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Kyiv Blog Day 5, Thursday 4th May 2017

Words by Hass Yusuf, images by David Ransted. This blog will be constantly updated throughout the day.

Let’s catch up with the Meet & Greets from yesterday.

Valentina and Jimmie from San Marino: This is Valentina’s fourth Eurovision appearance. She said she had to come back because of the fans. Well she is widely adored. And she couldn’t really say no to composer Ralph Siegel. Once she was onboard, he asked Jimmie Wilson to join in on the fun. And that’s the message of the song – fun, love and energy. I’m sure we could all do with a bit of that! Valentina insists that we enjoy life and don’t stress too much. Jimmie was amazed by the experience so far and can’t wait to see the arena full of people. Ralph Siegel had many things to say as well. His first composition came fourth in 1975 and now decades later he gets his 25th try. He did of course win the contest writing for Nicole (Germany) in 1982. His happy that Spirit Of The Night has had over two million YouTube hits despite the population of San Marino only being 35,000. He says Eurovision has given life to many people. And OGAE UK of course. Jimmie worked for a while with the great Michael Jackson, whose professionalism inspired him to aim for 100% in anything he does. He says their song isn’t just meant for Eurovision and has universal appeal.

Jacques from Croatia: First off he had to dispel the anti-gay words associated with him in a magazine interview in 2012. He says it was false information and wish he had taken legal action now. He says that anyone who knows him would tell them that he loves all people and respects differences. Well he wouldn’t come to Eurovision if he was anti-gay, would he?! He got the ultimate compliment when one of the journalists burst into tears, telling Jacques how much his song meant to him! Jacques gave him a big hug and all was right in the world. Actually we shouldn’t take the micky as some performances can really mean something personal. Jacques came off as a really nice, if misunderstood person. He said he was a always a big even as a kid, but refused to change when others demanded it! When he was asked to become a mentor for The Voice Of Croatia, it was suggested that he tried to slim down. Take it or leave was his reply. They took it. He wanted to put Croatia on this Eurovision’s map by having a song that mixed pop and opera genres. He wanted to create an anthem that the whole world could relate to – a real celebration of life. It’s all about freedom and the miracle of creation. Jacques has received a Humanitarian Award for his work on many charities. He says Croatia isn’t a rich country – even celebrities struggle financially, but he tries to help those who suffered from the Balkan conflict 25 years ago.

JOWST (and Aleksander of Norway: Joakim says that nothing is ever going to be perfect, so their aiming for their act to be almost perfect! There’s nothing in music that can’ be improved. He obviously hasn’t heard the Birdy Song. The song tries to explains that you should step out of your comfort zone and grab the moment. Alex came on board for the act because he loved the lyrics of the song. He was actually studying to be a nurse, but gave it up for music. Joakim’s grandmother brought him his first electric guitar and that was it – he was hooked on music. He likes his music t be a hybrid of genres, which is why Grab The Moment contains elements of jazz, hip-hop, rock, etc. The chaps don’t see Eurovision as a contest, but rather a festival of music.

Timebelle of Switzerland: The trio had studied together in the past, and while they have their own personal products, they came together to represent their country at Eurovision. Miruna was asked what it means to be a European in 2017 (she was originally from Romania)? Basically she said that united countries achieve more together. Their song, Apollo, suggests that you follow your dreams and never give up. They never did – they came second in the Swiss national final a few years ago. Apollo, as you all know is the ancient God of Art – art as in music and poetry – so follow music. I think we all do that with Eurovision. Some of us will follow it no matter where it turns up!

Naviband from Belarus: The couple met on Valentine’s Day four years ago. They’re obviously a talented young couple. This is the first song from Belarus to be sung in their native language. And not before time – as it sounds great. They said it was very important for them to promote their culture. They like to combine various genres in their music – country, folk, pop, rock, etc. They’re actually loving their Eurovision experience as it is a celebration of diverse cultures and sounds.

Young Kristian from Bulgaria: Young Kris was mentored on Voice Kids Of Russia by Eurovision winner Dima Bilan. Dima gave young Kris lots of great advice such as how to work with a camera – thereby connecting with the audience. He’s getting a lot of encouragement and support from Dima. Eurovision so far has gone beyond his expectations – everything is bigger and better than he expected. As for his chances of winning, well while he wants to do well for his country and for it to be proud of him, he also wants to have fun. Whether or not he wins Eurovision or not, he’s off the famous music academy, Berklee in Boston, USA. Sounds as if he’s set up for life! He gets a lot of inspiration from his family, friends and fans. You can’t go wrong with the three Fs.

Fusedmarc from Lithuania: The band said they had inspirational rehearsals. The sound quality was great and created a great atmosphere. Even though classed as a alternative audiovisual electronica band (a fusion of genres), they can now see the appeal of pop music! The band members actually inspired each other. Performing is like a daily job for them. Every contest the band enters just makes them stronger. The selection process in Lithuania for Eurovision is rather long, on the last count it probably involved at least 62, give or take a dozen, semi-finals, with the band changing and improving their act at least five times. They eventually decided to make the act more vocal, to what we have today.

Koit and Laura from Estonia: She knows how to dress! He doesn’t. Laura said the stage was big enough for her stage outfit and she felt great. While they had a good rehearsal, it wasn’t perfect, so changes will have to made – especially Koit’s outfit which was rather drab compared to Laura’s elegant offering. They’ve both been to Eurovision before – Laura in 2005 (Ktiv again) and Koit in 1998, Birmingham. He remembers that some official couldn’t pronounce his name, so he called him ‘Gary’ instead! Laura said that a security guard had asked her on a date in 2005, but after discussions with her family, she had to turn him down. She never knew whatever happened to him. He could still be here of course – there are hundreds of them around the building. Maybe they don’t trust some of the neighbours. Laura says that she and Koit actually performed together in a act on stage in 2008, but he doesn’t remember. She considers herself an alternative artist and likes to improvise. Koit has had a fantastic musical theatre career since his Brummie appearance.

Imri of Israel: He’s been to Eurovision before – a few years ago in Vienna as a backing singer, but now says it’s all about him and his performance as the lead singer. He was happy with his first set of rehearsals – loved what he saw but would like to make a few small changes. Basically he wants the act to feel like a party – he wants to make the whole of Europe dance. He doesn’t feel any pressure that he has to succeed or win or Eurovision. Just as well. Outside of Eurovision Imri does Hebrew dubbing for movies.

And back to today, where the first 15 songs from Semi-Final 1 are performing their second set of rehearsals. Rehearsals and press conferences are going to overlap each other significantly today, so let’s see what happens! Won’t manage to catch everything, but let’s see how we go. The press conferences will be shorter now, as will stage rehearsals.

Meanwhile David Ransted will be standing all day taking thousands of photos for us near the stage. We’ll upload the best tomorrow when we sort through them tonight. It’s all go here in Kyiv!

Just walked down to the arena, which is now open to the press. Saw Robin from Sweden perform. His performance should win this semi. And the stage looks magnificent! Those of you lucky enough to see the shows live in Kyiv are in for a treat. Anyway, Sweden’s performance, as I say in Vision magazine, was slick, slick, and slick!
At his press conference, Robin said that they made very few adjustments since the first rehearsals. He was asked if winning Melodifestival was more important than winning Eurovision. He said he thought it was MF, but being here in Kyiv, it’s obvious that Eurovision is a far bigger and more important contest. He’s very honoured to be here. As to whether he deserves to win the contest, he says everyone in the contest deserves it. Everyone works for that dream.No one is worthier than anybody else.

Robin from Sweden

Robin from Sweden (today’s rehearsal)

Giving a good performance on stage is Tamara from Georgia, who’s dressed like a she-devil in red! Not one of my favourite songs, but boy, she knows how to sing!
At her press conference she said that everyone should come and visit Georgia – one of the oldest countries in the world. She was asked about her entry being banned in 2009 because it was thought to criticise President Putin of Russia at the time. Tamara admitted it was a sort of protest song, but it wasn’t meant to be anti-Putin. And she feels for the Russian singer who was banned this year because she performed in Crimea which is against Ukrainian law. She feels it’s a shame that politics has entered Eurovision, but Russia will be back next year, as was the case with Georgia when it was banned.

Tamara from Georgia (Today's rehearsal)

Tamara from Georgia (Today’s rehearsal)

Also belting it out is Lindita from Albania. She’s in a strange outfit – silver swimming costume with net-curtains. But what a voice!

Isaiah from Australia is also on good form. He’s got his coat on again – that wind machine is probably creating a cold breeze. He also has to contend with a glittery waterfall and bursts of fire. That’s a dangerous stage!

Belgium is next on stage. This was a firm favourite until the first rehearsals. Have things got better for Blanche? No – but getting better. But to make matters worse, she’s in an unflattering big white frilly gown that seems at odds with the song. But the song is still brilliant.
At her press conference Blanche said that her stage name is actually her third name, and thought it stood out more. With this new rehearsal she thought she had finally arrived (but she should’ve left that dress at home – even if it was designed by some well-known designer). As for expectations, she would like a Top Ten finish, but she’s not too sure now listening to some of the great songs in the contest so far!  Her three inspirations are music, drawing and friends.

Slavko from Montenegro is strutting it all about on stage. He’s giving a very confident performance. He really likes to show off that hair piece – cameraman beware – it’ll have your eye out! The Swedish floor manager suggested to Slavko that at the end of his performance he should rip off his skirt to show off his nipples! Honestly, these liberal-minded Swedes! As if the act isn’t camp enough!
At his press conference Slavko prepared a little song and dance act especially for the press. He said that he had fallen in love with Kyiv – being a nature boy he loves all the parks and greenery. He feels that after these second set of rehearsals he’s in the right place in his mind now regarding his performance.

My favourite act have just performed on stage – Norma John from Finland sing Blackbird. You really can’t get a better performance than it. Everything about it is perfect. It’s beautifully staged – Lasse just sits playing the piano, while Leena just stands still and sings. Along with a bit of mist and the changing colours of the backdrop – from dark blue to deep red, they capture the mood of the song. Outstanding!
At their press conference, they explained a bit about the backdrop of their act. It goes from cold lie to burning red to show the sadness and passion of the story – sadness is a episode in many people’s lives, but from sadness joy eventually emerges. A blackbird in some societies represents something mysterious and enigmatic. The host of the press conference made a few ‘accidental’ comments. “Oh, you are a white bird in a black outfit”. And when Lasse and Leena were asked who would they be in a movie, Lasse joked that he would be creepy the man in a horror movie. The host said yes, he was creepy…

Now what can we say about Azerbaijan? Perhaps over-produced, but Dihaj is such a great performer. And the song by itself will carry it through. All all very surreal and symbolic – especially the man with the horse head (the ‘bad boy’ mentioned in the lyrics) – and yes we’re all thinking the same thing! We must remember that this is a TV show that’s meant to entertain – and it certainly does that!
At her press conference, Diana Hajiyeva, where the band get their name from, said that it was agreed that only she should go to Kyiv to represent the band, as they were busy with other projects. Her husband is the drummer in Dihaj. A short video was shown of her daughter watching Dihaj perform – that was an emotional moment for her.

I missed the Portuguese performance on stage, but at her press conference, still representing her brother, Luisa  Sorbal said that her brother will definitely be here in Kyiv next week for the official Dress Rehearsals. The act has been constructed and stripped back that all Salvador has to do is stand there and sing. He won’t be bombarded with flashing lights, electrocuted or run over by loose canons. When they applied for their national final, they chose the composers first and asked the to write a song each. She wrote Amar Pelos Doi for her brother. She didn’t write the song with Eurovision in mind – just wanted a song to suit her brother’s style.

Demy from Greece and her water boys seem to be having fun. The whole act is what Eurovision is about, A lovely girl with legs that could kill and backing dancers determined to upstage her. But in seriousness, this a good pop performance.
Just caught the tail-end of her press conference where she was asked about the the three songs written for her at the national final. She trusted the public to make the right choice.

Just caught the Moldovans having fun with their brides. It’s not really my cup of tea, but it’s a good sound for the contest.
I was going to go to the press conference, but I can hear them singing, so I may give it a miss…

Svala from Iceland is posing and acting like a super-hero  on stage  – and she’s dressed the party in a white cape and one-piece outfit. And platform boots. Not very practical for fighting crime or jumping over roof-tops m’dear.  She’s making good use of the stage going on a walk-about.

Kasia from Iceland said at her press conference that out of the three rehearsals she just did, she preferred the second one. They tried something new each time. They also changed a few camera angels and her outfit – which her mother helped design. She works very closely with her brother, who’s also part of the act. They plan to collaborate with Norma John from Finland after Eurovision and possibly a few other acts from this year as well.

There are lots of lone women on stage this year, and it’s the same with the Czech Republic. But at least with Martina’s act there are people in her backdrop. She’s in her gold outfit again. Not sure if it’s the right look for this performance though.

The last performance of the evening on stage is Cyprus. Hovig and his dancers are certainly more confident in their physical now. Practice makes perfect. The act has got good movement and well thought special effects.

That’s it for today. Back tomorrow with loads of images, the rest of the second rehearsals for the first semi-final and second rehearsals for some of Semi-Final 2.




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