Reviews: Semi Final 1, who will qualify?

This is the first of 3 articles reviewing both Semi Finals, the “Big 5” and Host country entries.  I have scored each of the songs as a personal indicator and given my prediction as to whether I think they will qualify.  My predictions will not always correspond with my score, but rather how successful I think they will be in the contest.

DQ- Definite Qualifier

BQ- Borderline Qualifier

NQ- Non-Qualifier

Albania

Lindita Halimi- “World”

American Idol Alum and favourite of JLo, Lindita Halimi will represent Albania at the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest, having won Festvali I Kenges 2016.  After previously entering the 53rd FiK where she placed 3rd with her song “S’te Fal”.  Lindita sang her song in Albanian “Bote”, and after what is almost a compulsory task, rearranged the song and translated it into English.  What was a strong Albanian ballad has lost a bit of its grittiness and appeal in this revamp.  While it isn’t as bad a revamp as last year, it will struggle more now to qualify from its semi-final.  Lindita is a great vocalist, so she will elevate this live, but for now it is a Borderline qualifier.

My score: 6.5

Prediction: BQ

Australia

Isaiah Firebrace- “Don’t Come Easy”

After 2 years of impressive results, and an almost win in the last edition, Australia are riding on the crest of great Eurovision success.  This is mainly why I feel this year’s entry has had what can only be described as a ‘lukewarm’ reception from fans.  Personally, I love this song, and if anything, this is possibly the most contemporary of their three competing entries.  Isaiah may only be 17 years of age, but his voice is that of a more mature artist.  Fresh from winning the most recent edition of The X Factor Australia, Isaiah is looking to have another triumphant year and I feel that people should not rule this out just yet.  This is a definite qualifier and could possibly give Australia their third top 5 placing in a row.

My score: 8.5

Prediction: DQ

Azerbaijan

Dihaj- “Skeletons”

Dihaj is possibly the most contemporary and edgy artist the land of fire has ever sent, so when I heard that the composers where the same as those behind the 2011 Eurovision winner, I was a bit apprehensive.  I thought they were going to go for Swedish pop ballad, but instead we get a thumping pop/urban number that suits Dihaj to a ‘tee’.  It is more of a grower as I didn’t get it at first, but I have grown to love it now.  Whether this is a good thing for the song I don’t know, songs do need to make an instant impact.  Yet I feel the juries will reward this and most of the public voting will see the merit in this song.  This is a definite qualifier, after all it is Azerbaijan, and they have qualified with bad songs in the past.

My score: 8.5

Prediction: DQ

Belgium

Blanche- “City Lights”

This year it is back to the French speaking broadcaster to choose the Belgian entrant and they went with The Voice Belgique contestant Blanche (Ellie Delvaux).  RTBF have recently sent some of the most left field songs to the contest, their last entrant Loic Notett gave Belium their best result in 12 years.  I was one of the people that was not surprised that Belgium reached the top 10 in 2016 and this year will be no difference.  Blanche has a very deep voice that is a lovely contrast to her uptempo urban themed tune.  This could well be a contender for the win.

My score: 8

Prediction: DQ

Finland

Norma John- “Blackbird”

Pre-National Final Review:

The song has a very gentle start to it, the vocal is arresting and haunting, although it is the lyrics that carry this song and they are very thought provoking.  The first time I heard this, I immediately had images of being in the wide expansive countryside of Ireland.  It is very Celtic in feel and I start to reminisce about one of my favourite pieces of music “Caoineadh cu Chulainn” played on the Uillean Pipes by Davy Spillane.  While I don’t believe, this will win, for me it is a beautiful piece of music and would love to see it recognized.

                                                                                   

Since the national final performance not a lot has changed in my opinion of the song, other than, I am happy that the song was appreciated.  Norma John performed this song impeccably and it really came alive on stage.  Still I don’t know how well this will be received by the whole of the continent.  It is a borderline qualifier, but the live stage show in Kyiv could elevate this.  If it qualifies then this could be a surprise top 10 finisher.

My score: 8

Prediction: BQ

Georgia

Tamara Gachechiladze- “Keep the Faith”

Pre-National Final Review:

Starts off very musical theatre, Tamara has a great voice.  It is to dramatic for me, as I know for the first two minutes it is a single vocal and a lot of acting will take place in the live performance.  The song only really picks up with the introduction of the backing vocals, but by this stage I have switched off and feel a lot others will do the same.

                                                                                   

After the national final, it was clear that Tamara was a fantastic vocalist and could sell the song.  What I must say is that I still don’t find the song that appealing to myself, it is a bog-standard bond-style song and it goes nowhere.  It is great that Tamara will finally get to Eurovision after being disqualified in 2009 as part of the band Stephane & 3G, yet personally I don’t see this getting to the final.  The staging was minimal, which for a song like this is good, yet the subject matter projected on the LED’s could be controversial and will the EBU allow it?  Especially considering recent troubles with the Russian and Ukrainian broadcasters. I have no problems with the subject matter being shown, but I can how it could be a bit sensitive for some viewers.

My score: 5

Prediction: BQ

Montenegro

Slavko Kalezic- “Space”

Former X Factor Adria contestant and one time boyfriend of 2007 Eurovision winner, Slavko Kalezic brings us the campest entry of the year.  The song is full of innuendos and mixed messages, set to a 70’s disco beat.  It will be fantastically staged I know that, yet I am not as convinced that this will qualify.  It does have the advantage of being an up-tempo song in a ballad heavy first half of the semi.

My score: 5

Prediction: NQ

Portugal

Salvador Sobral- “Amar Pelos Dois”

Pre-National Final Review:

Salvador is such a personable performer, and his voice is so beautiful.  I got lost in it and his performance, it had me almost in tears and I don’t even understand Portuguese, which speaks volumes.  Salvador himself has compared this to many of the Great American Songbook classics crossed with a Bossa Nova sound, which I can hear.  It reminds me of the Soft Jazz ballads I would relax to on a Sunday afternoon, it is stunning and I would love to see this at Eurovision, I have fallen in love with it, but will the Portuguese public vote for it?

                                                                                   

This has become a pre-contest favourite now both among bookmakers and fans alike, which is quite a feat for a Portuguese entry.  I really hope it pays off for Salvador as he has worked, maybe harder than most entrants this year.  After some medical problems and recent fake reports of major deterioration in his health, he will go to Kyiv if only for limited rehearsals.

My score: 9

Prediction: BQ

Sweden

Robin Bengtsson- “I Can’t Go On”

Pre-National Final Review:

Well this staging is like nothing we have seen in Melodifestivalen before, yet it is hardly original as we have seen many singers in Idol and x factor backstage and make their way centre stage.  The song is a pop song, the likes of which Timberlake would sing, it has that almost electronic sound to it.  Robin can sing, we know this from last year, but the lyrics are unnecessary.  Just like Lisa Ajax last week, we have a lot of the lyrics dedicated to a certain four letter word.  It doesn’t add anything to the song, it puts me off slightly.  I am not prude at all, I have a very bad ‘potty’ mouth, but if you are going to swear, make it worthwhile.

                                                                                   

After a not so surprising win at Melodifestivalen, Robin has not done enough to convince me that this is a Eurovision worthy winner.  I appreciate that he has changed the harsher lyrics, but without the staging the song would be mediocre at best.  I am not delusional though, as these are only my opinions, and while I don’t see this winning, with everything that I read I can see this making the top 3.

My score: 7

Prediction: DQ

Armenia

Artsvik- “Fly with Me”

After a surprising win at Depi Evratesil in December, Artsvik won the chance to represent her home country at this year’s contest.  She has previously appeared on the Russian version of The Voice where she got to the battle rounds, and with her recent performances on the selection show there is no doubt that she can sing and perform well.   During Depi Evratesil she was on Essaï Altounian‘s team, he was one sixth of Genealogy back in 2015.  The fact that Essaï was her mentor is quite apt, while I don’t know the extent to which he was involved in the song writing, “Fly with Me” is very experimental, with slight similarities to “Face the Shadow”.  I do think this will qualify, more for the fact that Armenia have one of the best Qualification records (90%), but once in the final I can’t see it troubling the top 10.

My Score: 6.5

Prediction: DQ

Cyprus

Hovig- “Gravity”

Having competed at two previous Cypriot National Finals in 2010;2015, Hovig has been internally selected by CyB with the Thomas G: son penned “Gravity”.  Hovig is no stranger to all types of competitions having competed not only in the national finals but also getting to the live stages of X Factor in Greece where he placed seventh.  “Gravity” is a modern pop song with a thumping beat, there have been obvious references to Rag’N’Bone Man’s “Human” and it is hard to shake that off when you hear the song one after another.  Hovig is a good performer and a decent vocalist.  This could well qualify for the final, but I don’t think it has the power to garner enough votes.

My Score: 5.5

Prediction: BQ

Czech Republic

Martina Barta- “My Turn”

Martina Barta is far more well known in Germany as a Jazz performer with the band, 4 to the Bar.  She was internally selected by the Czech broadcaster and brings with her a song that she must feel very comfortable singing, a slow jazz ballad.  Now I must say that I do enjoy the song, as I like most songs this year.  Yet it has no lift and plods along, before just ending in mid-air.  It is a safe choice for Czech Republic, and while they surprised a lot of people by qualifying last year, I can’t see Martina replicating that in Kiev.

My Score: 4

Prediction: NQ

Greece

Demy- “This Is Love”

Greece chose to go with an established artist and have a 3 song National Final, although if we are all being honest, there was really no need to have the national final.  A week before the show “This Is Love” was leaked online and everyone assumed from then on in that this was the song they wanted to win.  Unsurprisingly, it all went to plan and Demy will be performing this up-tempo number in Ukraine.  I completely dismissed this song when I first heard it, as I had heard the leaked demo and didn’t understand how this would work.  Then on further listen I have realized this is a very strong contender.  There is one thing missing from most of the songs this year and that is a fun beat, Greece is one of only a couple of songs that deliver that.  Many fans have dismissed this, but this is from the same song writers of Russia’s 2016 entry.  That was the fan favourite, the song has a similar structure and even has a dance break in the middle.  This will surprise many and I could see it finishing top 5.

My Score: 7.5

Prediction: DQ

Iceland

Svala- “Paper”

Pre-National Final Review:

When I heard the first couple of beats I automatically thought of Aminata, Latvia 2015.  Thereafter Svala opens her mouth and I am automatically convinced that Robyn (Carlsson) has entered the Icelandic National final.  This is a fabulous song; the lyrics have such a deep meaning and Svala’s vocals are the perfect accompaniment to them.  This is contemporary while being experimental.

                                                                                   

I still adore the studio version of the song, even if the National Final performance was not as polished as I had hoped for.  Svala is a great singer and performer, but some of the magic was lost on stage for me, I think it will struggle now to qualify.  If it does qualify, it will be mid table at best.

My Score: 8

Predicition: BQ

Latvia

Triana Park- “Line”

Pre-National Final Review:

This is an EDM song with electronic influences, the lead singer has a good voice and the song does have dynamism.  I love the almost neon styling, and the dance breaks in the song are great because we get to see the lead singer bust a move or two.  I don’t know if this is the most accessible song or would appeal to a wide range of people, but it is a good song and would do well with certain demographics.

                                                                                   

I do still enjoy this song, and the live performance has such great energy, if this is going through it will be 9th or 10th.  I can’t see this entering the top 10.

My Score: 6

Prediction: BQ

Moldova

Sunstroke Project- “Hey Mamma”

Pre-National Final Review:

Well they are back, the band that brought “Epic-Sax Guy”.  They also have a Sax break, which is just crying out for him to return.  This is the most contemporary song on offer, it is not too different to their 2010 entry, although I don’t find it as instant or catchy.  Saying this, I can’t see this doing badly in the Moldovan selection and with some work this could do well in Eurovision.  This is probably their best chance at this moment.

                                                                                   

Well this was of course the best option for Moldova, and since they won the national final the song has grown on me more.  Their 2010 entry is still far better, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t good.  Could still get to the final, but not a winner.

My Score: 6.5

Prediction: BQ

Poland

Kasia Mos- “Flashlight”

Pre-National Final Review:

Back for another try at getting to Eurovision, what can be said is Kasia certainly has her own sound.  This is not overly different to her entry last year “Addiction”.  “Flashlight” is a R’n’B ballad infused with classical instrumentation.  She can sing, and the sporadic moments of spoken word make the song more interesting to listen to, but not necessarily enjoyable.  It could win, but I wouldn’t bet on it personally.

                                                                                   

I have grown to appreciate this since it won, but I don’t get the love that is pouring its way.  Many people seem to think this could win, personally I see no reason why this has Eurovision winner wrote on it.  Kasia seems like a lovely down to earth person and a great performer, I just wish she had a better song.

My Score: 5.5

Prediction: BQ

Slovenia

Omar Naber- “On My Way”

Pre-National Final Review:

Another Eurovision Alumni returns to a national selection, and like so many other artists that participated in Kyiv the last time, they want to return.  Omar comes back with another ballad, but this time it is far more in the old-school Eurovision mould instead of his rock ballad he took to Ukraine previously.  The lyrics are predictable with a refrain of “lights will guide you through the night”, how many times have we heard that?  He is a fantastic singer, and the melody of the song is nice and inoffensive, he even has a key change which isn’t a terrible thing in this contest.  I really hope he doesn’t win because of his name, as even in his semi-final of EMA there are two better songs.

                                                                                   

After he won EMA I started to enjoy listening to the live performance of the song, he can certainly sell a mediocre song.  Then he released the revamped version and it has just gone back down in my estimation, the song seems so flat and stripped back in the latest version.  Yes, once live he will sing it amazingly, but I can’t see what appeal a stripped back version of an already rather dull ballad will do to help his chances.

My Score: 4.5

Prediction: NQ

My 10 Predicted Qualifiers:

Definite Qualifiers

Greece

Armenia

Sweden

Belgium

Azerbaijan

Australia

Borderline Qualifiers

Finland

Portugal

Latvia

Poland

 

So, who are your qualifiers?  Let us know and check back next Monday (May 1st) to read my reviews of the second semifinal along with who I think will qualify to the final.

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