The Eurovision Song Contest Semi-Finals (BBC4 2016) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review



It’s Eurovision Week!  I’m confessing to a not-so-guilty pleasure- I love Eurovision  and during the course of this week we have already have 16 countries fall by the wayside by not making it into the Song Contest Final.  This was sorted out in two shows hosted by last year’s winners, Sweden.  This is good news.  Sweden do Eurovision very well.  They are up there with Ireland with the most wins and they are happy to stage it and treat the whole thing with the appropriate amount of respect and tongue-in-cheekness which the enterprise deserves.  This year we see the return of Petra Mede as main presenter.  She is up there for the title of Queen Of Eurovision as far as I am concerned.  She has led the show before and is the perfect choice for host.  She was also excellent last year hosting the Greatest Hits Concert with Graham Norton.  She can host Eurovision every year, whatever the location as far as I am concerned.  She understands Eurovision.  Her co-host is no slouch either, Mans Zelmerlow won for Sweden last year and is certainly easy on the eye.  He has fitted in superbly in what can often be an awkward transition from performer to host.

Presenters Petra Mede and 2015 Eurovision winner Mans Zelmerlow

For the first time the semi-finals were transmitted on BBC4 and perhaps as a result the British links seemed a bit less chaotic than they have in the past when it sat nervously on the schedules of yoof-orientated BBC3.  Scott Mills was joined by Mel Giedroyc and this is another pairing which works well.  Eurovision’s  global audience seems to grow every year.  The USA and China are having it transmitted live for the first time and two years in Australia looks like they have a very good chance of taking the Eurovision crown.  Would this mean the whole she-bang would decamp to Sydney next year?  There might be quite a few voting just for that to happen.

I’d like to point out that although I love Eurovision I’m not one of those super-fans  who have watched each qualifiying show online, scrutinise the videos and watches dress rehearsals.  Apart from the UK entry, which I saw deservedly qualifying from a fairly ropey selection I was new to all the songs.  And like most Eurovisions, the vast majority of them certainly did not stick in my mind.  There’s a lot of power ballads this year sung very hard by people who can just reach the notes on a good day- quite a few of the songs blended into one.  It’s not clear yet if there is one that will stand out from the crowd.  Two years ago when Conchita Wurst won for Austria, I , like most of the viewing population was so gobsmacked by the sight of the beautiful bearded lady that couldn’t take the song that seriously in the semi-final.  It was in the final when Conchita further upped her game and turned in a blistering performance which had the whole of Europe reaching for its phones.

eurovision5Conchita rising like a phoenix  for Austria in 2014 

In the second semi-final Petra and Mans began the show by attempting to explain Eurovision to its new audiences.  This they chose to do in the medium of song and dance and once the hairs stopped sticking up on the back of my neck I really got into this lengthy extravaganza of an opening.  It was surprising, funny, well done and should become the Eurovision anthem or at the very least be given a few douze points from the national juries.  In the first show Mans had shown what a worthy winner he was by reprising his “Heroes” which benefited from imaginative staging as well as being a good song well sung- This is very much a blueprint for Eurovision, but one that a number of countries persistently choose not to follow.  One country which is following the blueprint is Russia, who seem to have thrown tons of money on their staging which is along very similar lines to Sweden’s last year.  It’s not a bad song, it’s well sung and is the hot favourite.  There might be a backlash because it seems so desperate an attempt to win (and a large number of Eastern European countries have qualified for the final which might split the voting) but it is probably the one to beat.  The countries who ignored the blueprint included San Marino (what was that all about?) and Moldova who decided to do the opposite of Russia and spend no money on their performance.  Whilst Russian entrant Sergey Lazarev was soaring to the stars, the Moldovan entry had a man come on in a tin foil space suit.  They did not qualify.  Greece, usually competitive, also decided to do something very odd with a rap meets folk blend which was fairly horrible and saw them bid an early exit.


Would a win for Russia alienate Eurovision’s core audience?

After sitting through the eighteen entries of the first semi-final I made a little list of what I thought should go through and I got nine out of the ten right.  The surprising omission of the whole thing was Iceland, who had seen the Zelmerlow blueprint although had chosen a woman singer to perform a good enough song with dramatic bat and bird like effects.  It looked like it might be one of the front runners but failed to qualify.  I was surprised by the selection of Croatia.  The song was not as strong and it was one of those performances which seemed to hinge around the changing of a dress (It looked like she was standing behind the first dress anyway).


Iceland’s surprisingly unsuccessful entrant

By the time the second semi-final came along I’d lost my touch a bit.  In this selection of songs the Scandanavian countries seemed hard done by in favour of the Eastern Europeans.  Georgia’s entry was largely unwatchable because of the overdose of flashing lights and was a rock performance so out of kilter with Eurovision that only those who wanted to sabotage the sheer poppiness of the show would have voted for it- but it went through.  It managed to take out successful Eurovision nations as Denmark, Norway and Ireland who despite having Nicky Byrne from Westlife singing quite a light song after the heavy ballads failed to qualify.


What happened, Nicky?

And so on Saturday, the final.  This is where factors such as geographical bias and running order have a significant part to play.  Also the Big Five join in.  They do not go through the semi-final process and suffer by ending up at the bottom of the leaderboard because by the final allegiances to songs have been formed join in.  Of these France stands the fairest chance of ending up mid-board.  The UK have their best entry for some time with the peppy Joe and Jake.   Much will depend on their performance but if that comes up trumps we should expect to place in the Top 15, more than that might be a little too much to hope for.  Last year’s winners Sweden also join the Final selection without having to qualify.  This could be the dark horse entry.  It’s topped the charts in Eurovision mad Sweden and sounds contemporary and relevant.  Once again, much will depend on the performance.  I don’t hold out much hope for Germany and Italy’s chances of standing out from the crowd on the night.

UK entrants Joe and Jake.  France’s entry by Amir

So who might win?  Well, it is Eurovision and your guess is as good as mine.  Russia and Australia might have it sewn up between them (but watch out for Sweden).  No country wants to win more than Malta and they have a better than average chance.  If Bulgaria and Israel perform well they could also be in the running.  Ukraine has a political song, which is always a bit of a wildcard.  Some nations may love it –some may hate it – and like a lot of political songs it is not particularly listenable.  Running order is important.  I don’t think a country has ever won performing in second place on the night (and this is a position where the UK seem to have been quite a number of times).  The short straw this year goes to the Czech Republic   Because most of us Eurovision watchers have a short memory span it’s better to perform near to the end.  The last three to perform will be Austria, UK and Armenia but there are too many other factors involved to get that excited!

Could Dami Im or Frans win for Australia or Sweden? 

Anyway, in a moment I’m going to print off my Eurovision Scorecard from the BBC Site  This is I will fill in dutifully and after the event it will be inserted into my now bulging copy of the definitive guide to the first forty years of the contest – “The Complete Eurovision Song Contest Companion” by Paul Gambacini, Tim & Jonathan Rice and Tony Brown (Pavilion 1998) with a foreword by a man who will be remembered during this year’s proceedings, Sir Terry Wogan.  This appeals to the budding Eurovision nerd in me because I can track back years to see how my favourites fared against the national juries and viewing public- 2015-Sweden (1st)  2014- Austria (1st) 2013- Azerbaijan (2nd) 2012- Ukraine (15th) 2011- Denmark (5th) 2010- Romania (3rd).  I can go much further back but I can tell it’s making your nervous.  I’m actually not bad at liking the songs that do well (apart from 2012) and have picked the winner two years in a row.

If you are reading this before the show is transmitted then I’m sure you will be as unclear as I am as to who the winner will be.  If afterwards then you will have the satisfaction of knowing how much barking I was doing up the wrong tree.  No doubt the unsuccessful countries will be threatening not to participate next year (all in the spirit of togetherness) but maybe USA and China will feel the need to participate to further broaden the Eurovision horizon.  We are promised a new voting system so it will be interesting to see how that copes with bias and prejudice which some say blights this contest.  How can you not love Eurovision?


Don’t want to get too excited before the final – so four stars only

If you like Eurovision the following clip sums it up wonderfully.  If you don’t then this is probably why!

The Eurovison Contest Semi-Finals were broadcast on BBC4 on Tuesday 10th and Thursday 12th May with the final taking place at 8.00 pm on BBC1 on Saturday 14th.  Both Semi-Finals are currently available on catch-up online at the Eurovision site and on BBC I-Player.

Post -Final Update: After the performances it looked like it was going to be a straight battle between between Australia and Russia.  On our scorecard we had placed Russia 1st, Australia 2nd and opener Belgium 3rd.  After the national juries gave their votes it looked like Australia had an unassailable lead but we hadn’t counted on the new voting system which caused the UK to drop down towards the bottom of the leaderboard, Poland to come soaring up and for Ukraine (which we had rated as 25th out of the 26 songs) to grasp victory.  This is the reason I love Eurovision – you just cannot tell what it is going to happen.  The presentation of the final by Petra Mede and Mans Zelmerlow was excellent- keep them on for next year I say…………………………..



12 thoughts on “The Eurovision Song Contest Semi-Finals (BBC4 2016) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

  1. Monika

    Hi Phil,

    Shouldn’t they rename the show as Australia, Israel compete? A bit father from Europe?
    Never been a great fan, but somehow feel very euro patriotic (no politics involved). I always loved visiting different eu and world places, although you can’t completely rely on their representation of a particular nation. I always loved “to sit on a tree branch and watching, observing, what’s going on bellow.” I have to admit, I did not get the whole concept of Conchita’s performance. Her looks became very distracting from her singing. Also, can’t sing myself, although not completely musically challenged. (when I see, hear what I like….the last time that happened was when Celine Dione sang in French and I felt completely blown away). But that must have been ages ago. Still waiting for a mesmerising moment. Let you know if it happens tonight!


      1. Monika

        Hi Phil,

        What disappointment! I was waiting for my “Celine Dion moment”. Well there is always the next year. Personally, I enjoyed the Austrian contribution, sang in French. The tune was catchy, and I became so desperate, I needed a nice dancing tune. Bridgit Bardot look a like was sweet. Our boys did us proud as well.. Not shabby lads.Apart from having fits from all the visual extravaganza (and I do not suffer from epilepsy), nobody can complain all the Polish electricians are in London.As a youngster, I never enjoyed the flicking lights at disco. Found them completely irrelevant and the “racket” type of music to go with it. Perhaps I was a precocious youngster. (old before my time).


  2. Kay Carter

    Oh, dear. Where should I start.
    We don’t do Eurovision any more, not for a very long time. It all became too much years ago, besides, the only real reason to watch was the commentary by Terry Wogan.
    Anyway, I’m out with the girls tonight, going to see Dancing in the Street in Eastbourne, so at least some musical entertainment.
    If you’re up for it, Heidi is hosting her annual Eurovision party, just turn up with a bottle. But I do applaud you and thousands of others for being brave enough to stay with it.
    By the way, how did Australia get to enter? Why would the US and China want to broadcast it?


    1. It’s the magic of Eurovision that’s why the US and China want to show it. We used to go to Eurovision parties but there were always people who didn’t like it and talked throughout! Sacrilege! So now we prefer to stay at home with the scorecard. Hope you have fun Dancing in the streets in Eastbourne. Is Eastbourne ready for this?


  3. Monika

    Hi Phil,

    What disappointment! I was waiting for my “Celine Dion moment”. Well there is always the next year. Personally, I enjoyed the Austrian contribution, sang in French. The tune was catchy, and I became so desperate, I needed a nice dancing tune. Bridgit Bardot look a like was sweet. Our boys did us proud as well.. Not shabby lads.Apart from having fits from all the visual extravaganza (and I do not suffer from epilepsy), nobody can complain all the Polish electricians are in London.As a youngster, I never enjoyed the flicking lights at disco. Found them completely irrelevant and the “racket” type of music to go with it. Perhaps I was a precocious youngster. (old before my time).


    1. Looking at the results Austria finished right in the middle in 13th place. I think it deserved to do better than that as it was a good song, well performed. Looking at what happened with the public vote it does look like the UK is unlikely to ever win again. I don’t think for one moment that it deserved to win, but they did very well and didn’t deserve to be 24th. I think it is further evidence that the viewing public do not like the Big Five not taking part in the semi-final as they are always clustered around the bottom – Germany- last, UK-24th, Spain -22nd, Italy 16th. Only France made it to 6th and that was a strong song. By the time the Final comes along I think a lot of Europe has already made up its mind who to vote for and so just ignore the songs that didn’t go through the semi-final.


      1. Monika

        I completely agree with you. For once it would be nice to see to go back to the drawing board and stick to the ethos of quality singing, never mind who is Russia going to invade next. Russia’s appalling way of treating gay people and probably (LGBT in general) is not dissimilar.
        To a viewer of the final, the whole concept doesn’t make sense. Politicking behind the scenes. But hey, better rowing about the singing, then actual physical marching in. But tell it to Putin, there was a message somewhere in the Ukrainian song. Unfortunately it fell on deaf ears.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Kay Carter

    Heidi only invites people who love Eurovision, so Wayne and I don’t get invited. (thankfully). And anyone who speaks out of place is thrown out.!!!!! Yes, Dancing in The Streets was a terrific show, I think you would have enjoyed it, Motown all the way, three girls and four guys and a five piece band. Magic, we could have sat (or rather danced) through it again. Hope you enjoyed the show last night, my friend in New York was excited about it and i’ll hear what she has to say later. Eastbourne had been warned about the three of us and had very kindly left me a parking space just opposite the theatre. lol


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