I initially thought that this first semi-final was going to be a tricky one to call. However, the staging concepts have been revealed and now I’m feeling quietly confident in my predictions. The market has actually come around to my ten predicted qualifiers I posted three weeks ago. I don’t know whether I should be worried about sticking firm with that same prediction, but we will soon find out whether or not I’m right.
As soon as I saw the running order, one of the first things I noticed was what an excellent slot Greece has been given. That is the favourite to win this semi-final, and a very valid one in my opinion. It could well be a great value bet for this semi-final as it really should be a shade of odds-on to come out on top in this field. The song really should have won last night’s jury vote comfortably and the running order is good enough to pull in a strong televote with the song also being so modern and accessible. Enough people have also been sufficiently impressed with the staging and live performances.
Czech Republic should be another song qualifying on jury vote alone. The market has lost a little faith in its chances for Top 3 (because Australia has happened) whereas I barely have. I’m hopeful for a Top 3 finish with the help of a decent televote from regular viewers at home. Ditto Cyprus. It will have no problems qualifying but is perhaps not the podium finisher it was once considered.
The markets have fallen in love with Australia since the impressive staging concept was revealed last week. Though Zero Gravity is one of my personal favourites, I can’t share the same enthusiasm when it comes to predicting its fate. This bizarre and kitsch song performed terribly in Eurojury which is often a great starting point when it comes to predicting jury scores. I don’t think it’s going to magically overtake the likes of Greece and Czech Republic on that side just because it is presented very well. Perhaps this is the first time the televote will be higher than the jury vote for Australia, where it should have plenty of impact. Sure, it will qualify, but I’m sceptical of semi podium and final Top 5 chances for the time being. Even if it did magically finish Top 3 with the juries in this semi (unlikely in my opinion as the juries have proven be very averse to opera and popera at Eurovision), it would experience a significant jury drop in the final. If Australia continues to drop in price for the semi win, I will consider laying it quite heavily.
Iceland has a crazy USP and looks pretty much as it did in the national final. This should be qualifying and is another one in contention for the Top 3, though the divisiveness and screaming vocals should make it suffer with juries who tend to prefer more conventional, agreeable entries.
I’m also confident that the two classy and ethnic songs from Hungary and Serbia will also make it through with few problems.
In addition to Albert from Lake Malawi, I’m also predicting that the other aesthetically-pleasing and non-threatening males from Belgium and Estonia will make it through. Lots of people in the ESC bubble will never truly appreciate Belgium’s song quality, but the juries almost certainly will in addition to young teenage girls. Slightly older females may go for the sex appeal of Victor Crone from Estonia, and his song is modern and catchy enough to score well enough on both sides with his WGWG (White Guy With Guitar) schtick. The only concern is that his song may get swallowed up in the running order a little, but it could also be seen as a pleasant return to normality after three bonkers songs and performances.
Only one more qualifier to find, so I may as well start ruling some out. San Marino has failed on the staging front despite an opportunity to qualify from the pimp slot. It needed to be fun and meme-worthy to pull in a huge televote to compensate for Serhat’s appalling vocal capacity. The market still gives him an outside chance to qualify, probably because it’s on last.
Finland is my pick to finish last as the song is unappealing, it’s on very early and is another staging fail. However, this could be one to shorten in-running if Rylan Clark decides hypes up Darude in his UK commentary. But it comes across as a bit embarrassing as two forty-something guys trying to be down with the kids. Montenegro has never been in the qualification race with a Steps/S Club 7 album track from the early noughties.
Poland were unfortunate enough to have pretty much all their allies drawn into the other semi-final, so how that song was odds-on to qualify, I’m not quite sure. It isn’t particularly fun, and the juries should dismiss it as total trash. I think the wacky/novelty televote will go to Australia and Iceland instead.
A big drifter in the qualification market has been Portugal, after they chose some truly hideous green costumes that wouldn’t have looked out of place in The Shape of Water. The potential from a strong studio version has been wasted, but at least the running order is late. The market gives it more chance to go through than yours truly, and the performance has me sniggering at it which I’m sure wasn’t the intention.
I therefore think it’s between Slovenia, Georgia and Belarus to take the last place in the final. I’m still going with Slovenia as it’s the highest quality overall package and juries should appreciate its earnestness and authenticity. It will also receive high points from both Montenegro and Serbia. I couldn’t back it at anything near the current price as it could still send televoters to sleep.
Georgia has wowed bloggers in the press centre but remains a highly threatening overall package and is not a great composition to begin with. Belarus is trashy and dated, but there could be some goodwill from televoters with Zena being the youngest contestant this year. I also think it will beat a few on the jury side. Therefore, if one of my ten is to miss out for any reason, I would pick Belarus as the most likely song to replace it and be a ‘surprise’ qualifier.
The in-play markets tend to go a bit haywire during the live shows and odds can move in surprising directions. You can never quite predict how it will go, but as a rule of thumb, questionable ethnic entries (e.g. Poland, Portugal) tend to drift for qualification as British punters go ‘WTF?’. Uptempo bangers (e.g. Belarus, Estonia) sometimes experience price crashes as the UK audience tends to rate them as likely to do well.
The addition of an audience can also totally transform how some entries come across on TV. In my experience, plenty of uptempo songs don’t truly work until they have the crowd there to bounce off. Similarly, ballads can look more effective with the addition of thousands of phone torch lights shining throughout the arena.
To recap, my qualifiers are as follows: Cyprus, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Serbia, Belgium, Australia, Iceland, Estonia and Greece.
Best of luck to everyone betting on this semi-final. Are your qualifiers the same as mine and the market’s? Feel free to have your say in the comments below.