After months of preparation and two weeks of rehearsals, tonight things got serious. The first semi-final was beamed live around Europe. Viewers around Europe were welcomed by hosts, Nadia Hasnaoui, Erik Solbakken and Haddy Jatou N’Jie, who explained the voting system.
Ten of the seventeen acts would progress to Saturdays final. As well as viewer’s phone votes, the juries from the participating countries would also have a say in which countries qualified. Each song was introduced by a mass of bubbles that first formed the shape of the country concerned, then, after a camera shot of the artists being prepared on the stage, the bubbles developed into the flag of the country.
Moldova – Sunstroke Project and Olia Tira – Run Away – The Moldovans had the task of getting the party started. The song is a modern, up-tempo number and sounded and looked good.
Russia – Peter Nalitch – Lost And Forgotten – Next came Russia and a complete change of tempo. Peter’s ballad should not be played to anyone contemplating suicide! He performed it strongly and while not thought of as a likely qualifier, sounded like it could surprise a few people.
Estonia – Malcolm Lincoln – Siren – Without doubt, this was the weirdest song of the night. Peter and his backing singers were resplendent in velvet jackets and the lead singer showed us his trademark gangly dancing. He sounded a bit out of breath by the end.
Slovakia – Kristína Peláková – Horehronie – The outfits of Kristina and co reflected the earthly nature of the song. A strong beat runs constantly through the song and, although Kristina’s voice sounded less strong than in rehearsals, it was very much a possible qualifier.
Finland – Kuunkuiskaajat – Työlki Ellää – White was the order of the day for the Finnish duo. There were smiles galore as they performed their Finnish folk song. It definitely was the jolliest song of the night.
Latvia – Aisha – What For? – The ‘Only Mr God Knows Why’ has been officially dropped from the title. It was one of the songs expected to qualify, however, Aisha seemed to struggle with some of the vocals. There is a slow, anthemic quality to the Latvian song.
Serbia – Milan Stanković – Ovo je Balkan – Milan seemed very relaxed, despite the dodgy hairstyle. He danced and sang well and his song has elements of a Serbian brass arrangement.
Bosnia and Herzegovina – Vukašin Brajić – Thunder and Lightning – A rockier edge had been added to the song since its first public performance. Lots of flashing lights were used to compliment Vukašin’s honest performance.
Poland – Marcin Mroziński – Legenda – The Polish song opened with an almost shouted vocal, leading into some traditional Polish gypsy music, before settling down into something more cosmopolitan. There is drama aplenty, including the staged ‘death’ of one of the dancers. Would it be too much for those watching?
Belgium – Tom Dice – Me and My Guitar – The Belgian song is a complete contrast to the Polish entry. Tom was alone with his guitar singing his introspective song. The presentation gave the song exactly what it needed, and the song was able to stand by itself.
Malta – Thea Garrett – This Is My Dream – The Maltese could have learned something from the Belgians. This Is My Dream is a simple ballad and the performance started off simply enough. Suddenly, the pile of grey matter lying behind Thea spread its wings, poked its nose in (literally, it was a big beak) and proceeded to prance unnecessarily around Thea.
Albania – Juliana Pasha – It’s All About You – The first song to be selected for this year’s contest towards the end of last year is a disco stomper. It sounded very good and Juliana gave a good solid performance, giving Albania a chance of making it to the Final.
Greece – Giorgos Alkaios & Friends – Opa – The sound of the Taverna echoed around the huge arena as Giorgos and gang jumped and shouted their way through one of the favourites. A song to wake the neighbours!
Portugal – Filipa Azevedo – Há Dias Assim – Portuguese music is at its best when there is a classy ballad on show. Eighteen year old Filipa gave a performance beyond her years to bring her country into the reckoning when it had never seemed likely in the build up to the contest.
Macedonia – Gjoko Tanevki – Jas Ja Imam Silata – Gjoko (who looks like Rafa Benitez’s younger brother) has a rock number to offer. It had a slightly harder edge than Bosnia’s song of the same genre. All was going well until the rap interlude. He also needed a band behind him rather than scantily clad dancers.
Belarus – 3+2 – Butterflies – Another change of mood followed with the Belarusian ballad. It starts of very softly, and builds verse by verse into a big crescendo at the end. It was another case of trying too hard to look good. The ladies’ dresses developed wings near the end as the lights shone brightly for added impact.
Iceland – Hera Björk – Je Ne Sais Quoi – Fan favourite Iceland drew the first semi-final to a close, and it was one to leave ‘em wanting more! It would have been very easy to go over the top with the presentation, but common sense prevailed and Hera’s excellent voice was allowed to be the dominant part of the performance.
There were several reprises of the songs and some shots of the performers backstage. When Erik and Haddy returned to the stage, Nadia was still in the Green Room and walked through it introducing us to some of the singers. A little while later, there was a clip of the five songs which have automatically qualified for the final. Finally, it was time for the results. The ten luck countries were:
Bosnia and Herzegovina
So the first ten finalists are known and there were no major shocks, although one or two surprises to keep the fans talking. On Thursday, we will find out who will join them.