a rather unusual entry – especially the first minute of this song – and it really cannot be accused of being a “typical Eurovision” entry. However, Iveta Mukuhcyan has been storming the rehearsals so far and – especially given the voting power of the Armenian diaspora – this looks like an almost certain qualifier and may (on a good day) even give Russia some competition in terms of the act that goes on to win this particular semi-final.

Past Qualification: **** (7 out of 8 attempts), Bookies: *****, Prediction Model: ****, AK Rating: ****

8. San Marino: I Didn’t Know – Serhat. This started out as a rather odd ballad, with a very strange promotional video, which did make this entry somewhat memorable at least. This has, however, now been changed to a disco style entry that is more in keeping with a set at Vegas in the 1970s than it is with the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest. Sandwiched between Armenia and Russia, this act is as unlikely to qualify for the Final as Leicester were to win the 2015-16 Premiership title…hang on a minute!?!

Past Qualification: * (1 out of 6 attempts), Bookies: *, Prediction Model: **, AK Rating: *

9. Russia: You Are The Only One – Sergey Lazarev. Signalling some serious intent, Russia send probably their biggest act to this year’s Eurovision and are currently strong favourites to win the contest. Expect to see a staging that will even outshine Sweden’s staging from last year, although some purists may think this is a little too busy. On another hand, it could be argued that this entry offers homage to past entries, such as Sweden 2015, Ukraine 2008 and even Germany 1998. Personally, I find that the song is OK, but it does sound more like a song that would have won the contest back in 2006, rather than in 2016, although it has grown on me somewhat in the last few weeks. That being said, Sergey Lazarev’s star quality, the staging and the power of the Russian diaspora vote should ensure that this is highly likely to, at least, make the Top 3. He’s a consumate professional and still nails the vocals, while negotiating some tricky and highly complex choreography, as a leaked video from the Monday night dress rehearsal/jury contest shows! The Swedish TV producers have also given this the last possible position in the running order that could be taken by an act drawn to perform in the First Half of this semi-final.

Past Qualification: ***** (8 out of 8 attempts), Bookies: *****, Prediction Model: *****, AK Rating: ***

10. Czech Republic: I Stand – Gabriela Gunčíková. The most unsuccessful country in the recent history of Eurovision sends its strongest ever entry, by some distance, to the contest. The song is pretty good, but it’s the vocal power and performance ability of Gabriela Gunčíková that really makes this stand out. It would be a travesty if this does not qualify, but such a scenario can’t really be ruled out given the Czechs’ past record in the contest and the fact that they have few Eurovision voting “friends” (from neihgbourly and/or diaspora voting). This really should get a significant boost from the voting juries, but that remains to be seen. This has not been helped at all by its positioning in the contest running order – being given the earliest possible position that could be given to an act drawn to perform in the Second Half of this semi-final and being slotted in to perform directly after the contest favourites. Thanks Swedish TV…not.

Past Qualification: * (0 out of 4 attempts), Bookies: ****, Prediction Model: *, AK Rating: *****

11. Cypus: Alter Ego – Minus One. Cyprus send one of their best entries in years to Eurovision (a common theme across a lot of countries this year), with this pretty good rock entry from Minus One, which is enhanced by some very strong vocals from their lead singer. Some early issues in the staging seem to have been resolved during rehearsals and this will be very much in the mix to make the Final. In another year, this would comfortably make it, but…

Past Qualification: ** (4 out of 10 attempts), Bookies: ****, Prediction Model: **, AK Rating: ****

12. Austria: Loin d’ici – Zoë. An Austrian entry in the French language shouldn’t work, but this does. J’adore! – this has real charm and Zoë Straub is an amazing vocallist and performer. She’s also been going down a storm with Eurovision fans any time she’s performed this live at the contest preview shows and being a fan favourite definitely helped Serbia and Israel at last year’s contest. Against that, as in the case of the Czech Republic, Austria do not have many friends in terms of Eurovision voting patterns – Conchita’s win in 2014 was a blip in the usual trend of weaker Austria results at the contest – and this is not not a great position in the running order either. And then there’s the “curse of last year’s hosts” to also factor in!  I really hope this makes the Final, but…

Past Qualification: * (2 out of 6 attempts), Bookies: **, Prediction Model: **, AK Rating: *****

13. Estonia: Play – Jüri Pootsmann. An interesting and rather retro entry from Estonia this year. Estonia made the Top 10 last year (and really deserved to make the Top 5 or even the Top 3) and the country has had some good results at the contest over the past few years after a poor run of form in the years immediately following their hosting of the contest in 2002. This is vocally solid and well performed, but may prove a little too “cold” for the Eurovision viewers. Mind you, the same was said about Belgium in 2015…

Past Qualification: ** (5 out of 12 attempts), Bookies: **, Prediction Model: ***, AK Rating: ***

14. Azerbaijan: Miracle – Samra. Azerbaijan have had an excellent record at Eurovision since debuting at the contest back in 2008, although their results have not been as impressive over the past two years, let down by an over-obscure song in 2014 and ove-obscure staging in 2015! The recorded version of this year’s entry sounds really good and really modern, but the staged version doesn’t seem to be having the same impact, based on the earlier rehearsals. This could be down, in part, to health issues for Samra in the earlier part of Eurovision week and her vocals were stronger in the final dress rehearsal on the Monday afternoon. But the choreography does not seem to do much for the entry and doesn’t really seem to gel with what this song is about – it might work better with just Samra on stage without the sometimes over-excited dancers/backing singers – and there’s also a sense that maybe Azerbaijan haven’t yet regained their lost Midas touch from the 2008-13 period. On past records, Azerbaijan would be viewed as certainties to qualify here, but nothing is guaranteed in this highly competitive semi-final.

Past Qualification: ***** (7 out of 7 attempts), Bookies: ***, Prediction Model: *****, AK Rating: **** (recorded version)/*** (staged version)

15. Montenegro: The Real Thing – Highway. After missing out on the Final in their first three attempts, Montengro opted for the Balkan ballad route in 2014 and 2015 and this brought the new state back-to-back Final appearances. This year’s entry marks a 360 degree turn away from the last two years, with a rock entry from Montenegrin boyband, Highway. It’s probably not lyrically strong enough to win the approval of the juries and can get rather repetitive very quickly, but it does sound a lot more current than some other entries in this year’s contest and Highway can’t be faulted for the quality of their vocals. Montenegro have at least tried to bring something different to Eurovision this year, but in this strong field it would be a major shock to see this make the Final.

Past Qualification: ** (2 out of 5 attempts), Bookies: *, Prediction Model: **, AK Rating: **

16. Iceland: I Hear Them Calling – Greta Salomé. This will be Greta Salomé’s second appearance at Eurovision, having reached the 2012 Final with Never Forget (in a duet with Jónsi). I personally prefer Never Forget to I Hear Them Calling, but Greta Salomé is a really good performer and the staging for this act is particularly memorable – the key words here being “Watch the Hands”! There’s a 1960s folksy vibe that will have an appeal for some viewers. Performing third from the end of the show won’t hurt Iceland’s prospects either…

Past Qualification: *** (7 out of 11 attempts), Bookies: ***, Prediction Model: ***, AK Rating: ***

17. Bosnia and Herzegovina: Ljubav je – Dalal & Deen feat. Ana Rucner and Jala: Between 2004 and 2012 Bosnia had an excellent run of form at Eurovision and consistently qualified out of each semi-final that they contested during this period, with this success being mainly based on a solid series of Balkan ballad entries. The county however missed the next three contests (2013, 2014 and 2015) and finally return to Eurovision this year with another Balkan ballad, albeit with some rapping added into the final part of the song. Montenegro’s qualifications in 2014 and 2015 suggest that Balkan ballads can still cut it at Eurovision, while the very strong qualification record for semi-final acts performing in the second-last position in the running order has to also give this a significant boost. This is not bad at all (although the rap part jars a bit) but it’s not one of my favourites in this very strong semi-final, but all four artists are undoubtedly very good at what they do…and Deen’s proved himself a very versatile performer, given the very different style of song (In The Disco) that he performed to bring Bosnia to a 9th place finish in the 2004 Final. The staged version of this song is also far superior to the recorded version and this must be viewed as having an excellent chance of qualifying for the Final from this position in the running order.

Past Qualification: ***** (7 out of 7 attempts), Bookies: **, Prediction Model: ****, AK Rating: **

18. Malta: Walking On Water – Ira Losco: Malta has won two of the last three Junior Eurovision Song Contests, but the country has yet to win (the “senior”) Eurovision. Ira Losco came closest to doing so for Malta back in 2002, finishing second in the Taalin Final and losing out by just 12 points to Latvia’s Marie N. She returns to the contest 14 years, having won the Maltese national selection with Chameleon but subsequently changing her song to the much stronger Walking On Water. Since then, she’s been consistently ranked in the Top 10 of the Bookie odds in terms of which act will win the contest outright. She is a very strong performer, although the staging of the song does not seem to be overtly striking or do much to enhance her strong vocals. But…a strong contender slotted in to perform last in a semi-final…this suggests a highly probably qualification, even allowing for the fact that Malta’s qualification record since 2004 has not been the strongest.

Past Qualification: ** (5 out of 10 attempts), Bookies: *****, Prediction Model: ***, AK Rating: ***

Top 10 based on Past Semi Final Qualification Record: 1. Greece, 2. Russia, 3j. Azerbaijan Bosnia and Herzegovina, 5. Armenia, 6. Hungary, 7. Moldova, 8. Iceland, 9. Finland, 10. Malta (This only predicted five of the qualifiers as Greece and Bosnia-Herzegovina both failed to qualify from a Eurovision semi-final for the first time ever, while consistent non-qualifiers, Austria and The Netherlands, both qualified and the Czech Republic appears in a Eurovision Final for the first time ever.)

Top 10 based on Bookie Odds to Qualify out of Semi Final 1: 1. Russia, 2. Armenia, 3. Malta, 4. Czech Republic 5j. Cyprus/The Netherlands/Iceland, 8. Hungary, 9. Croatia, 10. Azerbaijan (Scarily accurate, in fairness. Only one country listed here – Iceland – missed out on qualification, being replaced by Austria, which the betting odds had down as a borderline non-qualifier…)

Top 10 based on AK Prediction Model Estimates: 1. Azerbaijan, 2. Russia3. Greece  4. Armenia, 5. Bosnia and Herzegovina, 6j. Malta/Hungary, 8. Iceland, 9. Estonia, 10. Finland (Not a good contest for the prediction model, suggesting that neighbourly/diaspora voting and running order effects seemed to have less of an impact than normally the case, possibly due to the growing influence of the voting juries. Only five of the countries predicted to qualify here, with two of the countries expected to figure in the Top 5 – Greece and Bosnia-Herzegovina – actually missing out qualification.)

My Own Personal Favourites – Top 10: 1. Austria, 2. Czech Republic, 3. Moldova, 4. Azerbaijan, 5. Russia, 6. The Netherlands, 7. Armenia, 8. Croatia, 9. Malta, 10. Estonia/Iceland (Eight of my nine favourite entries made it through to the Final, so I’m happy with that…)




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