9th May 2023

Eurovision 2023: What to expect from semi-final 1

Eurovision is back in the UK after 25 years, and we got to attend an exclusive press preview of semi-final 1 – here’s what to expect!
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Eurovision 2023: What to expect from semi-final 1
Käärijä (Finland) and his dancers. Photo: Jay Darcy @ The Mancunion. Copyright: BBC/EBU

Eurovision is back in the UK for the first time before most of our writers were even born! We last won the competition in 1997, thanks to Katrina and the Waves (‘Love Shine a Light’), and hosted it the following year, where the competition was famously won by transgender Israeli songstress Dana International (‘Diva’).

Believe it or not, the UK has the third most wins at Eurovision, and we have hosted the competition more times than any other country. The late 90s saw us lose favour with our neighbours; we’ve only made the top 10 thrice in the 21st century.

Last year’s Eurovision was, of course, won by Ukraine – the first country to win the competition three times this century. With Ukraine unable to meet the EBU’s safety requirements because of Russia’s invasion of the country, the UK – who came second place for the first time since 1998 – graciously accepted the offer to host.

With the competition taking place in nearby Liverpool, we’re delighted to be covering it in person. This year, there are three dress rehearsals that serve as exclusive press previews. Yesterday, we watched the dress rehearsal for semi-final 1, which included the two favourites – Loreen (Sweden) and Käärijä (Finland) – and rehearsals for three of the Big 5 (France, Germany and Italy), all of whom automatically qualify for the final. There were also performances from Julia Sanina, a duet between Liverpool’s own Rebecca Ferguson and Ukranian singer Alosha, and a medley from Rita Ora.

Semi-final 1 takes place tonight, and it will be shown live on BBC One (rather than the usual BBC Three). We’ve provided you with a little recap of the press preview so you know what to expect.

Opening Number

The show is opened by co-host Julia Sanina, who performs part of ‘Маяк’ by her band The Hardkiss, accompanied by dazzling dancers. I don’t want to give too much away – but the performance is fiery! I love that the opening of the competition is Ukrainian, not British – after all, they won, and they’d be hosting if not for the illegal invasion of their country.

The Presenters

Julia is hosting the semi-finals alongside Alesha Dixon and Hannah Waddingham (they’ll be joined by Eurovision commentator Graham Norton for the grand final).


Alessandra – ‘Queen of Kings’

Alessandra competed on the Norwegian edition of The Voice last year, and now she’s representing her country at Eurovision. It’s hard to believe she’s only 20; this young woman embodies “diva”. Alessandra is accompanied by a group of fierce dancers in this Amazonian-esque performance. It reminds me a little of ‘Loco Loco’ by Serbian girl group Hurricane (Eurovision 2021). The lyrics are about girl power and are inspired, in part, by Alessandra’s bisexuality. This has to be my favourite song of semi-final 1; I cannot stop listening to it. If Alessandra doesn’t go through, I’m taking to the streets.


The Busker – ‘Dance (Our Own Party)’

A three-piece boy band, The Busker are determined to turn the arena into a club. Their performance is retro, funky, camp – and sax-tastic. They remind me a little of my favourite boy band, AJR, but they’re even more camp. This performance is very Eurovision – and it sure makes me want to dance.


Luke Black – ‘Samo mi se spava’

This has to be one of the most daring performances of the semi-final. The song and the performance alike are ethereal but futuristic – and it works. It sort-of feels like a dream turning into a nightmare – you’ve all experienced that, right? Vocally, Luke Black sounds like Perfume Genius, and the song, itself, is very Perfume Genius (on steroids).


Aijā – ‘Sudden Lights’

A four-piece indie rock band, this performance was… very rocky. It’s not my cup of tea (let’s be English about it) but I’m sure there are plenty who will love it, especially because this talented quartet put their all into it.


Mimicat – ‘Ai Coração’

This performance is unashamedly Portuguese, and I love Portugal, so I love this. Mimicat and her dancers are all dressed in red. There’s some fantastic dancing. It’s cultural, fun and sexy – everything you want in a Eurovision performance.


Wild Youth – ‘We Are One’

Whilst the UK has hosted Eurovision more than any other country, Ireland has won it more than any other country – and it once won it thrice in a row! Sadly, like the UK, Ireland has seen less success in the 21st century; they often even struggle to make it to the grand final – and this year might be no different. This three-piece boyband are undeniably talented, and it’s a good song, but it did not blow me away. The lead singer wears a glittery leotard (perhaps a tribute to ABBA, who of course won Eurovision) but the costume does not go with the song, and it becomes the focus of the performance. The end of the performance is triumphant – complete with pyrotechnics. It really is an electric performance but I’m not sure it’s enough to save the satisfactory song.


Let 3 – ‘Mama ŠČ!’

SC? More like WTF! If I had not seen the text in the corner of the screen in the arena, I’d have though this was San Marino, for they are the masters of camp. This band is apparently known for their original approach to rock music and their obscene live performances. This performance somehow gets crazier the longer it lasts. Everybody in the press section had their phones out. It’s very 2000s Eurovision but Eurovision fans seem to have outgrown outrageously camp performances so whilst this performance is sure to entertain viewers, I’m not sure enough people will vote them through to the grand final. I sincerely hope it makes it, though – everybody needs to see this!


Remo Forrer – ‘Watergun’

Another alumni of The Voice in his early 20s, Remo Forrer is a skilled vocalist. The song is good but it has not yet grown on me – but some songs that I found rather boring have won Eurovision in the past so ‘Watergun’, which is by no means boring, definitely stands a chance – especially because the dancers are so striking.


Noa Kirel – ‘Unicorn’

Whilst Morocco does not participate in Eurovision (yet), there are three artists of Moroccan descent taking part in the competition this year – including the 22-year-old Noa Kirel. Israel knows how to do Eurovision, and it usually does very well. It has won the competition four times, most recently in 2018, with Netta (‘Toy’). Whilst I can’t imagine ‘Unicorn’ winning, it’s surely going through to the grand final. It’s a great song, and the dancing is fantastic. Noa, herself, is a phenomenal dancer – and her ability to sing so well whilst dancing like that deserves great praise.


Pasha Parfeny – ‘Soarele şi Luna’

Pasha Parfeny is quite the striking man. This performance is mystical and enchanting; I felt like I was in a forbidden forest. The song, itself, is folksy but futuristic, complete with dance breaks. Pasha previously represented Moldova in 2012 and provided backing vocals for Aliona Moon in 2012.


Loreen – ‘Tattoo’

Speaking of Eurovision 2012 – it was won by Loreen with the anthemic ‘Euphoria’, one of the best and biggest Eurovision songs of all time. It was a hit all over the place, even reaching the top 3 in the UK – and Eurovision songs rarely chart well in the UK anymore (not even our own). Over a decade later, Loreen is vowing to retake her crown – and the bookies have her as the favourite to win. Like Kirel, she’s of Moroccan heritage, and she’s one of several Muslims to have won Eurovision since the turn of the century, so I absolutely stan. Whilst ‘Tattoo’ is no ‘Euphoria’, it allows Loreen to show off a darker, subtler side to herself – and her vocals are as vivacious as ever. She’s dressed like a supervillain, à la the Enchantress in Suicide Squad, and I mean that as a compliment! The staging is simple; Loreen does not need a fancy set or backing dancers – it’s all her.


TuralTuranX – ‘Tell Me More’

Tural and Turan are 22-year-old twin brothers. They had two other brothers, Emal and Jamal (my namesake), who sadly died in a road accident. No doubt, their lives being cut short inspired the twins to fight to make their dreams a reality – and here they are at Eurovision! Whilst the song begins quite generic, just like any old indie song, the boys soon start rapping, which is unexpected but welcome. There’s some real touching lyrics; the boys are clearly in touch with their emotions. Whilst they just stand there playing instruments, there’s some nice visuals.

Czechia (Czech Republic)

Vesna – ‘My Sister’s Crown’

This six-piece girl band embody “pretty in pink”. They’re all dressed in pale pink but their performance is fierce. I did find pink to be an odd choice at first, for this performance does not feel “pink”, but pink represents femininity, and this is a song about girl-power. The final part of the performance, with all the pink imagery, is fabulous.


Mia Nicolai and Dion Cooper – ‘Burning Daylight’

This duo look fantastic in their simple but sparkly costumes. The song has a sweet but dark sound, and the performance is ethereal, but not exactly memorable – especially compared to all of the visually stunning performances that came before it. However, I must credit the duo’s chemistry; it is electric. Soppy ballads occasionally win Eurovision so ‘Burning Delight’ could do quite well.


Käärijä – ‘Cha Cha Cha’

What a way to end the show! Käärijä is the second favourite to win, beaten only by Loreen. Twitter gays are going wild for him. I had never heard the song until last night but I had seen his face and that outlandish costume everywhere. Käärijä looks utterly ridiculous/fabulous in his black leather pants and neon green top (if you can even call it that); he looks like he’s wearing a piece of a bouncy castle – and he looks good in it! This performance is a visual feast. The song, itself, is a lot of fun, and those that initially dislike it might find it growing on them; it’s a bop. Whilst the first part of the song is very much a techno rave song, the last third sees it transform into an electro-bop – à la Dorian Electra. Lord of the Lost, Germany’s representative, loved the song so much that they have covered it!

Interval Acts

The first interval act is a duet between Liverpool’s own Rebecca Ferguson, who found fame on The X Factor – I saw her in concert a few years back; her vocals are richer than 99% dark chocolate – and Alosha, who represented Ukraine in 2010. The ladies cover Duran Duran’s ‘Ordinary World’ and tell Alosha’s story (fleeing Ukraine as a refugee). The performance is a visual masterpiece.

The second interval act is British superstar Rita Ora, performing a medley of two hits and the live debut of her new single, ‘Praising You’ – alongside an orgy of spectacular dancers, including the scintillating Henry Chat, who I previously acknowledged in my Disco Ball review. After the previous performance, it lifts the mood!

The Big Five

After this, we were treated to three performances from the Big Five. As the avid Eurovision fans amongst you will know, the Big Five are the group of countries who make the biggest financial contributions to the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and are thus guaranteed a space in the grand final. They are France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom (heck, if we were not a member of the Big Five, we’d pretty much never be in the final). Alongside the Big Five, the previous year’s winner makes it straight through to the final – however, Ukraine is the only country that has made it to the final in every year that they have competed!

Last night’s show featured France, Germany, and Italy.


La Zarra – ‘Évidemment’

A Canadian, born in Montreal, La Zarra is another contestant of Moroccan heritage. She’s clearly quite lovely; she acknowledged the few of us in the audience both before and after her performance. You’re all going to be in awe of her gorgeous, glittery gown. This performance has phenomenal staging; it’s a real spectacle. The song, itself, is sultry and sassy, with some great beats; it takes a moment to get into it but then you can’t help but sway along. She sure stands a chance.


Lord of the Lost – ‘Blood & Glitter’

A five-person gender-bending glam rock band, Lord of the Lost are pretty captivating. Gender-bending rock band Måneskin found international fame after winning Eurovision in 2021 but Lord of the Lost do not have the youth and sex appeal of Måneskin. Whilst I love a bit of rock, I’m not into the heavy kind, but Eurovision loves it – remember Lordi? This band is pretty fierce, and the staging is striking; it’s a fun performance, and I’m glad it’s straight through to the final so that everybody gets to see it.


Marco Mengoni – ‘Due Vite’

A huge star in his native Italy, Marco won season three of X Factor Italia and represented Italy a decade ago. He is truly a beautiful man – he’s Italian! Like La Zarra, he was very warm with the audience. In a grey vest and leather pants, he looked the part. His performance was pretty simple; he just stood there (looking pretty) but his vocals are mighty impressive, and the dancers are a joy to watch. But if he was not so easy on the eyes, I might not have been quite so captivated.

My Favourites

Whilst 15 artists are performing in the first semi-final, only 10 can go through to the grand final. I’m not going to make any predictions but I will tell you the 10 I hope go through:

Norway; Malta; Serbia; Portugal; Croatia; Israel; Moldova; Sweden; Czechia; Finland.

This means I’d be sending home the following:

Latvia; Ireland; Switzerland; Azerbaijan; Netherlands.


So, that’s my recap-slash-preview of semi-final 1 – and who I hope makes it through to the grand final. You can watch semi-final 1 on BBC One tonight at 8pm, semi-final 2 on Thursday, and the grand final on Saturday.

Jay Darcy

Jay Darcy

Theatre Editor. Instagram & Twitter: @jaydarcy7. Email: [email protected].

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