Impressions from 1st Semi-Final Rehearsals, Part 1

May 1. appears to be trying to manage the message from the proliferation of videos that will be popping up on YouTube in the following days by releasing “official” rehearsal impressions on their own website. Here are our reactions from today’s round, Semifinal 1, spots 1-10.

Poland. First of all, Magdalena can sing. The look and feel doesn’t appear to be all that different from the Polish NF, although I am liking that white beaded dress that they showed at the start of the clip. They need to adjust the levels on the guy back up singer.

Norway. They kept the choreo and her look from the NF. Perfectly fine–it wasn’t broke, no need to fix it. I wasn’t feeling the LED background, and at this point I don’t understand how it contributes to the spirit of the piece. Stella sounded okay, but overall the backing vocals were a bit shouty. Hmmm…

Albania. NOT feeling the backdrop, which looks like a 90s Windows screensaver trying to interpret the Albanian flag. Too bad, given the video, I was hoping for a skyscape, or at least some dolphins. Loving the dry ice, and there is an awful lot of fire. Sooo much fire… Aurela has quite the pair of lungs and is successfully walking the very fine line between singing over the fire and not getting shouty. She’s something.

Armenia. Having heard the rumors of the boxing motif–“boom boom” (punch punch) “chucka chucka” (wiggle wiggle)–we were looking forward to seeing Armenia’s rehearsal. Does Armenia really believe that their key to Eurovision success is more large stage props like the apricot stone?  The answer: HELL YES.  It’s a literal read on the song, elevated for maximum kitsch value.  To start, we are greeted with a giant boxing glove.  Is it a prop?  Is it a chair?  It’s both, and it says “Emmy” on it.  The LED graphics are inspired by 1970s comic books, love it!  The backup dancers are high energy (the same ones Greece used last year in  “Opa”), and we even get a flashback “hoohp” in there.  I did like the choreography reference to “Swan Lake.” (Take that Estonia!)  It’s hard to get a read on Emmy’s vocals at this point as she was in rehearsal mode.  This needs to make the finals.  Eye of the tiger, bitches.

Turkey.  Hmmm.  First the good news — I’m not worried about them vocally.  It’s like they didn’t want to change their regular stage show, yet they knew they had to do something so they just stuck a woman in ball cage.  The ball will probably do something, but its upstage center placement reminds me a little too much of maNga’s presentation last year, where they had a robot girl manufacturing sparks.  Too bad, because I was coming around to this song.

Serbia.  Presentation is largely unchanged from the NF, except they dumped the horn players (a good move).  Looks like they are only using 4 people onstage.  I couldn’t tell from the rehearsal impression, but the LED psychedelic tunnel during the refrain seems distracting.  The backup singers need some adjustment in levels, but they’ll work that out.

Russia.  The ethnic beginning nicely showcases Alexey’s singing ability, but it has nothing to do with the rest of the number.  The two walls look strange in the auditorium, but I suspect will be a better effect on camera.  The choreography and harmonies seem to be working well.  Conditional thumbs up, but it’s hard to get a good read on this one without seeing the final camerawork.

Switzerland.  What this song had going for it was that it was twee and a little bit reserved.  Instead, they went very big with the performance, blowing up Anna’s psyche on the LED screen for all of us to see.  I don’t think it’s a fit.  The backdrop is vintage Flor-de-Lis, but as if it was using hundreds of small aluminum disks like the back of a Sparkletts Water Truck (a bottled water company in Southern California).  Hating the red sequin dress, which is matchy-matchy with the backdrop.  One note for the Swiss: they should crank the bubble machine up to 11 in order for the effect to show up.

Georgia.  I love the gritty brick backdrop, and they took a lesson from maNga on how to effectively use strobe lights.  Sopho sounds good, but I still don’t like her phrasing.  Hate hate hate the green dress.

Finland.   It’s just Axel and his guitar, except the Finns didn’t have the balls to rely on just him.  Alas, the backdrop has stars.  And the planet that’s being saved (and hopefully they’ll fix the alignment in the LED screens).   All that’s missing is Al Gore.

Ok, so given the amount of emphasis we’ve been placing on performance, what changes at this point?  Well, not all that much.  The only fail of this group is Turkey, but they’ll still qualify.  Albania isn’t standing out as I would like, but she has the pipes and the stage presence to overcome a lot if the camera focuses on her.  Poland is going to come off okay, but I worry we’re looking at another Montenegro 2009 (another good song that went first and didn’t qualify).  Armenia will join the annals of classic camp.