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Eurovision 2019: The Final May 18

Twenty songs have made it through the semi-finals to join the six pre-qualifiers for the final. I’m pleased to report that 9/10 of my predictions for semi-final 2 were correct, with just Croatia failing to make it through, displaced by North Macedonia. Tamara joins Italy, France, Germany, Spain, hosts Israel and of course the UK, who didn’t have any of that rigmarole to deal with.

So who’s up tonight? There’s pride, northern lights, BDSM, partying and more songs inspired by last year’s Fuego than anyone needs – especially when there will be an interval performance of Fuego too.

Malta

What could be more appropriate then than to open with a Fauxgo. The chorus is a bit nothing (by way of Culture Club) but after a lot of work the staging really reflects the message of the song – whatever that is.

Why it should win: Malta has never won, although backing singer Destiny won the 2015 Junior Eurovision.

Albania

Passionately sung in Albanian, this made it through the semis as many eastern European entries fell by the wayside.

Why it should win: Jonida is a full-on Eurovision diva.

Czech Republic

Lake Malawi bring a modern interpretation of late 90s mockney Britpop to Eurovision. It’s charming and has colourful, effective staging that really suits the song.

Why it should win: They’re the only ones representing this musical style and will appeal to a section of the audience not catered for elsewhere.

Germany

Oh, Germany. This is a dreary, cynical, overcooked borefest of a song that would have crashed and burned in a semi-final if it hadn’t prequalified. Despite their claim at the semi-final, the name of the group and the name of song, these two are not actually sisters. Fact: one of the writers of this is also a credited writer on both the UK and Swiss entries, which are, respectively, bigger and better.

Why it should win: It made it through the national final so someone must like it.

Russia

Sergey Lazarev came third (and won the televote) in 2016 with an uptempo number so trying again with a worthy ballad was a bit of a risk. Russia have, of course, thrown everything at this, but while there are good ideas in the staging and the song, it doesn’t hang together for me. The last section is by some way the best, as it always should be, but the overall package is less than its parts for me.

Why it should win: A lush orchestral track and some excellent vocal work from Sergey and his backing vocalists.

Denmark

Old skool, multilingual Eurovision tweeness served up from a giant chair – although where Leonora seamlessly appeared on the chair in the national final, hear she has to clamber up a ladder. This song is super twee but kind of nice for those who can stomach it. If you’re open to it, this song will wrap you in its cotton wool ball of love and take you to Cloudcukooland. And if you’re not, the sweetness will make you vomit.

Why it should win: Nogen synger på dansk for første gang siden 1997!

San Marino

The second in a double bill of sweetness and light with this simple, bright number from Serhat. He’s already gone one better than last time he was at Eurovision by becoming the country’s second ever qualifier. He’d lost his voice a bit on Tuesday but hopefully he’ll pull off the vocals tonight.

Why it should win: It’s unadulterated fun.

North Macedonia

The rebranded North Macedonia has reached the final on its first attempt and clearly made an impact on Tuesday. Tamara’s vocals are great and the images on the video screen manage to avoid being too on the nose. Both this and Russia’s song have a lovely brief moment of silence. Impossible to say if it’s the same silence.

Why it should win: It’s about empowering women (unfortunately in semi-final 2 it was immediately followed by a man singing “Shut up”).

Sweden

John Lundvik won the Swedish selection show Melodifestivalen at his second attempt – and he didn’t just win: he left the competition in his dust. He knows exactly what to do and how to do it – and backing vocalists the Mamas sound fab too. As far as I can tell, London-born John is the first lead performer in the contest ever to have (co-)written a competitor country’s song. Which one? Why ours, of course…

Why it should win: Sweden are very good at Eurovision – and another victory would put them neck-and-neck with Ireland with seven wins.

Slovenia

I confess to being a little surprised that this made it to the final but it clearly has its fans. It’s a low key number performed in a low key way, singer Zala staring into musician Gašper’s eyes throughout. It should be lovely but the effect is borderline creepy and it keeps her from connecting with the audience.

Why it should win: They’re doing their own thing.

Cyprus

Hailing from the same country as Fuego, the appropriately named Replay is another song that’s taken inspiration from Eleni Foureira’s second place. It’s a different song of course, however much some excellent mashups might leave you feeling otherwise, but it’s nevertheless got the same energic approach to staging.

Why it should win: Like Judi Dench’s Oscar for a cameo in Shakespeare in Love, Cyprus almost deserves a belated win just for the legacy of Fuego.

Netherlands

This has been the bookies’ favourite from the start and still is today. It’s slow and thoughtful and has an original sound although it’s never done it for me. The production team have rightly kept the staging simple to focus on the song but they may have gone too far – for much of the song, it’s Duncan singing distantly while sitting awkwardly at a piano and then an incongruous lamp appears. If it doesn’t win, it’ll be because of the staging.

Why it should win: Eurovision in the Netherlands would be pretty convenient.

Greece

And we immediately follow up with another song that’s a fan favourite but just connect with me. Good message, distinctive voice (could be a good thing or not)… but it’s not a song I’d buy or choose to listen to. The staging is rather busy.

Why it should win: Fencing and flora, together at last.

Israel

The host country has opted to go as far away from Netta’s eclectic style as it’s possible to get. Kobi Marimi sings a musical theatre style song lyrically and with power – too much power, perhaps, as sometimes it feels like he’s showing off his voice rather than telling a story. I don’t much like his vocal tone, which is a personal thing, and sadly the song itself is pretty uninspiring.

Why it should win: You can hear him singing in Tel Aviv without amplification.

Norway

Atmospheric verses, catchy pop choruses and Sámi joik delivered by talented singers – it’s a perfect Eurovision recipe. KEiiNO themselves have been enjoying every part of the Eurovision journey – hanging out with fans, covering other competitors’ songs and embracing the camp and the fun of Eurovision throughout the journey. They suffered in the jury final last night when camera shots went wrong during part of the song so all the more reason to get your televote in for them tonight – UK Eurovision fans love this and I’m betting UK viewers will too. It’s never been near winning in the bookies’ odds but the song and the band are great and I hope it gets a strong final placing.

Why it should win: It combines pop with a native folk style in the best traditions of Eurovision in a way that will leave you humming it for days.

United Kingdom

I didn’t think much of the choices the BBC gave us at this year’s You Decide but this has at least grown on me – partly because Michael Rice’s performance has just got better and better. There’s a risk that after singing it for months, he entertains himself with Whitney-esque vocal embellishments that detract from the song. I really have no idea where this’ll end up – recent history suggests it’ll be in the 20s but it could yet appeal enough to be higher.

Why it should win: Michael Rice won All Together Now and there’s no question that he can sing this well.

Iceland

The title of this song by anti-capitalist BDSM art boys Hatari translates as “hatred will prevail”, but it’s very much meant as a warning rather than a goth demand. Amongst the PVC, fire, metal cage and harsh vocals, this has a musicality to it and a political point to make (inasmuch as that is allowed). Iceland loved them and Eurovision will too.

Why it should win: Because Jon Ola Sand would be terrified.

Estonia

We won’t know until after the final how the semi-final votes broke down but this looked for a while on Tuesday like it might be in danger of not qualifying. It’s a straight-down-the-line pop rock number co-written by backing vocalist Stig Rästa, who reached 7th place in 2015 with Elina Born performing the excellent Goodbye to Yesterday. It’s good if inoffensive but will need a stronger performance tonight to hit the top 10.

Why it should win: Victor was born in Sweden.

Belarus

I’ve liked Like It since seeing ZENA’s national final performance and it’s great to see that this has made it to the final. It’s upbeat, fun and youth-oriented (greetings, fellow kids!) and features some ridiculously athletic dancers who can backflip at the drop of a hat. ZENA is just 16 but has already hosted the Junior Eurovision Song Contest.

Why it should win: It’s a bop.

Azerbaijan

Catchy song, handsome man, dance beat, innovative staging and lots of – ahem – supportive offstage backing vocals. This could be a dark horse for the top 5.

Why it should win: Robot arms.

France

Bilal has been living his best life at Eurovision and has deployed a brand new blond wig especially for this performance. The song is about being who you are and not letting other people take you down, which may not be the most original message at Eurovision (hi, Conchita!), but it’s one that bears repeating. There’s a possibility his live vocals will leave a little to be desired but memorable staging and Bilal’s charisma will lift this up.

Why it should win: It really would show the haterz.

Italy

Another act who’s had to deal with negative reaction to him at home is Mahmood, who found his selection being criticised by one of Italy’s more unpleasant right wing politicians. He’s already shown the foolishness of those comments by pwning the charts with Soldi. It’s hard to predict how this will go down: it’s been a massive grower for me but I didn’t like it to begin with and first impressions are vital at Eurovision.

Why it should win: An original sound and a strong story. And clap-claps!

Serbia

Nevena brings a big set of lungs to croon Kruna. She gives a strong vocal performance and that is very much the focus – there’s not a lot else going on and that’s a wise decision.

Why it should win: The best female vocal of the night.

Switzerland

We’re into the home stretch with three bangers to finish us off. The first comes courtesy of Luca Hänni, who won Germany’s equivalent of Pop Idol in 2012. She Got Me has a full-on dance routine but he doesn’t let it impede his vocals. Presumably they wanted to call the song Dirty Dancing but worried about getting sued.

Why it should win: It’s this year’s most effective Fuego-adjacent entry

Australia

It’s popera. It’s dramatic. It’s meaningful. It’s Wicked. And I suspect this won semi-final 1. It’s another one that’s been a grower but in this case the staging really helped me fall in love with it. My only criticism of the inventive sky aerobics involved here is that they’re actually much cooler when you can see the giant poles and the work involved, but these are artily obscured for much of the song.

Why it should win: An expertly sung popera track about depression with the year’s move inventive staging. Plus Kate sounds like she’d be a scream down the pub.

Spain

And finally the last of the Big Five and the last song of the night: La Venda (“the blindfold”). This was one of the first songs selected for 2019 and I loved it immediately: the national final performance drew on the crowd for its raw energy. Over the months since, the backing track has been polished and gradually some of the life this was bursting with has been lost. Now Spain have added the staging and there are way too many ideas involved. I want the drums back, I want the crowd involved and I want the focus back on Miki.

Why it should win: It might have lost the rough edges that made it extra fun but this is still a big old party track.

There you go – it’s a good bunch. I’m inclined to think the bookies are going to be proved right and we’ll be off to the Netherlands in 2020. If they’re not, though, there’s a real chance of a return to Sweden or a groundbreaking win for Australia. Switzerland also have their best opportunity for many years to snatch a victory. And I will, of course, be voting for Norway.

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Eurovision 2019: Semi-final 2 May 16

Tonight is the second semi-final of the world’s favourite music contest, but first things first: how did my semi-final 1 predictions go?

Pretty darn well, it turns out. I fingered 8/10 of the qualifiers with just two wrong’uns. Poland, which was something of a 50/50 choice, didn’t make it, and nor did Belgium, whose over-choreographed performance came across as a little nervy. In their stead, the might lungs of Serbia and the creepy-not-endearing Slovenian duo made it through, so Saturday’s bigger audiences will get to enjoy those.

But before that we have the small matter of tonight’s competitive semi-final, not least because this is the one the UK can vote in! I’m pleased to report that there are no bad songs – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t entries you’ll forget once they’re over. You are however in store for a few really great songs and some crazy staging along the way. Buckle up.

Armenia

This falls firmly in the category of good but not memorable. Longtime readers will know I love a good key change but while Walking Out features a key change it’s a throwaway, unsatisfying one.

Why it might not qualify: It could see its potential votes going to North Macedonia or Albania instead.

Ireland

22 is a sweet little ditty with a catchy chorus that’s perfect for radio play. I’d love to see it make it through but this semi-final may prove too tough, although of the three solo female vocalists opening the show, Sarah is my favourite.

Why it might not qualify: Last year’s underwhelming entry was massively boosted by two lads dancing romantically together. This year’s has a 50s diner.

Moldova

After a few years of upbeat, crowd-pleasing fun, Moldova have given us a straightforward ballad. Yay. At least it should be sung well and there is some eye-catching staging (courtesy of Ukraine’s entry in 2011).

Why it might not qualify: Which one was this again?

Switzerland

Luca is an established talent who won Germany’s equivalent of Pop Idol in 2012. She Got Me is this year’s most effective Fuego-adjacent entry, an absolute banger with a full-on dance routine that he doesn’t seem to let impede his vocals. Presumably they wanted to call the song Dirty Dancing but worried about getting sued.

Why it might not qualify: It would take an injunction from Emile Ardolino to stop this getting through.

Latvia

Eurovision week is supposed to be when we forget about the national finals but this did inexplicably beat more interesting songs in Latvia’s Supernova. There’s nothing wrong with it per se but once you’ve heard the first thirty seconds you can use the rest for a loo break.

Why it might not qualify: You won’t be able to dial the number from your coma.

Romania

This is a step up from Latvia, which I kept confusing it with for a while, but it’s going to be borderline for qualifying unless it can bring some real oomph live. Sharing a semi with Moldova may help its chances a little.

Why it might not qualify: I promise the show picks up soon but this is another perfectly good song you’ll probably forget about.

Denmark

Old skool, multilingual Eurovision tweeness served up from a giant chair. This is super twee but kind of nice for those who can stomach it – luckily for me, I am one of them. If you’re open to it, this song will wrap you in its cotton wool ball of love and take you to Cloudcukooland. And if you’re not, the sweetness will make you vomit. Being in the same semi as Sweden and Norway may yet help it through.

Why it might not qualify: The vomiting.

Sweden

John Lundvik won the Swedish selection show Melodifestivalen at his second attempt – and he didn’t just win: he left the competition in his dust. He knows exactly what to do and how to do it – and support group the Mamas sound fab too. As far as I can tell, London-born John is the first lead performer in the contest ever to have (co-)written a competitor country’s song. Which one? Why ours, of course…

Why it might not qualify: Some people seem to resent Sweden doing well. How dare they bring good songs, talented singers and quality staging. It’s not fair.

Austria

This year’s quietest, gentlest song could really stand out from the crowd. Sadly it’s more likely to get utterly forgotten. Pænda is great and I’d love to see her performing one of her noisier numbers at the Contest. But not this year sadly.

Why it might not qualify: If you’re at a loud Eurovision party, you might not even hear it.

Croatia

In the early 2000s, Croatia loved sending solo men singing big ballads. This is corny and dated but I find it hard not to like and Roko is clearly a terrific singer. If the staging works – and it’s improved from the national final – this could make it in and give eastern Europe a boost in what’s increasingly looking like a western Europe shootout.

Why it might not qualify: It could easily be more overwrought than… wrought.

Malta

More Fauxgo, this time from Malta. It’s a fan favourite but I don’t quite get it – maybe because the song is actually more contemporary than I am. The chorus is a bit nothing (by way of Culture Club) but they’ve worked on the staging a lot and it looks like it’s reached a point where it’s all coming together.

Why it might not qualify: Could lose votes to Switzerland.

Lithuania

Jurij is no stranger to Eurovision having provided backing vocals twice and seems he lovely. Unfortunately, neither enforced falsetto of Run with the Lions nor the unimaginative staging he’s been lumped with do anything to help get him into the final.

Why it might not qualify: They forgot to do any staging.

Russia

Nearly winning with an uptempo number and then trying again with a worthy ballad was a bit of a risk for Sergey but it’s clear Russia really want this. The production benefits from a lush orchestral track and some excellent vocal work from Sergey and his backing singers. The last section is by some way the best, as it always should be, but the overall package is less than its parts for me. Still, direkt till final.

Why it might not qualify: People might respect this but they won’t really love it.

Albania

Serbia’s success in SF1 could bode well for Albania in SF2 (although it is of course an entirely different set of countries voting tonight). This track is more upbeat than Serbia’s which could help it appeal more broadly – or could lose it a potentially classy edge. I suspect a passionate performance will see it through.

Why it might not qualify: Not enough Albanian speakers in voting nations.

Norway

I love this. As importantly, I love the band, KEiiNO. Tom, Alexandra and Fred have been enjoying every part of the Eurovision journey – hanging out with fans, covering other competitors’ songs and embracing the camp. This is catchy pop entwined with Sámi joik that absolutely stormed Melodi Grand Prix in Oslo and if everything comes together it will be brilliant.

Why it might not qualify: Some people might balk at the joik if they’ve never heard it before.

Netherlands

The favourite. It’s slow and thoughtful and has an original sound and Duncan seems nice. Yeah, it’s OK. It’ll probably win although it’s so low key that Sweden or Italy might snatch victory instead – but we can talk about that once this has, inevitably, qualified.

Why it might not qualify: Duncan’s piano catches fire. (Or someone asks why he has a piano?)

North Macedonia

Farewell the iconically ridiculously named Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and welcome to the rebranded North Macedonia. The lyrics of Proud could feel like a cynical grab for votes but I’m happy to take the song at face value. Both this and Russia’s song have a lovely brief moment of silence. Impossible to say if it’s the same silence.

Why it might not qualify: It could lose potential votes to Armenia.

Azerbaijan

Catchy song, handsome man, dance beat, interesting staging, supportive backing vocals. It’s going through. There’s a bit more falsetto but it’s better deployed here. Could easily go top 5.

Why it might not qualify: The laser robots (yep) accidentally cut Chingiz in two during the first verse. Otherwise it’s going through.

That’s your lot for tonight – but sadly only 10 can go through to Saturday’s final. Time to see if I can get as many right as on Tuesday.

Predicted qualifiers:

Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Croatia, Albania, Azerbaijan, Norway, Russia, Malta

I won’t be surprised if North Macedonia or Moldova sneak in, at the expense of Denmark, Albania or Croatia. My main concern though is a good result for Norway. Vote Norway, people. Čajet dan čuovgga!

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Eurovision 2019: Semi-final 1 May 14

National finals, internal selections, promotional tours and rehearsals are done: it’s time for the biggest music shows of the year.

There are 17 acts taking part in tonight’s semi-final, one fewer than originally planned as Ukraine is no longer taking part, which reduces the overall number of competitors to 41 – 41 worthy songs and performers, all with something going for them.

But only 10 can make it through to the final today. Each time I look through the list, I mentally mark songs as deserving to make it through and then reach the end and find I’ve marked many more than 10. So I’m going to force myself to pick just 10 qualifiers knowing full well that the juries and the televoters often surprise us.

Cyprus

It is the least original observation of this year’s contest to note that a number of songs appear to have taken inspiration from last year’s runner-up Fuego, but it has to be said – especially about the same country’s entry for this year, Replay. It’s absolutely a different song but Cyprus have nevertheless doubled down, delivering an energetic opening to the competition.

Why it might not qualify: The biggest risk is Tamta’s vocals faltering from the dancing.

Montenegro

Even the least remarkable of tonight’s songs is a pleasant three minutes thanks to the harmonies from this group of young vocalists. Their staging seems to have got gradually less ragged but it’s still six of them standing in a line singing with their arms.

Why it might not qualify: Lost in a collection of much more memorable songs.

Finland

Darude is the man behind Finland’s entry this year. Yes, Darude off of Sandstorm. No, this did not mean much to me but now I get it. Anyhoo, he and singer Sebastian Rejman served up three song options for Finland this year and the Finns opted for Look Away, a song about the Bad Things going on in the world sent to an EDM beat. It may need Darude’s name recognition and an unforgettable pair of trousers to make it to the final.

Why it might not qualify: The lyrics and music feel like they belong in different songs.

Poland

Tulia have distinctive outfits and a distinctive, traditionally Polish style of singing. Unfortunately it’s a style that I find palatable only in short bursts and three minutes of it is just too much. The song itself is fine but whether it qualifies depends on others’ reaction to this Marmite style and if the Polish diaspora matches up with the countries voting today.

Why it might not qualify: The singing.

Slovenia

This is an extremely low key number performed in an extremely low key way, singer Zala staring into musician Gašper’s eyes throughout. It’s an unusual, borderline creepy choice that keeps her from connecting with the audience. It doesn’t help a song which I know a lot of fans love but I’ve found instantly forgettable every listen.

Why it might not qualify: Uncomfortable to watch, like three minutes of live Stockholm Syndrome.

Czech Republic

Lake Malawi bring a modern interpretation of late 90s Britpop to Eurovision. It’s charming and different from every other entry and should appeal to a section of the audience not catered for elsewhere. Their biggest risk is that it feels thin: they’re a band that suit a basement gig in Maidstone more than a massive, over-engineered stage in Tel Aviv.

Why it might not qualify: It may struggle to fill a stadium.

Hungary

Joci Pápai returns to Eurovision with another Hungarian language song after finishing 8th in 2017. I prefer this one, Az én ápam, but I can’t see it doing as well. He’s a good singer and there‘s a strong musical hook in the chorus but it feels touch and go for qualification.

Why it might not qualify: Another song that could struggle to stand out.

Belarus

I’ve liked Like It since seeing ZENA’s national final performance and it’s only got more polished. This is upbeat, fun and youth-oriented (greetings, fellow kids!) and features some ridiculously athletic dancers. She is just 16 but has already hosted Junior Eurovision.

Why it might not qualify: The song may seem 10-15 years late.

Serbia

Nevena brings a big set of lungs to croon Kruna. It’s a strong vocal performance so expect that to be the focus – there’s not going to be a lot else going on.

Why it might not qualify: Voters more likely to respect it than love it.

Belgium

Another year, another classy song from Belgium. Teenager Eliot is their singer this year. He has a good voice but occasionally seems daunted by the scale of what’s going on. They’ve also put him in a bizarre outfit that hinders more than helps. But it’s a fine song and deserves to go through.

Why it might not qualify: Inexperience performing on this scale.

Georgia

I don’t knew if it’s anger or determination or a distinctly Georgian emotion we don’t have a word for but there is a lot of intensity in this performance. Unfortunately it makes you want to run away rather than listen to the song, which is sung at you more than to you.

Why it might not qualify: I’m scared.

(Good news: it’s all great from here on.)

Australia

It’s popera. It’s dramatic. It’s meaningful. It’s Wicked. The rehearsal footage gives me happy tingles; I just hope the camera shots do it justice tonight. I didn’t warm to it – always a danger at Eurovision – but that’s old news now. Plus Kate sounds like she’d be a scream down the pub.

Why it might not qualify: A pole would literally have to snap.

Iceland

The title of this song by anti-capitalist BDSM art boys Hatari translates as “hatred will prevail”, but it’s very much meant as a warning rather than a goth demand. Amongst the PVC, fire, metal cage and harsh vocals, this has a musicality to it. Iceland loved them and Eurovision will too.

Why it might not qualify: Your grandparents may spit out their tea.

Estonia

A slice of pop that borrows its title Storm from last year’s UK entry. Victor was born in Sweden and has appeared in their Melodifestivalen competition – and it shows. They’ve been battling technical issues with the staging but hopefully it will go smoothly tonight. (As a bonus, on backing vocals is co-writer Stig Rästa, who reached 7th place in 2015 with Elina Born performing the excellent Goodbye to Yesterday.)

Why it may not qualify: It could end up being too “normal” in the final batch of songs.

Portugal

OK, when I said it was all great from here on… Portugal’s song has its fans but I’m not one of them. The artiness is dialled up to 11. I can see and appreciate what they’re going for but it’s not for me. Worth a look though and hooray for entries like this that dare to do something completely different.

Why it may not qualify: It is 100% WTF.

Greece

Another song that’s popular and just doesn’t do it for me. Good message, good staging, vocal talent… but it’s not a song I’d buy or choose to listen to.

Why it may not qualify: Upstaged by Cyprus and Belarus. 

San Marino

The night is rounded off with a simple, up tempo number from Eurovision royalty Serhat. He’s represented San Marino once before and – as with all but one of their entries – didn’t reach the final. If the infectious fun of the video comes through and Serhat pulls off the vocals in the chorus, this might yet get him to the final – which would make me very happy.

Why it might not qualify: It’s possible to be too simple.

That’s your lot for tonight. They’ve all worked extremely hard to get to this point but we have to lose seven of them. Here’s my guess as to who’s going through.

Predicted qualifiers:

Cyprus, Poland, Czech Republic, Belarus, Belgium, Australia, Iceland, Estonia, Greece, San Marino

We’ll find out how wrong I am this evening. Thursday has 18 acts and an even tougher competition. See you then!

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Eurovision 2018: The Final May 12

SuRie in the flag parade

Tonight it’s the grand final of the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon – and it’s on of the most open fields in years.

Before I look at the 26 finalists, it’s worth remembering the 17 who didn’t make it through. They all worked hard and they didn’t necessarily do anything wrong. It could have been the song, the staging, the specific competition and electorate in their semi-final – or just bad luck. All the acts have been travelling thousands of miles meeting fans, promoting their entries and singing their hearts out so hooray for them.

That’s worth saying ahead of the sarky comments I’ll be posting on Twitter later…

This year’s finalists are a brilliantly mixed bag so there really should be something for everyone. You can read my thoughts on them back when they were just done semi-finalists too, in heat 1 and heat 2.

Ukraine: Under the Ladder by Mélovin

A great way to open the show and the first of many pyromaniacs to take to the stage tonight. It’s rocky, gothy and ridiculous, but all in support of a decent song.

Why it should win: Pushing all the rock buttons.

Spain: Tu Canción by Amaia & Alfred

A lovely couple from Spain singing about love. That’s pretty much all there is to it.

Why it should win: They’re so sweet.

Slovenia: Hvala, Ne! by Lea Sirk

This explodes into life before settling into a funky if slightly ineffectual rhythm. But then it divides the audience by releasing the worst gimmick ever seen at Eurovision.

Why it should win: Audacity.

Lithuania: When We’re Old by Ieva Zasimauskaitė

A super soft ballad the Ieva carries off beautifully. And if you know the man she meets at the end is her real life husband, it’s all more poignant.

Why it should win: Both Ieva and her song are adorable.

Austria: Nobody But You by Cesár Sampson

Steely-eyed Cesár arrives on a spaceship with a gaggle of gospel backing singers to deliver a solid piece of contemporary pop.

Why it should win: That chorus.

Estonia: La Forza by Elina Nechayeva

Her voice. Her dress. Her high notes. If you’re into opera, this may not seen anything special, but it’s a tour de force vocally perfectly reflected in her amazing outfit. Will the juries love its aura of credibility?

Why it should win: That voice.

Norway: That’s How You Write A Song by Alexander Rybak

There has been a lot of very reasonable criticism about this by the numbers attempt by Rybak to garner his second Eurovision win. But for all that it has at least partially worked, getting him to the final and for a time favourite in the odds. It’s trite as anything but you can’t blame the guy for trying.

Why it should win: Carefully ticking all the boxes.

Portugal: O Jardim by Cláudia Pascoal

I wasn’t a great fan of this but it’s warmed on me every time I’ve seen it, plus Cláudia and songwriter Isaura seem a joy. It’s simple and probably won’t do all that well but it’s better than last year’s Portuguese entry and that won…

Why it should win: It’s beautifully sung.

United Kingdom: Storm by SuRie

We’re a self-critical country so there’s a lot of debate among fans. Was it the right song? Is it the right staging? There’s definitely one sensible choice: putting SuRie in the spotlight. She wowed the crowd at the Brighton selection show and has been performing this flawlessly (albeit modulated down a little!) ever since, as well as being a fantastic ambassador for the UK and the Contest. As usual, it’s not good to raise UK expectations but this is more than respectable and we should be proud of it.

Why it should win: Because SuRie is great.

Serbia: Nova Deca by Sanja Ilić and Balkanika

When this gets going, it’s good fun, even though I have no idea what they’re singing. Sanja’s vocals devotedly work more than the ladies’ though which makes this hit and miss overall.

Why it should win: Bringing the traditional ethnic sound back to Eurovision.

Germany: You Let Me Walk Alone by Michael Schulte

This is a touching solo number flawlessly performed by the ginger German. In a year where background video screens are banned, Michael has cheekily brought along an inflatable backdrop onto which twee graphics are projected. They’re unnecessary and rather on the nose, but it’s hard to say they’re not effective at making this as heartrending as possible.

Why it should win: You need a heart of stone not to be affected by it.

Albania: Mall by Eugent Bushpepa

I’ve never got around to finding out what this is about (sorry) bruises it just doesn’t grab me. It’s another rock entry and one that’s all about Eugent’s live performance.

Why it should win: He knows how to sing, man.

France: Mercy by Madame Monsieur

It’s unlikely that the message of this song (about a child born at sea, I think) will come across to the casual viewer but you’re assured that you won’t forget the title as you hear it many times. It’s in French but mostly school level thankfully and overall this is a confident, low-fi entry performed well by the two Frenchest people you will ever see at Eurovision.

Why it should win: That hand movement.

Czech Republic: Lie to Me by Mikolas Josef

With a very different sound and some gloriously eccentric lyrics (“eat my spaghetti”, “set my camel in the mood”), Mikolas is an eccentric bundle of fun. What’s in his backpack? Will he bring a camel? His stage performance has been hampered by an injury during rehearsals, but he seems recovered and is bringing energy if not backflips anymore.

Why it should win: A triumph over adversity.

Denmark: Higher Ground by Rasmussen

It’s about time a Nordic country sent some Vikings to Eurovision. These guys look ominous, huffing and puffing and marching about the stage, but you know they wouldn’t hurt a fly – not least because their song is a pacifist anthem draped in the garb of pillaging marauders.

Why it should win: It’s got a really good message but also beards.

Australia: We Got Love by Jessica Mauboy

I love Jessica. I love this song. I wish her vocals didn’t sometimes sound a little off because I am longing for this to do well. When she hits it, she really hits it. Watching the semi-final at home, it wasn’t quite there; last night in the hall at the jury final, she sounded terrific. I hope she nails it tonight. It’s a standard pop song but it’s really well done and let’s not complain about good pop in Eurovision, eh?

Why it should win: It’s going to be a Eurovision dancefloor classic (and of course Australia needs to win soon).

Finland: Monsters by Saara Aalto

This is pop too but brasher and really going for it with the staging. There’s spinning (lifted from the staging of one of her other Finnish selection songs), dancing, dropping, and backing troupe dressed only borderline fascist. Saara clearly loves Eurovision and I hope she gets a good result.

Why it should win: She took three good songs to the Finnish selection.

Bulgaria: Bones by Equinox

This supergroup still feels like less than the sum of their parts but if you like it dark and broody, they are serving that in spades. These are talented vocalists with some sharp harmonies and Bulgaria clearly have their sights on winning one day soon – but probably not tonight.

Why it should win: Those harmonies.

Moldova: My Lucky Day by DoReDoS

God, I love DoReDos. This was lightweight in the best kind of way even before they added the staging; now they’re pulling off the song and a little dance routine dressed in their flag’s colours and while acting out a Whitehall farce. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched their rehearsal clips. The spirit of 1981’s Bucks Fizz is here in 2018 and thank goodness for them that.

Why it should win: The most fun item on the menu.

Sweden: Dance You Off by Bejamin Ingrosso

The Swedes know what they’re doing. This is Justin Timberlake in Tron and it’s been polished within an inch of its life. It comes with a good pedigree having of course already won Melodifestivalen (and Benjamin’s aunt having already won Eurovision!) but they’ve tweaked the staging so that he is warmer and engages more with the audience. They’re probably not set for a win but the Swedes remain at the top of their game.

Why it should win: It’s like watching a music video.

Hungary: Viszlát nyár by AWS

That screeching of metal is AWS setting the pyro to 11 and charging around stage like there’s no tomorrow. You’ll either like this or you won’t but as metal goes, they make a very good fist of it – while making Lordi look like Brotherhood of Man.

Why it should win: It’s the metallest thing ever to hit a Eurovision stage.

Israel: Toy by Netta

Netta’s arrived with a feminist pop song accentuated by chicken noises, vocal loops and dancing cat toys. It’s bravura genius although it’s never quite translated on stage as well as it did in those early “WTF?!” studio versions. It totally catches the ethos of Eurovision.

Why it should win: She’s absolutely unique.

Netherlands: Outlaw in ‘Em by Waylon

The Netherlands has an obsession with sending folk and country songs to Eurovision that I just don’t get. Waylon is partly responsible, having come second as part of The Common Linnets in 2014 with a song that everyone seemed to love. (I didn’t and was more than happy for Conchita to beat it.) I actually prefer this, despite some contrived lyrics (In Eurovision? Never!) and he can certainly hold his own.

Why it should win: Hmm. He’s got presence?

Ireland: Together by Ryan O’Shaughnessy

This was promoted by a beautiful video of a couple of guys dancing in Dublin. The Irish team have incorporated that into the staging and it works seamlessly. It’s a little distracting but then distracting from the song isn’t a bad thing. It’s a servicable if weirdly falsetto ballad but the presentation lifts it hugely. China’s having their EBU contract cancelled as a result of blurring out the dancers has given this a burst of publicity that has sent it shooting up the odds.

Why it should win: It made me cry live. Twice. And I don’t even like it much.

Cyprus: Fuego by Eleni Foureira

Last year, Portugal won with a slow ballad. The year before, Ukraine won with a slow ballad. Wouldn’t it be nice if this year we went down the 100% fullscale pop banger route? Eleni certainly thinks so. This is by no means the most musically accomplished nor the most original entry but by George it’s on fire as good as its name. The outfits; the dance routine; the hair flick. This has all the ingredients to go the whole way if that’s the mood the voting public is in.

Why it should win: It’s time for a banger (and Cyprus has never won).

Italy: Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente by Ermal Meta & Fabrizio Moro

Cyprus should’ve been the big finale. Instead we have this. There are a lot of words in here and alas some of them are on the screen, getting in the way of the action (such as it is). There’s a message in here somewhere but it’s lost in the two guys’ angry expressions that make it seem like they don’t want to be there.

Why it should win: Urgh. Let’s say because of the message.

There you go. 26 songs. More than 20 justifiable winners in the right year with the wind blowing in the right direction. In practice, we’re probably looking at Cyprus, Estonia, Ireland or Estonia. But it’s still hard to completely write off Hungary, Israel, Norway, Sweden, France, Spain or Germany. The voting is going to be exciting. Long. And exciting.

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