Tens of thousands of Israeli fans got a taste Tuesday night of what 200 million people will be tuning in to next month. Despite the unseasonably chilly, damp weather, the show went on at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, and 25 of the 43 entrants for the 2018 Eurovision took to the stage and gave it their all.
As expected, the acts were an eclectic mix of styles, tastes, languages and talents. Israel’s pick, Netta Barzilai, went on at the very end, likely to keep the crowd – estimated at 20,000 people – outside until almost 11 p.m.
Barzilai, clad in gold, including gold-winged sneakers inspired by Israel’s 2015 contestant, Nadav Guedj, certainly brought the house down. It was easy to see why in her first live performance of the song “Toy” – she’s still at the top of the Eurovision betting charts. With powerful vocals, energy and star power, Barzilai was one of the strongest performers of the night.
There were several other memorable performances Tuesday night in Tel Aviv, including by many of the other early favorites.
The visitors from 24 countries (Albania backed out at the last minute) are all in the country as part of the third annual Israel Calling event, created by Tali Eshkoli and backed by the foreign and tourism ministries.
The artists have been touring the country this week, including the holy sites of Jerusalem, and capped everything off with Tuesday night’s big show.
Many of the singers brought strong performances to Tel Aviv, while others seemed to falter under the bright lights.
Early favorite Mikolas Josef of the Czech Republic took to the stage for his song “Lie To Me” with a backpack to complete the young, hip, Justin Bieber-esque look. The song was fun and poppy – and he wrote it himself – and it was easy to see its appeal.
Australia’s Jessica Mauboy also brought a strong performance of her tune “We Got Love,” another enjoyable, catchy tune. France’s Madame Monsieur performed a memorable rendition of their song “Mercy,” which marked them as consummate professionals. Belgium’s Sennek brought strong vocals to her power ballad “A Matter of Time,” proving why she’s another strong contender.
While most songs were in English, the performers from Slovenia, Montenegro, Georgia, Serbia, Armenia, France and Spain brought their native tongues to the stage.
Montenegro’s Vanja Radovanovic and Armenia’s Sevak Khanagyan delivered particularly strong, moving performances.
Belarus’s Alekseev, and his song “Forever,” was one of the most memorable of the night, with an offbeat, unique sound.
Latvia’s Laura Rizzotto also left a strong impression after “Funny Girl,” a dramatic power ballad that showcased her impressive vocals. Romania’s The Humans and Switzerland’s Zibbz both brought a little taste of rock to the stage with good energies and beats.
Before the show began, Dana International – Israel’s 1998 winner – took to the stage to sing “Diva,” and later on Izhar Cohen belted out his 1978 winner “A-ba-ni-bi.”
Many of the singers had clearly been practicing their Hebrew phrases ahead of the show, with many a “shalom” and “toda raba” being thrown out; though Mauboy went with “Tel Aviv, ya habibi, Tel Aviv” and San Marino and Moldova managed impressive whole sentences.
Several acts that couldn’t make the trip, including Greece, Bulgaria and Norway, sent video messages that were played on stage.
Ahead of the show on Tuesday, the group visited the KKL-JNF “Eurovision Forest” in Tzora, outside Jerusalem, where they planted trees in an event somewhat curtailed by the rainy weather. But each contestant still found time to speak for a few minutes about their experience in Jerusalem.
“It was awesome, beautiful, it made a great impression,” said Denmark’s Rasmussen.
Ireland’s Ryan O’Shaughnessy said that “I love Israel, it’s very beautiful,” and added that he’ll definitely “come back and visit my tree.”
The UK’s SuRie noted that her entrance song for the Eurovision, “Storm,” was written by an Israeli – Gil Lewis – “so it’s really special to be here.”
And Barzilai herself had a lot to say when asked about her prospects at this year’s competition.
“In my opinion I already won,” she said.
“I got to inspire so many young women, so many little girls and little boys, with the song, so I don’t care about the results .I wish [to] win, but seriously, there are so many talented people here and so many deserve it, so really it doesn’t matter.”