Vienna Blog Day 5

Vienna Blog. Words by Hass Yusuf, photos by David Ransted.

This blog is updated constantly throughout the day, so tune in for all the latest news as it happens.

Disclaimer: This blog is being written as things happen so please ignore any mistakes and go with the flow!

Before we begin Day 5 proper, there are still the Meet & Greets from last night to report on.

Mans from Sweden is having a lot of fun in Vienna. He feels the act can be improved on stage (looked to me as it was). The message of his song is that everyone can be a hero and that you don’t really need to look up to role models. He was very happy to finally win the Swedish national final (Melodifestiva) after three attempts. Though he knows everyone expects him to win Eurovision, he has to get through his tough semi-final first! If he were a comic super-hero he would be Superman so he can fly to meetings on time!

Mans from Sweden is a hero to many.

Mans from Sweden is a hero to many.

At the Swiss Meet & Greet, Melanie found the stage amazing and they got everything they asked for. Her song contains her personal experience put down in words. Believe in yourself and don’t let anything hold you back. I think virtually every song we’ve heard has the same message!

It's time to shine for Melanie from Switzerland.

It’s time to shine for Melanie from Switzerland.

At the Cypriot Meet & Greet, their singer, John, thought the stage was breathtaking! Makes a change from ‘amazing’. When asked what were his main characteristics, he said it was his specs and his confidence. He’s also a big gamer – especially World Of Warcraft, where his team is around 57th in the league tables.

It's all up here says John from Cyprus.

It’s all up here says John from Cyprus.

At the Slovenian Meet & Greet, we found out that the couple met at a musical academy and became a couple a few months later. They draw their inspiration from their two young boys. Marjetka feels comfortable wearing headphones on stage because it makes her feel that she’s in a recording studio.

Just look at the air violin say Maraaya of Slovenia.

Just look at the air violin say Maraaya of Slovenia.

The last Meet & Greet of the day was for Poland. Monika, who has to use a wheelchair, was grateful to the organisers for supplying her with ramps and such. After her car accident that left her partly paralysed, she had to draw on her inner strength to puck up her life. She even had to start all over again learning how to sing – singing sitting down is not the same as singing standing up. Her husband co-composed the song with her. She believes in a quote by Les Brown where everyone has greatness within them.

Monika from Poland draws on her inner strength.

Monika from Poland draws on her inner strength.

And now back to Day 5! I imagine it’s Friday, but everyday merges into each other now. Today we have the second rehearsals from all of Semi-Final One acts and the start of the proper press conferences. But only 20 minutes for each country, so it’s going to be all go!

David Ransted will be standing at the arena all day long taking photos of all the acts. I’ll get to the arena later to experience that ‘wow’ factor.

On the screen now is Moldova. This act has it all – it’s Village People meet Pans People, with lot of skin and acrobatics. The best start to the contest ever!

I thought I would actually go and visit the stage. And very impressive it is! It’s got a very nice and original design. I watched the Armenian act which was expertly performed. At their press conference, there was no pussy-footing around his time and the ‘G’ word (genocide) was actually used. In the interests of fairness though, the genocide is disputed by Turkey.

The infamous dress with the revealing boobies has now been replaced for the Dutch act. It got a lot of bad press and was gathering more interest than the song. Trijntje now looks like a real rock-chick that she is.
At her press conference she said that the dress may still make a comeback. I quite assure half the population will be pleased!

Everything is happening thick and fast today, so I’m taking it easy going to the arena, a press conference if I get a chance, and meeting up with old friends that you only see here once a year.

Eduard from Moldova says: “Keep the power”, while Loic from Belgium says he’s not really a competitive bloke and see Eurovision as one long concert. Good attitude to take I feel.

Rumours: China has a commentating booth this year and are broadcasting live! Maybe they’ll be in next year’s show? Everyone here thinks that Australia will be back again.

Just watched Estonia on stage – what a brilliant song it is. And the stage show is very effective.

Also effective, but in a completely different way is the Serbian act. This should be the club anthem of the season. It still features the drunk uncle at a wedding. Well, it’s a fun act. It may struggle to go through to the final though…

I managed to do a quick video interview with the Cypriot singer, John Karayiannis. If the sound quality is okay we’ll upload it in due course.

Just watched two great acts at the arena. The Russian act just gives you goose-bumps! Polina is such a powerful singer, probably one of the best in the contest. It will no doubt do well, because of all the in-built Russian votes, but this would be a worthy winner. It will of course be marked down by those who follow international politics – which may of course not be that many among Eurovision viewers…

Denmark were also fabulous on stage. What a happy sound these four lads (Anti-Social Media) produce. Britpop at it’s best. I was clapping away and stamping my feet in the arena I can tell you.

I’m watching the Albanian act – it’s a lovely little song, but may get lost among the more impressive acts. If this were just a song contest, it should do well, but the contest is too big for such the song to win – you need a memorable act. The most memorable thing here is probably Elhaidha’s dodgy outfit. I’m just joking. Just speaking to fellow member, Nico, and looking at its fellow Semi-Final One participants, it might gather the 50 or so points it needs to qualify for the final. Hurrah, I say. It’ll be good to see Albania in the final again.

Ahh,.. on stage is an song that I rate highly – Voltag from Romania. It really pulls at the heart-strings. All those who argue that the UK takes in too many immigrants, should really listen to this song and realise the sacrifices that workers from abroad have to make.

The show started off with leather outfits and it ends with a leather outfit fitting the form of the lovely Nina. You can’t go wrong with thigh length leather boots. The song is a bit shouty, but should easily qualify to the final.

And I think that might be it for tonight. We’ll upload David’s pics in tomorrow’s blog – exclusive pics from the arena!

Advertisements

Vienna Blog Day 4

Vienna Blog. Words by Hass Yusuf, photos by David Ransted.

This blog is updated constantly throughout the day, so tune in for all the latest news as it happens.

Disclaimer: This blog is being written as things happen so please ignore any mistakes and go with the flow!

Well here we are on Day 4. I think it’s Thursday, but all the days are merging into one. It’ always a slow start in the mornings, but once the smaller press conferences, the Meet & Greets, start in the afternoon, it gets really hectic in the afternoons when rehearsals start clashing with these Meet & Greets. But we’re still going to attempt to watch and get to everything!

Rehearsals are still a closed set, but once the second round of rehearsals start, we’ll all be allowed into the arena, where David Ransted will be perched all day taking photos. The things we do to earn our accreditation! Still haven’t had a chance to see the city yet – but the time we finish at the press centre and get something to eat, it approaching midnight. Too old to go clubbing these days.

The first rehearsal of the day, from Israel, is still 45 minutes away; so let me chat about things. The press centre here is excellent, but it’s really busy compared to other years. Even though the EBU have been cutting back on accredited journalists, everyone seems to have come to Vienna early rather than wait for the second set of rehearsals. We’re treated very here by the way. There’s free tea and coffee and loads of free snacks as well. And the canteen is quite decent as well. It’s important to eat y’know. And I know you’re wondering about it – but, yes, the loos are clean. Though some press people could do with a wash.

The young volunteers here by the way, are all lovely. They all speak English (how very civilized), and greet us with a cheery smile when we arrive and wave us off when we leave. But apparently they are treated very well and have all received the latest iPhone for their time and effort!

Today we have nine more to comment on. They’re the second half of the second semi-final, which by the way is the one that the UK will be voting on. So don’t forget to watch the shows on BBC 3. Anyway, have we seen a winner yet? The best contenders so far are probably from Estonia, Russia and Norway, but early days yet. Still 15 more songs to go! Anyway, while we wait for Israel to come on stage, here’s a pic from the press centre foyer where images of all the past winners are on display.

It's usually rude to point, but Sandie Shaw won in Vienna in 1967!

It’s usually rude to point, but Sandie Shaw won in Vienna in 1967!

And here we go with ISRAEL!
Nadav Guedj sings Golden Boy. As you would expect from the title of the song, the staging is very gold-like. It’s a somewhat male affair on stage where Nadav is joined on stage by two male vocalists (who take over when Nadav is prancing around) and three male dancers. The staging isn’t exactly original, but it’s an up-tempo fun performance and I love the Middle Eastern influence. Nadav is dressed in a black suit, which makes him look even older than his 16 years. Nadav is obviously the golden boy in his mother’s eyes – hopefully the rest of Europe will agree. It’ll be good to see Israel in the final again, where last year – having the best song in the contest in my opinion – ended up near the bottom of its semi-final! Anyway, this should wake up the viewers. At the last rehearsal run, the stage explodes covering Nadav with a golden shower.

Next on stage is LATVIA.
From gold we go to red. Aminata sings Love Injected which she wrote herself. It’s an very interesting electro-pop offering. A bit shouty, but it’s a great stage act. Aminata is wearing an interesting red outfit – and as is the theme this year – attempting to show off her boobies – with a marvellous red backdrop. She also rises up at he start of the song, but has to stay in one spot, especially in that outfit!. I have admit I didn’t rate this highly before coming to Vienna, but now I really want it to qualify. It’ll offer the final an unusual sound, especially with its interesting beat. Well done to LATVIA in upping the ante!

Next we have AZERBAIJAN, my favourite song on the contest!
Elnur Huseynov sings Hour Of The Wolf. A somewhat under-stated performance here. It got a loud clap in the press room – but probably for the song rather than the act. Elnur has a smashing voice, but the two dancers are a bit off-putting at the moment. They’re clearing meant to be representing wild animals, but probably not in costume yet. I expect the Azeris to up the ante by the second rehearsals. They have a nice backdrop though – a scene of woods with big red moon.

And quickly moving on to ICELAND.
Maria Olafs sings Unbroken. Maria has a good voice – she needs it for this rather shouty song. But she’s young girl obviously having fun on stage dressed in some sort of tutu outfit. She joined on stage by a nice chorus of vocalists. The background graphics are quite decent. The whole thing reminds me of a high school musical act, but apparently it was the younger viewers in the Icelandic national final that put Maria through to Vienna. Iceland have yet to win the contest, and it’s about time it does!

Just come from the first Meet & Greet featuring Israel. Young Nadav won the Rising Star show in Israel. “Super” seems to be his catchphrase. He’s super-blessed to here in Vienna. He’s super-happy with everything so far. He was a bit daunted by the stage, but after his third run of rehearing he was [super] confident. With so many ballads, he wants his song to suggest a [super] party. Though he may be a golden boy, he intends to finish his school. Super.

Here's Nadav, the golden boy from Israel.

Here’s Nadav, the golden boy from Israel.

At the Latvian Meet & Greet, Aminata and her crew gave us a performance of their song with just a guitar. There’s a nice buzz about her and this song now. It’s probably the surprise hit of the contest so far. Aminata tries to put all her personal influences into her songs. Her mother is Latvian and her father Africa, so tries to incorporate her background into her work.

Aminata from Latvia wants us to ring her.

Aminata from Latvia wants us to ring her.

On stage is SWEDEN.
Mans Zelmerlov sings Heroes. How can this possibly lose? It ticks all the right boxes: a great song, great effects, great singer, great act, etc. While it may not be my favourite song of the contest, this will capture the imagination. Basically Mans performs his son with various animated characters and effects. But they don’t distract from the song, but rather enhance it. I don’t particularly want to go back to Sweden so soon, but it probably can’t be helped!

SWITZERLAND are next on stage.
Melanie Rene sings Time To Shine. There’s a nice woodland background with this song and Melanie wears a nice chiffon cape. She’s joined on stage by four drummers. It’s all bright lights and wind machine really. It looks great on stage but the song is very so-so. It’ll be difficult for this to progress to the final I feel. But the Swiss usually produce favourites for me, so I would be happy for this to do well.

And next we have CYPRUS. John Karayiannis sings One Thing I Should Have Done. What an impressive performance this was. Subtle and very under-stated. The act starts off in black and white, slowly emerging into colour. The background effects then splash out in tune with this gentle ballad. John had the right personal and vocals for this song. Excellent. Hopefully the viewers will remember it when voting – it’s up against some rather loud offerings. And let’s hear it for people wearing black-rimmed specs.

But in the meantime Azerbaijan had its Meet & Greet. Elnur got a good reaction when he first saw the stage. He was pleased with the performance but need to iron out a few things. The dancers tell a story. The female wolf is trying to join the rest of the pack, but is being rejected by the male. The message is that we should stick together. He says Eurovision and himself have changed since he last appeared in Eurovision in 2008. He wanted to play tribute to one of his biggest influences, Freddie Mercury – and also to the lost talents such as Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson and Whitney Huston.

Thumbs up from Elnur of Azerbaijan. This gesture seems to be a theme of posing for photographs...

Thumbs up from Elnur of Azerbaijan. This gesture seems to be a theme of posing for photographs…

At the Icelandic press conference, Maria seemed a bit shy. She got a lot of experience performing as one of the Von Trapp children on stage in The sound Of Music. The meaning of her song is getting out of darkness and into the light – and the courage needed to do that.

A lovely smile from Maria of Iceland.

A lovely smile from Maria of Iceland.

On stage we now have SLOVENIA.
This is one of my top three songs of the contest, so I love it! Maraaya sing Here For You. But to be honest the stage show is a bit lack-lustre. I feel maybe the stage is too big for this song. But anyway, vocalist, Marjetka, sounds perfect in her white gown and headphones, why hubby, Raay, plays the piano. On stage they have a dancer air-playing an electric violin. And that’s about it really. Can’t say I even noticed the backdrop. But the song, sounding all marvellous and 1960ish, is top-notch!

POLAND is the last act on stage.
Monika Kuszynska sings In The Name Of Love. Monika has to use a wheelchair and on stage it’s covered by her long outfit. This is a mid-tempo offering with nature being the main theme of the backdrops – all greens and pink. She accompanied on stage by a pianist and three backing vocalists. It’s quite nice and understated, but perhaps the show needed something a bit brasher to end the show. But nevertheless, this is very sweet and nice. It’s getting late now – back tomorrow with the last Meet & Greets.

Vienna Blog Day 3

Vienna Blog. Words by Hass Yusuf, photos by David Ransted.

This blog is updated constantly throughout the day, so tune in for all the latest news as it happens.

Disclaimer: This blog is being written as things happen so please ignore any mistakes and go with the flow.

Yes, the hills are alive with a mad Brit. Just to prove that we actually are in Austria!

Yes, the hills are alive with a mad Brit. Just to prove that we actually are in Austria!

Anyway, here we are on Day Three. Today we’re going to see the first eight acts from Semi-Final Two. It’s been extremely busy since we arrived here in Vienna. Still haven’t seen much of the city, but it’s early days yet. So far, the organization seems to be excellent. The press centre here is top-notch. We even have free tea and coffee and snacks! Unheard of! How very civilized.
First up today and now on stage is LITHUANIA. Monika Linkyte & Vaidas Baumila sing This Time. It’s a lively up-tempo performance from the two singers, who seem to have good chemistry between them. They even have a little snog during the act. Let’s hope neither of them develop cold sores between now and their semi-final! The backdrop is very bright and lively and works well with the theme of the song. There are lots of flowers with nice graphic representations of sunshine. So all is well with the world again. Ah… young love. How very sweet. (Makes you sick, doesn’t it?) They’re joined on stage by two sets of backing vocalists, who make good use of the entire stage. It’s a nice start to the show. It’ll be nice to see this in the final.

Next on stage is the act from our nearest neighbour, IRELAND.
Molly Sterling sings Playing With Numbers. (And talking playing with numbers, there’s a little casino table here at the press centre. Yes, all our needs are catered for here.) But back to Molly – the backdrop is really impressive with beautiful shots of nature. This is in complete contrast to the previous act. It’s a lovely slow ballad, with Molly sitting at he piano and joined by a small band and backing vocalists. Unfortunately Molly comes across as very shy. She doesn’t engage with the camera or audience at all. She just stares at the piano for three minutes. Hopefully, once she relaxes, the director will try and get her out of her shell (well she is only 17 years-old). She’s got a lovely smile and needs to show it. David Ransted loves this song and wants to encourage all of you to vote for it!

More youngsters now with the act from SAN MARINO. Chain Of Lights is sung by Anita Simoncini & Michele Perniola. These two both represented their country at different years at Junior Eurovision. They’ve now progressed to the main events. But to be truthfully, it’s not with a powerful song. It’s a nice sweet mid-tempo song, and nicely performed by the young couple, but it has no modern hook to it. It would’ve really fitted in well with past Eurovisions in the 1980s and 1990s, but in 2015 it will struggle to get to the final. But bless them for giving it their best!

MONTENEGRO is next on stage. Knez sings Adio (Goodbye). But it’s a big hello from me as I love this song. It’s a pure ethnic Balkan ballad. The act is clichéd in its nature – one powerful singer, female vocalists, with one of them playing a violin – they all elegantly walk around and even do a bit of ethnic dancing. We’ve seen it all before, but who cares? It’s class all the way.

It now time for the first Meet & Greet of the day – Lithuania. Monika and Vaidas seem well suited for the song. They think Vienna is amazing – as is the Eurovision stage! A few facts: Vaidas used to sing opera, and Monika doesn’t like drinking pure water. Even though they started off as sololists at the Lithuanian national final, they combined their talents to win that show. And if they win Eurovision, the country is ready to host this great event.

Monika & Vaidas want your love.

Monika & Vaidas want your love.

Time for the Irish Meet & Greet. Young Molly seems very mature for her 17 years! She had to get special permission to attend Eurovision as she’s still at school. Her first impression of seeing the stage was “mental!” She also revealed that she a bit stage fright. She said she couldn’t stop smiling, but as she was singing a sad song, she felt she had to tone down her expressions. She’s a big fan of Fleetwood Mac, so is obviously a young lady of good taste. When asked about the symbolism of the trees and nature of their backdrop, it apparently is meant to convey Molly’s inner-peace. Fair enough – I just think they chose it because it looks nice.

Molly as inner strength!

Molly as inner strength!

Back to rehearsals where we find MALTA performing.
This is the second song in the contest to be called Warrior, but this time it’s sung by a young artist called Amber. No doubt there will comparisons with the Georgian Warrior, but this song stands on its own merit. The focus is very much on Amber, who stands alone on stage showing a lot of thigh. The act has a very electric-inspired backdrop. Despite a powerful performance by Amber, this might struggle to get into the final.

Next on stage is NORWAY. Morland & Debrah Scarlett sing A Monster Like Me. This is a bit of a sad song about a bad past and letting your love go. It’s delicately stage and might even pull a few heartstrings. The duo are both dressed in white with subtle effects, putting emphasis on the performance. A lot of people rate this song highly – and I can see why. The couple seem to have good chemistry despite singing apart.

PORTUGAL are next to rehearse. Leonor Andrade sings Ha Um Mar Nos Separa (There’s A Sea That Separates Us). Leonor is quite an impressive singer and her vocals suit this rock song perfectly. Dressed in PVC and chiffon, she just stands there and sings her heart out. But backing vocalists and a wind machine are there to give her a hand. This is quite a powerful and modern-sounding song from Portugal this year. It would be great to see this in the final.

Back to the Meet & Greets. At the San Marino one Anita & Michele came across a nice pair of kids. They’re both very excited to be at the grown-up Eurovision having participated at Junior Eurovision. They say the organization is ten-times bigger! They’re very proud to be associated with famous songwriter Ralph Siegel. San Marino is a small country, but their song carries a big message of peace and hope. Who could ask for more?

Flying the flag for San Marino is Michele and Anita.

Flying the flag for San Marino is Michele and Anita.

At the Montenegro Meet & Greet, singer Knez seemed to be employed by the national tourism department – everything in Montenegro is wonderful – the mountains, the sea, the people, the food, etc. Let’s all go and visit! Knez apparently is the oldest singer in the contest, and his daughter is actually one of his backing singers. The tune was written by famous songwriter Zelijko Joksimovic and has been criticized for sounding similar to his other compositions. But Knez assures us that the song has a unique Montenegrin sound. Can’t hear it myself, but I think it’s wonderful, so really don’t care.

Knez and pals from Montenegro invite you over!

Knez and pals from Montenegro invite you over!

Back on stage we find the CZECH REPUBLIC, the last act of the day. Marta Jandova & Vaclav Noid Barta sing Hope Never Dies. This is a sad but hopeful and powerful ballad – and it’s good to see the country back in Eurovision after a break of many years. It’s a passionate performance with Marta flinging off her shoes! It makes it more awkward for them to embrace at the end – he’s much taller than him, but the sentiment is there! There may be comparisons with Norway here – they dressed in white and the Czechs in black, but both are equally impressive.

Back to the remaining Meet & Greets. Amber from Malta thought everything went perfect in her rehearsal. She says she can relate to her song – fight for your right – find your inner strength and all that. Most of these songs this year seem to have that message! Anyway, since winning the Maltese final in November, her song has undergone a lot of development to make it perfect for Eurovision.

Amber from Malta is trying to hitch a ride.

Amber from Malta is trying to hitch a ride.

Onto Norway now. Morland & Debrah make a nice couple. Morland wrote A Monster Like Me yeas ago but was waiting for the right opportunity to release it – but needed a female singer to sing it with. And that’s when he spotted Debrah on Youtube. He noticed a deadline advert to enter the Norwegian national final, and the rest is history. The song isn’t that easy to sing, but they enjoy the challenge. If they win the contest, they’re off to do a parachute jump. I can think of easier ways to celebrate a Eurovision win…

Morland and Debrah from Norway make a nice couple.

Morland and Debrah from Norway make a nice couple.

Portugal was next. Leonor loved the stage and the Austrians she’s so far encountered (yes, they’re all very nice). Her song also has a strong message (I did tell you) about the distance between two souls. While she has no problem with other artists singing in English, she feels that since this is a European contest that some songs should be sung in their mother language. She owes her career to her very supportive brother.

Leonor from Portugal has got the rock-chick look!

Leonor from Portugal has got the rock-chick look!

It looks like they saved the best Meet & Greet to last. Marta & Vaclav from the Czech Republic were a right laugh – especially Marta who knows how to control a crowd. The Czech Republic are back after five years – and they got a lot of bad press at home because in previous attempts the country has done badly in the contest and many critics think that they’ll bring shame to the county again! Hopefully these critics will be proved wrong. Marta has a history of taking off her shoes when performing – she doesn’t like high heels, and it felt right for the song. When asked about their tattoos, Vaclav says he inked his daughter’s birthday himself. While Marta revealed that she has one of Vaclav’s on her back that she did herself! They actually met in Prague in a musical based on Hamlet – where Marta played Vaclav’s mother! They were a right hoot – a fun duo for a serious song.

It's a laugh a minute with Marta and Vaclav from the Czech Republic

It’s a laugh a minute with Marta and Vaclav from the Czech Republic

And that’s it for today. It’s been another long day – and tomorrow will be longer with the nine remaining acts from the second semi-final!

Vienna Blog Day 2

Vienna Blog. Words by Hass Yusuf, photos by David Ransted.

This blog is updated constantly throughout the day, so tune in for all the latest news as it happens.

Welcome to day two in Vienna. Had to quickly finish off last night – it was well over 8.30pm before we left.

There were a few more Meet & Greets last night.

At the Greek Meet & Greet Maria Elena, who apparently has three young sons, thinks the whole production in Vienna is excellent.

Now many years ago she was encouraged to apply for Pop Idol in Greece, but felt she wasn’t ready. Ten years later, her brother insisted that she apply for the Greek national final – and the rest is history.

Estonia was next. Stig and Elina admitted that they still haven’t sorted out their camera angles – which is why thinks seems disjointed. Stig has been trying for years to win the Estonian national final. He doesn’t often perform – preferring to write songs. Goodbye To Yesterday lay in a drawer for years waiting for the right time for it’s release – and now was the time. He also thinks Eurovision is very contemporary these days and every song has a place on a radio playlist.

The last Meet & Greet was Macedonia.
Daniel Kajmakosk came across as very likeable. His backing singers are members of the US group, Blackstreet, and says he’s privileged to share the stage with them. Daniel actually lives in Vienna so feels he is representing both Vienna and Macedonia. His inspiration is his mother, who really encouraged him to take up a singing career. In fact he was named after Daniel Popovic who sang for Yugoslavia in 1983 with the song Julie. He was asked why sing about autumn

Look at this poster outside the arena!

Look at this poster outside the arena!

Here's the chap from Moldova - Eduard - looking all happy!

Here’s the chap from Moldova – Eduard – looking all happy!

Genealogy are proud of their Armenian flag.

Genealogy are proud of their Armenian flag.

It's thumbs up from Loic and his team from Belgium.

It’s thumbs up from Loic and his team from Belgium.

Trijntje from the Netherlands looks over-dressed compared to her stage outfit!

Trijntje from the Netherlands looks over-dressed compared to her stage outfit!

It's the punk rockers from Finland, PKN.

It’s the punk rockers from Finland, PKN.

Maria Elena and her team from Greece are after success!

Maria Elena and her team from Greece are after success!

Elina and Stig from Estonia are saying Goodbye To Yesterday - but Hello To Eurovision!

Elina and Stig from Estonia are saying Goodbye To Yesterday – but Hello To Eurovision!

Daniel from Macedonia loves Eurovision this m-u-u-u-c-c-c-h-h-h-h!

Daniel from Macedonia loves Eurovision this m-u-u-u-c-c-c-h-h-h-h!

Back to today where the second half of the first semi-final will be featured.

SERBIA is first on stage today.
And judging by the first rehearsal, this is another OMG performance. Bojana Stamenov sings Beauty Never Dies. She’s a big lady, with big hair and a big silver outfit. She’s a great singer and is obviously having fun with this anthemic song – as are the backing singers – dressed in white and carrying white flags (surrendering to what I wonder – probably to the fact that they won’t qualify to the final?). But as the song ups its tempo off fly the robes to reveal brighter outfits. But one of the male singers clearly is embarrassed by the whole thing – looks like a bad-dancing uncle at a wedding. It’s difficult how to rate this act. On the one hand they’re trying too hard, but it is good fun.

In complete contrast we next have HUNGARY.
Boggie sings Wars For Nothing. As the title suggests, it’s a song for peace and very delicately performed. The inventive backdrop suits the song perfectly. Maybe a bit too subtle after so many OTT performances? Hopefully not. Having a very quiet tempo offering will benefit the show. I rate it highly. Kiss of death, or what?

BELARUS is next on stage.
Uzari & Maimuna sing Time. Actually Uzari does all the singing, while Maimuna walks around playing the violin. It’s an enjoyable up-tempo performance, but it may struggle to get through to the final. It’s lacking that something special to set it apart from many of the acts we’ve seen so far. The real stars of the act are Uzari’s ear-decorations. Fans of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine may mistake him for a Bjorian…

Now it’s time for RUSSIA.
The country is always a big-hitter, and this year it’s well deserved with Polina Gagarina singing A Million Voices. The first impression of this act is how under-stated it is. Polina is joined on stage by a band – which does seem a bit strange for this anthemic contribution – but that apart, this is a top five contender. It just got a big applause in the press room.

Time now for the first Meet & Greet of the day.

Bojana from Serbia is a happy soul – and is usually a Soul singer. But for Eurovision she’s become a bit of a disco diva. She was asked about the abrupt key change in the song – going from a ballad to up-tempo. She said it was a way the composer wanted to show of her voice.

She would’ve preferred to sing her song in Serbian, as it’s more special to her, but obviously English is more universal.

We also found out that the flags won’t be white on the night of the actual show – a surprise for us all. Serbia is back in Eurovision after a little break, so it would be nice to see Bojana in the final.

Getting in the frame is Bojana from Serbia

Getting in the frame is Bojana from Serbia

Back on stage we find DENMARK.
Anti-Social Media play The Way You Are. It’s a bit of a throw back to the 1960s – and is a most welcome sound it is. The four-member band are joined by two female singers dressed in red mini-skirts. Think Beatles or Oasis. It’s the most Britpop song in the contest, so really deserves to do well. The band members all seem very young though. Are those zits I spot? But they sound great. Good luck to them!

Whizzing back to the Meet & Greet we find Hungary.
Boggie is quite n emotional singer. She’s very comfortable on stage and thinks the visuals are fantastic but modest. She talked about her flashmob tour around Europe which has gathered over 40 million hits on Youtube. Basically she went around various European cities and started singing. She only had a bit of problem in Rome where she was asked to produce a filming permit!

Let's all Boggie on down to Hungary

Let’s all Boggie on down to Hungary

Next at the Meet & Greet is Belarus.
Now the theme of the song has somewhat changed since they produced their impressive video. In the video it was a homage to Lord Of The Rings, but now the song is an inspiration about the battle against cancer. The song is called Time, and in a way he song’s narrative is how you use the time you have. It can be a powerful weapon if used wisely.
On stage we only see Uzari & Maimuna, but hidden away are a few backing singers.

Fighting against cancer are Uzari & Maimuna from Belarus

Fighting against cancer are Uzari & Maimuna from Belarus

Back to rehearsals again and on stage we find the act from ALBANIA.
A somewhat understated performance from Elhaida Dani singing I’m Alive. She just stands there and sings helped along by a few backing vocalists. Somewhat of a missed opportunity I feel. Elhaida has a lovely voice and is a good singer, and while the song has its merits, it may struggle to get to the final. But you never know.

ROMANIA is next to rehearse.
Voltaj sing De La Capat/All Over Again. The band was worthy winners of their national final. Their gentle song plunks at the heartstrings and has a serious narrative – leaving children at home while their parents go abroad to work. And to emphasis this, the stage is full of suitcases. It really is lovely song – one of Romania’s best.

Russia is next for the Meet & Greet ritual.
Polina is a real star and comes across as very sincere. Her song, A Million Voices, has a message of love and kindness. Don’t forget to hug your family and friends – we sometimes forget about the important things in life, such as caring for each other.

Polina says has to overcome her nervousness and fear whenever she sets foot on stage.

Looking pretty is Polina from Russia

Looking pretty is Polina from Russia

The final act on stage is GEORGIA.
And what an act to end Semi-Final One! Leather shorts, leather thigh-length boots – what more could you ask for? How about a great singer and act? Well that’s what you get with Nina Sublatti singing Warrior. Learning a lesson from last year’s winner, Nina just stands there and commands the whole stage. Helped along by impressive visuals, this is a great show-stopper. The song, while not the strongest in the contest will stand out because of the performance.

Time for another Meet & Greet, this time for Denmark.
The young band only got together a month before the Danish final, but still managed to win that show with their Beatles-inspired song. They’re still getting used to each other, but are very happy to be part of the Eurovision experience.

Well-mannered thumbs from Denmark's Anti-Social Media

Well-mannered thumbs from Denmark’s Anti-Social Media

At the Albanian Meet & Greet, Elhaida revealed that she thinks her name has an Arabic background and means ‘leader’ or someone you follow. She only had three weeks to find her song as her original entry was withdrawn by the composer. Her first big break came a few years ago when she won Voice of Italy. She’s now a big star all around the Balkans – not bad for a 22 year-old.

Peace and love from Albania's Elhaida

Peace and love from Albania’s Elhaida

It’s Romania’s turn for the Meet & Greet.
Voltaj are a popular band in Romania, and have been for 20 years. While Eurovision is important to them, their message in their song is the real reason why they’re in Vienna. The song’s message tells a story of the millions of Romanian who go abroad to work, leaving their children behind. They want to encourage Romanians and the country to either come back or take their kids with them. The band have even sponsored a little girl. A powerful message via a powerful song.

Voltaj from Romania with their powerful message

Voltaj from Romania with their powerful message.

The last Meet & Greet of the day is for Georgia.
Nina Sublatti comes across as an independent and powerful personality, befitting her performance. Her song seems to resonate with young women. It was important for Nina to be on stage alone to show that she’s in charge of her destiny. Her own inspiration was her mother and grandmother. She also helped design her own outfit – but wasn’t sure of he bird-like shoulder pads. Well it all worked for me.

Peeking her head from the Georgian flag is Nina!

Peeking her head from the Georgian flag is Nina!

And there you have it – all the acts for Semi-Final One. Is the winner from this pack? It won’t be that long before we find out.

Back tomorrow with the first rehearsals for the first half of Semi-Final Two acts.

Vienna Blog Day 1 Monday 11 May

Welcome to Vienna.Words by Hass Yusuf. Photos by David Ransted.

This blog is constantly updated throughout the day so check in when you get a chance for all the latest developments.

Well here we are again! And this time we’re Building Bridges in Vienna. Well, something has to pay for this trip! I am of course jesting. ‘Building Bridges’ is of course the slogan for this year’s Eurovision. That slogan would’ve suited the previous two Eurovisions as a bridge does like link Copenhagen in Denmark with Malmo in Sweden! And last year’s slogan image was a diamond – which would’ve better suited this year as it is Eurovision’s 60th Anniversary! But who ever said Eurovision was logical?

Anyway, as usual it’s a privilege to be here – and as it is for them – we don’t go anywhere y’know! I am of course lying – we’ll go anywhere – who cares about police states or human rights – we’ll go where the action is! The event is paramount! Who can resist these weeks of mirth, merriment, magic, music or other words beginning with ‘m’. And we avoid any miserable, mucky or malice (I’ve been told ‘mass debating’ is too rude).

But there’s nothing negative here in Vienna, Austria. We’ve only been here one day and we’ve had a fab time. Vienna seems very civilized and everyone is very friendly. We’re in for a fab time! As usual I’m here with lots of Brits and Irish fans and journalists. I’m hanging around as usual with David Ransted, David Elder and Robin Scott.

Just waiting now for the first rehearsal… and it’s late…

But we have finally have vision on the big screens here in the press centre.

MOLDOVA

OK – OMG! This act clearly caters for everyone. The dancers are scantily dressed policemen and policewomen! And singer Eduard Romanyuta, who’s hit the gym, gets his shirt ripped off. This is pure Eurovision – but the song is impressive and modern. You couldn’t really ask for a better beginning… and as the song says I Want Your Love. The close up of a policewoman’s wobbling booty will make many pubescent boys pick up that phone to vote…

If any handcuffs come out, it’s going to be my new favourite.

And next we have ARMENIA.
This is a very stylized act. With six singers (from around the world) each singing their part there’s plenty of opportunity for things to go wrong – but this rehearsal went well. It’s al very goth-like with everyone dressed in robes. The effects are impressive, especially on stage floor – and I imagine that’s an apricot tree swaying in the background. The song is about the country’s sad history a hundred years ago. It’s probably the most political song in the contest. Armenia accuses Turkey of genocide during the First World War (and the collapse of the Ottoman empire), which the Turks adamantly deny. Anyway, good luck to Genealogy with Face The Shadow.

Next is BELGIUM with a modern sound.
Loic Nottet sings Rhythm Inside and it certainly has a lot of rhythm! The stage act is a bit lack-lustre to what we’ve had so far, but the song will appeal to the younger crowd. There’s a lot of bright flashing white lights with the effects. Loic seems like a confident performer. He even has a sit-down. One of our colleagues here says he has hypnotic eyes. He’s obviously instructing us all to vote for him. And we should as this is the sort of song that really needs to be the final to offer diversity.

This seems like a good time to mention the fabulous stage that seems to get in on the act. The Austrians have done a great job.

Next we have the NETHERLANDS.
There’s a lot skin in this year’s contest so far and Trijntje Oosterhuis is revealing the most with her song Walk Along. Trust me, no one will walk past her trying to avert their eyes! Her outfit is quite revealing – one wrong camera angle and it’s nipples galore! The backing singers have unusual outfits, but are fully clothed. But back to song, which I guess is the more important thing (though many would disagree). This is a mid-tempo pop song that’s written by Anouk Teeuwe, who managed a few years ago to get the Netherlands into the final after years of being stuck in the semis. Will Trijntje be as successful? It deserves to be. Unfortunately the outfit will be remembered more than the song.

Just been to the first Meet & Greet from Moldova.
He’s a clever lad – studying for a PhD. Eduard says it’s difficult trying to fit in studies with music, but at the moment his music and Eurovision has to come first. He’s very happy to start off Eurovision, as he performed first at the Moldovan semi-final, so hopes that position will bring him luck and he’ll win the Semi-Final One on Tuesday 19th May!

As for their act with the leather-clad police, he said they wanted to make the act memorable. It certainly did that – “break the ice, fire it up” were his words. It did both!

At the Armenian Meet & Greet, the six singers representing the US, France, Australia, Asia, Africa and Armenia (the Armenian diaspora is spread all around the world) were very careful not to mention the events of a hundred years ago even when some of the questions were loaded. Their song is all about peace and love – and the contest’s theme, Building Bridges, is extremely relevant here. They say while you have to look to the future you mustn’t your past – face your shadow so to speak. The song is also meant to unite all the Armenians around the world – the group are proud that their people are located all around the world. They apparently think that’s unique…

And at the Belgian Meet & Greet, young Loic came across very well. While only 19 years old, everything on stage was his doing. He was discovered a year ago on a talent show, and now a year later he’s representing his country at Eurovision! He was asked about the unique choreography with his dancers performing strange movements. He said he wanted to represent the perfect person – hence a robot!

When he goes on stage he says it’s very important to be yourself. As for his song writing – the songs represents his feelings at the time – either happy or sad.

At the Netherlands press conference, Trijntje revealed that she’s completely focused on her three minutes on stage. She’s amazed at the organizational feat of Eurovision. She says it’s extremely professional – and is getting a good vibe. She’s conscious that the organiers are trying to make each song look “beautiful”.

A Dutch designer called Prince Charming designed her dress by the way, but her whole team had a say in it. I’m sure they did.

Back on stage we have FINLAND.
This act features a four-member band, PKN, who are either autistic or suffer from Down Syndrome. But what makes the act unusual for Eurovision is that they offer a punk song, Aina Mun Pitaa (I Always Have To). As a punk song it’s okay, and offers the contest some diversity. As you would expect, the staging is quite frantic – mist, quick editing and so forth. It has a certain appeal – and after 30 years or so, it’s nice to hear some punk again!

Next on stage is GREECE
Now what is it about cleavage in this contest this year? Not that I’m complaining, but here’s another good-looking single on the verge of a wardrobe malfunction! However, the lovely Maria Elena sings One Last Breath (very apt in that outfit). The song is a somewhat average, but decent ballad – it is however very well staged, with a nice backdrop and good use of the wind machine!

ESTONIA is next on stage.
Now this is one of my favourite songs of the whole contest. It’s a great country-style song with a 1960s beat, Goodbye To Yesterday, sung by Elina Born & Stig Rasta. I have to admit, this first rehearsal seemed quite disjointed – but will no doubt improve with the next rehearsal. At the moment it’s got that hand-held camera look. But the staging idea is impressive.
It’s a bit of a dark song with a message – but sounds great. I really hope it does well.

Next on stage we find the act from MACEDONIA
Daniel Kajmakosk sings Autumn Leaves. It’s an impressive sounding ballad, but the act is a bit distracting with everyone side-stepping each other. The competition is so tough as usual that every acts needs that something ‘special’ to make it stand out. It’s a shame that a song can’t stand on its own merit these days. But then again, a great stage act makes Eurovision such a pleasure to watch!

That was the last act on stage, so back to the Meet & Greets.

The Finnish one with the punk band was real hoot! The band insist that they’re here to win the contest! They do however find the stage to big, so they’ve concentrated their act in a small part of it. Asked about a punk song being in Eurovision, they replied that punk is also music so deserves to be in the contest. They think punk is good old-fashioned fun.

Interesting enough, because members do have learning disabilities, they use colours and shapes to remember things.