Eurovision 2017 - semi final one Preview
The 2017 Eurovision final takes place in Kiev on Saturday 13th May, though first there are two semi-finals to be staged on Tuesday and Thursday to determine which 20 of the 36 countries in the knockout heats will join the 'big five' (UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy) and host nation Ukraine in the final.
Semi-final one (Tuesday 9th May)
The dress rehearsals for tomorrow's first semi-final took place earlier today and it is from those performances that the results of the jury vote will be based (though they are not publically announced until tomorrow).
The overall semi-final results are based on a 50:50 split of of the jury vote and the public tele vote tomorrow, though the exact points totals are not revealed until straight after the main final and all we will find out tomorrow is the names of the 10 countries who have progressed to the final (i.e. if you are having a punt on the semi winner, your bet will be unsettled until Saturday!).
Potential semi-final one winners
I am surprised Sweden have been uneasy in the betting following the slick performance of Robin Bengtsson in the rehearsals (best priced 4/1 to win SF1) as I backed them at 5/2 win only initially and thought they were rock solid.
I Can't Go On won the Melodifestivalen competition in Sweden to earn the right to represent the Swedes in Kiev and right from the outset this is a song that has impressed with its catchy beat, funky choreography and Robin's cool delivery.
I Can't Go On was actually third in the public vote with the Swedish public during Melodifestivalen, but it topped the overall competition result after scoring very well with the international jury on that panel - something that must surely augur well for tomorrow.
Sweden open the show and will lay down an early benchmark that many of the subsequent acts will struggle to match.
Adaptations have been made to the performance since Melodifestivalen due to the fact the stage in Kiev is configured differently, but Robin still begins his performance off stage, cast in a now golden light, before making his way to the main stage, on which he and his dancers perform a number of dance moves on treadmills.
The critics have said that the performance looks like a Burton menswear catwalk, but the vocals are strong, the camera angles have been tinkered with, after a few inevitable teething issues during rehearsals last week, and this is the ideal song to kick off the show with a bang.
There has been good money for Portugal, who are now a best priced 11/4 to win SF1 and are disputing favouritism with Armenia to win the semi following the dress rehearsals, but Amar Pelos Dios is a very much a 'chalk and cheese' melody and, while it has seemingly scored well with the jury today, it is a song that could fare less well in the public vote tomorrow.
The singer, Salvador Sobral, hasn't even performed the song in the initial rehearsals; a heart condition means he cannot leave his medical team in Portugal for longer than two weeks, so his sister, who composed the song, has stepped in for him and performed in the auditions up until the dress rehearsal.
It doesn't look like it will make a difference to Salvador, as his voice, if you like this type of music, is charming, and there is absolutely nothing happening around him on stage - so there has been no performance to sharpen up before the final.
If Portugal wins, fair play. Europe's taste in music must be on the decline! If, like me, you view the competition as one of fun and entertainment, then his will be three minutes of your life you sadly won't get back and it is one you will be looking to get beat.
I understand why Armenia's entry, Fly With Me, is shortening up in the betting as they have bagged a good draw on the night and will perform 16th of the 18 acts in the running order. The song has some substance to it and Artsviks performance is strong enough. They look definite qualifiers, as do Portugal and Sweden.
What about the rest of the entries. Who are the darker horses?
Other qualification contenders
One of the most fascinating entries in the entire competition for me is Azerbaijan's Skeletons, by Dihaj.
Given their solid record in the competition since 2008, Azerbaijan have been bitter disappointments in the last few years with Hour Of The Wolf (12th) and Miracle (17th) both underperforming, but Skeletons is a drastically improved song that has a feel of Sia to it, and gives them every chance of notching a top 10 finish in the Grand Final - if not better.
In a competition packed full of female ballads and static performances on stage, the performance of Skeletons, while totally bizarre, at least sticks in the memory - there is a man stood on some ladders with a horse mask on his head while Dihaj floats around after breaking down a box in the middle of the stage.
If the public aren't offput by the dark/gothic feel to the performance when it comes to the tele vote then Azerbaijan look strong candidates to qualify.
I also really like the funky entry of Moldova, Hey Mamma, by Sunstroke Project. This is another song that seemingly hasn't needed much tinkering with in rehearsals but the presence of a saxophonist in the act, along with a marching dance, makes this one of the more fun acts in the first semi final and you would be disappointed if they couldn't snap their sequence of failing to qualify for any of the last three competitions with this one.
Greece's song, This Is Love, showed great potential in the studio but their qualification chances are currently up in the air due to some shaky vocals from Demy. If she can hit the notes in the chorus on the night then this is a song that will progress as the production in the background is excellent and there is a dancey feel to the song.
Both Belgium and Australia were among the top five contenders before rehearsals, though both seem to have lost a bit of ground in the last week.
Belgium's Danger Zone was considered by many to be a potential winner when the studio versions were released, but there is very little happening on stage and Blanche's unique tone, coupled with a bland performance on stage, doesn't make for a great combination.
Australia, second in last year's competition with Dami Im's Sound Of Silence, send out another of their X-Factor winners this year, 17-year-old Isaiah Firebrace.
I loved Dami's entry last year and I thought the whole production oozed class. That they still managed to get beat, with a song of such quality, and with a voice of such power, makes it hard for me to muster up much enthusiasm for this number.
Isaiah has a great voice himself, in fairness, and you would be very disappointed if he didn't progress. However, I just don't see it as a competition winner and it could struggle to hit the top five in my opinion.
I nominate Latvia, Poland and Iceland as others that could be battling for the final qualification slots but it really does look like a hellish scrap for those final qualification slots.
The odds on Azerbaijan and Moldova to qualify, at 1/10 and 1/4, are prohibitive, and while I have backed Azerbaijan to finish in the top 10 in the overall final, I am having two new bets in the semi tomorrow.
The first is an each-way bet on Sweden to win the semi at 7/2 with Paddypower (3 places, 1/5 odds EW).
Sweden's record in qualification from 2011 onwards is 1st, 1st, 2nd, 1st (they didn't have to qualify in 2013 or 2016 as they hosted the competition having won the previous year) and I would be really disappointed if they didn't finish in pole position again here.
That said, I respect the support Portugal have seemingly received from the jury (if the market vibes are accurate) so I've decided to back Sweden each-way and also top up on them in the top three finish market (available on Betfair only) in the semi, for which they are trading at 1.75 this evening.