I'm a 57-year-old guy where living on the edge is having a second beer. I haven't been to a concert in decades. And yet...
Last night I found myself crying at times over an exquisitely beautiful song, screaming and waving a flag so hard I broke two of them (a group from Austria was nice enough to keep giving me another), totally mesmerized at times, and mostly having a giant smile on my face from utter joy. I gave my daughters a hard time about how nuts they were over some singers in their teens. Girls, I'm sorry. Now I understand. (Although really -- N'Sync...)
I met a very nice couple there from New Zealand who literally travelled half-way around the world to watch the show. They have done so for years. At the end she turned to me and said "you're hooked now aren't you?" Yes I am. I have not watched a concert for decades and now I'm hooked. It was the most amazing performance I have ever seen.
First off the depth of the performances was incredible. Out of 16 acts, every one of the 10 that go on to the final deserve to go on. As do a couple that didn't make the cut. Every single act was world class. When the last one completed and they said it was time to vote the first thought that hit me was -- wait, there's only one I didn't think should go on. Where are the mediocre ones?
Knowing nothing about how the locations work at the arena, I got tickets stage left figuring the floor would be interesting. And I was so excited to go, I got to the arena two hours early so I ended up near the front of the line. So I ended up against the barrier just five feet away from the edge of the stage (the part that came out as a walkway). Awesome location.
The Swedes are some of the nicest people on earth. And that carries over to the crowd so you have this giant event, tons of people having to squeeze through security, through the doors, into the areas, and yet while people were eager to get in there, it was also a buoyant pleasant crowd. Very different from how a crowd that size acts in the U.S.
And boy were people charged up. Waiting outside the arena they had someone playing a keyboard and at times the crowd would sing the song he was playing. I met a lot of nice people, talking to them as we waited to get in, then waited inside the building to be allowed into the seating. While we were waiting inside I was talking to four guys from The Netherlands, all very excited because Anouk is a strong contender. And we then saw two guys walking by dressed up as orange chickens. I pointed them out to the Dutch men (orange is the royal color of The Netherlands) and they all shook their heads in national embarrassment.
The pre-show show was three very talented singers who sang a number of previous Eurovision winners as well as previous Swedish entries. An awesome way to get started.
Then the director came out and walked us through what we needed to do. Told us to watch out for the cameras as they swung in over our heads. Explained when we were supposed to do what during the opening and closing numbers, etc.
The opening was a bunch of elementary school children signing the song Euphoria. And then one child sang it -- and absolutely beautiful rendition. Then Loreen came out and sang it with them. I had tears streaming down my face -- and I don't cry. Loreen finished by stepping down from the stage into the crowd on the floor.
It started with Austria. A pretty song, beautiful delivery. But not memorable. I liked it but it was not in the "this must go to the final category." And it did not make it out.
Next was Estonia. Another very pretty song. This one got in you more than the Austria entry. I don't know why but it grabbed me at least. And I think that is what did get it in the top 10.
Then came Slovenia. Wow. Hannah rocks it. ESC did a great job of building us up with these first three acts. I think this should have made the top 10. We were all screaming like crazy for her -- she definitely would have made the top 10 if only the audience voted. But that energy does not fully come through in the TV broadcast. In the audience it owns you. On the TV it is presented to you.
Croatia then had a group of men singing. It was a nice switch from the first three female vocalists, both going to men and to a group. It's a very pretty song and was well presented. But it didn't stand a prayer against the others of the night. Croatia be proud -- it was a quality entry.
I didn't get to hear Emmelie sing. No, I didn't. The crowd was probably 50 percent Danish (Copenhagen is 20 minutes away) and they want bat-shit insane. The audience became a single screaming organism. And then they sang with her. Full throated, vibrant, energetic. The arena rendition of her song was a thing of power and beauty. I wanted to sing with them (but don't know the words). Absolutely amazing experience. But I need to watch the video so I can hear her sing it.
Russian (and Ukrainian) pop at its best is the best in the world. And Dina delivered the best. She grabbed the audience and held us and carried us through her song. She has staging and backup singers and they add to it, but Dina owns you and it's her, her voice, her movements, her expressions. World class.
And right after that we had Zlata from the Ukraine. She is also an awesome performer and her song Gravity is amazing. This should have been the performance of the night. But she was off. Not terribly but it was noticeable. Now good by Zlata is still an amazing experience. But it's not world class. I'll be cheering for her in the final, but she has got to be at her best Saturday.
Next was Anouk from The Netherlands. Another world class performance. A ballad where she picks up the audience and carries them into her world as she puts her song into each of us. At the end the audience went totally nuts.
And then came Montenegro, with two guys in space suits. I appreciated this. Eurovision is not Eurovision without some totally over the top, campy entry. Gotta have a groaner and this was it.
Lithuania was a male vocalist and he delivered a stellar performance. Not quite at the level of the best, but still amazing and well deserving of advancing to the final. And again, it was a nice change from the previous female vocalists. Having EBU determine the order worked really really well -- we got the perfect change-up between acts.
Next was Alyona from Belarus. I think she is the most contentious artist at the show -- people either love her or hate her. She was the only one where I heard boos when she was announced as one of the top 10. I don't know if it's her or if it's Belarus but there's something going on there. Anyways, she has a good song, with incredible staging. It starts with a disco ball spaceship opening up for her to step out. Lots of dancing, etc. And a really good song. Definitely deserved to go on to the final. (And for those that dislike her because of Belarus -- she's not the dictator so give it a rest.)
Moldova's Aliona up to now has been mostly memorable for her hair styles, which are both flamboyant and stylish (although as a heterosexual guy, I'm not an authority on this). She's a really good singer with a fantastic song, but the staging with her dress takes it up to amazing. I think she'll make the top 10 in the final and while that will also be because of her voice and song, it will be the dress that closes the deal.
Ireland has finally left behind the curse of Jedward and delivered a killer performance. Male singers and they were incredibly physical. They owned the stage. And pulled the audience in. We were all screaming and jumping and waving our flags to go with them. Well deserving of going on to the top 10.
Cyprus delivered a beautiful song exquisitely sung. And Despina stands up there by herself and sings it. But she didn't grab the audience. We loved listening to her and it was beautiful. But she didn't pull us in. I would have like to see her make the final 10 but I understand why she didn't.
Roberto from Belgium was the other sing along entry. The crowd went wild when he started (second only to Denmark) and the words to his song were flashed up on the backdrop. So we all (including me) sang with him. We were all totally pulled in and became part of the song. If that carries through on the TV, then he's going to be in the top 10 of the final.
And we closed with Moje 3 from Serbia. Their act was very Eurosision-ary. The dresses, the staging, the acting out of the story in the song. And all three have really nice voices. But after the others it seemed not up to the level of the show. Enjoyable but not the best. It's interesting, many claim being last is the best position. Because in this case I think it hurt them. If they had been early, before the top acts, they might have made a better impression with no previous acts to compare with. But compared to some of the previous, it was too cheesy.
As they called out the top 10, lots of cheering for each (with booing mixed in for Belarus). Then when it was two left, the entire audience started chanting "Ukraine, Ukraine!" Gigantic cheering when Ukraine was the next one announced. And then with one left it was almost a whisper throughout as people were praying anouk, anouk. When she was announced as the 10th, the place erupted.
Lots of dry ice used for several performances. We had tinsel dropped on us for one act -- that was cool. The tracked camera almost took me out a couple of times as it came zooming by. There is nothing like being right there on the edge of the stage.
The top performances were Emmelie & Dina, followed closely by Anouk and Zlata. Many say these are the four strongest entries of the entire show. And they may be right, but I want to see Moran and Cascada first as I think they could also deliver at this level. And maybe others???
All of these women are beyond incredible. Their voices, how they grab you and suck you into their song, how they own your emotions -- there are not words to convey it. The winner will be the one that delivers the performance of her lifetime on Saturday.