On Thursday evening the Eurovision Song Contest, that extravagant musical circus, had its second semi-final in Kiev, Ukraine. Eighteen acts sang their hearts out but only ten could progress to the Grand Final on Saturday night. Here are my thoughts on what happened:

In the 2016 edition, the hosts wowed the audience with their performance of several original musical numbers relating to the contest. The opening act of this semi-final attempted to mimic this and it was quite fun to watch. Two of the hosts, along with a national folk choir, performed a medley of some recent hits to come out of the show, with a Ukrainian twist. It is nice that the hosts get to do more besides the voting sequences and making awkward jokes to each other.

This semi-final had more of my favourites in so I was excited to see how they would do but after the shock of Finland missing the cut on Tuesday, no one could could consider themselves safe. Here are the songs of the semi-final and my opinions on how they did:

01) Serbia – Tijana Bogićević – “In Too Deep
Opening the show tonight was Serbia and I must confess to feeling a little disappointed. Something has been lost in translation between the studio version and the live performance, whether it is that the song almost feels too slow in tempo for a dance track or that the staging was sparse. The only thing it has going for it is a very nice whirlpool effect on the LED floor and a topless man.

02) Austria – Nathan Trent – “Running on Air
A personal favourite of mine prior to the contest, Nathan has a charm and a twinkle in his eyes that comes off really well in a live performance. He sings well but I’m really not sure about the crescent moon on stage. Still, there is a likeable nature to him and the song and it remains as one of my personal highlights of the whole contest. Performing second can be a death sentence though.

03) F.Y.R. Macedonia – Jana Burčeska – “Dance Alone
The opening of this song is very effective on a live stage with Jana’s vocals amazingly similar to the synthesized ones in the studio version. However it starts to go downhill after the first chorus, when it increasingly becomes apparent that she will “Dance Alone” on stage. She does well enough on her own but maybe some backing dancers could have elevated this more. I still really like the studio version though.
P.S: Congratulations to Jana for the news she is pregnant and for getting engaged in the green room during the show.

04) Malta – Claudia Faniello – “Breathlessly
I’m still convinced this needs to be on the closing credits of an epic romance film. Highly reminiscent of late 90s and early 00s power ballads, this is classy and Claudia sings it really well. There is true emotion coming out of her voice. However, the simple staging is both a positive and a negative, with the fact that it is so early in the running order working against her here.

05) Romania – Ilinca and Alex Florea – “Yodel It!
Now this is how you put on a God damn show! In true Eurovision style, Romania mixes Yodelling and rap in a pop song that makes you want to dance. Some sparkly cannons also make an appearance on the main stage. This is completely barmy and so memorable. The vocals are on point and I honestly can’t find a single negative thing to say about this performance. There is a huge reaction from the audience in Kiev as well.

06) The Netherlands – OG3NE – “Lights and Shadows
For anyone who remembers Wilson Phillips in the 90s, then this will be a major throwback moment for you. The harmonies between the three sisters is just incredible and they don’t need explosive staging because all of the focus is on them. The Netherlands have been doing wonders in the past few years at Eurovision. In fact I would say they could win the whole contest if they had a slightly catchier song. Another huge reaction in the arena is a very good sign for them.

07) Hungary – Joci Pápai – “Origo
It’s good to see countries singing in their native languages this year. “Origo” brings a completely unique product to the contest, only Armenia is really close with that eastern style of music. Joci sings and raps it well and the two of the three costumes are beautiful and really showcases their culture. The only annoyance is that the violinist is wearing a modern black dress that doesn’t fit in at all. But as a whole this is a job well done.

08) Denmark – Anja – “Where I Am
The winner of the Australian X Factor, we know that Anja has a great voice and she showcases it here, fully unleashing in the last minute of the song. In a way it is almost too much, it becomes a wall of noise towards the end. Maybe she is compensating for the song, which sounds like a bland talent show winner’s single. Everything, from the knee drop to the pyro curtain, is a bit cliched. But that voice will get a lot of votes on its own.

09) Ireland – Brendan Murray – “Dying to Try
It’s hard to believe Ireland still holds the record for the most wins with the dreadful run they are on, which looks set to continue. Like Denmark’s entry, this has X Factor winner’s single vibes but unlike Anja, the voice, whilst solid, can’t carry it through. I am perplexed with the staging as well, with Brendan in a little red hot air balloon with a very dark background. I don’t get the relevance to the song. Sadly this is underwhelming to watch.

10) San Marino – Valentina Monetta & Jimmie Wilson – “Spirit of the Night
It’s lovely to see Valentina back (are there any other singers in San Marino?) and it’s actually quite fun to watch this performance. Not that the song holds any credibility at all but its trashy and cheap nature makes for a more relaxed and natural performance. I think the duo know that they are not qualifying to the Grand Final but they don’t care; they just want to dance the night away. And I’m clapping along with them.

11) Croatia – Jacques Houdek – “My Friend
When I watched it last night, I had no words. Literally. I mean Jacques sings it quite well and the way he moves from ‘pop mode’ to ‘opera mode’ is quite brilliant. I accept the song is the cheesiest thing ever written and it makes no attempt to disguise that. But me and the people I watched it with found the camera angles hilarious. To say this was different would be an understatement and this will have its fans. But it’s not for me.

12) Norway – JOWST – “Grab the Moment
Definitely the most modern production of the entire contest, this song brings EDM to Kiev and does it very well. The vocals of the singer, Aleksander Walmann, blends in well with the heavy beats of JOWST’s mix. This is something that we haven’t really seen before at Eurovision and for the most part it is done well, though I felt that the faces added to the camera shot were more distracting that anything else.

13) Switzerland – Timebelle – “Apollo
One of my favourites prior to the contest, I am disappointed about the direction they went in for the live performance. The pinks and the yellows make it come across as cheap, especially when they installed a staircase for the singer to descend. I expected something more classy. The lead singer does a good job for the most part and I don’t see this coming last once again but it is overshadowed by songs that came before it.

14) Belarus – Naviband – “Story of My Life
Belarus brought the house down with their upbeat song that is entirely in Belarusian. They are on some kind of hovercraft and travelling all around their home country as they happily sing about it. This is deeply rooted in folk so brings something unique and cultural to the contest and is the kind of song that you can’t help clapping along to. I think this is their best entry since way back in 2007 when they finished sixth overall.

15) Bulgaria – Kristian Kostov – “Beautiful Mess
This song is bringing apocalyptic gloom to the Eurovision stage and they have a fully realised performance here. The song itself is decent and that is elevated by Kristian’s solid vocals. For the most part the camera effects work very well in conjunction with the lyrics but sometimes they can get a bit distracting. Overall though it feels like Bulgaria have got their Eurovision mojo after years of struggling and could match last year’s result at the least.

16) Lithuania – Fusedmarc – “Rain of Revolution
Everyone who has read my Eurovision 2017 rankings knows how I feel about this song. But to their credit Fusedmarc have delivered a good production that at least distracts from the entry at times. Sadly it’s not the kind of song that people would vote for and still feels like a messy combination of two different songs. Then again this country has qualified with much worse to the final (2013 anyone?) so you never know.

17) Estonia – Koit Toome and Laura – “Verona
Another one of my favourites coming into this contest and this one did not disappoint. The camera angles made it look like they were in two separate places (like Romeo and Juliet – hence “Verona) and the song, though cheesy, was sung quite well. There were a couple of technical problems at the start and I found Koit’s dramatic turns to the camera hilarious rather than moody. Other than those issues I felt they did a good job and the huge reaction from the audience suggests I wasn’t the only one.

18) Israel – IMRI – “I Feel Alive
On Tuesday Triana Park disappointed in the closing slot but IMRI brought the Kiev crowd to their feet! This is the kind of song that people will dance to in the months to come, simple yet effective. His voice isn’t the best in the contest but he does well with what he is given. It also feels like the show was holding a lot of pyro back for this performance and it did a very good job of closing the show.

That was all eighteen performances in the second semi-final and I found watching this show a hundred times more enjoyable than the bland Tuesday one. After the voting period had closed we were treated to yet another experimental dance routine that, whilst good as a background image, looked a bit messy upon closer inspection.

The results were then in. The countries moving to the Grand Final were (in no particular order):
Bulgaria
Belarus
Croatia
Hungary
Denmark
Israel
Romania
Norway
The Netherlands
Austria

These are the ten songs going through to the Grand Final. I am so happy that Austria was announced as the tenth qualifier but sad that it came at the expense of Estonia, who gave a good performance. There are a couple of songs I wouldn’t have put in but that’s the nature of Eurovision.

So what did you think? Did your favourite make it through the second semi-final or were you left disappointed? You can comment your thoughts in the box below. But I’ll be back reporting on Saturday’s Grand Final, it promises to be a cracker!

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