Semi-Final 2 is usually always the 'better one' and this year it contains at least a couple of major contenders. On with the show! Remember these are my thoughts on the national final performances and recorded versions of the songs, and will probably be subject to change after seeing the rehearsals.
LITHUANIA - "This Time" - Monika Linkyte and Vaidas Baumila.
They are an appealing couple and the national final performance was exuberant, enjoyable and - crucially in a very 'serious' year - fun. Vaidas is probably this year's Ott Lepland, loved by all, no matter your preference. There is a gleefully amateurish feel to this, and its success will probably depend on whether Europe is feeling their chemistry or not. The "one kiss!" - MWAH!! - part is a bit daft, but viewers remember a daft gimmick. It's cheerful country-flavoured pop and deserves a place in the final.
IRELAND - "Playing With Numbers" - Molly Sterling.
To slightly paraphrase a certain turkey, "Oh Ireland, where oh where did it all go wrong?" It's bleak times in the post-Jedward era. Last year's song was a shambles, Riverdance meets warrior princess, and a serious rethink was required. Unfortunately this year's national final failed to excite and appropriately it was a snooze-fest which was chosen to represent Ireland. No offence to Molly though, she is a 17 year old singer/songwriter/musician and it's always good to see young talent getting that once in a lifetime opportunity to appear in front of a worldwide TV audience - but the song just doesn't do it for me, and the lyrics just look like a load of meaningless phrases all thrown together. Talking of which....
SAN MARINO - "Chain of Lights" - Michele Perniola and Anita Simoncini.
2015 is a very strange year. There's something missing for San Marino ...a certain Valentina Monetta no less. For she has finally stepped aside to make way for a new generation. We've got Michele, who previously represented San Marino in JESC and we've got Anita who, er, did the same last year as a member of the Peppermints with "Breaking My Heart" which I always had a soft spot for and still do. This on the other hand is ANOTHER. RALPH. SIEGEL. SONG. So we have two potentially exciting young performers weighed down by dated light-a-candle gubbins which I just know my mum will completely go into meltdown mode on hearing. It should have been called "Chain of S****". I really do not want to hear this again, OK?
MONTENEGRO - "Adio" - Knez.
It took me a long time before I started appreciating the ex-Yu entries at Eurovision. I was never a fan of the Zeljko ballads to begin with but "Nije Ljubav Stvar" won me over. I'm not sure if there is much mileage left in this franchise, but in the meantime we have "Adio" which is a very nice native language ballad well sung by Knez, who I'm sure will deliver a very solid performance in Vienna. As long as they avoid all the background skater nonsense of course. I'm sure there will be backing musicians with traditional instruments who will probably play a big part on stage - we expect nothing else from a Zeljko-written song.
MALTA - "Warrior" - Amber.
Yep another warrior. I have a problem with both of these warrior songs this year, as both of them fall short of the quality I would demand from Malta and/or Georgia. The success of this for me will depend on the screechiness level of the "breaaaak! through the silence" and how this line is delivered by Amber. As a song I probably prefer this to its Georgian namesake, but that's not saying much. This is still a disappointment. Come back Gianluca, or Firelight.
NORWAY - "A Monster Like Me" - Mørland and Debrah Scarlett
One deliciously appealing thing about Norway at Eurovision in recent years has been the uncompromising darkness of their entries - from Margaret Berger to Carl Espen and now to "...Monster" which smashes the 'Eurovision song' stereotype to pieces. Yet I remain a little uncertain about the success of this song, and again it will all depend on a) how the song is staged and b) the reliability of Debrah's vocals. Nevertheless it is the kind of song which non-fans (and many even some fans, who knows?) would describe as 'too good for Eurovision', and lyrics which leave us wanting to know more of their story. Just what terrible thing did Mørland do in his early youth? Represent Norway at Junior Eurovision?
PORTUGAL - "Há um Mar que nos Separa" - Leonor Andrade.
She is a very pretty girl, and her national final appearance - Cheryl Fernandez-Versini in transition to glum angry goth - was in stark contrast to the rather bland song which she had to sing. This will probably be fighting off San Marino for bottom place on this year's overall standings. At least last year's song was lively, and catchy, and had the flippin' Suzy shake, and despite all that it still couldn't qualify. If that can't, this will never qualify in a million years.
CZECH REPUBLIC - "Hope Never Dies" -Marta Jandová and Václav Noid Bárta.
Welcome back CZ to ESC after all these years. Unfortunately this song is one from this year which has passed me by and I haven't listened to it as much as some of the other entries. They'll be hoping to deliver strong vocal performances which may pick up points from the juries but I can't see this getting out of this semi-final.
ISRAEL - "Golden Boy" - Nadav Guedj.
Haters, as they say, gonna hate. But this for me is this year's "Opa"/"Cheesecake" - daft, funny and catchy as hell. I don't believe in the concept of 'guilty pleasures' - there is no pleasure to be guilty of - but if such a thing existed in my life then "Golden Boy" would be the guiltiest of guilty pleasures. I'm not sure if first-time listeners would be able to cope with the multiple switches within this song - from pleading ballad to Timberlake funk and onto a more traditional ethnopop chorus. Nadav is only 16, which I find very hard to believe (!) but this song is great fun, you can't help smiling at the "but before I leave, let me show you Tel Aviv" line whilst the end of the song - "ok, we gotta go, three minutes, bye bye" is probably the best tribute to Eurovision's three minute rule, like, ever.
LATVIA - "Love Injected" - Aminata.
In a year of warriors and fierce, feisty women, Aminata appeared to be a little too fierce and feisty in that "Supernova" final. I'm afraid she may just come across as too cold and distant to Europe's juries and voters if they stick with that same type of performance from the national final. Perhaps it just needs some warmth injected. Having said that though, she does have a commanding presence which lifts what for me is a non-song, but I wouldn't choose to listen to it again. Now this on the other hand, I could probably listen to every day: Supernova was all about the Riga Beaver and he should have represented Latvia instead! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGAM5rtLEhk
AZERBAIJAN - "Hour of the Wolf" - Elnur Huseynov.
Yes, that's Elnur the 'angel' from the Azeri debut entry in 2008. Since that time he's gone on to win The Voice of Turkey, And his voice is outstanding on this huge bought-in Swedish ballad and it's a testament to his vocal quality that he turns a not-great song into a serious contender. The trouble with Azerbaijan is that the allegations which have dogged their every move at Eurovision for the past couple of years will continue to cast a shadow over their participation and we will forever wonder just what is going on. It will be interesting to see how this does after last year's shock failure (of a song which didn't deserve to do well anyway).
ICELAND - "Unbroken" - Maria Olafs.
No Iceland, no, don't do this to me after all these years of high quality entries and great artists. Now it's a barefoot manic pixie "tonight Matthew I'm gonna be Emmelie de Forest" clone. This sounds like a Disney movie song (I just wonder if they'll tap into that Frozen-type demographic?) or a song from a Dawson's Creek-type teen drama. My main problem with this, apart from "Feathers" not winning the national final, is that this song is just far too bland and doesn't move me. At all. It does have a good draw position so should be ok to qualify and then end up about 15th in the final.
SWEDEN - "Heroes" - Måns Zelmerlöw.
I've followed Måns' progress in Melodifestivalen over the years, so was very happy to finally see him win it. The visual presentation of the song was quite spectacular, until we found out that the idea wasn't as original as first thought. Some could maybe say the same about the David Guetta-influenced song as well. Yet it's one of the few songs which had the complete sound and vision package by the time of the national final, which made it one of the advance favourites. So this is a total cert to qualify, although the song in danger of being completely overshadowed and upstaged by whatever form those little stick men are gonna take.
SWITZERLAND - "Time To Shine" - Melanie Rene.
I watched the Swiss national final and can't really remember much about it apart from the hot guy presenting it. I haven't played this very much, it's ok but just ok. In the same bracket as those warrior-y mid-tempo songs which all become interchangeable after a while. The semi-final may be her time to shine but I can't see her making the final.
CYPRUS - "One Thing I Should Have Done" - John Karayiannis.
I caught a little bit of the Cyprus national final and immediately had that 'this is going to do well at Eurovision' moment. It's this year's less-is-more, touching ballad and when he sings "I should've been there for you!" then you have a heart of stone if you're not feeling that. OK so it's, em, 'influenced' by Extreme's "More Than Words" but it wouldn't be the first ESC entry which sounded like another song. This will do well because he will make that all-important connection with the viewers.
SLOVENIA - "Here For You" - Maraaya.
I got the Eurovision-contender chills when I heard this in the Slovenian final. It's a song with instant appeal, once you get past the weirdness of the headphones and the 'air violinist' - my main problem at this time is wondering just how their presentation of this song is going to translate from that little Slovenian TV studio at the national final, to the big stage in Vienna. Slovenia doesn't traditionally have too many friends at ESC but I think this is going to get their best result in years. At least top 10.
POLAND - "In The Name of Love" - Monika Kuszynska.
Something a bit more traditional this year from Poland and not a butter churner in sight. It's a pleasant enough ballad but doesn't really have that something particularly special. The song will attract attention thanks to the singer's disability and I wonder if that will be reflected in her onstage performance or not? It does have a great draw position, which combined with the good old diaspora vote, may just be enough to take it to the final.
Qualifying - Lithuania, Montenegro, Norway, Israel, Azerbaijan, Iceland, Sweden, Cyprus, Slovenia, Poland
Going home - Ireland, San Marino, Malta, Portugal, Czech Republic, Latvia, Switzerland.