Months of hard work and preparation for 19 countries all came down to this, the first semi-final of the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest. By the end of the evening, ten would be celebrating a place in the final, and nine would be licking their wounds.
The show opened with the hosts, Stefan Raab (himself no stranger to the Eurovision stage), Anke Engelke and Judith Rakers, walking on to the stage and welcoming viewers in different languages. They went on to explain the voting procedure and the rules. The lucky ten would be decided by a combination of viewer’s phone votes and the votes of industry professionals on the juries.
Over the years, Executive Producers of the contest have tried to find entertaining ways of introducing each song through a video postcard. NDR opted for a short film shot somewhere in Germany and featuring individuals from the country about to perform. In addition, there was a quick wave from each singer as they were about to take to the stage.
Poland – Magdalena Tul – Jestem – Poland had the honour of being first to perform for the audience in the arena and at home. Both she and her backing singers/dancers were clad all in white. The up-tempo song was a favourite to qualify for the final.
Norway – Stella Mwangi – Haba Haba – Norway hosted the contest last year. Stella has been criticised in some quarters for her inability to sing, although her song has gone down a storm in her adopted country. She was blinged up for the occasion.
Albania – Aurela Gace – Feel the Passion – The Albanian song is one of the few in the semi-final that sounds as if it comes from the country it represents. Consequently, this is one for the purists and the open-minded. Aurela’s voice was one of the strongest on show. These were two factors in Albania’s favour, but would they be enough?
Armenia – Emmy Boom Boom – Emmy came out fighting for Armenia. Almost literally, in fact, as she emerged from a giant boxing glove! She was even surrounded by ribbons held by her dancers in a way that gave the look of a boxing ring. Armenia has never failed to qualify for the final. Would this be a gimmick too far? The routine seemed a bit too high energy for Emmy, she was out of breath by the end.
Turkey – Yuksek Sadakat – Live It Up – Rock songs have not let Turkey down recently. Fans will remember ‘cyber girl’ from last year, and she is back again. This time, she is not a robot, but trapped within a globe, finally breaking out from large, birdlike feathers at the end. It was unnecessary, rock bands should be left alone to rock.
Serbia – Nina – Caroban – A trip back in time was provided by the Serbs, in both the style of the song and the 1960’s dresses. One suspects it may be more popular with the juries than the viewers at home.
Russia – Alexej Vorobjov – Get You – Over the last decade, Russia has been one of the most successful countries in the contest, including a win. Energetic is the most appropriate word to use for the team’s performance of a catchy pop song. Whoever styled Alexej must have watched the Grease recently.
Switzerland – Anna Rossinelli – In Love For a While – Switzerland has been very unlucky over recent years, not qualifying for the final when the songs have clearly deserved to. On that basis, it was hard to see Anna as a finalist. However, hope lay in the distinctive nature of In Love For a While, with its jazz club cabaret sound.
Georgia – Eldrine – One More Day – The second rock song of the night, from Georgia saw lots of flashing lights and pyrotechnics. The outfits were essentially black, with some interesting brightly coloured strips. It sounded like a strong contender.
Finland – Paradise Oskar – Da Da Dam – The Finnish song couldn’t have been a greater contrast to what had preceded it. Paradise was alone on stage strumming his guitar singing about saving the world while wearing recycled clothes. The video wall showed a large picture of Earth.
Malta – Glen Vella – One Life – Confidence is not something Glen lacks! Perhaps to emphasise the tourist possibilities in Malta, the backing singers all wore big sunglasses for the chirpy sounding song.
San Marino – Senit – Stand By – This is San Marino’s second entry and Senit was naturally seeking to do what Miodio had failed to do and qualify for the final. On the face of it, her plodding ballad seemed unlikely to be the favourite song of enough people to gain enough votes, but the influence of the juries is always difficult to call.
Croatia – Daria Kinzer – Celebrate – Multi costume changes have proved a winning formula in the past and Daria tried her luck with that style of choreography. Celebrate is somewhere between mid and up-tempo. Like her dress, she hoped to be in the pink.
Iceland – Sigurjon’s Friends – Coming Home – Circumstances dictated that the Icelandic song would receive a huge reception from the audience and so it proved. The ragtime influenced song was well performed by the friends, all wearing identical gray waistcoats and blue ties. Sigurjon would be proud.
Hungary – Kati Wolf – What About My Dreams – Adorned like a gift wrapped Madusa, Kati was in fine voice while some of the others so far have struggled just a little bit (Oh Aah). It had always been one of the favourites to qualify; it was easy to see why. Confidence in the Hungarian camp must have been high.
Portugal – Homens da Luta – A Luta é Alegria – This was an interesting combination of comedy group singing a political protest song. It would have worked better in English. Songs with a message don’t work if only the native country can understand the words. Looking at the outfits, thoughts of The Village People were hard to repress.
Lithuania – Evelina Sasenko – C’est ma Vie – A sense of sanity returned to proceedings with Evelina’s gentle, piano-based ballad. It was spoiled somewhat with the brief use of sign language during the second verse.
Azerbaijan – Ell and Nikki -Running Scared – Azerbaijan is one of the countries who have always qualified for the final. Running Scared was one of the most instantly likeable songs on show. In an age when over-presentation abounds, they sensibly kept the staging simple, but it was still effective with appropriate use of the lighting.
Greece – Loucas Yiorkas feat. Stereo Mike – Watch My Dance – Worries had been expressed in the run up to tonight about the rap element of the song. Stereo Mike was guilty of too much aggression in his voice, usually de rigeur in rap, but out of place in a song of this style. Loucas did his best to turn the tide back to the melodic, only time would tell if his contribution was going to save Greece from an unheard of early exit.
For anyone who was still unsure which song to vote for, there was the traditional reprise of all the songs, after which the phone lines closed. While all this was taking place, a team of drummers entertained the audience in the arena.
After a brief chat among the hosts and an introduction of the new Executive Supervisor for the contest, it was time for the big moment
The first country out was Serbia, then Lithuania, followed by Greece, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Switzerland, Hungary, Finland, Russia and Iceland. All of these will be seen again in the final on Saturday.