Semi-Final One 2016: Debriefed

For those disinclined to click back, here’s what our highly pseudo-scientific model predicted for semi-final one:

Excellent: Russia (14.63 points), Armenia (13.63), Bosnia & Hercegovina (11.63), Iceland (10.41) and Croatia (10.94).

Good: Malta (9.94), Netherlands (9.88), Czechia (9.63), Cyprus (9.53), Hungary (8.96), Greece (8.63) and Estonia (8.05).

And our qualifiers were all the excellent (as in prospects to qualify—we’re not claiming these are excellent entries, necessarily) group, plus the first five of the good group. Interestingly, the two mistakes were both from this top tier: Bosnia & Hercegovina and Iceland. And golden tickets for Azerbaijan and Austria.

So…what happened?

Broken blocs

Most prominently, two of our blocs under-performed, one of them historically. The Scandinavian bloc collapsed in this semi-final: none among Finland, Iceland or Estonia qualified. Rather remarkably, Sweden also voted in this semi-final, so 4 of 6 block members were there to support. There are only two bloc members in semi-final two. Norway is seen by many as having a much better chance than Denmark. It’s not entirely unlikely that Sweden will be the only Scandinavian entry in this year’s Grand Final, which could give them a starting value in the pan-Eurovision televote of 40-60 points.

Similarly, we had three former Yugoslavian republics participation: Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia & Hercegovina. All of the acts had some profile in the yugosphere, yet  only Croatia finished in the top 10.  The second semi-final will see Serbia, Macedonia and Slovenia participate. Combined with Switzerland, which has a lot of former Yugoslavians resident, there is significant potential for mutual support in the televote. However, Slovenia is very much a peripheral member of the bloc: there is some support for high profile yugosphere entries (good news for Kaliopi), but not always high levels of support. And, to be fair, the other former Yugoslav republics tend not to support Slovenia well. Like the Scandinavian bloc, if only one ex-Yugo entry were to qualify from the second semi-final, that puts a richesse of potential televotes: with the Swiss, that could mean 48-72 points.

The ex-Soviet bloc was larger (if you include Moldova and Estonia), and Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan all qualified. Cyprus’s televote might have helped too: there has been an influx of Russophone migrants and tourists over the last decade – televotes in smaller countries can be decided by a few thousand votes.

Winners and…Less Successful Entries

Greece loses its perfect record of qualification since 2004; so too does Bosnia. That leaves Russia (since 2004), Azerbaijan (only since 2008) and Romania (who were disqualified for financial reasons for 2016) as those with a perfect qualification record.

Czechia finally qualifies for a Grand Final on their fifth attempt! Malta has qualified again, despite not being in a voting bloc. Cyprus qualifies in consecutive years for the first time in semi-final era. Austria, with mostly a weak qualification record (two qualifications and four non-qualifications), has redeemed themselves from the indignity of null points while hosting last year.

If we had to predict a winner from the semi-final, it would be Armenia or Russia. If we had to guess who qualified 9th and 10th, that would be Azerbaijan and Austria. In 2012 Norway qualified from the second semi-final with 45 points (and ended up last in the Grand Final). But that was a particularly strong semi-final, with two entries (ultimate winner Euphoria, 181 points and Nije ljubav stvar, 159 points) that hoovered up most of the votes available in the semi-final, en route to the top three of that year’s Grand Final.

Originality Rewarded

Many fans found both Russia’s and Iceland’s entries derivative of Sweden’s winning entry from 2015. Russia added a much more physically challenging choreography in addition to the interactive wall screen. Iceland’s mélange of silhouettes and hand puppets seemed amateurish. Austria’s counter-intuitive choice to send an entry entirely in French gave them the first ever 100% French language qualifier from a semi-final. Bosnian was the only non-English entry and it failed to qualify.

We also had four returning artists: Montenegro (1 of 4 members), Bosnia (also 1 of 4 members), and Iceland all fell to the waysaid. Malta’s Ira Losco is the only returning artist to qualify from this first semi-final.

It will be interesting to see what unfolds on Thursday night. We will offer our predictions tomorrow; we will deconstruct the results from semi-final two on Friday.

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