The Four Greatest Crimes of the First Semi-Final

The results of the first semi-final had four gross miscarriages of justice. Call the police level of crime. Europe, what were you thinking?

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Belgium

This was a beautiful evocative song celebrating what mothers give us. If you have a heart it brought tears to your eyes. It ripped out your heartstrings better than any other entry except Hungary. It deserved top 10 in the final. I hope the mothers of every jury member that did not put this in the top 5 has a “discussion” with their child. A long & painful discussion.

Iceland

WTF? This was the worst song of the night. This is the one song that made me wish I was at home instead of the arena so I could take a 3 minute bathroom break. And this made it while the others on this list did not. Europe, you clearly showed the judgment skills of a preschooler. And for this you need to go into time-out.

Portugal

Ok, so Suzy did not come out of a disco ball spaceship. But this was every bit as good a number with an Iberian flair. This is the quintessential Eurovision number and there must be an entry like this in the final. I’m guessing this lost due to the jury vote. If so, then the juries don’t understand what Eurovision is.

Moldova

How, how, how did Moldova lose when Azerbaijan won? Cristina had the most interesting voice of any act last night. Incredible presence and personality in her presentation. An act that supported the song perfectly. A very strong and interesting song. And she sang it beautifully. Were the votes going elsewhere out of habit? Because Cristina deserved to be in the top 5 of the semi.

The First Semi-Final

Last night was the first semi-final and it was incredible. I love Eurovision, but I don’t listen to any of the songs before the shows, I don’t go to the dress rehearsals. So last night was the first time I saw any of them. And wow, what an impact. So here they are in order of how good I thought they were.

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Hungary (video)

Absolutely amazing. I think this is the best act of the entire show. It’s a dark story, and dance, about child abuse. And it treats it seriously, no sugar coating, no Disney ending. And it works. It works very very well. I was mesmerized for the entire song. He’s done something close to impossible, made it work very well about such a serious topic.

Ukraine (video)

Ukraine sends incredible singers (and beautiful women) year after year and this year was no exception. Again it was incredible staging. How that dancer makes it through the 3 minutes in the hamster wheel without getting too dizzy is beyond me. And Mariya takes an amazing song and puts every bit of her heart into it. Great song rendered beautifully.

Belgium (video)

This one tears at your heartstrings. He sings about mothers, how they’re warm, nurturing, loving – it had me crying part way in to it. It’s mostly Axel standing up there and singing his heart out and he does an amazing job. How this did not go on to the final is beyond me. The presentation is simple, but powerful in the simplicity and he emotes his love for his mother, for all mothers very clearly.

Sweden (video)

Sanna delivers a knock-out performance. Great song, incredible voice, great staging. The reason I have it down here in 4th place is this fits the formula for the perfect Eurovision song. She nails it, but following the formula perfectly is still following the formula.

Russia (video)

The Tolmachevy Twins make use of the fact their twins without overplaying it. It’s a great Russian pop number (I love Russian & Ukrainian pop). The staging is clever, the song is really good, and the girl’s voices are incredible together. This could well be the one I listen to the most a year from now.

On a related note, a lot of the audience boo-ed when they started and again at the end. That is so inappropriate. First off, I’m pretty sure they are not involved in the foreign policy decisions of the Russian government. Second, this denigrates Eurovision itself. You don’t have to cheer (although you should) but keep the negative reactions to yourself.

Portugal (video)

This was by far the best stereotypical Eurovison song of the night. Upbeat & vibrant, tons of sequins, and oozing sex appeal. Suzy nailed it with a brilliant performance that had you wanting to dance all night. How this did not make it is beyond me as the best song of this type in the contest always makes it to the finals. Portugal tends to be ignored in this contest and in this case that’s a crime.

San Marino (video)

This is Valentina’s 3rd time and she made it to the final this year. I think this was her best song of the 3 years and it was by far the best staging of the 3 years. The Venus on the half shell staging was simple, elegant, and the perfect framing for her. And she then sang a really beautiful song and did so with her amazing voice.

Montenegro (video)

This one sneaks up on you. You have an ice skater (roller blades) skating around and this big unassuming guy just walking up and starting to sing. And without you realizing it, he reaches out and grabs you and pulls you into the song. Beautiful evocative song that totally pulls you in.

Moldova (video)

This is good. Really really good. On another day I might swap this and Sweden in positions. Powerful in presentation, in voice, in the song. They nailed it in every way and Cristina is definitely the equal of the other female soloists. It’s a travesty that this did not go on to the final.

Also, who can Romania give its 12 votes to with Moldova out?

Albania (video)

Hersi is a really good singer. And she did an amazing job with her song, singing her heart out. Well worth listening to. It did however come just short of the acts listed above. I’ll keep listening to her and probably other songs of her’s. Hersi represents just how good the best is at Eurovision when someone as good as her is not quite in the top 10.

Estonia (video)

This is a really good song, well sung, with incredible staging. Keep in mind that the vocals are live. Tanja performs amazing acrobatics while delivering a very pretty song. With that said, ignoring the acrobatics, it is still a really good song well sung. Not quite as good as some of the others, but well deserving of being in Eurovision.

Azerbaijan (video)

Azerbaijan is like Ukraine, sending a beautiful woman with an amazing voice, song, & staging to Eurovision every year. Dilara delivers with a great performance. With that said, it didn’t reach out an grab me. I wanted it to, I felt like it should, but it didn’t. So there was some spark missing, to me at least, in this one.

The Netherlands (video)

Personally I think Country Music is God’s way of proving some people have no musical taste. With that said, this was an enjoyable song. They’re definitely a very talented duo and they do a great job with the song. The female half also was easily the funniest and most effusive person at the press conference after the show.

Armenia (video)

Maybe I was expecting too much. Aram is at the top of the polls and is the expected winner. So this should be amazing right? He is good and he sang a good song. It was entertaining and enjoyable. But I don’t think it was at the same level as the other songs of the evening. How this was considered the likely winner is beyond me.

Latvia (video)

This has got to be the happiest group competing. It’s a good song, taking the same approach as Malta last year. But for whatever reason it doesn’t work as well. It’s a fun entry worth watching, but that’s it.

Iceland (video)

I won’t say awful but this was the one song of the evening I could easily have done without. Yes they have a great back-story. Yes the message of the song is important. That doesn’t mean it’s entertaining. The only explanation for this making the top 10 is they have preschoolers on some of the juries (this would explain some other dumb jury votes too).

The EuroClub was Amazing

I went Sunday night expecting to stay until maybe 10:30 (because I’m way to old to party or stay up that late) and the next thing I knew it was 1:30am. It was amazing, absolutely amazing.

I don’t think you can find a venue outside of the EuroClub where you get this level of talent, from this many groups, in one night. And all in a small venue that holds maybe 300 people so you’re right up there in front of the stage where everyone has a great location.

Ruth definitely was the most amazing act up there. No one back in America will believe me when I tell them that the best rendition of Rolling on the River ever made is a girl group in Spain. But she blew that one out of the water along with several other numbers. She had the entire audience enthralled.

Conchita was a close second and clearly the crowd favorite. She also did a number of songs including two encores due to crowd demand. She does an amazing job of reaching out and grabbing you with her delivery.

Twin-Twin was also superb. They, like Jessy Matador, sing a musical style that is uniquely French and makes you get up and move. Their energy was off the charts and infected the entire audience. If you ever get the chance to see them live in a small venue – GO!

Hersi sang several songs including a rendition of I Will Always Love You that was damn close to Whitney’s best. She also did something that I think was very smart, she did not sing her ESC entry, it was all other songs. It got across what a versatile talent she is and I think that helps in the vote.

They also had a female singer from South Africa up on stage for a bit and she was good. Incredibly good. Awesome warm up act.

Basim & Freaky Fortune feat/RiskyKidd were both good, but not up to the level of the other 4. They have their supporters but seeing them right after the others here, I don’t think they’ll do that well in the contest.

And we had several of the artists in the audience. I met OVI & Paula (Paula gave me a kiss on both cheeks when I met them!) and they were mobbed. The two of them come across as Eurovision royalty (which they are) and are both extremely poised.

Poland’s group was there too and I think about 2 million people got their picture taken with the two background singers who have the impressive assets. I also saw Teo (Belarus) and Suzy (Portugal). Suzy also comes across as very gracious and poised.

Kudos to all of the artists who happily smiled for picture after picture after picture. I felt bad that they didn’t get to enjoy the show and just watch the music like the rest of us. But they mad a lot of fans very very happy.

I also met a lot of nice people there. there is something infectiously happy about the EuroClub evenings (and actually all of Eurovision) that makes for a wondrous evening. I’m way too old for dance clubs – and I had a blast.

Behind the Scenes – the Dressing Rooms, the Hair Spray, the Stars

DR offers a behind the scenes tour that takes an hour. Go on it. It’s an amazing look at everything backstage. And the 5:00 one I was on today was the first where we could take pictures of the venue. We had a giant tour party of 2 people so it was really nice – we got to see everything.

So first they take you through the press area. You see the lounge (where you will sometimes see interviews of the stars), the cafeteria (reporters eating – boring & a little nauseating), and the work area (lots of reporters banging away on keyboards).

Then onto the delegates/acts area. First the cafeteria for the acts and the first thing I saw was Jedward. They’re in there talking to people at a number of the tables. Lots of people eating – cool mainly for the possible sightings of the stars.

Next is the lounge where the acts can hang out without the press or anyone else bothering them. The Australian TV team was in there but it’s very rare press is allowed in that location. The other guy on the tour is from Australia and he waved an Australian flag he had and the reporter came over. He was in heaven – it was the ultimate meet for him. And nice for me to say hi to her again – I met her last year.

In the lounge there’s doors all around it – a dressing room for each country. A couple of the acts were in there (the lounge – we didn’t go in the dressing rooms).

Next was the hair salon. We could only peer around the edge but it looked like there were 2 rows of 10 or more stations – just for hair. The tour guide said they go through gallons of hair spray per hour. Although probably less this year than last.

Next is a room just for the heads of each delegation. This gives them a private place to trade votes discuss any issues that arise and get away from everyone else (except nosy tour groups).

After that we saw the prop room. No spoilers about what we saw but there were some interesting items in there.

Then right behind the stage where all the stage settings are. Each act’s equipment is on a pallet with rollers so they can move everything up quick, then pull the previous act’s stuff off and place the new act’s stuff up – in 40 seconds. Looking at the layout and the amount of stuff on some pallets I don’t see how they can do all that in 3 minutes, yet they do it in 40 seconds.

Next was outside in back where they have the video and audio control rooms, recording, etc. Plus the backup units. Plus offices for everyone who works there (and has pretty much lived there the last couple of weeks).

They have 3 recordings of each show between the dress rehearsals and jury show. If something goes wrong like a power outage or nuclear bomb, they then switch to the best pre-recorded version – because it’s broadcasting live in 37+ countries and a dead signal would be a bigger problem than an atomic bomb. So the show will go on.

The Venue

I can’t describe the auditorium & the stage. It is beyond incredible. But the impact is so much more than the sum of the parts. Being inside a building where the ceiling is 5 or 6 stories high has impact. Incredible impact. The stage itself which, with the prow pointing out and water along the edges, does give an abstract impression of the bow of a boat.

Note to people who have floor tickets. One of the cameramen working there said the best spot is not at the point of the prow, but instead in along one of the sides of it so you are up close to the main part of the stage.

Behind the standing area (which is about twice the size of Malmo’s), on the floor, is the green room. The acts will be sitting there on the floor watching the show, with each also having a TV screen so they can see the broadcast. That’s a mixed blessing for the – they get to be part of the entire experience. But when they see someone else nail it, that’s going to have an impact. I think it’s really cool that they’ll be right there.

In the entry before the floor when you come in there’s a bar and a shop selling ESC stuff. That’s the last thing I want but if you want a drink before the show – they have it available.

I haven’t seen any performance yet and that’s the true measure. But I am betting that this will present better than Malmo. It’s definitely worthy of Eurovision.

Any suggestions on how to improve this year’s code war?

I feel pretty good about this year’s problem. It was hard, but the top teams were able to implement strong solutions and that is the goal, where it is a stretch. Even for students who are really good.

In the code itself the delay in updating the status of the power-up cards was not intentional and therefore was a bug. My fault as I wrote that code on the server side. One big downside of a code war is we can’t push something out for beta test because we have to keep it confidential. We did have an all-day code war here with everyone in dev on teams writing AIs for it as a test run, but all of them updated their cards when playing them so they never hit this issue.

The feedback on keeping Windwardopolis but changing the play substantially was mixed. A few disliked it. A few appreciated it. For most it wasn’t an issue. Going forward we will probably not do that again.

If you have any suggestions for us, please post them here as a comment or email them direct to me at david@windward.net. I hope you all had a great time participating.

Based on the suggestions so far (email and the below comments):

  1. We will create javadocs (and same for C#/Python) of the client API. 
  2. Tell people that the game is 10:00 – 6:00 but they need to be there no later than 9:30 and the play-offs are 6:00pm.
  3. Stress that they need to have machines on which they can turn the firewall off. And get that figured out before the day.
  4. We may send printed posters to put up.
  5. Provide a suggested website for the event similar to the University of Victoria one.