Impressions from First Rehearsals: Semifinal One

ESC2013_butterfly_backgroundThe days are long here in the temporary Press Centre at Slagthuset, and news flies fast and furious as we catch our first glimpses of rehearsals.  Monday and Tuesday brought the first run-throughs from the first Semifinal (we’ll see Semi 2 on Wednesday and Thursday), and there were many impressions to be made!  Let’s take a quick glimpse at what the past few days held…

  1. Austria: A comforting way to start the Contest, with a straightforward performance from a relatable singer.  Nothing truly outstanding, but nothing wrong with the performance, either.  It feels casual (she’s even planning on wearing jeans)…all in all, it’s much like one of those commercials where teenage girls talk to each other about getting contact lenses.
  2. Estonia: I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again…this is a sorbet song.  If you’ve ever been to a big multi-course banquet where you’re served a little bowl of sorbet between the entrée and cheese course, you’ll know what I mean.  The little intermezzo is always pleasant, but it’s not what you remember when the meal is done.  Birgit’s voice has never been in doubt; there’s a reason she was Estonia’s first “Idol” winner.  But the song fades back into the ether once it’s over, only to be overshadowed.
  3. Slovenia: This is the first real injection of energy in the show so far.  Hannah’s got a tough job in front of her, balancing demanding vocals with equally demanding choreography (and in a killer pair of shoes, to boot!).  We’ve heard more original dance-pop entries in the past, but this is simply fun.
  4. Croatia: The first male voices of 2013 are heard in this highly traditional entry, down to the costuming on the six gentlemen on stage.  They sound fantastic together (let’s be honest here, they were selected to blend well), and even acapella in the Press Centre, they were perfectly en pointe.  This has really grown in my estimation.

    Croatia’s Klapa s Mora (photo courtesy EBU)

  5. Denmark: Shot-for-shot, this is almost identical to the DMGP staging, down to the camera angles.  Outfit’s been slightly changed (a bit less Alyosha, but still very organic-looking).  I still expect this to do well at the end of the day.
  6. Russia: Well-sung from Dina, but almost clinical in its execution.  She’s singing about world peace and love and harmony, but it doesn’t feel genuine.  Even her interviews felt clinical, as if her interpreter were feeding her the answers.
  7. Ukraine: What can I say that I’m sure has been said by every other ESC site, blogger, pundit, or twitter account on the face of the planet?  Zlata sounds incredible, looks ferosh (even when she almost tripped off of her plinth…”Gravity”, indeed!)…but that doesn’t matter when you’re distracted by the opening twenty seconds of the song, as the tallest man in America (who is of Ukranian lineage…about 243 cm/nearly 8 feet) literally picks her up and plunks her on her mark.  At its best, it’s random.  At its worst, it’s exploitative.  What could have been magical becomes uncomfortable.
  8. Netherlands: Contrasting with the theatricality of Ukraine, we’ve got the Netherlands.  Understated, simple, and subtle, this lets Anouk do what she does best.  She’s out at the satellite stage (that is, surrounded by spectators), mostly darkened stage…it’s reminiscent of Patricia Kaas.
  9. Montenegro: From subtlety, we move straight on to insanity, and I’m loving every second.  Astronauts, cyborgs, and enough wub-wubbing to make non-Eurovision fans take notice.  People will either love or hate this, and I know exactly which side of the camp I’m on.
  10. Lithuania: Leather jackets and facial expressions…yep, this is Andrius.  It is what it is…nothing truly spectacular.
  11. Belarus: Well, they’ve thrown the kitchen sink at this one!  Alyona emerges from a massive disco ball, surrounded by beautiful dancers.  Like Russia, it’s clinical, only more upbeat.  Step one-two-three, arm movement here, a flick of the hip there…it’s very “by-the-numbers”, and I just can’t connect to it.  I can definitely see others loving this, though!
  12. Moldova: Possibly the most impressive performance from Day 2’s rehearsals.  Those of you who remember Sabina Babayeva’s dress from last year (or Carrie Underwood’s from the Grammys) will recall the trick of the projector-dress, but Aliona Moon literally takes it to a whole new level.  Beyond that, her vocals are flawless!  She will be keeping the entry in Romanian, as anticipated…the first time we’ve heard an entire entry in the language since 1998!  This one really resonated with the fans in the Press Centre…but can Chișinău afford to host the Contest?

    Moldova’s Aliona Moon (photograph courtesy EBU)

  13. Ireland: A wee bit of bodhrán (and shirtless hotties to play them!).  While “Only Love Survives” is a pop song at heart, it’s probably the most traditionally-inspired entry since 2007’s “They Can’t Stop the Spring”.  Ryan’s charming on camera (and, if you’re not a fan of the song, might I just remind you of the shirtless bodhrán players?)
  14. Cyprus: Straightforward presentation, no-nonsense, no real tricks or distractions from Despina and her song.  For the record, she’s wearing a beautiful lace illusion gown…elegant!
  15. Belgium: For those of you who have only heard Belgium’s song from its National Final performance, do yourself a favor and give this another listen.  It might not be a winner, and who knows about qualification, but it’s certainly better than the rhinitis-addled Sunday-morning-performance that we heard that cold December day.
  16. Serbia: Gone are the angel-and-devil motif from the National Final…only to be replaced by escapees from Willy Wonka’s mental asylum!  While the previous outfits were a touch dodgy, at least they brought some sort of context to a song whose lyrics might not be understood by most viewers.

So, there you have it…Semi 1 in a nutshell!  There is still just under a week for delegations to tweak and modify their performances, so who knows what the second set of rehearsals (or the second semifinal) will bring?  Stay tuned!

(And for more information, check out, where I’ve been contributing to interviews and podcasts!)


Posted on May 8, '13, in 2013, Personal, Special Comment. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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