Tonight eighteen acts will sing in Semi-Final 1 of Eurovision 2017. But only ten will survive and make it to the grand final this Saturday. But the nail-biting process kicked off on Monday evening with the jury final, which accounts for 50% of the overall score.
Azerbaijan’s Dihaj vogued in a fantasy world that included chalkboards and horses, Poland’s Kasia Mos celebrated freedom in a white bandage dress and Montenegro’s Slavko Kalezic went giddy-up as he trotted and thrust across the stage.
But who among them improved their chances of qualifying? Below you can watch our review video, filmed seconds after the jury final. You can also scroll down to read some of our rough notes.
Eurovision 2017: Semi-Final 1 Jury Show (Review)
Sweden: Robin Bengtsson – “I Can’t Go On”
Serving sex face and charisma, Robin has hit his stride and nailed both his choreography and his vocals. At times we’ve moaned about his potentially wooden delivery. But wood can also make fire and tonight we definitely felt the heat. The opening shot in particular showed his swagger as he looked directly into the camera and flicked his chin with abandon. Slick, safe and polished, it’s a strong show opener and one producers can rely on. We can also rely on this sailing through to the final.
Georgia: Tamara Gachechiladze – “Keep the Faith”
Miss Gachechiladze likes a big crowd — and it’s clear she performs best when in front of one. She erased our memories of her underwhelming rehearsals by hitting note after note, and by doing so with more attitude than an angry drag queen. She pumped up her hair and her stage presence, remaining the focus of the performance even as massive flames shot up around the stage. This had a sleek, James Bond feel that gave the song some much-needed dynamism. In our minds this has gone from borderline qualifier at best to a song that could do some real damage. This Tako comes with chilli sauce… feel the heat!
Australia: Isaiah – “Don’t Come Easy”
Australia’s team have finally arrived at their dreamscape, bringing Isaiah into technicolour focus with a series of stunning LED images of the singer in blue and pink. There are moments when the camera cuts off all sense of the arena and audience, allowing us to bask in Isaiah’s melodic voice and the high-impact but soothing colours on the wall. The Lazy Susan turntable seems less prominent — and we no longer see its undercarriage — helping keep us in that fantasy. As much as this has improved, its “moment” — a pyro rainfall — isn’t particularly memorable. Following Tamara’s performance, this felt somehow sleepy and quiet.
Albania: Lindita – “World”
Tamara’s performance cast a very long shadow, and some felt that it extended to Albania’s performance. Lindita’s vocals seemed slightly off, and at one point a colleague suggested she was trying too hard. Even so, her vocal flourishes remained impressive and her moment — spaceships colliding with ships as she freestyles — did draw applause. The visuals still don’t seem to marry to the song (even with Lindita dressed as an intergalactic space diva) but it doesn’t matter. Tomorrow is another day and the strength of Lindita’s vocals could help her win over the public — assuming she returns to top form.
Belgium: Blanche – “City Lights”
Blanche traded her white dress for a black one. Up close it looked rather nice, but at times it seemed to camouflage her against the black floor. The lighting effects — lots of white lines on the LED floor, plenty of spotlights shining down in circular arrays — are very strong. In the final half of the song it seemed like Blanche might break down and cry. She may have been scared, but it had the effect of bringing the song to life and showed the passion that should accompany a song about longing. Some will see her fragility as a weakness and others as a strength. But if she can continue to express something rather than nothing (as she did during her first rehearsal), this may avoid the favourite-to-flop scenario many envision.
Montenegro: Slavko Kalezic – “Space”
His personality is so big it could fill the entire International Exhibition Centre. And Slavko put it to good use during his jury performance, serving character, frivolity and artistry in equal measure. Unfortunately the stage still felt empty and at times his ad libs didn’t quite work out. However, he did draw big applause in the press room and first-time viewers will find his antics — including the twirling of his hair braid — charming and hilar. Montenegro always faces an uphill fight. Slavko is taking his with a smile and good cheer.
Finland: Norma John – “Blackbird”
Forget the blackbird. Let’s talk about the dark horse. This was absolutely stunning and, for the first time since the UMK final, gave me proper chills. Leena has risen to the occasion repeatedly and she did so again this evening, delivering her powerful vocals with precision and control. Owing to the LED smoke, dark lighting and wide camera shots, the stage looked enormous. But Leena still remained the focus. Meditating on loss and longing is a real downer. Yet owing to the magic of the performance this is somehow uplifting.
Azerbaijan: Dihaj – “Skeletons”
Visually arresting and totally original, this takes the viewer to another world, where men dress as horses and where Dihaj dominates visually, musically and sensually. It’s slick and polished and oozes high art. Dihaj’s opening vocals are always very breathy, and initially I worried she might stumble. But she held it together and looked incredibly confident. It’s sailing through to the final.
Portugal: Salvador Sobral – “Amar Pelos Dois”
The wait was worth it. Salvador delivered a stunning performance that left the press room silent (before it erupted with rapturous applause). When he sings he goes somewhere else mentally and spiritually. You get the sense he isn’t aware of the audience — and yet he somehow has them in the palm of his hand. Oozing joy as much as nostalgia and longing, he ad-libbed violin playing, showing he’s not rigid — he’s loose and in the moment. Three minutes of joy. A potential winner.
Greece: Demy – “This Is Love”
Demy dropped the register of the line “this is love”, singing an octave lower. It seemed like a wise move, given the difficulties the team has faced mixing backing and lead vocals. But at the end of the show — after all 18 countries had sung — the hosts told us that Demy would be performing again owing to technical difficulties. And when she did it became clear that it’s her backing vocalists who hold the high note. Funnily enough, the adjusted version from the first take sounded fine — the song still had life and the staging went perfectly. Performing the song again may simply have highlighted to jurors that Demy isn’t hitting the high note on her own. Either way this should go through — the staging works and Demy sold it well.
Poland: Kasia Mos – “Flashlight”
She’s been growing in confidence with each run through and tonight she reached a new high. Wearing a stunning white bandage dress, Kasia poured her soul into this and you could feel it through the screen. Yes, the Polish diaspora will support her. But we have a feeling the international jurors will as well.
Moldova: Sunstroke Project — “Hey Mamma”
They’ve stood out all week for mixing fun, musicality and just the right amount of crazy. And everything seemed to go according to plan this evening. Lead singer Sergey was particularly forceful with his dance moves, matching Epic Sax Guy in the energy stakes. Interestingly, producers go to Epic Sax Guy during a break and talk about his meme going viral. It’s a subtle nod to his popularity and suggests producers want to help the group through.
Iceland: Svala – “Paper”
My lingering memory is of Svala’s chest, which is on fine display in her skin-tight outfit which will surely turn heads. Unfortunately the song feels languid and the staging doesn’t erase that. The stage seems to swallow her and there’s not a wow moment to remember during the voting interval. She’s a stellar singer but the overall package feels somehow empty.
Czech Republic: Martina Bárta – “My Turn”
It’s one of the simpler performances of the year, yet it’s so inviting you want to watch it over again and again. Martina didn’t falter and, following a somewhat cold performance from Iceland, this got a bit of a boost.
Cyprus: Hovig – “Gravity”
His choreography has proved tricky in recent days, but Hovig finally nailed it when it counted, balancing on one foot and hitting the majority of his marks. He was slightly off-centre when he laid down on the LED skyscape, but it’s a minor point. He and his dancers were generally in-sync. The song has left many underwhelmed, so the fight remains a tough one. But Hovig has won over plenty of haters and tonight’s performance likely won over a few more.
Armenia: Artsvik – “Fly with Me”
Talk about a cock-up! Producers accidentally played the Czech Republic’s backing track during Armenia’s performance. After taking a moment to sort it out, the show went on and Artsvik absolutely nailed it. Lesser artists would have been fazed and stumbled, but she pushed through, hitting one of the most visually captivating performances of recent years. The glorious bird that flies out of her heart at the end of the performance appeared on the screen at the beginning this evening — perhaps another error from producers — but it made no difference whatsoever. This was stellar and a potential winner of the semi.
Slovenia: Omar Naber – “On My Way”
Producers have done a good job giving this dated song a more contemporary vibe through the staging. But following the ethno-glam of Artsvik it’s just extra underwhelming.
Latvia: Triana Park — “Walk the Line”
Slovenia’s largely blue stage gave way to Latvia’s explosion of splatter paint, which looked extra bright and vibrant. Agnese delivered as always, bending and snapping with sass and edge. Yet somehow, when filming the recap, I slightly forgot about this, which is strange given how energetic and colourful it is.
Photo: Eurovision.tv (EBU)