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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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Eurovision 2018: Semi-final 2 May 10

The Altice Arena

So 7 of my 10 chosen qualifiers made it through on Tuesday night, and it probably would have been 8 if I hadn’t accidentally missed out dead cert Estonia when writing up the list. The biggest surprise for me was Ireland, whose staging really lifted the song and gave them a deserved place in the final for the first time since 2013.

Tonight, 18 songs battle for the 10 remaining spots. Let’s meet them.

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

Alexander won for Norway 9 years ago with Fairytale and he’s back for another stab. This wasn’t the best of Norway’s song options but probably the most likely to win the Contest so in that sense it was the right choice. It’s cheesy as hell but slickly and cleverly (if not cynically) executed, ticking every box it needs.

Verdict: One of the favourites even if that’s not how you write a song.

Romania: Goodbye by The Humans

The first of several rockier numbers in this semi arrives from Romania and it’s a cracker. The quiet opening is electrifying before it bursts into life with electric guitar and power ballad vocals. I fear that its early position in the running order and competition from similar songs may scupper it but this deserves to qualify.

Verdict: Triumph of the Autons.

Serbia: Nova Deca by Sanja Ilić & Balkanika

This is the most traditional song we’ve seen so far this year and it’s a bit start-stop, the male vocals markedly more interesting than the female melody with which they alternate. The staging feels a little chaotic despite very little happening and I suspect this will be forgotten about as soon as the singers leave the stage.

Verdict: Already forgotten.

San Marino: Who We Are by Jessica feat. Jenifer Brening

This one won’t be forgotten though – at least it’s staging won’t, thanks to a selection of dancing (well, slowly moving) robots. You read that right: this has a “feat” in the credits as we’re treated to a Wannabe-style rap break mid song. The rest of it takes an inspiration from Heroes, which isn’t a bad place to start, but it’s nowhere near the same level.

Verdict: A guilty pleasure.

Denmark: Higher Ground by Rasmussen

The Vikings have arrived. This is a stompy Scandi anthem, complete with ships’ sails and huge beards. Everything about the way it looks says the group are coming to pillage your village but the lyrics are deceptively pacifist, all about being the first to lay down your weapons. It’s hard to pigeonhole this in a genre but it works well.

Verdict: All Aboard the longboat.

Russia: I Won’t Break by Julia Samoylova

There has been talk of a shock failure to qualify for Russia and it’s a real chance, although this seems to have improved in both singing and staging. The song is fine is unexciting but the visuals pull frustratingly away from Julia, lost atop of meringue mountain, who should be the centre of attention.

Verdict: Not Russia’s finest hour.

Moldova: My Lucky Day by DoReDoS

The spirit of Bucks Fizz is alive and well and living in Moldova. The words and music and at the lighter end of pop but this is all about the staging, the harmonies and the performers’ undeniable charisma. We have brightly coloured costumes and random body parts populating a Whitehall farce transported to the Eurovision stage. Their biggest risk is not pulling off the challenging dooreography.

Verdict: If Ray Cooney had produced Making Your Mind Up.

Netherlands: Outlaw in ‘Em by Waylon

Waylon almost won the Contest four years ago as half of The Common Linnets with their inexplicably popular Calm After the Storm. Now he’s back with a frankly better song which I mostly enjoy despite not being a fan of country music, of which this is at the rockier end. I heard someone on the Tube last night criticise him for being too slick, which is simultaneously fair and unfair.

Verdict: One to like but not to love.

Australia: We Got Love by Jessica Mauboy

Jessica represented her home country in 2014 when Australia were invited as guest performers and now she’s back to compete. We Got Love is a solid pop song supported by simple and elegant staging: all flashing lights and cheerful prancing. She’s an engaging performer who sounds great when she hits her stride, which she did in jury rehearsal – the result will depend on whether she does tonight.

Verdict: Australia continue to more than justify their inclusion.

Georgia: For You by Ethno-Jazz Band Iriao

The worst named act of the show turn up to give you your much-needed mid-show loo break. They are impressive singers but this is not engaging and the look of it only adds to the feeling that Georgia have accidentally sent a team of accountants.

Verdict: More loss than profit.

Poland: Light Me Up by Gromee feat. Lukas Meijer

It’s another “feat” but this time Lukas is the lead singer and Gromee the goofy DJ. We’re going into club anthem territory with this one, which they sell with a lot of energy. On the one hand, there are moments in the live vocals that always let this down a little; on the other, there are some great vocals too and this is a song where that’s not the most important element.

Verdict: Wave that glowstick.

Malta: Taboo by Christabelle

Dark and broody with an upbeat line through it, Christabelle sells dystopian warnings with the help of an LED chamber. This feels different and interesting and it’s a strong performance but I’m not sure who’s going to vote for it.

Verdict: Could be Mad Max; could be Waterworld

Hungary: Viszlát Nyár by AWS

If you like the sound of screeching metal, this is for you. It’s loud, brash and energetic and well executed, although the singer’s long hair gets in the way of fully engaging with the audience. If you don’t like this genre, though, it’s unlikely to win you over.

Verdict: The heaviest rock but probably won’t sink.

Latvia: Funny Girl by Laura Rizzotto

I really like this song. The lyrics are interesting, the music is sultry and her vocals are pleasant on the ears. But the staging is wrong, wrong, wrong. Even though she’s alone on stage, what should feel heartfelt and spontaneous looks choreographed and contrived. Arm movements that should come from the passion of the music instead look rehearsed, and that takes away so much from the song.

Verdict: Deserves better.

Sweden: Dance You Off by Benjamin Ingrosso

There have been a few tweaks to warm up Benjamin’s relationship with the audience but this is otherwise the same polished performance we saw in Melodifestivalen – and there was little reason to change it. It’s a Michael Jackson/Justin Timberlake number performed on the set of Tron.

Verdict: Sweden know what they’re doing.

Montenegro: Inje by Vanja Radovanović

Vanja has the oddest stage persona. He looks like a nerdy guy who has accidentally wondered into a huge international arena and is asking the ladies surrounding him for directions. However, he also has a good pair of lungs to deliver this slightly dull song.

Verdict: There’s only room for one of this and Serbia at most and it should be this.

Slovenia: Hvala, Ne! by Lea Sirk

The best part of this is the very beginning. The worst is an unnecessary gimmick towards the end that just gets in the way of the song, which has run out of steam a little at that point.

Verdict: Just sing the song.

Ukraine: Under the Ladder by Mélovin

As in semi-final 1, we end with fire. This is emo, gothic, overblown and theatrical and all the better for it. The staging is dramatic but it’s all in support of the song and Mélovin’s engaging performance.

Verdict: Bring me to life.

So which 10 am I sending through? The winners are less clear this time even though fewer songs will miss out but here’s my list:

  • Norway
  • Denmark
  • Moldova
  • Netherlands
  • Australia
  • Poland
  • Hungary
  • Sweden
  • Montenegro
  • Ukraine

I came up with 11 so I’ve bitten the bullet and taken Russia out. We’ll find out tonight if that was right.

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Eurovision 2018: Semi-final 1 May 08

Eurovision poster in LisbonLike clockwork come the seasons: winter follows autumn, spring follows winter and now we rejoice as the greatest season of all follows spring: Eurovision.

You can expect bangers from the ladies and ballads from the boys as well as a glut of songs about dead family members. There are hardly any video screens but lots of lights and pyro, and an enormous stage.

Following Salvador Sobral’s victory in Ukraine last year, we find ourselves in sunny Lisbon where 43 countries do battle for the Eurovision Song Contest title. First we must whittle those 43 down to just (just!) 26, so we begin with the first semi-final, from which 10 of 19 songs will qualify.

If you’re in the UK, you can watch the BBC coverage on BBC Four or livestream the show free from commentary on the official Eurovision YouTube channel from 8pm. Although the United Kingdom qualifies for the final automatically, this is the semi-final in which we can vote, so get that dialling wand ready.

Enough with the preliminaries; on with the songs!

Azerbaijan: X My Heart by Aisel

It’s a strong opening to the show with a banger from Baku. The staging reflects the Contest’s nautical theme (slogan: “All Aboard!”), Aisel has a great voice and there’s a clear Euphoria influence. The weak links are the lyrics, which are weirdly infantile at points and include some unwise advice about not using firewalls. Also it’s spelt “Cross” not “X”.

Verdict: Good start, poor cybersecurity.

Iceland: Our Choice by Ari Ólafsson

One of the hosts at the London Preview Party commented on Ari’s visual similarity to Johnny Logan and once you’ve had it pointed out it’s hard not see it every time. But whereas Johnny Logan lifted the Eurovision trophy more than once, Ari will be lucky to qualify. He’s a talented singer but this is the epitome of worthy peace and love dirges and should be sent to Davy Jones’ locker.

Verdict: Not our choice.

Albania: Mall by Eugent Bushpepa

Eugent is an experienced performer with an effective stage presence but however many times I listen to this it just doesn’t stick in my head. It’s being in Albanian doesn’t help – of course people should sing in their native languages if they want but it’s a fact of life that English language entries do better. I’m assuming this isn’t about shopping but I don’t like it enough to look it up.

Verdict: Touch and go for qualification.

Belgium: A Matter of Time by Sennek

It’s a law of Eurovision that there must be at least one Bond theme and this has a heavy Tomorrow Never Dies vibe about it. But while the recording sounds great, the arena version has failed to bring it to life in any of the clips I’ve seen so it might well be heading out tonight.

Verdict: From Brussels with Love.

Czech Republic: Lie to Me by Mikolas Josef

An early favourite thanks to a charismatic singer, eccentric lyrics and contemporary music, its chances have suffered since Mikolas injured himself during rehearsals. The song is fun but needs an energetic performance to sell it, so if Mikolas is back to strength, this should sail to the final.

Verdict: Gets my camel in the mood.

Lithuania: When We’re Old by Ieva Zasimauskaitė

I discounted this for a long time. It’s deceptively simple, soft vocals delivering a gentle melody and personal lyrics, but complemented by some emotive staging this dark horse could find its way through.

Verdict: The sweetest ballad in the Contest.

Israel: Toy by Netta

It’s fair to say that Netta has a unique performance style. This is bold, brash and stands out – maybe like a sore thumb for some but for others it is a potential winner. There are chicken sounds, vocal loops and vibrant costumes but Netta is so idiosyncratic that it all fits together rather than feeling like a gimmick. The feminist lyrics are timely too. Send it to the final.

Verdict: A Eurovision classic.

Belarus: Forever by Alekseev

This has been tinkered with a lot and I’m not sure the changes have all improved it. There’s now a slower opening and more of a build, but that could work if it’s staged well – and this definitely does have some attention grabbing floral stage gimmicks. I love the way Alekseev’s vocals move between octaves although clips of his live performances have made me a little sceptical of how well he’ll pull it off on the night.

Verdict: One of my favourites but the performance needs to live up to the song.

Estonia: La Forza by Elina Nechayeva

Estonia haven’t had the success their songs deserved of late but that will all change in 2018. La Forza is operatic in music and in scale. Elina’s vocals alone will take this to the final but an eye-catching dress of epic proportions can only help. The song itself is not especially memorable but it’s another entry that is totally different from anything else in the competition and that’s never a bad thing.

Verdict: A dead cert for the final and a potential winner.

Bulgaria: Bones by Equinox

Bulgaria held back revealing this until late in the day and hyped it a bit too much. It’s good but it’s not as good as it thinks it is and Equinox still feel more like a cobbled together group of disparate talents than a coherent whole. They can definitely sing though and having a large group of strong vocalists gives this an oomph.

Verdict: This will feel either weighty and meaningful or just gloomy.

FYR Macedonia: Lost & Found by Eye Cue

This skips around between time signatures and styles which keeps your interest, building to a super catchy chorus – only to revert back to the ska opening and do it all again, which feels both creative and mildly frustrating. Macedonia’s Achilles heel with this is the staging: they’ve struggled to translate the song into an effective live version that gives it an extra push.

Verdict: Fun but frustrating.

Croatia: Crazy by Franka

A classy number backed up by quality vocals and an engaging live performance, albeit with some slightly cringeworthy spoken lines halfway through. It doesn’t really go anywhere, though, which is dangerous in this semi final.

Verdict: Could easily get lost among strong competition.

Austria: Nobody But You by Cesár Sampson

Like the UK’s SuRie, Cesár has a Eurovision pedigree, having been a backing singer and dancer in previous years. Now he’s front and centre giving a strong account of himself supported by some effective gospel backing vocals. The rehearsal clips have held back the main element of his staging so it’s hard to predict how that will look on TV.

Verdict: Deserves to qualify.

Greece: Oniro Mou by Yianna Terzi

A low key entry from Greece that won’t be helped by being sandwiched between Austria and Finland. It’s melodic and feels very… Greek. At least it’s fortunate to be in the same semi final as Cyprus when it comes to the voting.

Verdict: Only the most memorable of performances will see it through to the final.

Finland: Monsters by Saara Aalto

X-Factor finalist Saara Aalto performed three songs for UMK, the Finnish selection show, all of them contenders, and this is the one the public went with. I’ve seen her do this live in person a couple of times as well as in rehearsal clips and she nails it every time. It’s generic pop but no less good for it and there’s quite the heart stopping moment at the end of her performance.

Verdict: Love it.

Armenia: Qami by Sevak Khanagyan

Sixteen songs in the audience may be starting to lose track, so Armenia have not chosen a good moment to serve up a forgettable ballad in Armenian.

Verdict: A forgettable ballad.

Switzerland: Stones by ZIBBZ

On first listen, I didn’t like this. Then I did. Then I didn’t. Then I saw it at the London Preview Party and was sold. This is a rocky number (with a bit of politics in the lyrics) that really comes alive in performance, as Coco prowls energetic around the arena.

Verdict: Stones over Bones.

Ireland: Together by Ryan O’Shaughnessy

While Ryan can pull it off, I still don’t know why he’s put so much of his song right at the top of his vocal range. Anyhoo, this is a pleasant, borderline insipid ballad lifted by some beautiful staging, complete with ye olde streetlamp.

Verdict: Ryan will be on Ryanair tomorrow morning.

Cyprus: Fuego – Eleni Foureira

It’s the last entry of the night. You’ve got your scores sorted. You know who you’re voting for but might as well see what the last country brings. And BOOM! It’s back to the scoring board courtesy of Cyprus. If you were wondering where the big pop number was hiding, wonder no more. The studio version was good but Eleni explodes with the staging. It’s an unashamedly big Eurovision performance from the dance routine to the memorable costume to the fire. FUEGO!

Verdict: Five pelicans out of five.

Predicting the qualifiers is a fool’s errand but here we the ones I’d be putting through to Saturday’s final:

  • Azerbaijan
  • Czech Republic
  • Lithuania
  • Israel
  • Belarus
  • Bulgaria
  • Austria
  • Finland
  • Switzerland
  • Cyprus

Will the wise voters of Europe agree? I’m off to the Altice Arena to find out.

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