Isn't it amazing the effect that lower expectations can have? Based on my poor opinion of many of the entries, I fully expected the Eurovision semi-finals to drag a little. But the first one absolutely flew by, and if anything I think I enjoyed it more than the semis last year. A number of the songs seemed better than I remembered, which is probably the effect of good staging - it's weird how that can trick the brain into honestly thinking that a song is significantly better than it would sound if you were blindfolded. The most dramatic example of that was the Ukraine "hamster wheel" effect. From previous listens I know full well that I don't rate that song as highly as some people do, and yet as an overall package I thought it was probably the best entry of the evening.
Ukraine now look much more plausible winners than Armenia. Nothing I saw led me to revise my observation from last night that Armenia's status as favourites was unwarranted, and sure enough I see that most bookies are now placing them slightly behind Sweden. But in all honesty Sweden didn't strike me as being a nailed-on winner either. This could be a much more open contest than we were led to expect. In some ways, the act that stood out the most was the Netherlands - it's probably too understated a song to win outright, but being both good and completely different from everyone else is like golddust, as last year's Dutch entry proved.
My prediction was almost right - I got nine out of the ten qualifiers correct, and I'm thrilled about the one I didn't expect, which was San Marino. It's bizarre that Valentina Monetta was regarded as a potential winner last year and failed to make it through to the final, but this year turned up with a much less promising song and qualified. Perhaps it was just that the live performance was more engaging this time.
On the other hand, I'm gutted for Estonia, Portugal and Albania. With the quality of Montenegro clearly shining through for the juries and televoters, I briefly harboured hopes that the same might prove to be the case for Portugal's equally 'ethnic' entry, but it wasn't to be. And I was really surprised when I checked my list of ten predicted qualifiers to see which one I'd got wrong, and discovered it was Estonia. I had them in the middle category of 'fairly likely' qualifiers, and based on the dramatic visual side of the performance I would have rated their chances even higher than that. So I don't understand it, but there's always one or two aspects of the result that don't make a lot of sense.
The one big disappointment about the show was the presenters - Danish television have taken a big step backwards after reasonably good choices of host from their Swedish and Azerbaijani predecessors. Recruiting the chap from Borgen initially seemed like an inspired choice based on his undoubted screen presence, but unfortunately someone seems to have hypnotised him and turned him into a gibbering idiot for Eurovision week. And he was the best of the three.