The time has almost come to find out who’ll be crowned this year’s Eurovision Song Contest champion and there are plenty of countries being tipped. Will it be the early favourite Armenia? Can Sweden retake the title two years after their last victory? Momentum is building for the Netherlands after Tuesday’s semi-final, while Austria’s entrant wowed the arena on Thursday. Could Hungary achieve their first win? Or will our strongest entry in a decade bring the competition back to the UK in 2015?
In semi-final 1, we said goodbye to Latvia, Estonia, Albania, Belgium, Moldova and Portugal, and in semi-final 2 we lost Israel, Georgia, Lithuania, Ireland and Macedonia (so my prediction was 80% right!). One of the down sides of the semi-final process is that some of the more characterful, extravagant, ridiculous or comically bad entries for which Eurovision is notorious get weeded out – but don’t worry, there’s still plenty of idiosyncrasy in tonight’s show.
- Ukraine – And the idiosyncrasy starts here, with a cunning ruse to distract us from the song using an attractive man performing gymnastics in a giant hamster wheel. It works and this song, with lyrics as Eurovisionly banal as its possible to create, came off better than I expected during its appearance in the first semi-final. It’s a fun bit of nonsense but even extra geopolitical sympathy votes are unlikely to propel this to the top of the table.
- Belarus – While Latvia’s cake song was relegated on Tuesday, Teo’s Cheesecake made it through to the final two days later, ensuring bake-off fans still have something to slaver over. It would benefit from losing the very dated pop culture references and the air of Robin Thicke.
- Azerbaijan – It’s the Year of the Classy Ballad, and Dilara is the first of several female vocalists vying for that vote. Start a Fire is hard to criticise but it has some stiff competition and, despite the name, the fire never quite gets going.
- Iceland – Iceland’s cartoonish Pollapönk were a surprise qualifier for the final. Their message of tolerance is very welcome but the song itself is a bit of a mess, jumping jarringly from reasonable verse to laboured chorus, then diverging, to its credit, into a disco break and a key change. My favourite lyric is indicative of the rest of the song: “Even if you’re taller / Or someone who is smaller / Or perhaps you’re thinner / Or one who loves his dinner.”
- Norway – I have warmed to Carl Espen’s ballad over the last few days. A strong performance in the second semi-final saw this rightly through. It’s sung well and nicely put together but it remains at the duller end of tonight’s spectrum.
- Romania – Paula and Ovi attempt to distract us with a hologram and a novelty keyboard (Ovi’s fingerwork fooling nobody), but it detracts from rather than enhances this middling track. It’s an OK song but OK just isn’t going to cut it.
- Armenia – Armenia was the early favourite and while Aram MP3′s odds may have lengthened, he is still definitely in the running. I wasn’t too impressed by his performance on Tuesday which contributed to my view that this is style over substance: it’s the crescendo, the build, the dramatic final minute, the fireworks on stage – but cut that away and the song has little to it.
- Montenegro – With Norway, this makes up the pair of male vocal ballads in the final. It comes alive towards the end but is the weaker of the two songs and could well be forgotten – and with most other Balkan countries not taking part this year, it can’t rely on its neighbours for easy votes.
- Poland - This was the one I didn’t expect to go through on Thursday, when it was notably popular with the live audience, but I hadn’t counted on the vote-winning attractions of live, busty butter churning. Or maybe it was the music. (Or maybe it was the butter.) It’s fun and bawdy but not much a song.
- Greece – I was worried for this in its semi-final after some sound issues at the start but I needn’t have been: the boys done good and now find themselves in the final. It’s upbeat, it’s positive, it’s funky (I still feel embarrassed to use the word) and there’s nothing else like it in the contest. It could sink or it could do extremely well. I hope it’s the latter.
- Austria – There was an almighty roar in the area on Thursday night when Conchita Wurst was announced as the last act to reach the final. The crowd loved her and another strong performance tonight would definitely put her in contention for the prize. Rise Like a Phoenix is another ballad but with a James Bond theme sensibility. It oozes with style. Conchita will appeal to viewers for her singing voice and for her beard, which will ensure no-one forgets her when it comes time to decide who to vote for. What’s the Wurst that could happen?
- Germany – As one of the Big Five moneyed countries, Germany automatically qualifies for the final. This is the weakest of the five. The lyrics are banal but there’s a folksy, middle of the road charm to it. It shouldn’t trouble the top ten.
- Sweden – I’ve liked Undo more every time I’ve heard it and Tuesday night’s performance was a stonker – aided but some extremely effective stage lighting. Sanna Nielsen is a veteran of the Swedish Melodifestivalen, qualifying after numerous attempts, and her set in Copenhagen’s “Eurovision Village”, which I caught on Wednesday afternoon, proved she’s a very talented singer. Expect a strong placing.
- France – We move into the second half with the second of the Big Five, and the most eccentric. You don’t need to speak French to understand that TWIN TWIN’s song is about a man’s desire for a moustache. Whether or not that’s a euphemism, only they know, but the choice of syllable to emphasise does needlessly bug me. It’s a simple but infectious number and I’m looking forward to seeing if the staging is as odd as the song.
- Russia – The audience applauded Russia’s performance politely on Tuesday but it was the announcement that the Tolmachevy Sisters had made it to the final that brought boos. Away from the geopolitical context, there is of course nothing sinister about two clean cut, photogenic blonde girls singing about a star rising in the east. In context, though… It’s one of the weaker vocal performances (although perhaps, ahem, assisted from the wings) and the song itself sounds like a hundred Eurovision entries before it.
- Italy – The third automatic qualifier is Emma Marrone’s upbeat and rhythmical La Mia Città. It’s not at all bad but will struggle to stand out.
- Slovenia – Tinkara’s successful semi-final appearance on Thursday confirmed my view that this is a cracker, the (admittedly obvious) rotating camera work and stage images effectively reinforcing the song (Round and Round). It begins with a flute, played, as is now required, by the singer, but don’t worry – it’s a cunning ruse! The song is a thoroughly modern pop track and deserves to do well.
- Finland – High school students Softengine are the only guitar band in the contest so their brand of Brandon Flowers will be looking to conquer that section of the audience. Something Better does that competently but it’s rarely been a winning approach at Eurovision.
- Spain – The fourth song from the Big Five is performed by Ruth Lorenzo, who was apparently on The X-Factor when Softengine were still at primary school. It’s another classy ballad from a female solo artist whose lungs will be going full whack at the end but it’s now a crowded market.
- Switzerland – Hunter of Stars is a jolly, catchy song you can whistle along to and Sebalter is a charismatic singer. I’m glad this reached the final but it did feel a little lost in the huge arena on Thursday. Switzerland haven’t broken the top 10 since 2005 and last won with Céline Dion back in 1988 so this could give them one of their better results of the last 20 years.
- Hungary – Now this has to be in the Running to win. Andr´s was the last to perform on Tuesday and his energetic performance and strong song immediately leapt into contention. Like Armenia, it starts gently and builds but, unlike Armenia, it gets to the point quickly and has proper depth. Dark lyrics with an upbeat dance backing? One for an each way bet.
- Malta – Turn down your Mumford detectors unless you want to break them – here’s Malta and the twee-est song of the night. It’s cheesy but it stands out and you might find your foot tapping despite yourself.
- Denmark – As last year’s winner, Denmark also gets a free pass to the final – which is good news for the hosts as this song would have been at risk of not qualifying. It’s a wannabe Timberlake performing nonsense lyrics that quote Katy Perry. As clichéd as its title suggests, its closest competition is Belarus, whose laid back approach makes it the better of the two. I heard some drunk Danes singing this in the streets of Copenhagen but the only two who expressed an opinion to me were embarrassed by it.
- Netherlands – I misunderestimated the popularity of Calm After the Storm, which is up against with Malta for the country music audience. It’s a perfectly respectable track but more calm than storm. It’s absolutely perfect for Radio 2, which you may interpret as you will.
- San Marino – It was fantastic to see Valentina Monetta reach the final on her third attempt. Two years ago she tried with The Social Network Song (urgh) but it’s Maybe that’s done the job – and guess what? It’s a classy ballad. It’s not going to win the Battle of the Ballads but top marks for effort.
- There’s one more song to go and one more of the Big Five left. Yep, it’s the United Kingdom with our best song in years – and possibly our best chance since 1997, although there’s some stiff competition. After two unsuccessful attempts to mine the Singers’ Retirement Home, the BBC has found in Molly Smitten-Downes a talented singer-songwriter – which is what they should have been looking for all along. I was at the first public performance of Children of the Universe and there was genuine excitement when the audience realised this year’s entry would be a song that is, you know, actually good. Plus we’re trumping all those old Eurovision songs about us being children of the same world by going for the whole universe. A good performance tonight – and word is that’s what we got in the jury final yesterday – and we could be top 5 for onl the second time since 2002. Touch wood.
So there are the 26 songs. The organisers have revealed the voting order, which is supposed to make the voting as “exciting as possible” based on the jury results already in. This has put Slovenia last – which could be a sign that it’s between Austria and Hungary.
While we can expect some of the usual tit-for-tat voting (which exists of course, but only impacts on the lower orders), there are some interesting differences from past years. With Cyprus not taking part this year, Greece loses a bankable 12 points. None of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia qualified, so where will their votes go? And will the female-led ballads split the votes, opening the way for Hungary, Armenia or even the UK?
Answers from 8pm.