20:47 CET: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to our live coverage of Festivali i Këngës, the long-running music festival which will determine the first entry for the Eurovision Song Contest 2018! We hope you’re as excited as we are for the show to begin. In the meantime, give Sean’s preview a read here, where you can find viewing links and tonight’s running order! You can also follow along on our Twitter here, where we’ll be giving you more coverage of the event.

20:56 CET: As you may have found out, the Facebook stream will be taking place this evening from this page.

20:59 CET: And we’re off! Some lovely fireworks and a monologue from our host to get us underway.

21:04 CET: Well, now that the RTSH ad is over, we can get to the entries…right?

21:08 CET: While we’re waiting for the singing to get underway, now’s a good time to mention that you can sound off with your thoughts throughout the evening on our forum.

21:12 CET: A whole host of grand entrances to sassy theme music, but no sign yet of our first performer, Redon Makashi, or his song, “Ekziston.”

21:12 CET: I stand corrected! Here we go. This song began after a false start with the orchestra in the semifinal; hopefully, things will be sorted from the get-go this time around.

21:14 CET: As if on cue! He took the false start very much in stride this time, giving a knowing, jocular glance to the audience.

21:17 CET: A couple signs of nerves early on in that performance of “Ekziston:” he cut off phrases a bit early and came in just a hair below the pitch on a big note in the first chorus. May have been a bit shaken. He got himself together and finished strong as the full orchestra amped up and he stood up from the piano. The song itself is a very dramatic, strong package. Could see the juries going for that one.

21:20 CET: Next up is “Tjetër jetë” courtesy of NA and Festina Mejzini. Festina’s vocals were a real highlight of the second semi; let’s see if the song can deliver again.

21:25 CET: There’s real improvement in the blend of the two voices this time around, and the rasp in Festina’s  voice is coming through much better tonight. All of the entries this evening have a strong but intangible “Festivali i Këngës” quality to them, so I’m loathe to say that it gives an advantage to any song over another, but the classy, slightly dated, dramatic feel of this song would be a particularly smooth fit in Albania’s Eurovision catalogue.

21:27 CET: Voltan Prodani now at the piano with “E pamundur” and another false start. I wonder if the piano bench is haunted.

21:30 CET: The same signs of nerves present in Redon Makashi’s vocal earlier in the evening are also evident here. But the kitchen-sink composition is quite interesting, with some nice synth sounds at various points in the song, and Prodani performed with a real sense of honesty and genuine emotion.

21:33 CET: As we wait for Denisa Gjezo’s performance of “Zemër ku je,” it’s a good time to mention that we’re running instant-reaction polls on our Twitter this evening. Be sure to respond to those, and I’ll keep you posted on the results.

21:36 CET: A very modern sound akin to distorted vocals peppers a classic orchestral ballad composition in this one. A powerful vocal is also on display; she belts the higher moments of the piece very well. Also quite a dramatic, captivating ending, as the piece goes quiet again. Would not be surprised if the jury end up very impressed with this.

21:42 CET: Aww, an In Memoriam segment. What a sweet tribute.

21:48 CET: The first results from our instant reaction poll are in; our voters had the best reaction to “Tjetër jetë” so far! Nothing has quite lit up the poll yet, however, and we’re still waiting on most of the Internet’s pre-show favorites.

21:52 CET: We’re back from the ad break! What marvelous costumes (and what a catchy tune) in this little dance interlude.

21:59 CET: We’re about to be led back into the in-competition songs by Tiri Gjoci’s “Orë e ndalur.”

22:02 CET: There’s a really lovely, listenable flow to the composition which Tiri Gjoci’s low, smooth voice navigates well. The instant reaction poll is also the best yet. Potential sleeper.

22:04 CET: And just like that, Orgesa Zaimi is up with her lounge jazz/drum-and-bass hybrid “Ngrije zërin!” Moving at a tight clip tonight.

22:07 CET: Vocals were a touch dicey in the very high chorus, but the composition and presentation show vision and creativity. The energy level is also a big increase from the previous songs – maybe that could be the key to a great result.

22:09 CET: Audience participation time! Host Adi Krasta is interviewing people in the front row.

22:11 CET: Next up, Rezarta Smaja and Eurovision 2006 alum Luiz Ejlli with their duet “Ra një yll!” If this is your second consecutive year following our coverage, you may recall that Rezarta is a bit of a personal favorite.

22:16 CET: Or rather, it’s time for Adi Krasta to keep us entertained with more witty reparté in the audience.

22:17 CET: Nevermind! If any other Rezarta fans are watching, tune back in!

22:20 CET: A nice performance from Rezarta and Luiz. The balance between the two was a lot better than the semifinal (having said this about both duets, I wonder if there were some now-resolved technical issues). A couple phrasing issues in parts, but the power was there, and it amped up the song itself. Getting right along now with Artemisa Mithi’s “E dua botën.”

22:24 CET: This one’s a big favorite on our forum. I’ll admit to not really “getting” it at first, but this was a very spirited performance; she believed in both the melody and lyrics, so I believed in her.

22:27 CET: This entrance music is so good. I need it to follow me around so I can enter rooms in style.

22:33 CET: Orgesa Zaimi has taken a commanding lead over on our Twitter poll. I don’t know if y’all are enjoying the songs more or just getting more charitable; Songs 5-8 all sit above Songs 1-4.

22:39 CET: When this mini-concert is over, we’ll return with Manjola Nallbani’s slice of electropop, “I Njëjti Qiell.” Manjola Nallbani is a three-time Festivali i Këngës winner, but it’s been quite a while. I’ll be interested to see what the jury does with her and her entry.

22:43 CET: Oh wow, a phone statement from one of my countrymen! I wonder if I recorded it in my sleep.

22:50 CET: Back from the ad break with a couple seconds of truly, truly uncomfortable silence.

22:50 CET: And here comes Manjola Nallbani! This could be quite interesting.

22:54 CET: That performance probably doesn’t change anyone’s priors. The vocal wasn’t flawless but was pretty solid, and the performance was sparse but engaging. If Albania really respond to her status as a legend in the industry and feel like getting their up-tempo on, that could do quite well.

22:56 CET: Inis Neziri’s “Piedestal” is up next. This was one of the hot favorites pre-show, mostly thanks to Inis Neziri’s powerful vocal.

23:00 CET: I don’t think that song will lose its status as a big favorite. The performance was well-delivered, and the reception in the hall was massive. It was presented like a ballad, too, which likely helps if the jury is in their typical Festivali i Këngës mindset.

23:01 CET: Next up is Bojken Lako’s “Sytë e shpirtit.” This came together spectacularly live in the semi; let’s see if he can replicate that in the final.

23:04 CET: The performance isn’t quite as breathtaking and tender as in the semi, but it’s still a very good effort with a striking, atmospheric presentation. With a second place finish at FiK under his belt from a couple years back, this could do him one better.

23:07 CET: FiK’s Italian motif this year has been a little bit heavy-handed throughout, but it goes a few steps further with a song about how attractive Italian men are from the musical Nine, an adaptation of a Fellini film.

23:10 CET: Orgesa Zaimi holds her lead in the latest round of Twitter results, but “Piedestal” made a strong  debut showing in 2nd place. To editorialize for a moment, this is a bit surprising. Maybe there’s a bit of a backlash forming; its “I don’t like it” count is not among the very lowest.

23:14 CET: If you’re not tired of “Changing” by Sigma & Paloma Faith by the end of the evening (the drum-and-bass song from that recurring ad), you’re a more devoted fan than I.

23:17 CET: When we return from the ads, Mariza Ikonomi is next up with “Unë.” This slipped under the radar a bit in the first semi.

23:20 CET: Back from the ad break! Maybe Mariza Ikonomi will perform! Maybe there’ll be audience participation! Maybe there’ll be a monologue! Maybe some woman will wander on with her bike! The possibilities are endless!

23:20 CET: I look to have been right the first time. Here we go!

23:22 CET: There was no slipping under the radar that time around. Instead, Mariza came up with distinctively-sung verses that built throughout the song, a powerful chorus, and a really interesting stage picture. Something about this tells me it could be the one – feels like it’s delivering all the FiK check marks.

23:26 CET: Another big pre-show favorite up now in Eugent Bushpepa’s “Mall.” This undergoes a big transformation between its studio and live versions.

23:30 CET: Massive reception in the hall, but some of the notes were a touch shriek-y. I reckon that the reception will carry it to a strong finish.

23:32 CET: Elton Deda’s “Fjalët” will close us out tonight. After this song, we’ll bring you results later in the evening; this’ll do it for our live coverage.

23:38 CET: A very good, passionate performance from Elton Deda. He got a lot of energy from the crowd after the last performance and used every bit of it. It gave the performance real emotion. Anyway, that’ll do it for our coverage! I’d like to thank all of those who followed along and note that it was thoroughly enjoyable. See you in a bit with the result!

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