Rehearsals are in full swing at the moment in Rotterdam. In fact, all the participating countries in the first semi final have been on stage for the first time already so we can see the first contours on what that first semi will be like. In this chat conversation I had with Dennis van Eersel from ESCDaily, we spoke about the highlights so far in Rotterdam and the remarkable things in the first semi final so far.
A: There are 16 nations taking part in the first semi-final, so Dennis, who impressed you the most out of those 16? D: I would say that both the opening and closing act in this first semi final made a good first impression. Lithuania and Malta are sure qualifiers. Even though Malta dropped a little bit in the odds for winning the whole contest after their first run through. What are your thoughts about that main favourite?
A: Malta gave a good first rehearsal, but it hasn’t yet lived up to the expectations. I actually liked the staging itself with the pink and neon yellow, but at times it felt a bit too static. I am also noticing how much I miss live backing vocals, and that felt particularly true with Malta.
D: Yes, I hope this will be a one time thing, the use of pre-recorded vocals at Eurovision. But I am afraid this is something they will keep in the shows from now on and we’ll have to get used to. I’m curious whether the countries that use it excessively will get a lower score with the televote/jury, because it can give the feeling that you’re being fooled.
A: Speaking of vocals, who stood out to you? I know there were a few artists that claimed they were trying to preserve vocals – but is that possibly an excuse for sub-par vocals?
D: We have seen artists holding back a bit during their first days at Eurovision, but usually they also give it a 100% in their last run through though. When it comes to the vocals I think that Russia, Cyprus and Norway were positive examples, whilst Slovenia, Croatia and Israel were – how to put it nicely, not at their best level yet.
A: For me, I think Azerbaijan probably gave the most consistently good vocals in all the run throughs, as did Ukraine. Malta was strong as well, and the professionals they are, Belgium also did a good job in the vocal department. There are definitely a few songs in this semi I was sure would be qualifiers, but I was disappointed with their rehearsal performances, Israel and Romania are two that immediately come to mind.
D: We had some debate about Romania over here in Rotterdam. Their staging was not what I expected, I thought it would be much darker overall, but she has this innocent ‘Blanche’-style which could appeal to the young target audience. I’m not ruling it out, also with the draw. I think most of the qualifiers will come from the last part of the show, what about you?
A: The second half of the show seems much stronger but when you do the math, there are still four strong probable qualifiers from the first half, with those being Lithuania, Russia, Sweden and Cyprus. There could be a few surprises in that first half of the semi though, and since we haven’t seen Australia’s full rehearsal (due to them using a live-on-tape) I actually don’t want to rule them out yet.
D: It’s hard to rule out any nation after just one rehearsal, but I would say Slovenia and North Macedonia do not have the best cards. Ireland, due to their visual presentation is standing out, but the vocals need to severely improve. And I agree on Australia, it could make an impact and get sympathy because she is the only absent artist. Coming up after Sweden, which is somewhat obligatory to me, isn’t hurting them I think. How certain are you about Sweden?
A: As certain as one could really be. Tusse is a good vocalist, the song is inoffensive and the staging is decent. Juries should like this, and it should have enough of a televote to scrape through. It won’t be their best result ever, but it certainly won’t miss out on the final surely. Sweden, don’t make me look like a fool!
D: I fear they will get a very low televote again, as Sweden did in recent years so often. But qualification doesn’t seem to be an issue no. In the second half we see a lot of solo female artists come up with an uptempo song. And they probably won’t all make it. Cyprus, Croatia, Israel, Azerbaijan, Malta. Who should be most concerned?
A: Cyprus and Malta seem the safest of the bunch at this stage. While I didn’t love the staging of Azerbaijan, Efendi gives a very good performance of the song, and I feel fairly confident about their qualification, especially because their song has more ethnic elements than the others. I was previously convinced that Israel would qualify, but now I’m not sure. With Croatia, I was previously convinced that they wouldn’t qualify, but now I am not sure as well.
D: I agree on this, Croatia and Israel are both still in the mix-up for qualification to me. Also because I now see Ukraine as a qualifier, which shook things up a bit in my prediction list. I didn’t give them a chance before the contest, but they did a very good job I must say.
A: Even though Ukraine was at the bottom of my list this year, I still saw them as potential qualifiers but now I’m certain. The staging of this song was probably the best of the semi-final, and will absolutely do wonders in the televote I feel.
Now what about Norway? TIX was underrated from his selection, especially as he won over fan favourites KEiiNO. Do you think finally people are starting to see how good this entry really is?
D: It’s a very good song. I hope people pick that up, and not just see it as a gimmick act because of the way it is being presented. I still fear the jury might not reward Norway the way they should based on the quality of the song. You don’t see that as a serious option?
A: Even though there are props and costumes, I don’t necessarily agree that this needs to be seen as a gimmick. The song is good, and the lighting was super nice in the performance. I might be biased, but I thought it looked very slick especially in comparison to Roko, who everyone seems to be comparing TIX to this year.
To conclude, who are your 10 qualifiers as of now? D: I would say, in order of appearance: Lithuania, Russia, Sweden, Cyprus, Norway, Romania, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Malta, joined by either Croatia or Israel. Do you have some other countries in there at this point?
A: It’s a similar list, but I would say Lithuania, Russia, Sweden, Cyprus, Norway, Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Malta joined by Australia, Croatia, Belgium or Romania. I guess that’s not a very precise list, since I listed half the field, but those final spots are too open at this stage!