Tonight sees the second dress rehearsal of the Eurovision Song Contest semifinal at the Hartwall Arena, Helsinki, and esctoday.com brings you live, minute-by-minute coverage of the contest from the press centre.
20:59 The hall looks nice and full again as the dancers get into place for the opening act.
21:00 The countdown ends and the show begins. The familiar music plays across the hall… And gives way to howling wind. The little girl appears on screen, and the camera focuses on that little snowglobe. She turns to walk away as an ice queen soars into the air playing an accordion, her dress flowing to the floor beneath her. Two tango dancers swirl inside the dress, before exiting to join the rest of the dancers, who have filed onto the stage to join them. We have a bit of beatboxing at the end of the catwalk, then more dancing as Winter turns to flowery Spring and the protagonists jive around the dress like a teepee.
21:05 Mikko and Jaana appear amidst the crowd. Lots of shots of the audience as they welcome the viewers in English and French. Welcome to Helsinki!!! A quick run down of the order of the evening and the voting, then we get to business: "are we ready to start the show?" asks Markko… Yes: "it staaaaaaaaarts… now!"
21:08 We kick off with the first postcard, and it's the muscleman turning the skilift. Bulgaria follows, with Elitsa in a chainmail top and red leather trousers. Not her strongest performance vocally at first, at least on the screens, but there is still another rehearsal yet to get things just perfect. She soons gets into it during the second half, though, and with a triumphant smile she works up to the big finish. The camera is missing the drumstick tossing a little, which is a shame, but otherwise the in-your-face energy of the song is coming through nicely on the TV.
21:12 Postcard No. 2: looking for a place to ski. Israel follows. Audio and visual feed seem a little out of sync in the press hall at first, but this is rectified soon. The stage is full of smoky swirls around the band, who are now presented through a selection of shots, with cuts to different band members throughout the music. A good performance on screen – visual tricks work well.
21:16 Postcard shows a couple sharing a tender dusk-lit moment outside their tents. And then to Cyprus. Very dark – the screen fills with goth purples and blacks, and Evridiki looks positively crazed, turning in a fantastic vocal performance. One or two shots out of focus at first, but generally the angles are all working together nicely. The focus remains, quite rightly, quite closely on Evridiki throughout the performance. Strobe lighting kicks in as she performs the mic stand dance. The pyros explode silently on screen as she works towards the finish. Thank you! she shouts to the audience.
21:19 Postcard of a woman jet-skiing to work across Helsinki's bay. Anticipatory applause precedes Belarus' music starting. The camera teases us as first we don't see him, then we do: Koldun comes out of nowhere onto the stage! Lots of swirly, panning shots of the stage. Koldun works the cuts well, always catching the right camera with his gaze, almost automatically. Rather odd, lingeringclose-up of one of the wall-climbing dancers in the second verse – she's pretty, but not much is happening for a couple of seconds. It all comes back together, though, and we're back to stage shots.
Something doesn't seem right halfway through, and Koldun's voice seems to be overstrained. It even sounds like it is breaking at points – he needs to get this right tomorrow.
21:24 Another skiing postcard and then to Iceland.Eirikur gives an amazing performance and looks like a real rocker on screen. He really knows how to work the hall, and, more importantly, the camera. Classic rock. Classic performer. The performance cannot be faulted.
Most of the close-ups catch Eirikur from the side, with him looking into the audience. Great cheers.
21:27 The next postcard takes us hiking in Finland. Then it's Georgia! But wait… The stage is blue! What happened to all the red? It does contrast rather nicely with Sopho's beautiful red dress, however. She wears glittering red symbols on her arm and back, and sings excellently with a lot of gusto, looking happier than ever on stage.
That sword dance looks amazing on screen, and you wonder how the poor girl isn't getting shredded to pieces by the swashbuckling dancers.
The pyros add a spine-tingling feel to the build, and she ends triumphantly. Cheers from the audience, and then Jaana comes on to remind us all that it's Georgia's first ever entry. "The Czech Republic too!" she adds. "And Serbia and Montenegro as independent countries!" chips in Markko. They both do a very professional job of the script.
21:31 Postcard – girl burns the roast meat, and goes to fetch some mushrooms to feed the family instead! Montenegro's on now, and the drummer kicks it all off. There are sweeping shots across the audience, who look very unexcited at the moment, unfortunately. There is something very Japanese about Stephen's look on the camera. The costumes are almost medieval, with the backing singers in puff sleeves and tunics, with plenty of ivory and gold.
Despite the subdued reaction in the hall, the performance of Stephen or the support artists cannot be faulted. Strong, intense, and like he means business. He blows a big kiss to the audience before leaving the stage.
21:35 The postcard now features a group of cute kids raking leaves into a pile before having fun throwing them around! And this leads us to Switzerland. More goth on the stage: "vampires in Helsinki – come alive!" shouts DJ Bobo. It's a real dance fest on stage, and the camera makes a lot of the bodies crossing over the shots, surrounded by smoke as the song begins. Lots of nice circling shots making the most of the scary props.
The dummies look strangely still behind the group as they work that dance routine for all it's worth.
21:39 Opera singing in Helsinki – and we didn't expect that until at least song 25! But wait, it's another postcard. Which takes us onto Moldova. And oh my goodness… Natalia's outfit is a little daring, almost showing a bit too much around her mid-riff! Otherwise she is very classily dressed in black, and the camera makes the most of her with some nice intense close-ups. With much scarf flinging, there is always lots going on throughout the whole performance.
Natalia really gives it some welly on that high note, and it sounds perfect. A very nice cheer after the song, too.
21:43 A nice short video highlighting all of the artists arriving, now, which will be the commercial break for many countries. DQ talks a little about her costume with some nice pink feather shots, with shots of finalists and semifinalists alike, arriving in Helsinki. After the video, Jaana and Markko welcome us back before the show continues.
21:45 The next postcard: reindeer and… more skis! And on comes Edsilia for the Netherlands. She is a vision in soft lighting, surrounded by her sensuous backing singers on the podium. Then… zoom… the song kicks off, and it's a really powerful moment on screen.
There is a rather odd moment where the reverb sounds a little too strong, but it is quickly turned off.
Everyone knew Edsilia would perform it like a trooper – she has amazing presence on screen, note perfect and belting out those big notes. Around her, the dance routine adds the icing on the cake, making sure that there is always plenty of action to hold the attention. Huge applause from the hall and the press centre!
21:49 Singing in the snowy mountains in the next postcard, which introduces Albania. The female vocalist is mysteriously charming on stage, as is the violin player; both in green. Frederik gives a strong ballad performance. The camera almost misses Frederik's head as he falls to his knees, but we expect this will be perfect in tomorrow's shot!
21:53 Ice hockey and figure skating combine for the next postcard, before DQ takes the stage! The male dancers' initial routine looks a little odd on screen, with rather bizarre winking on the part of one, as the camera focuses on him. Otherwise, the song gets off to a kicking start, and the dress rip moment is synched beautifully with the first pyro bang.
DQ's smile lights up the TV, with the most perfect set of teeth in the contest. The vocal is fine for the most part, but those longer, higher notes really need a bit of work before tomorrow night. But hold on: the big key change actually sounds great. As long as DQ stays focussed, they should all sound like that. And the very last, big note was great too. BIG cheers.
21:56 Ice hotel: very cool. Which appropriately takes us on to the cool vibes of Croatia, albeit warmly lit in oranges and yellows on the screen.Capable performances with shots staying close on the performers throughout the set. Dado seems to have left a few too many of his shirt buttons undone, but otherwise is another of the night's real pros. Effortless vocal performance.
The ending of the song is a little lost – very sudden, marked only by a cut to the whole stage as the artists punch the air.
22:01 It's school time in the postcards, one of the sweeter of tonight's offerings. Then from sweet, to sexy, as Poland takes its turn. On screen, less of the red is evident from the staging, and more blacks, white and silvers, until the chorus, and it's red chains everywhere. Sasha is on top form after a few days of feeling under the weather; the girl is back and as cheeky as ever on stage.
The pyros on the cage work brilliantly on screen, and the shooting flames will set television screens alight back home.
Not the strongest performance The Jet Set have given so far, but nonetheless a wake-me-up in the hall.
22:04 Helsinki's silver population perform street magic in the next postcard, which introduces Serbia. Very dark reds fill the screen as Marija walks on, dimly lit. The spot goes up, picking her out of the dim reds, and she begins an expectedly very strong vocal performance. Her support artists look like bond girls in formation around her, their black shirt and tie suits trimmed with red ribbons and sparkling red hearts.
The camera work is characterised by lots of slow-moving shots around the close-set group.
Another massive cheer in the arena and press hall.
22:08 Skateboarding cool hits this postcard, as the Czech entry prepares. A slight sound hiccup on TV which is sorted quickly enough. The vocal starts surprisingly unsurely for Josef, but he is soon into it, looking mean. Vote for us – or else, he might be singing. He looks at home, but very hot; all that angry strutting about the stage must be making him warm. He really throws himself into the performance, which is a foot-tapper. He even manages a growling whoop as he ends the song.
22:12 Bicycles in Helsinki set the postcard's theme. And now it's Sabrina's turn for Portugal. Her vocal sounds a little lost amidst the backing at first – she could do with turning up a little. She woos the camera, though; she is a charming girl on screen. Thankfully, the hair has been put down for this rehearsal: she was almost going for the Kate Gulbrandsen (Norway 1987) look earlier, which did not look right at all.
The levels suddenly sound fine again for the international switch. A really nice, symmetrical finish to the song follows on screen. Great stuff from Portugal – Sabrina should be proud of a very solid performance.
22:15 We are treated to a bit of Classical music led by a boy, then a man conductor in the next postcard, which precedes Karolina from FYR Macedonia. The girl herself oozes sex appeal on screen, showing a lot of leg and performing winsomely and sensually throughout the song. She follows the camera well as it circles her, playing to her audience with as much coquettish charm as she can muster. The vocal performance is great, too. The cracking pyros really are just that at the end of the song, with an audible crack as they explode.
22:19 Ad break, and back come Mikko and Jaana. "Are you having fun?" she asks, before Markko adds "winning the Eurovision was a dream come true for Finland". Next comes a short video about all the volunteers at this year's contest, but who's that? Yes, none other than esctoday.com's own Steve Holyer appears on screen asking a question in a press conference! Fame at last. Watch out for him!
Jaana and Mikko are back straight afterwards, reminding us of the voting procedure. But "are you guys ready for some more music?" We definitely are.
22:22 Lordi fever fills the next postcard, with kids making themselves up as Lordi monsters to take part in a football match. And now it's Norway! Hmm, you can see a bit of Guri's orange underdress beneath that gold number, but maybe that's because we know what's coming… She looks and moves like Geri Halliwell on stage, turning in a stunning dance and vocal performance.
Off comes the dress behind the feathers, which looks great on screen as it comes out of nowhere. Fantastic stuff, and the crowd loves it. Go Guri!
22:25 A very melancholy mood to this postcard, featuring boats. Then, Malta takes to the stage. The dancers aren't painted gold this time – and that gong player really needs to work on his timing!
The Japanese staging looks superb on screen. Olivia is vibrant in yellow, taking her performance very seriously. She does need to be careful on those longer notes, as there is the slightest tendency to push them a bit too hard. If those are sorted out, the vocal performance is spot on and well-controlled. Another big one in the hall.
22:29 Daddy goes fishing in the dark, in a scary postcard with a sweet ending. The fish spearing is a little barbaric, but it doesn't seem to matter to father and son, tucking in heartily on screen! But this is soon forgotten as we continue to Andorra.
And what a different kettle of – fish. Really fresh, really different, and the boys sound great on stage. Anonymous' frontman is less shy than he seems at first, playing cheekily to the camera, and, no doubt, hoardes of new young fans. He sounds a little breathless before the key change, but only for a moment as the song reaches its dynamic finish. Huge screams of delight from the audience, as we hear the message "thanks everyone… we can still save the world!!!"
22:34 Hungary follows the next postcard, and Magda is such a relaxed, chilled performer on stage. And she is another performer who plays expertly to the camera; the song actually comes across ten times better on screen than it does in the hall. Very classy, and another big hand from the hall.
22:37 The tango is back in the next postcard, before Gerli Padar is carried onto the stage for Estonia's performance. The energy of the performance works brilliantly with the active background here, and there is a lot to hold the eye. In fact, it all comes together perfectly in terms of choreography.
Gerli is enjoying herself, with an easy vocal, although it took a few seconds for her to relax into the performance. Wind, thunder and lightning weather her in the last minute of the song, which comes acrossstrongly on TV.
22:41 White water canoeing here, or perhaps not quite! And the postcard leads us to Belgium. Nice performance from the band, here; SexyFire milks the camp 70s vibe for all he can.The dance routine is all together, too, looking good. The band try to get the audience going in the bridge, too, although everyone seems a bit tired at this point. SexyFire ends the song on a huge scream!
22:45 Contortionist Mum features in this postcard, rather bizarrely. And now we have Alenka on stage for Slovenia. She is full of the melodrama of the opera house in this performance, giving an entrancing performance of the song. She works it for every ounce of drama, accompanied by her pitch-perfect classical vocal. The action and movement is all in her performance, and she clearly needs no dance routine going on around her to capture the audience's attention. The wind machine adds a bit more drama at the end. She looks victorious already at the last note, and the audience seem to think so too – again, possibly the biggest cheer of the night in the hall.
22:49 A nice bus ride now, destination Turkey. "Helsinki, are you ready?" cries Kenan. But my goodness, what is he wearing as he emerges from the shroud? Something like a cross between Napoleon and a spaghetti Western. The styling looks really odd against the oriental chic of the girls around him. The vocal isn't perfect at first, either, although he gets into it after a while. The camera shots are a little strange at times, too, given the energy in the dance – shots from behind, and rather too close up as Kenan moves vigourously. Certainly not the best presentation of Shake It Up, Shekerim we have seen so far.
22:53 Jetting across the snow now, all the way to Austria. The shots make the most of the striking stage set as Eric belts out another fantastic performance. He screams charisma on the screen, and clearly loves playing the biggest gig of his life, shouting at the audience to get their hands in the air. The song ends big in the hall with a shower of sparks.
22:56 Rowing boats now, taking us to Latvia's waltz. We are serenaded with a rose on screen as the boys come in one by one. Circling movements about the stage and nice shots of the hall bathed in beams of light help set a really beautiful scene for Questa notte, and the boys themselves top this with an excellent vocal performance. The build and finish are really moving, and you cannot help but think again how perfect the song is to end the contest. Amazing cheers for the boys, and all the songs as the music comes to an end.
23:00 With a countdown in Finnish – Mikko teaches the audience first – the voting begins. And now, we have recaps instead of placeholders! They appear for fifteen seconds each, with a white frame superimposed on each one.
23:09 It's a short video about Euroclub now, to have a look at how the artists and journos have let their hair down in between working their socks off over the last week. Then, it's the clips again, this time just ten seconds each.
23:15 "Things are getting very exciting!" says Mikko- or at least, they will be around this time tomorrow. With a minute to go before the voting closes, the audience prepares for the ten second countdown, before it is (or will be) all over. And now we have the interval act while the votes are counted. "Let's see how modern tradition can be" suggests Mikko, before the stage fills with a feast of Finnish turbo-folk.
After the act, Mikko appears in the green room- which is actuallygreen! – but jokes for the rehearsal "I think I did something – there's no one here!"And he introduces clips of the fourteen qualified countries from Saturday's final.
Svante was present for the 'result' of the mock vote. Mikko jokes again with the audience "these are really the countries which will qualify for the final!" Of course they're not. But, for the record, these countries came out of this imaginary round of voting:
Mikko is a real joker, and loves making fun of the'vote' with the audience."Ladies and gentlemen, you're playing so well that you'll start believing it…" Shots to the greenroom were accompanied by "Look at them going crazy in the greenroom!" In fact, both the presenters are charming and have more than a bit of the Anders and Kattis (Sweden 2000) chemistry about them.
And there we have it – the second semifinal rehearsal, in all its glory. We're getting closer and closer to the final, perfect package, which will be beamed out to the whole of Europe (and beyond) tomorrow evening.