My guide to ESC Semi Final 1

Hatari (Iceland) Second Rehearsal | Photo: Thomas Hanses (EBU)

Hatari (Iceland) Second Rehearsal | Photo: Thomas Hanses (EBU)

For the third year in a row, we open the Eurovision week with a song written by Swedes. This time it’s Tamta, representing Cyprus, who will set us off for this crazy ride. Swedish John Lundvik will be competing in the second Semi Final on Thursday, but this doesn’t mean we won’t have a Swedish singer on stage tonight; Victor Crone will represent Estonia with a song oozing Avicii vibes.

If you watch ESC for the crazy and controversial entries, this is definitely the Semi for you. You need this one to be able to keep up with the conversation in the office on Wednesday morning, I assure you.

If on Saturday the winner of ESC 2019 turns out to be from this Semi Final it’d probably be Australia (yay!) who have climbed exceptionally fast through the rankings since yesterday’s Jury Show and is currently found in 3rd place. Them, or maybe the dark horse Iceland who’s been lurking in the background for months.

Another potential winner to look out for his week will be presented among the three pre-qualified entries tonight. One of the rising stars in the odds’ rankings this past rehearsal week is France, whose Roi, sung by acclaimed YouTube star Bilal Hassani, has taken the Eurovision World by storm, rising from 11th to 5th place just over the weekend.

Australia, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Serbia and Slovenia. These are the acts the international bookmakers as this moment predict will make it to the Grand Final on Saturday. If their predictions end up being correct remains to be seen.

In addition to tonight’s competing acts, we will be introduced to the directly qualified entries from Israel, France and Spain in this Semi Final.

Be prepared for some rather sharp turns during the program of this evening’s show – there seems to be no limit to the show producers’ expectations on our genre-hopping tolerance.

Updated on May 14, 20:02 due to some dramatical changes in the odds during the day.
If you want to stay up to date you can follow the current standings in real-time here >


01 Cyprus: Tamta, Replay
Georgian born Tamta is one of the most successful and influential artists in Greece. For several years she’s been in the juries of both Georgian and Greek X-Factor and she has also starred in several musicals such as Rent and Cabaret.
Replay is an upbeat song, perfect for opening up this year’s competition. She’s had some technical difficulties during rehearsal week, and there’s apparently also a previous back injury restraining her from dancing as much as she wants to, but it’s still a cool, sleek act full of confidence and power. Look out for the dress change.
TREND ALERT: Black/white outfits
Swedish Connection: The song is written by a Swedish team and the stage performance is produced by Swedish Sasha Jean-Baptiste, her first out of three entries in this year’s competition.
Odds’ ranking tonight: 3/17
Odds’ ranking in total: 12/41

02 Montenegro: D mol, Heaven
Six young students – from the same private music school and mentored by former ESC participant Daniel Alibabic of No Name (2005) – has been forced together for this year’s Montenegrin entry. And, from the looks of it, they’re really forced together. All members of D Mol want to take centre stage, competing for the limelight, none of them interested in teamwork and cooperation. It’s all just a messy chaos really. Also, it sounds rather out of tune from time to time. The odds speak for themselves.
TREND ALERT: White outfits with red accents
Odds’ ranking tonight: 17/17
Odds’ ranking in total: 41/41

03 Finland: Darude feat. Sebastian Rejman, Look Away
Anyone remember the trance mega-hit Sandstorm from the early 2000s? That was producer and DJ Darude, aka Ville Virtanen, who’s the artist and producer of this year’s entry from Finland. Now – together with vocalist, composer and actor Sebastian Rejman – he’ll give us a song full of climate crisis angst, wonderfully staged with a struggling Mother Earth dancer and a backdrop of melting icebergs on the LED screens behind her.
Odds’ ranking tonight: 16/17
Odds’ ranking in total: 33/41

04 Poland: Tulia, Fire of Love (Pali się)
These four women were rewarded world recognition in October 2017 when Depeche Mode published Tulia’s unique folk version of one of the band’s biggest hits Enjoy the Silence on their official fan page. They exert a special Polish folk singing technique called śpiewokrzyk, which translates to ‘white voice’ or ‘screaming sing’.
I’ve had a hard time getting used to this, my throat protesting every time I listen to their singing, but I cannot deny the song is rather catchy. And when you start the first line of the verse identical to that of BeatlesI Am the Walrus, what can possibly go wrong?
Odds’ ranking tonight: 11/17
Odds’ ranking in total: 30/41

05 Slovenia: Zala Kralj & Gašper Šantl, Sebi
Time for three minutes of meditation in space. The Slovenian duo first met through Instagram when Gašper heard a clip of Zala singing and realised she’d be the perfect vocalist to perform his songs. Their love ballad Sebi is a calming oasis in the chaotic Eurovision World, and I like the song even though I’m not particularly fond of the staging; just like with Spain’s duet last year, they only concentrate on each other and it feels like we’re intruding in their private moment. If you want my vote, you’ll have to let me in.
TREND ALERT: White outfits
Odds’ ranking tonight: 8/17
Odds’ ranking in total: 18/41

06 Czech Republic: Lake Malawi, Friend of a Friend
The indie-pop band Lake Malawi gives us a happy good time with a frisky, catchy tune telling the story of the new neighbour causing some kind of jealousy between the singer and his girlfriend. The official video was quite playful, with the singer moving between posts in an Instagram feed, and according to my reports from the press centre they’ve been able to bring some of that playfulness on stage in Tel Aviv. They’ve looked quite tired and bored during rehearsals but everyone’s saying they’re a live band and will come alive when the arena is filled with enthusiastic people. I guess we’ll find out tonight.
Odds’ ranking tonight: 7/17
Odds’ ranking in total: 16/41

¤¤ BREAK ¤¤

07 Hungary: Joci Pápai, Az én apám
Joci Pápai is the first of this year’s five returning artists, having before represented Hungary in 2017 in Kyiv with the memorable Origo. This year’s entry is not quite as amazing as Origo was, but it’s still pleasurable to listen to and stunning to look at. Az én apám (My Father) is a homage to Joci’s father and their gipsy roots, stressing the importance of safeguarding and appreciating our personal and family relations.
TREND ALERT: Black outfit
Odds’ ranking tonight: 6/17
Odds’ ranking in total: 27/41

08 Belarus: ZENA, Like It
At only 16 years old, ZENA is no stranger to the musical stage. Representing Belarus in Junior Eurovision Song Contest two years in a row, in 2015 and 2016, and later co-hosting the same contest in 2018 when it was held in Minsk, she has more ESC routine than most of the other contestants in this year’s competition.
Her song, Like It, holds an empowering message with ZENA talking herself into going out in the world and live the best life possible. It’s catchy, the dancing is on point, and she emanates a confidence most people can only dream of.
Odds’ ranking tonight: 13/17
Odds’ ranking in total: 31/41

09 Serbia: Nevena Božović, Kruna
Our second returning artist this year is Nevena Božović who represented Serbia in Malmö, Sweden, in 2013 as part of the group Moje 3. In contrast to that song, which was upbeat and playful, this year’s entry, Kruna, is a heartfelt love ballad that will try to sweep you off your feet. She looks gorgeous in her stylish black dress and the heavy silver jewellery, and from what can be seen in the rehearsal clips online the LED graphics looks cool as well. You can never have too many Balkan ballads in an ESC Grand Final. I’m guessing one spot is preserved for her.
TREND ALERT: “Kruna je tvoja, ljubavi moja” (The crown is yours, my love)
TREND ALERT: Black outfit
Odds’ ranking tonight: 5/17
Odds’ ranking in total: 20/41

10 Belgium: Eliot, Wake Up
Do you remember the Belgian entry from two years ago in Lisbon when Blanche performed City Lights and ended up in 4th place? Their entry this year, Wake Up, is written by the same guy, Pierre Dumoulin. The artist, Eliot, is only 18 years old and still in school but has nonetheless been participating in The Voice Belgique.
The song is a call to young people to be active and rally together for a better world. I like it so much, but unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the staging in Tel Aviv is going to make it justice. That’s a shame since the official video was really good and Eliot has an important message to deliver.
TREND ALERT: Black outfits with orange-red accents
Odds’ ranking tonight: 9/17
Odds’ ranking in total: 24/41

11 Georgia: Oto Nemsadze, Keep on Going
As many of the other artists in ESC, Oto Nemsadze has several TV talent shows to thank for his fame. The newly appointed winner of this year’s Georgian Idol also has a victory in Geostar 2010 and a second place in The Voice of Ukraine in 2014 on his resume.
Despite the English title, this song is sung in Georgian and Abkhazian and it’s an empowering message to the Abkhazian minority to keep on going and “heal each other’s wounds with songs”. The staging is dramatic and intense – is Oto even blinking during his three minutes on stage? – and his backup singers are nearly frightening when they switch on their powerful voices.
TREND ALERT: Black outfits
Odds’ ranking tonight: 14/17
Odds’ ranking in total: 37/41

12 Australia: Kate Miller-Heidke, Zero Gravity
Oh, my beloved Aussies have delivered yet again. This year, for the first time ever, Australia has selected their Eurovision entry in their own national selection show, Eurovision – Australia Decides. The winner, Kate Miller-Heidke, is something as extraordinary as a singer-songwriter, an opera singer and a composer all rolled into one. She is a unique and brilliant performer and the song will, without doubt, stand out enough to render her a place in the Grand Final. The lyrics speak of mental illness and the singer’s determination to leave all her inner demons weighing her down behind her to be able to defy gravity and reach the sky.
To be honest, I was rather sceptical to this entry after my first view of the song from the Australian national selection. But seeing it now, with the new staging adapted for the Eurovision stage, it’s genuiely gorgeous! The demons trying to catch her and Kate staving them off while soaring through space – all the while hitting each note of this demanding opera pop song without fail. Absolute brilliance.
TREND ALERT: Kate surely looks like a queen up there, wearing a crown and everything.
TREND ALERT: Black and white outfits
Odds’ ranking tonight: 2/17
Odds’ ranking in total: 3/41

¤¤ BREAK ¤¤

13 Iceland: Hatari, Hatrið mun sigra
Ever since they qualified by winning the Icelandic national selection Hatari has been the talk of the town in the Eurovision community. And surely, they’re nothing like we’ve ever seen on the Eurovision stage before. They describe themselves as an anti-capitalist, BDSM, techno-dystopian, performance art collective and their song Hatrið mun sigra (Hate will prevail) is their vision of what will happen to our world and humankind if we continue our capitalistic way of life. Hatari’s participation in the Eurovision Song Contest is said to be “the group’s first bold step in their global plan to orchestrate the inevitable downfall of capitalism”.
It’s not the kind of music I generally listen to, nor do I believe I’m about to take up the habit after Hatari’s ESC participation. Even so, I always welcome diversity in this competition – it makes it so much more interesting and inspirational than ten mainstream love ballads in a row.
TREND ALERT: Black and white outfits
Odds’ ranking tonight: 4/17
Odds’ ranking in total: 9/41

14 Estonia: Victor Crone, Storm
Please welcome on stage tonight’s Swedish singer Victor Crone representing Estonia. While new to the Eurovision stage, Victor participated in the Swedish national selection Melodifestivalen in 2015 singing with Behrang Miri. Storm is songwriter Stig Rästa’s third Estonian ESC entry, previously being the composer of both Play, performed by Jüri Pootsmann in Stockholm in 2016, and Goodbye to Yesterday which Stig performed himself together with Elina Born the year before in Vienna.
I’m getting heavy Avicii vibes when listening to this song, and it was one of my main favourites when I started listening to this year’s entries. The staging is lacking though, and while many other entries have grown this hasn’t, and I’m not even sure it’ll reach the Grand Final anymore. One can only hope.
Storm’s lyrics contain this year’s worst rhyme: “A storm like this, can break a man like this”. I mean, is that even legal? I like the syncopated melody in the bridge though, it’s delicious.
Swedish Connection: The Estonian entry is performed by Swedish singer Victor Crone, who is also found among the songwriters together with Swedish Sebastian Lestapier and Estonians Stig Rästa, Vallo Kikas and Fred Krieger.
TREND ALERT: Black outfit
Odds’ ranking tonight: 10/17
Odds’ ranking in total: 25/41

15 Portugal: Conan Osiris, Telemóveis
Tiago Miranda took the artist name Conan Osiris after Hayao Miyazaki’s movie Future Boy Conan and the Egyptian god of rebirth, Osiris. Conan is a singer, dancer, songwriter, composer and producer who have studied Art and Design and apparently his entry, Telemóveis, won the national selection Festival da Canção with the maximum number of points from both the jury and the audience. The lyrics talk about him wanting to destroy his cell phone to be able to live a freer and happier life.
Conan has been dissatisfied with his performance during rehearsal week, but let’s hope he’ll get his act together in time for tonight’s show. Also, they say his backup dancer has injured his knee, something that might force him to adjust the choreography from the original act.
I don’t even know what to say about this, there are no words…
Odds’ ranking tonight: 12/17
Odds’ ranking in total: 19/41

16 Greece: Katerine Duska, Better Love
Katerine Duska is a Greek-Canadian singer-songwriter, her compelling voice a fusion of Cher and Annie Lennox. She’s sleek, she’s competent, she’s gracious, and she’ll have no problem qualifying for the Grand Final on Saturday.
Katerine has had some problems with her pitch during rehearsals but I hope she’ll bring her best performance to the stage tonight. My only problem with this act is the staging; just as with the official music video, I can’t get the connection between the song/lyrics and the gymnastic props used in this number.
TREND ALERT: White outfit
Odds’ ranking tonight: 1/17
Odds’ ranking in total: 11/41

17 San Marino: Serhat, Say Na Na Na
I believe many of you remember Serhat from Stockholm 2016 when this Turkish singer last represented San Marino with I Didn’t Know. Just as last time, he will close the first Semi Final with a disco song. This song, however, is much better than the last one, and Serhat doesn’t look as creepy on stage as he did three years ago. Say Na Na Na is a positive and uplifting song, telling the listener to not sulk and worry but dance and be happy. It’s catchy and joyful, and it’s a perfect ending of tonight’s show. I can’t for the life of me understand why the backup dancers are wearing shorts though.
TREND ALERT: White outfits
Odds’ ranking tonight: 15/17
Odds’ ranking in total: 38/41

¤¤ PRE-QUALIFIED FINALISTS PRESENTED TONIGHT ¤¤

Israel: Kobi Marimi, Home
Kobi is an actor with a theatre major and several plays on his resume. They say he was insecure growing up and that his acting has helped him build up the confidence he now possesses. Before entering the reality show Rising Star (which is also the Israeli national selection) Kobi didn’t have any professional music experience, something it’s hard to believe when you hear him sing.
The song is a pleasure to listen to, and a worthy number for the hosting country.
TREND ALERT: Black outfit
Odds’ ranking: 26/41

France: Bilal Hassani, Roi
19-year-old Bilal Hassani is a singer, songwriter and major social media star with nearly 1 million followers on YouTube and his YouTube Channel getting viewed by over 2 million people worldwide. His covers of Djadja by Aya Nakumura and Made for Now by Janet Jackson have both received strong endorsements from their respective performers.
At 15 years old, BIlal persuaded all the judges at his blind audition for French The Voice Kids with a cover of Conchita Wurst’s Rise Like a Phoenix. And now, four years later, just like Conchita’s phoenix, Bilal’s powerful song Roi (King) – written by last year’s French contestants Madame Monsieur – has risen through the odds ratings over the weekend since his first rehearsal in Tel Aviv last Friday. The staging for this act is amazing and supports the empowering message beautifully.
This entry has been my favourite from the first time I saw it, the official music video bringing tears to my eyes every time, and I can definitely see this song as a potential winner on Saturday. France: douze points de moi!
TREND ALERT: “Quand je rêve je suis un roi (When I dream, I am a king), “You will never remove my crown” etc.
TREND ALERT: White outfits
Odds’ ranking: 5/41

Spain: Miki, La Venda
23-year old Miki Núñez brings an infectious fiesta to Tel Aviv. This song is a real party pleaser and I’m unable to stand still whenever I hear it. However, Spain is known for the ability to ruin entries with atrocious stagings before, and unfortunately for Miki, it looks like they’ve done it again this year. It would’ve been so easy for them to just bring some good dancers on stage, and instead, they’ve brought a two-story house, a robot and a crazy messy act. Staging-wise, I’m most impressed by Miki’s ability to run around and sing at the same time. It’s a shame really; La Venda was one of my favourites just a week ago, but with this staging it will be nowhere near the top on Saturday.
(Doesn’t he look suspiciously like he could be a younger brother of Amir who represented France in Stockholm in 2016? At least in my opinion, he’s just as gorgeous, and even though it shouldn’t make any difference in this competition, it certainly doesn’t hurt.)
TREND ALERT: Black outfit
Odds’ ranking: 13/41

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