It’s that time of year again. The night of the biggest entertainment show in the world with an estimated 200 million global audience, which this year will air live in the USA for the first time. China will tune in again for the 2nd year running. Tonight the final 26 of the 43 original entrants will battle it out to win the Eurovision Song Contest. This time last year I was in Vienna to experience my very first event live and what a great experience that was and I would have been in Stockholm tonight if I’d thought to book earlier before things got ridiculously expensive. So what to expect of tonight’s show? Well, be prepared for a seismic change.
There has been a HUGE change to the voting system. The votes each year are the result of the combination of the expert 5-person Juries of all the competing countries and the public televote but we never usually know how the juries voted versus the public. This year we will. The voting will be announced in the usual way after all songs have been performed but only the jury results will be announced. At the end of this process we will appear to have a winner. AHA! Then comes the sting in the tail. The public votes will be amalgamated so all the votes across Europe and Australia for, say, the U.K. will be added together and so on and then finally the public amalgamated vote for every finalist will be revealed meaning the public vote may well undo the rankings of the jury vote and we won’t know the true winner until the end of the show. Confused? Me too TBH.
OK, so before I reveal my Top 10 picks for tonight – and I’ve got to say this has been the hardest year ever to do that because the standard is so high, a word about the real star of what you will see: the stage. Sweden will provide one of the most hi-tec stage settings ever and the artists who make best use of it will do very well and two will in particular. OK, so on to my picks.
Heavy rock is not my thing at all and this was not on my radar until I saw their performance in the semi-finals. 5 man band Minus One will rock the stage tonight with a song called ‘Alter Ego’. It’s a dark, heavy performance but delivered with such driving confidence that you can’t help but pay attention, even if this isn’t your thing. Guaranteed to get top marks from Greece, of course, but don’t bet on others not scoring this highly too.
In complete contrast to the Cypriot rockers, the Dutch have gone for Country & Western with a song called ‘Slow Down’ sung by Douwe Bob and his band who, refreshingly, will all play instruments when they perform. I liked this from the very first hearing and was embedded in my Top 10 even before both semi finals when the bookies and pundits made it a 100/1 rank outsider. A stunning semi final performance reversed those odds and now this is tipped as a dark horse destined to do well and I would agree. It’s a toe-tapper, happy feel song with a refreshing message for our manic lives: “you gotta slow down brother, slow down brother, slow down if you can’t go on…”. This is the only song of its genre tonight and for that reason will stand out from the crowd.
Unlike the Dutch entry, this one was not on my radar at all and I was pretty dismissive of it as were most pundits…until the Stockholm rehearsals where singer Hovi Star quite literally brought the Globe Arena to a complete, awestruck standstill. This guy has one of the best voices in the contest and clearly has the respect of many of his competitors who are wishing this song well. The song is called “Made of Stars” and follows in the traditional ‘power ballad’ style that has done so well at Eurovision over the years.
The host nation and six times winners were a reluctant last in my top 10, narrowly beating Hungary, which will do very well. Why did it make my top 10 then? Well…it’s Sweden and you can never underestimate them. Don’t be fooled by the fact they are the only Nordic country to make the final because the fact they are means the other 4 Nordics only have one Nordic to concentrate their votes on and that’s potentially 48 points in the bag before he’s sung a note. That said, it’s a pleasant song and a completely different genre which I’m not hip enough to categorise. Sung by Frans, the youngest competitor in the contest who has a British Nigerian father and Swedish mother – and when you hear him he could be from any corner of London. This will not give Sweden their 7th win to equal Ireland’s record but could well make the top 10. Oh…sorry. Almost forgot. The song’s called ‘Sorry’. Sorry.
As with Israel, I dismissed this one on first hearing but it’s proved to be as much a grower as it is a shower, so to speak. This is one of two entries that maximizes on the technical brilliance of the stage tonight. This is a feel good song called ‘Loin d’ici’ or ‘Far from here’. It’s the first time Austria has presented its entry in French. It’s also one of only 3 non English language entries this year and the first time ever a song sung entirely in French has qualified from the semis. Apart from being a memorable performance as it is, Zoe will take to the stage 3rd from last and will be the entry immediately preceding the UK. If for nothing else, you will remember her as that girl and the flowers come voting. You’ll see what I mean.
I went with Italy as my first choice last year and they ended up 3rd. I don’t think this one will do as well but it’s another I liked on first hearing. The Italians are passionate about Eurovision and were the inspiration behind its creation with the original format based on the San Remo Song Festival, which still takes place today and from which this year’s entrant, Francesca Michielin, was selected. She will sing in her native Italian, bar one chorus in English. The song is called ‘Nessun grado di separazione’ or ‘No degree of separation’. I’ve heard her sing this ‘unplugged’ with just her singing and playing the piano and if only she’d gone down that route tonight I’d put money on her winning. This one polled well with the 43 international Eurovision fan clubs pre the contest and that’s a strong indicator of how well or not a song is likely to do.
The choice of this song caused a national outcry in Spain and reached the no.1 global trend spot on Twitter because for the first time ever Spain will perform their entry entirely in English. It’s a funky dance number called ‘Say yay yay yay’ or I guess ‘Decir si si si’ en Español, so I guess she made the right choice in defying national fury and insisting she will sing in English. This is the best shot Spain has had in winning for decades and singer Barei will deliver it with high energy and a quirky dance that has itself already gone viral across the globe.
After what was supposed to be a one-off last year, Australia are back again now they have secured permanent affiliated status with European Broadcasting Union. There is still a host of moaners around mocking their participation but this year’s singer, South Korean born Dami Im, will certainly shut mouths. This is a stunning entry performed by a singer with an amazing voice. Prepare for the roof to be blown off. Ironically, the song is called ‘Sound of Silence’. It’s another ‘power ballad’ and this may well see the Aussies improve on their impressive debuting placing of 5th last year.
OK, this is the one to watch out for. You will never have seen a performance like this ever in the history of Eurovision. It makes full use of the technical brilliance of the stage and reviewers in even our own sceptical national press have described this entry as ‘jaw dropping’. The strength of the entry is not just based on gimmickry. Singer Sergey Lazarev is a confident performer with a powerful voice and among the best eye candy of the night, whether you are male or female. The song is called ‘You are my only one’ and topping it all – it’s a very good song. Sergey will perform this mostly on his own bar the mysterious appearance and disappearance of 4 male backing singers. Oh…and watch out for the only female cast member and her (literally) two seconds of fame.
And so to my choice for the evening. France have kind of followed in step with Spain to submit their first ever entry in English. Well, half of it but a huge step for a nation that fights passionately to preserve francophone culture. This is a real feel good, happy, toe tappy song delivered with every ounce of Gallic charisma by French-Israeli Amir Hadded. The song is called ‘J’ai cherché’ or ‘I’ve searched for’ and this actually won the combined Eurovision fan club vote topping Russia by a considerable margin. I’d take the results of the fan clubs with considerable pinches of salt given that they base their votes after endless pouring over the entries whereas 99.99% of voters tonight will judge on first impressions and this guy is the master of making a good first impression. I’d be very happy for the show to come from Paris or preferably my favorite French city, Nice, next year.
And finally a word on the UK. Pundits and bookies place Joe and Jake in the top 10 tonight but I just don’t see it. If they make onto the left side of the results board they’d have done good. If we get zero points then just watch that be politicised into the Brexit debate.