Eurovision Song Contest 2016: Semi Final 2 Review

Adrian Kavanagh, 10th May 2016

Following on the previous post reviewing Semi Final 1, this post will offer a brief review of the 18 acts competing in the second of the two semi-finals for the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest. 19 countries were initially drawn to participate in this semi-final but the expulsion of Romanian TV station TVR from the EBU meant that Romanian act, Ovidiu Anton, was very unfortunately disqualified from the contest, literally days before rehearsals commenced in Stockholm. As in the case of Semi Final 1 (and also the Final), this contest will take place over two nights, with the professional juries voting on the contest taking place on the night of Wednesday 11th May, while the public will vote on the televised show, which takes place on the night of Thursday 12th 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 7.00am on Thursday 12th 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 second set of rehearsals for all of these acts, by checking out the Wiwibloggs video playlist on YouTube.)

1. Latvia: Heartbeat – Justs. After a very poor run of results from 2008 to 2014, Latvia returned to Eurovision form with a vengeance in 2015 with a Top 6 finish for Aminata. This song – not surprisingly, given that it’s also written by Aminata – is also a strong entry and is well sung/performed by Justs, but perhaps not as having the same impact as last year’s entry, especially with the more staid staging of this.

Past Qualification: ** (4 out of 11 attempts), Bookies: ****, Prediction Model: ***, AK Rating: ***

2. Poland: Color of Your Life – Michal Szpak. Poland emerged as the early favourites to win the contest with the expectation that Margaret’s Cool Me Down would win out there, but that lost out to this ballad entry in the Polish national selection final. Poland’s odds have dropped somewhat since then as a result, but the Bookies still expect this to just about to make the Final. While the song itself is not very interesting (and it’s not really my cup of tea), there is no doubt that Michael is a very strong live performer and he might be able to do enough to get this out of the semi-final. Though Poland (and the next few entries) are not helped by the clustering of a number of ballad style entries in the problematic section of the running order (from 2nd to 5th).

Past Qualification: * (3 out of 9 attempts), Bookies: ****, Prediction Model: ***, AK Rating: *

3. Switzerland: Last of Our Kind – Rykka. If you are an outside bet to make the Final and representing a country that has very few Eurovision (voting) friends and a poor qualification record, then you need a bit of luck in the running order allocation. Which of course means that you get 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. Poor Rykka! This is not by any means a bad song, but I think it will get lost given its placing in the running order, especially with a lot of other strong/stronger songs competing in this semi-final.

Past Qualification: * (3 out of 11 attempts), Bookies: *, Prediction Model: *, AK Rating: **

4. Israel: Made of Stars – Hovi Star. Like Poland’s entry, this is a well-sung and solid ballad that is tipped by the Bookies to make the Final…and like Poland’s entry this is not really my cup of tea. But Hovi Star deserves credit for significantly revamping the earlier edition of Made of Stars, transforming a guaranteed non-qualifier into a probable qualifier, though it remains to be seen if Poland and Israel could possibly cancel each other out, given their proximity in the contest running order.

Past Qualification: ** (5 out of 11 attempts), Bookies: ***, Prediction Model: ****, AK Rating: **

5. Belarus: Help You Fly – Ivan. This act has attracted some controversy in the running up to the contest because of a proposed staging involving live wolves and nudity! CG has allowed these elements to be factored in without breaking the contest rules, however. Leaving that aside (and these elements only factor in the opening part of the performance), there is no doubt that Belarus are raising their game significantly this year in terms of the staging and Ivan also proves that, leaving the controversy aside, he’s a pretty good rock vocalist. This could do better than is expected and could yet be a surprise qualifier.

Past Qualification: ** (4 out of 12 attempts), Bookies: *, Prediction Model: **, AK Rating: **

6. Serbia: Goodbye (Shelter) – Sanja Vučić ZAA. Serbia and Montenegro initially, and later Serbia on their own, established themselves as one of the strongest countries in Eurovision between 2004 and 2008 based on strong results for a series of well-performed Balkan ballads. Serbia, in more recent years, have proven themselves to be more versatile in terms of the entries, moving away (with the exception of a strong 3rd place finish in the 2012 Final) from the Balkan ballad mould, perhaps being most evident in last year’s crowd-pleasing dance entry – which was also the first Serbian entry to be performed in English and not the national language. This year we get a strong ballad from Sanja Vučić on the dark theme of abusive relationships. It’s a strong song and it’s well sung – and it looks highly like to be also performed in Friday/Saturday night’s Final.

Past Qualification: *** (5 out of 7 attempts), Bookies: *****, Prediction Model: ****, AK Rating: ****

7. Ireland: Sunlight – Nicky Byrne. This is a pretty solid and safe Eurovision entry from Ireland, which is is helped by the start power of former Westlife member, Nicky Byrne, while the position in the running order is one of the better ones that could be given to a song drawn to perform in the First Half of this semi-final. “Solid and safe” in past contests would be enough to ensure qualification and maybe a 11th-15th place finish in a Final. But will this rule also apply in the more competitive semi-finals of 2016, in which a number of countries, such as Bulgaria and Belgium, have significantly raised their games. the Bookies do not seem to think so. Ireland might have a chance if Nicky Byrne can nail the live performances on Wednesday night/Thursday night and if the “Westlife bloc vote” comes out in support of him, but the word from Stockholm isn’t good at the moment…

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

8. FYR Macedonia: Dona – Kaliopi. A solid Balkan ballad from a very experienced and competent performer, who brought Macedonia one of its best ever Eurovision results at the 2012 Final. There really isn’t anything much wrong with this song, but it lacks the impact of Kaliopi’s 2012 entry and it runs the risk of being forgotten about in this highly competitive semi-final, unless the juries and a strong Balkan vote gets behind Kaliopi.

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

9. Lithuania: I’ve Been Waiting For This NIght – Donny Montell. You wait for one Eurovision 2012 act to return to the contest and suddenly two of them appear in a row!!! Donny finished one place and one point behind Kaliopi in the 2012 Final. I’ve Been Waiting For This NIght is a much stronger entry than his 2012 song, Love Is Blind, and earlier in the Eurovision season there were some hopes that this might make the Top 10 in the Final. However issues with the staging have proven problematic at the rehearsals. if these can be ironed out, however, then this might continue Lithuania’s good run in terms of semi-final qualifications since 2011, with the country having missed out on just one final in their last five appearances.

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

10. Australia: Sound of Silence – Dani Im. Australia finished 5th in the 2015 Final. Dani Im’s entry is a much stronger one than last year’s entry – it’s a strong up-tempo ballad and its competently performed – suggesting that Australia will be strong contenders to do equally as well this year and could potentially emerge as one of the main challengers to Russia in the overall contest, although the staging does seem to lack a certain “wow” factor. This would appear highly likely to qualify out of this semi-final and could well win this semi-final, although Ukraine are also emerging as strong contenders to win this semi-final contest. The disqualification of Romania also means that Australia – initially drawn to perform in the First Half of this semi-final – now effectively gets to perform in the Second Half, so Australia really do seem to be getting all the breaks this year.

Past Qualification: NABookies: *****, Prediction Model: *****, AK Rating: ***

11. Slovenia: Blue and Red – ManuElla. As opposed to other Former Yugoslav states, such as Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia has not enjoyed much in the way of fortune at the Eurovision Song Contest, even though the Slovenes usually send pretty good entries to the contest (although they can undermine their own songs, at times, by “over-staging” their entries). This country and western styled entry, with some Taylor Swift-esque hints, continues in this vein. There’s not a lot wrong with this – it’s a solid entry, a catchy-enough song and well performed. But given Slovenia’s past fortunes at the contest and given that this is sandwiched in between two of the more high profile entries in this semi-final, there is a danger that this could get lost in the crowd. That being said, if Eurovision voters/juries go for Douwe Bob’s entry in Semi Final 1, they may also go for manuElla in this semi-final…

Past Qualification: ** (4 out of 12 attempts), Bookies: *, Prediction Model: *, AK Rating: ***

(*** Romania’s Ovidiu Anton was initially scheduled to perform in 12th position in this semi-final with Moment of Silence before this entry was disqualified ***)

12. Bulgaria: If Love Was A Crime – Poli Genova. Only the Czech Republic has a worse qualification record than Bulgaria out of all the countries in this year’s contest, so this will probably be an outside bet to qualify for the final. Well, probably not! Bulgaria have really upped the ante this year, sending to Eurovision one of the more radio-friendly songs in this year’s contest. It’s easily the best entry ever from Bulgaria – and follows on a run of two strong performances for that country at the Junior Eurovision Song Contest in 2014 and 2015. The staging could be perhaps more impactful (though, in fairness, this is based only on a viewing of parts of the dress rehearsals on YouTube), but Poli Genova is a highly competent and engaging performer. Because this is Bulgaria and Bulgaria struggles to win points at Eurovision, this is not a guaranteed qualifier, but it really deserve to make the Final.

Past Qualification: * (1 out of 8 attempts), Bookies: ****, Prediction Model: **, AK Rating: ****

13. Denmark: Soldiers of Love – Lighthouse X. Denmark have developed an uncanny knack for winning the contest when it is held on Swedish soil. Earlier this year, this trend looked as if it could very well continue, with the Danish selection offering two songs from Anja Nissen and Simone that were good enough to make the Eurovision Top 10 and potentially challenge to win the contest. Which meant, of course, that the Danish televoters selected this entry from Danish boyband, Lighthouse X, effectively scuppering any prospects they had of doing well in this year’s contest. This is not awful and does exactly what it says on the tin, but most of the other songs in this semi-final are better than this and it could be easily forgotten in the crowd, when performed just before the amazing entry from Ukraine. Then again, Denmark usually tends to qualify for the Final and there may be enough Lighthouse X fans in other Baltic countries voting to push this over the line…

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

14. Ukraine: 1944 – Jamala. Ukraine have been probably the most consistently strong country at Eurovision over the past decade, developing an uncanny knack to offer perfect staging at the contest and being able to rework problematic entries in the period before the contest to turn them from potential non-qualifiers into Top 10 entries. This year, Ukraine really doesn’t need to do the hard work – this song is exquisite and Jamala is an amazing performer. This song will get a lot of attention for the politics surrounding it and it may be a bit too “different” for some Eurovision viewers, but for me this is perhaps one of the best songs to have gone forward to the contest in quite a while and it should hopefully prove that there is no such thing anymore as a “Eurovisiony” song. This will qualify. This could be very much in the shake up for the overall prize on Saturday night, especially given that the odds on this entry have rapidly shortened in the period since rehearsals commenced in Stockholm.

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

15. Norway: Icebreaker – Agnete. One of my favourite Norwegian entries for a long period of time, this is a very good pop ballad, but with an unusual structure to it – the tempo builds in the verses, then comes to a shuddering halt in the chorus. This can, for some, appear somewhat jarring as regards the recorded version, but Agnete Johnsen makes this work in the live version, as evidenced in some commanding performances at the Norway selection. Agnete’s health issues have significantly limited the level of promotion that this song has received. It remains to be seen if this proves to be an issue in this semi-final, especially given that Agnete’s been consistently nailing her performances across the dress rehearsals. As with Denmark, Norway also has an very good record when it comes to qualifying out of Eurovision semi-finals.

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

16. Georgia: Midnight Gold – Nika Kocharov and Young Georgian Lolitaz. What do you get if you cross Blur with Tblisi? Why this. This sounds like a 1990s Brit Pop song and early commentary suggested that this was a likely non-qualifier, but this act has been gaining some momentum over the final few weeks of Eurovision season and they seem to have got the staging right for this. Furthermore, Georgia tend to qualify in most of the semi-finals that they compete in, while this act also has a pretty good slot in the Semi Final 2 running order – third from the end. The problems with the song – that initially saw this being rated lowly in the Bookie odds – however still remain – it can get rather monotonous as it progresses and it remains to be seen whether this could struggle to win points from the professional juries.

Past Qualification: **** (6 out of 8 attempts), Bookies: **, Prediction Model: **, AK Rating: **

17. Albania: Fairytale – Eneda Tarifa: This was the first song to be effectively selected for Eurovision 2016, after winning the Albanian Festivali i Këngës song contest back on 28th December 2015. The version of the song that won in Albania was much longer and sung in the Albanian language (as Përrallë), while also being helped by the support of a live orchestra. But the three-minute Eurovision rule (which also can work against the Italian entries emerging from the San Remo song contest) has required this song to be significantly reworked, which means that this song has now much less impact. Against that, Eneda Tarifa is a very experienced and strong performer, while the song’s position in the running order is almost as good as it could have hoped to receive, so Albania cannot be discounted here.

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

18. Belgium: What’s The Pressure? – Laura Tesoro: This was one of the earliest Eurovision songs to be selected and it never really attracted much in the way of love from the Eurovision commentators, but this was to overlook the the fact that 19-year old Laura Tesoro does bring something special when she performs this live. It’s perhaps a case of the “songer not the song”, or rather the “performer not the song”. The odds on this song to make it out of the semi-final have narrowed considerably since rehearsals have started in Stockholm, as it’s become very obvious that this is easily the best choreographed dance number in this year’s contest. The fact that What’s The Pressure? will be performed last on the night in Semi Final 2 – the dream slot to get in a semi-final running order also allows it more of a chance to stand out. Then again, it is still worth remembering that Belgium do not have a good record when it comes to qualifying out of Eurovision semi-finals…

Past Qualification: * (3 out of 11 attempts), Bookies: ****, Prediction Model: **, AK Rating: *****

Top 10 based on Past Semi Final Qualification Record: 1. Ukraine, 2. Norway, 3. Georgia, 4. Serbia, 5. Denmark, 6. Albania, 7. Lithuania, 8. Ireland, 9. Israel, 10. FYR Macedonia (NB: This will be Australia’s first ever Eurovision semi-final.)

Top 10 based on Bookie Odds: 1. Ukraine, 2. Australia, 3. Serbia, 4. Belgium, 5. Latvia, 6. Bulgaria, 7. Poland, 8. Israel, 9. Lithuania, 10. Norway (NB: Odds to qualify from the second Eurovision semi-final – Georgia, FYR Macedonia and Denmark are the borderline non-qualifiers.)

Top 10 based on AK Prediction Model Estimates: 1. Ukraine, 2. Serbia3. Denmark,  4. Norway, 5. Latvia, 6j. Australia/Lithuania, 8. Poland, 9. Israel, 10. FYR Macedonia

My Own Personal Favourites – Top 10 (not including Ireland, of course…): 1. Ukraine, 2. Norway, 3. Belgium, 4. Serbia, 5. Bulgaria, 6. Australia, 7. Latvia, 8. Georgia, 9. Slovenia, 10. Lithuania




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