For the fourth year in a row Amsterdam played host to the biggest Eurovision preview event of the year. This year, a new record was set, with 23 of the acts that will be competing in Baku going to the Dutch capital. A bigger venue than before was used and the concert was a sell out for a week before the event, with fans from all over Europe converging on the event. 

“All Kinds Of Everything” was at the morning meet and greet session organised at the Mercure Hotel, which allowed various media outlets and most of the acts time for interviews, informal chats and photo opportunities. It was also a chance to talk to people who had been in Baku, and to get updates on the progress in the preparations. Reports seem to suggest that we’re only a little behind schedule and that resources and money that the host country is putting into the event, that Azerbaijan will be a worthy host of this year’s contest. 

After the EBU’s Event Supervisor Sietse Bakker formally opened of the day’s agenda, the local Eurovision entrant Joan Franka treated the assembled artists and media to an acoustic version of the Dutch Eurovision entry “You And I”. Then three canal cruisers too the acts on a mini tour of the city.  

After lunch, attention moved to the Delamar Theater in the centre of Amsterdam. The theatre which is close to the Melkweg, allowed the artists and media further couple of hours for interviews before and after the sound checks in the arena. We’ll include the most interesting nuggets from our chats with the artist, in our review of the performances. 

This year’s presenters of “Eurovision In Concert” were Conrad Maas, the long-time commentator and widely considered as something of a Eurovision guru in the Netherlands and 1993 Dutch artist Ruth Jacott, who came 6th in Millstreet with “Vrede”, a result that recent Dutch entries have struggled to replicate. Ruth, who is probably the best known local Eurovision entrant and is something of a “Dutch Diva” and she is still looking and sounding fantastic and treated the audience to a few songs during the course of the evening. 

GREECE

Eleftheria Eleftheriou is a very friendly girl and really made a good impression with the other acts and the media, throughout the day. Her performance here was a fantastic show opener. While there were clearly a lot of backing vocals in the mix, she did a fine job on singing the song, so there should be no doubt that she can pull it off, live. At times this reminded me of Turkey’s 2009 entry “Dum Tek Tek” and there’s clearly a market for this kind of Europop. With the promised choreography to add to the performance, there should be no question that Greece will qualify in Baku and should continue their run of Top 10 results.

 

BELGIUM

Iris seemed to spend most of the day singing parts of her song for various media people. I’m afraid that there were shades of Celine Dion’s questionable Eurovision costume choice in the black jacket flouncy dress and white tights and the hands in the air dance move is certainly not a good idea. I hadn’t noticed the rather distracting false ending to the song before now, but vocally this was great. A little styling and stage craft and this just might cause an upset and qualify from the first semi.

 

LATVIA

I must confess that I really dislike this song and I find the lyrics absolutely awful, but in her little black dress, Anmary really delivered this well. Vocally this was superb and she uses the stage well. The chorus is very strong and more instant than many other songs. I still don’t think that this will qualify as there’s a limited market for kitsch but if the camera captures her performance correctly, it could cause a surprise.

 

AUSTRIA

Talking to the Trackshittaz team, I can confirm that their blackout stage and luminous costumes are not allowed in Baku, for security reasons. They have plans for a big stage routine and while they won’t confirm it, I believe that the option of bringing the mini-tractor that they used in the 2011 Austrian final is being worked on. Vocally it was fine, but with only the two boys on stage, this lacked the stage show that it needs, but my goodness they have huge energy and charisma and there’s a great sense of fun. I could see this getting the votes that brought Moldova into the Top 12 in Dusseldof.

 

FINLAND

Green chiffon culottes added nothing but raised eyebrows to this underwhelming performance. It’s never a good sign when the audience starts talking during the performance and while it was fine vocally, there’s just nothing coming across from Penilla and her cellist, bar memories of France’s rather woeful 2006 entry. I’m struggling to find any glimmer of hope for Finland’s chance in Baku.

 

PORTUGAL

After four songs from the first semi-final in Baku, Portugal was our first chance to look at an entry from the second semi. Filipa had one backing vocalist with her, rather than using pre-recorded backing vocals and it was a good decision. The harmonies were delightful and Filipa gave us an amazing vocal and looked very pretty in a simple blue dress. The crowd even broke into spontaneous applause during the songs. Filipa told me that she and her team haven’t finalised the staging or performance for Baku but this is a serious contender to upset one of the more favoured entries and qualify in the second semi. Filipa told me that her ambition was fulfilled when she got to perform in Festival da Cancao and never dreamt of winning, but dismiss this at your peril.

 

HUNGARY

Back to the first semi-final and Compact Disco brought the full band set-up on stage with them, as they will be doing in a similar show in London. While I really rate this song, there was little that appealed to me here. For a song with a very personal message, there is no connection with the audience and zero charisma coming from the stage. It was also far too static for my liking. Maybe in an arena setting this will work better and the camera angles will be key, but I think this may now miss out on the final, if as they’ve said and they make few changes to the performance.

 

SWITZERLAND

A second rock song from the first semi; Sinplus also brought a full band line-up to Amsterdam and the contrast to Hungary could not bne avoided. This had movement, energy, the band interacted with each other and with the crowd. This is a hugely improved performance on the earlier performances that I’ve seen by the Sinplus boys. Well sung, well performed by the band and a real edge on the camera, this is a very polished entry that could easily claim a place in the final.

 

TURKEY

Oh dear, where to start. Can is lovely, real nice one on one, engaging, pleasant and interesting and I would love him to do well in Baku, but this performance was just poor. Trying a marionettes routine in what looked like a giant gym slip might be very fashion-forward and avant-garde, but I’m afraid that it came across as almost ridiculous. The chorus gets lost along the way and there’s no connection with the audience. Could Turkey miss out on the final for the second year in a row? It’s certainly possible without a major make-over.

 

ALBANIA

OK I must be honest here and say that I found Rona an absolute delight to talk to, she is clearly ambitious, strong minded and driven by her music, but she also has a quite charm and an easy friendly nature. She wasn’t giving too much away about the stage performance in Baku, but told hat she would be alone on stage and that the box from the video would not feature. For me this was the “wow moment” of the night, an absolutely spellbinding performance of a really challenging song. The audience went crazy for it and while this may not represent how televoters or a jury may feel about this rather unique song, I can really see this in the shake-up for the final.

 

MALTA

Kurt Calleja is another charming artist. He’s totally forthcoming on the different paths his life has taken and his abiding love of music and if enthusiasm won contests, we’d be going to Valetta in 2013. The once “fat kid with a guitar” told me that the performance in Baku would be quite similar to the Maltese final, with a full band on stage. In Amsterdam Kurt was alone, but his joy was very infectious and he really sang well and worked the crowd. People this that this doesn’t have much hope in semi two, but I disagree and if it comes together well, I could see this qualifying and going the way of Romania in 2006.

 

SLOVENIA

Eva Boto was the first of this year’s artists that I got to talk to and she is very sweet and has a confidence that exceeds her 16 years. We discussed the decision to keep the song in Slovene and she believes that it is important that every country shows something of its own identity at Eurovision. There will be some changes to the performance from the Slovenian final, with 5 backing singers on stage and alas those headdresses may not make the trip to Baku. Eva performed in what can only be described as a bit turquoise frock, that did her no favours and the song was lacking in punch without backing vocals. It’s hard to judge this song on this performance.

 

MACEDONIA

This was the second fromer Yugoslav country from semi two, in a row. However Kaliopi couldn’t be any more different for Eva in that she’s clearly an experienced artist that is certain to deliver a powerful vocal. She really let go in her three minutes and dressed in a grey outfit, there was real passion coming across. Talking to Kaliopi and her absolutely charming manager Ljiljania, we discussed the options for performing the song in Baku, and they were looking for input. My tuppence worth is that she should start on piano and then move to stand further to the front and deliver the faster part of the song straight down the camera and to the crowd. We’ll see how things work out, but I think this is strong enough to make it to the final.

 

SAN MARINO

The less said about this the better, Valentina and two other ladies who are old enough to know better doing childish choreography while performing to playback in horribly loud bright blue outfits. This needs to get a whole lot better if San Marino is to avoid being last in the first semi.

 

MOLDOVA

Another poor costume choice as Pasha opted for rather unflattering jodhpurs. Like Kurt from Malta, he really went down well with the crowd, despite carrying the song on his own. Speaking to him earlier, a rather shy Pasha said that he had no real ambitions for Baku, just to perform well and to leave the competition in the hands of the voters and that getting to Eurovision was a victory in itself.  

 

BULGARIA

I like this song, I really like Sofi as a singer, although I never got to meet her during the day. She looked fantastic in a revealing black out and was very alluring, while still delivering a great vocal, however I still have a major issue. Sofi is not the smoothest mover on stage and this is an up-tempo dance song. It badly needs dancers and if they stick to their plans to have Sofi alone on stage in Baku, then I think this will lose out, which is a dreadful shame.

 

LITHUANIA

Donny Montel comes across as quite shy when you speak to him and maybe his English isn’t the strongest, but there’s no question on his talent. This was the best male vocal of the night showing a huge range and power. He even found time for a flip on stage. He will stick to the blindfold gimmick in Baku, but I just wish the song was stronger. This guy has the talent to really be a very big star with the right material and I fear “Love Is Blind” could get lost at the end of semi two.

 

FRANCE

Anggun arrived late in the day but got plenty of media attention. She’s a very easy person to talk to, a real professional and very confident on stage. At this point we know she can sing her song, but she was quite reserved on what the performance in Baku would involve. I wasn’t a fan of her rather flimsy red dress, but thayt apart this was a strong performance and we know that he camera loves her.

 

AZERBAIJAN

Sabina Babayeva is a little shy and I can’t help feeling that the weight of her countries expectations are not sitting comfortably on her shoulders. In a beautiful black dress, she sang this competently but it lacked a certain impact, perhaps because she switched to Azerbaijani half way through. I’m sure that on the big stage and in front of thousands of cheering Azeris this will be totally different and could well be Top 5, but I was a little disappointed with the rather plain Amsterdam performance.

 

ROMANIA

Mandinga travel together like conjoined sex-tupplets and off camera they are actually quite serious and have a lot to say for themselves and their (high) hopes for Eurovision. This was a fantasticall energetic performance and quite similar to he national final, but I have a serious resevation; the vocals weren’t live and with six people on stage, that’s not good. The crowd loved it and if it is performed well live, then it is a serious contender, but I’m getting flashback to Blue in 2011, who also didn’t do their song live and we saw how that endd in Dusseldorf.

 

SPAIN

A huge contrast to the songs before an after it. Pastora delivered her song effortlessly in a charmingly simple black dress. I though she was slightly off he tempo at times, but she really nails those big notes. This really divided people. Those that liked it before thought it was the highlight of the night, but those that don’t rate it, didn’t see anything to change their minds. This will be a strong performance in Baku, for sure, but is the song really worthy of her talents?

 

IRELAND

Jedward are Jedward, pure and simple, scene stealers, loveable, irritating, fun and a whole lot more. When they arrived I the Delamar, it created the biggest media scrum of the day, by the the time they’d left about 50 fans had gather outside singing “Lipstick” and “Waterline” and there’s no question that they were the stars of the night. Vocally they were fine, the moved well and worked the crowd. I see no reason why they cannot be Top 10 in Baku, with any kind of decent stage show and if he rumoured plans are true (and no one is giving anything away) then we should expect a very memorable Eurovision performance.

 

NETHERLANDS

The honour of closing the show went to the local favourite Joan Franka. Like Spain, this is another entry that divided people, with those that like the song being charmed by Joan’s simple style and much improved vocal, while others still see it as little above a novelty entry that should have been send forty years ago. As this one is so different from anything else in the contest, it’s hard to judge its chances, but I fear the early draw won’t help the Dutch cause.

 

The question on most people’ lips was, “did we see the winner tonight?” and I suspect we didn’t because the one country that everyone seems to be afraid of is Russia. All it all this was a wonderful event and well worst the effort in heading to one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. It’s a fantastic chance to meet other fans and get a taster of this year’s contest.