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I'm uploading this main preview late on Friday afternoon but I will return for an update at 4.00 p.m. on Saturday as I’m waiting for the more interesting markets to go up so we can take the pick of those tomorrow.
Ukraine play hosts to this year’s Grand Final after their political song (no political entries are allowed) that it came to light months later was written a few years earlier (no old songs are allowed either) won in Stockholm 12 months ago. Good to see that they have a firm grip on how to run the thing!!! The comforting news, however, is that it is strongly rumoured that Diane Abbott has been drafted in to help count the votes, so we can all sleep comfortably on that particular score.
There is no Russia this year as the Ukranian government have banned their wheelchair-bound artist from entering the country having performed in Crimea in 2015 despite ‘Celebrate Diversity’ being this year’s slogan. Not unsurprisingly, they’ve also organised the event on the cheap in relative terms so the whole event doesn’t have quite the feel-good factor of previous years.
No Ireland this year either as their Louis Walsh-led entry, Dying To Try (was more like Trying To Die), continued their run of failures of getting out of semi-finals with an entry that even Jedward would have turned down. Also, no surprise that San Marino failed to qualify yet again, this time with an awful 1970s throwback performed by what suspiciously looked like O J Simpson and Gerri Halliwell. The Eurovision juries came to the verdict that he certainly murdered this song.
Before we getting cracking properly with 26 songs to get through, just a warning that a seriously-dreadful Ant & Dec are hosting the show so brace yourself for a large dose of that famed Ukranian sense of humour.
In terms of having a financial interest, I’d say that punters not clued up to betting on the event make two very big mistakes; (1) they bet on the song that they like best rather than trying to work out what Larysa in Riga is thinking and (2) they seriously underestimate the jury vote which counts for 50% of the overall mark.
So, let the Eurovision Song Contest begin.
1) Israel (200/1)
They may well have benefitted from the ‘pimp spot’ of performing last of 18 in the second semi-final but no such good fortune this time and they’ve been handed the job of opening the show. In recent years contestants are drawn out of a pot for which half of the show they will appear in (the later the draw the better) and then the Eurovision Bods and National Broadcasting company elect where the acts then perform in that half to help as much as they can produce the winner they want! They usually opt for an upbeat entry to kick off the show but, despite Imri’s chiselled good looks, tight shirt showing off his abs (and he knows how to work that camera) and flames shooting up the floor, not even all that sexuality likely to draw in a good portion of the female vote can hide the fact that it’s just an ordinary dance/ethnopop ditty. In terms of quality of song, it’s not far off bottom-four material but Israel tend to pick up little bits and bobs from all of Europe which all add up so they are never embarrassed when they make it to the Grand Final. I’d have thought something like a 15th-20th spot beckons.
2) Poland (250/1)
If Poland ever decide to put in even a half-decent song then they’ll go close one day. Take last year for example when they finished stone last in the jury vote with just a paltry 7 points but then amassed as much as 222 votes from the televote so were only behind Russia and Ukraine with the public despite being 200/1 outsiders!!! Those Poles are everywhere! That therefore should make them interesting for a potential top-ten bet at 7/2 as this is a better entry than their eighth-place overall effort last year with far superior vocals and in a worse year so they should do better from the juries. However, now for the bad news. No winner in the history of Eurovison has ever come from trap 2. Of course they can’t win the thing but is that really a problem for a potential Top 10 bet? I’m in two minds at present and will decide in the Saturday update.
3) Belarus (250/1)
Belarus fail to qualify more often than not but they got out of the second semi-final on Thursday and I like this entry being a joyful, cute, fun song that’s quite catchy, well performed and nicely staged - just a shame about the low draw. Europe also likes a bit of folk music and Belarus have cornered that particular market this year so I did consider recommending a Top 10 bet given that they are as big as 8/1 with Sky Bet. However, they have no Eurovision pedigree to talk of, even in the years when eastern european acts monopolised the event having notched up just one Top 10 from the four times they have qualified, so I have a little reluctantly let it pass.
4) Austria (250/1)
Overcame a low draw to qualify from the second semi-final so that’s four consecutive final appearances for the Austrians. It all sounded rather Ed Sheeran to me on first listening but it’s closer to Justin Bieber’s ‘Life If Is Worth Living’ in the bridge between verse and chorus, or so my teenage daughter tells me! I wouldn’t have a Scooby Doo but concurred when she played it to me. It all kicks off with Nathan sitting in a half moon and there is some very colourful lighting throughout. The simple songs can over-perform but it’s just a bit all too nicey nicey for me and will soon be forgotten about from so early in the running list.
5) Armenia (100/1)
Strong vocals and a powerful, exotic presentation is all part of the usual Armenian M.O. and this year is no different. They also have a very consistent record since their debut in 2006, failing to qualify for the final only once and posting six top-eight positions. Their main ally, Russia, won’t be giving them anything this year however. Eurovision was dominated by songs with an eastern european feel over a decade ago but things have changed plenty since then and this is the only finalist that can be allocated in that bracket. They should make the Top 10 again.
6) The Netherlands (100/1)
Three sisters in glitzy outfits perform what could be best described as a Radio 2 in the morning, easy-listening song with country-style vocals in the chorus which feels like it is going to burst into Wilson Phillips’ ‘Hold On For One More Day’ at any moment. Nice harmonies but that doesn’t cut the mustard in Eurovision these days. Bottom half.
7) Moldova (100/1)
The Moldovan entry can usually be relied upon to provide something with more originality than most and this year is no exception. What possessed the band to call themselves Sunstroke Project however, heaven only knows? Perhaps it’s something to do with their rather bizarre shaky right leg routine? The saxophone instrumental (which is desperately badly mimed) is the hook that runs throughout the song. I think we can be confident that they will receive a high mark from Romania (have a look at their national flags if you doubt me) but it’s been ten years since they last registered a Top Ten and far better entries from them than this have failed to do so in the interim.
8) Hungary (200/1)
Potential dark horse alert. Not to win but fare better than their odds anticipate. Rap, fire, violins, national dress, milks jugs as bongos, doves, a stunningly beautiful dancer, oh yes there’s plenty to feast your eyes and ears on here for this real authentic, emotional performance and original song that sticks out against some soulless performances. In a nutshell, it’s quite cool actually, not unlike a number of Hungarian entries of late. Like David Brent, I guess that they are a bunch of chilled-out entertainers at heart. Just a little unfortunate that they are up immediately before the joint-favourites but I can see this doing alright in the jury vote and in the eastern-european televote so I would have it as the best of the 200/1+ shots. It would be no surprise to me if this is their fifth Top 10 in 13 attempts, which is currently a best-priced 6/4.
9) Italy (15/8)
It is possible to win from the first half of the show but I imagine that the 4/7 backers of Italy a week ago let out a large, collective groan when they were drawn in the first half, though their main market rivals, Portugal, have suffered the same fate. Neither were going to be put on very early that’s for sure. Yes, it has a lot going for it being a fun, party-style song joined by an ape at half-way that’s awfully catchy after a couple of listens and Francesco is very engaging, charismatic and likeable but it was never a 4/7 poke. The hook is the background music to the chorus which doesn’t sound unlike ‘Chasing The Sun’ (darts fans will be very familiar to this!). What is swaying me more towards Portugual is that, of late, it has been the more dramatic, well-constructed songs like from Austria and Ukraine that have held the edge over traditional Eurovison-style entries.
10) Denmark (150/1)
Instantly forgettable being bland from start to finish. I’ve heard it 4-5 times and still can’t remember it without a prompt. As Anja is an Aussie, expect good marks from Oz but maybe not as high as usual from Scandinavia.
11) Portugal (15/8)
Pure art alert! Picasso in musical form. Here we go, this is by a country mile the best song in the event as I mentioned in my blog when they were 16/1 but they are as now as low as a top price 15/8 so all the value has dried up if you are looking at the event fresh. Too arty to win maybe? I would have said that a few years back but not now that the jury vote is far more influential and especially not in a year that can’t be described as strong. The closest song I can recall to this was the Italian jazz entry on the piano a few years back who finished second at 125/1 but this has more charm and Salvador has a back story too as he has a heart condition and had two operations since winning his national final, and his sister, who wrote the song, has even been taking his place in the technical rehearsals. That’s why the whole performance is as simple as possible. It’s a theatrical, quiet, quirky, eccentric performance of jazzy nostalgia that will charm its way to many a vote, not least from the professional music juries who I’m virtually certain will have it top - and that contributes 50% of the vote. My long-term niggle is that in 48 attempts Portugal have yet to even a register a top-five slot(!), and this despite many years of half the number of finalists as today, but they do usually enter utter dross and this is on a different level to what they usually come up with. Austria won a couple of years back and The Netherlands have also gone close lately so the smaller, western countries with no real Eurovision record in the last 30+ years have a far better record now the Eurovision bods have changed the voting after eastern europe was dominating year after year. Portugal won Euro 2016 so this could be quite a 12 months for them on the international competition stage and they have the same momentum behind them as Austria and Ukraine had from the rehearsals to the semis right to the final contracting by a similar amount in odds in the years they won.
12) Azerbaijan (150/1)
Were desperate to win, which they did in 2011, after which it’s been a case of not seeming so bothered about it since it was a case of job done. For example, their form figures since making their debut in 2008 for the first six years read: 835142 but that’s dropped off significantly to 22, 12 and 17 in the last three contests and, after Ukraine, it has been Russia that has supported them best down the years (those two countries miles clear of the rest in giving Azerbaijan votes) and they don’t get a vote this year as are not competing. They may also have run out of bung money as there is compelling evidence that dark forces were at work in terms of the 50% jury votes during the year they won. In its favour, it’s probably the most contemporary entry alongside Belgium and the very grey visuals are striking, if more than a little macabre as you might expect from a song called ‘Skeletons’. It’s all a bit alienating. Part of those visuals is the return of the man who used to annoy John McCririck in the betting ring with the horse’s head and a blackboard with random words written all over it, that I’m struggling to get my head around.
13) Croatia (66/1)
If you thought Azerbaijan had problems it’s time for Eurovision to get even weirder. Cue a guy who enjoys a pie or three playing both roles in a duet, hence his half-and-half outfit, quoting Einstein before he begins his jaw-dropping performance. Half of his duet with himself is operatic performed in a tux, the other part-falsetto performed in a leather jacket. All a bit freaky but Jacques unquestionably has quite a vocal range (he’s known as Mr Voice in Croatia) and seamlessly transfers from one character to another. Hard to say how it will go down with the jury or public vote but unusual acts always gets noticed more.
14) Australia (150/1)
Have finished fifth and second in their two appearances to date but this is a weaker entry than those performed by Rafa Nadal’s love child with some serious eyebrow work. There’s also a bit of the Norwegian fiddle-playing landslide winner from a few years ago in there too. Isaiah Firebrace (I wish I was called Isaiah Firebrace) won the Australian X Factor last year but heaven knows what the rest sounded like as his vocals, which are a poor man’s Sam Smith in parts, are average to say the least (the Mariah Carey-style warbles of how many notes can you unnecessarily squeeze into one single word also annoy) therefore matching the song. The background visuals which are also images of Isaiah add nothing to the performance and, all in all, he looks rather lost on his own. I imagine that they will fare better than the song entitles them to like in the last two years as it’s still somewhat of a novelty to have a country from the other side of the world entering, hence greater exposure in the lead up to the event.
15) Greece (300/1)
Legs alert Part 1. Just a boppy little, old-style Eurovision pop song with a couple of topless Greek adonis (no idea what the plural of Adonis is) splashing about in a paddling pool so, once again and very sensibly, the Greeks have decided they don’t want the expense of hosting the event again given the country’s finances. Some excellent right-leg action though.
16) Spain (500/1)
A typically-happy entry for Spain but since televoting came they have a terrible Eurovision record with just one top-nine finish in the last 13 years and that will be extended to 14 years after tonight as they are favourites to finish last. The staging effects of them on a beach and riding surfboards might save them from total humiliation of last place though. Automatic qualifiers have a poor record - it can’t help you don’t see them in the semis - and despite a pretty good draw, it will be surprising if they finish outside of the bottom four. Entitled ‘Do It For Your Lover’, that kind of thing also doesn’t go down too well in Eurovision.
17) Norway (250/1)
“I’m going to kill that voice in my head” sings Jowst in the opening bar of the chorus. I wish I could do the same. The worst entry of this year’s Eurovision for my money and they’ve finished stone last with a marginally better song than this in recent years which wasn’t too dissimilar in feel to this, so this is a strong contender for the wooden spoon and I’m surprised to see them trading at a double-figure price for that humiliation.
18) United Kingdom (33/1)
The UK are always underpriced as the shops know that they will take money for them off their mug clientele. In fact, they have managed just one Top 10 in the last 14 years and that was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber who then played the piano on stage just to ram that particular point home. So what hope has poor Lucie Jones got in the first Eurovision since the UK said we want to leave the European Union!? We’re not popular at the best of times and now we’ve stuck two fingers up at what will soon be ex-EU members so what added impact will that have? Since Jemini recorded nul points in 2003, the UK have finished last twice, beat just one other entry twice and finished 24th of 26 in the last two years. As such I did consider a last-place finish, or a bottom-four slot but the song has Eurovision royalty attached to it as it was part written by Emmelie de Forrest who won for Denmark four years ago so the professional jury vote will help in that respect as does the most glitzy staging in the competition, a later draw and immediately following the god-awful Norwegian entry and preceding another a poor Cypriot entry.
19) Cyprus (300/1)
I was surprised that this garbage got out of the first semi-final as it’s pretty awful but a late starting position always helps and, once again, the vast majority of qualifiers from the semi performed in the second half. Hard to see them beating 16th place which is their highest finish when they qualified for the final since 2004.
20) Romania (40/1)
Legs alert Part 2. The Romanians are back in the game after being chucked out last year as their host broadcaster failed to pay their fee, and if you like a bit of rap meets yodelling, then you’re in for a real treat as, surprisingly, this bizarre mix entry works really well. I liked the unique product from their national final performance but they have really stepped it up a couple of gears since then and is fun from start to finish with a great on-stage chemistry performed with real energy and 100% gusto. The opening bars unquestionably are a rip off of The Script and Will I Am’s ‘Hall Of Fame’ but that’s not a bad thing (or Dappy’s ‘No Regrets’ which is not such a good thing) and it also has strong visuals outside of Ilinca and Alex, though I’m not really getting the cannons. In addition it also has a good, late draw and also in terms of positioning between two mediocre entries to help it stand out even more. It’s too much to ask them to win but I’ve just got to work out how to best get with them when all the markets are up tomorrow.
21) Germany (200/1)
Bar Lena’s win which was already a big hit in Europe before it won in 2010, Germany have been so off the pace in recent years and have even finished plum last for the last two years including a nul points. This can do a little better than that but it’s just your average standard, foot-tapping, little pop song that will get lost amongst the stronger entries.
22) Ukraine (300/1)
The rock songs can surprise, Finland’s ‘Rock Hard Hallelujah’ being the most obvious example when successful, and it was certainly a surprise that the UK (mainly due to their jury) gave the rock entry 12pts last year. I preferred the original staging of a digital clock ticking down to the end of the song which is called ‘Time’ on their t-shirts rather than the new giant face with lasers shining out from its eyes, but it’s not a bad song of its type at all. It will fare much better than odds of 300/1 suggest having the advantage of being the only rock entry (and Europe likes a bit of rock), representing the hosts that have plenty of voting allies anyway and an ideal late slot.
23) Belgium (20/1)
For the fifth year running it will be a contestant from Belgium’s version of The Voice that represents them and the other four finished 12th, failed to make final, 4th and 10th. This is the marmite song of the event that some viewers will see as doing absolutely nothing for them as it just never gets going, but it has become a bit of a fans’ favourite with Blanche’s low, monotone vocals (or just ‘talking’ some would call it) appealing to many and it looks as if they might have finished second in the first semi-final. I couldn’t understand the market strength after a first listen but it’s a grower. It has shades of Anouk’s ‘Birds’ that finished eighth for The Netherlands a few years back when it was my pick and that style didn’t quite measure up to voters’ needs so I think it will come up short of a Top 3.
24) Sweden (33/1)
The song is entitled ‘I Can’t Go On’ and, fortunately for us, after his allotment of three minutes, it doesn’t and will be quickly consigned to the dustbin of history. Sweden are always in the top half dozen in the betting and were successful favourites in 2012 and 2015 so no surprise that they have put forward another slick, professional entry in terms of visuals that even starts off backstage, which works well I must admit. The thing is, the production is far better than the song even if Robin’s posse have clearly been watching too much Bruno Mars before its time to get on their treadmills. Yes, treadmills, and the word from rehearsals was that they didn’t always stay on, which could be fun! Robin might look like he’s come straight from a Paco Rabanne advert but he has marginally less charisma than Ryan Moore and is very cardboard and awkward looking. He also can’t sing very well which won’t go down well with the jury vote. Despite the Swedes being the most successful nation this century with two wins and nine Top 10s, they can also blow out as they didn’t finish higher than 18th between 2007-2009. I’d have them underperforming against their market expectation despite a perfect draw.
25) Bulgaria (4/1)
Have fared much the best of the three leading fancies with their draw of one from the end. This will be only their third performance in the Final at the tenth attempt so Bulgaria seemingly struggle for voting allies to get out of the semis, but then again, they also finished fourth and fifth in those finals, so I’m struggling to work that out. Perhaps it is just as simple as quality of entry? This year it’s a young Adam Lambert (fronts for Queen) lookalike whose vocals are strong and very mature for that of a 17-year-old but I’m not sure that the technical visuals worked as intended when they were odds-on to win the second semi-final. I don’t see it bombing but I also don’t think it’s quite as strong a song as odds of 4/1 suggest.
26) France (100/1)
Legs alert Part 3. Alma wins the Top Fox award (it’s worth the long wait) in a strong heat this year. Unfortunately for her, the French have a record of underperforming compared to their odds and have a shocking record of late. In fact, they have finished 22nd or worse on seven occasions in the last 12 years. Okay, sixth place was creditable enough last season at first glance, but that’s before we have to take on board that they were disputing second-favouritism plus they also supplied the favourite in 2011 who totally bombed finishing 15th. I like it (I usually do like the French entry) and the fast-moving verses in French are a stronger element of the song than then chorus in English, plus the staging works well with air shots of Paris lit up at night. I can’t ignore how the rest of Europe doesn’t take to the French entry though.
As mentioned at the top, I’ll be back tomorrow at 4.00 p.m. once all the markets are priced up but, as for the most likely winner, I think this boils down to whether the jury votes for Portugal will be enough to outweigh the public votes for Italy? I hope that Portugal win having trumped their entry up as the best song when they were 16/1 shots in my penultimate blog but there is no obvious value in 15/8 even if we can narrow it down to basically just three potential winners. The top three in the betting usually dominate and I’m not mad keen on Bulgaria so I couldn’t put you off the forecast of Portugal to beat Italy when firms come to price that up.
Looking at the more interesting markets that are priced up already, I will get involved in Romania in some way and Norway look a big price to finish last at 14/1.