Apart from having the most creative attempt at the "lucky routine" question, there is little to recommend the biggest Western name in the contest (certainly the richest). Megastar & ex-Leeds goalkeeper Nicky didn't have to go through the indignity of having to sing for his supper, and is the first internal selection ever to come from Ireland. As the UK has unably illustrated this strategy is the slipperiest of slopes, and likewise I believe RTE have made a Humperdink/Tyler-alike error. The song is of course Westlife-safe..."when I co-wrote the song I was picturing myself walking up a mountain to reach the summit, breaking through the clouds to see the morning sunlight". Like the aforementioned stars I think complacency will be his undoing and he'll be stuck on the Southern face in a blizzard.

 

If he manages to get into Sweden (he experienced some finger pointing and general mirth from the Russian immigration officials recently) then his humility should come to the fore...I quote "rare vocal abilities and a winning personality"..."I thought it would be weird for me to sing this since there would be too many stars in one sentence! Now I understand that the title fits me perfectly and I wouldn't change it for the world!". I just hope he makes sure his kilo of foundation is not in his hand luggage. If Hovi "after finding out..I couldn't stop crying with excitement for a whole day!" sorts out ballast in his right winkelpicker to compensate for his hefty combover, and if viewers aren't afraid of clowns, then I actually think this is one of the strongest ballards of the year and could do well.

 

Bearing in mind Italy returning to the fold is the best thing to have happened to Eurosong in last decade or so, each entrant is rightly met with relatively high expectation. And so this year they have provided a pizza-loving 21 year-old X-Factor winner, who in 2015 released "a musical autobiography that she toured solo in clubs playing keyboards, guitar, electric bass, kettle drum, and TC-Helicon".
The song is as always a classy affair, enriched by the language of lurve, but is also mildly tedious too. It just doesn't really go anywhere. 3D heart effects are likely to be thrown in to try and divert attention from what is an otherwise conventional pop effort that sadly fails to excite. The prediction of 14th may be unfair but it won't be Rome in 2017.

 

Under normal circumstances I would find a Chesney Hawkes/John Shuttleworth co-production rather intriguing. But this is a Latvian version, which adds in an unhealthy dollop of mania, missed notes, and bad fashions. I'm sure I'm out of touch, but the unbounded joy with which the damp fan has received this monstrosity has baffled me beyond belief. The song is written by the red queen from last year in a similar, yet more harrowing, vein but the real problem is with Justs who has "been part of funk-rock band Tax Free and Bunch of Gentlemen". He's all over Tan, hair/coat/shoes all tan. In fact the only obvious non-tan feature are his 48 teeth. More tan allegory is his voice, akin to the deep rumblings of a camel with a digestive issue. I have it as non-qualifying & I hope I'm right.

 

The Guns are back! 28 year old Donatas Montvydas, he of the treasured eyebrows and all-around conceit will bodypop around the Stockholm stage without a hint of self-awareness. In other words just what we all want. I get the feeling he has been waiting for this night for a couple of years now, and is bringing with him a generic pop drawl that we can only hope will be enlivened by his on-stage shenanigins. All told I really can't see this troubling the left side of the board, and have even got it as a borderline non-qualifier, since they'll be no sentimental votes from the public and he may mess up one of his crotch thrusts. It could be an amusing watch though.
 

As time marches on, I find it increasingly difficult to freely recall some of the archive acts to have graced the Eurosong stage. One exception however is Ira "twice opened concerts for Elton John & can't say no to a burger" Losco, who in the simpler times of 2002 blew some glitter at the screen, and promptly made it into the hall of fame. She came 2nd (it remains Malta's best position) so not only could she return whenever she wanted but also could change her song, which she promptly did a few weeks before the deadline. The resulting replacement is a better clubby-like attempt, though it's unlikely to garner a similar result to her debut. "Ira is an advocate for LGBTI rights, supports anti-bullying initiatives & campaigns to help teenagers protect themselves from revenge porn". Blimey.

 

Just when the Moldovams thought it couldn't get much worse their bosom buddies Romania got kicked out of the contest, thus depriving them of some guaranteed points. Russian born, 23 year old Lidia (who I don't think is a tattooed lady) will likely win the fish out of water award for this year. For someone who bakes "very tasty traditional cakes" she's a stick, and you wonder how she will belt out this Eurosong meat'n'drink dancey trickle of pop. Few give it any chance, but I give it more than many, which still won't be enough to get to Saturday. Oh and don't forget Lidia "came third in East Bazaar, a music competition in Yalta & won Melkin Asia in Issyk-Kul, Kyrgyzstan".

 

"Highway are a Montenegrin pop-rock band from Podgorica". I just needed to clarify that. Oh and "the song is quite different, so you can never get tired of listening to it". Again, worth pointing out the official bio there, again for clarity you understand.
Because when I listened to the song and have watched them rehearse I could swear it's just about the most under-produced basic rock bilge I have ever been unfortuante enough to hear. I tell you what instead of listening to it, I'll see you in t'Bar.
 

23 year old Dour Bob's"in my spare time I cut my friends hair" music "is characterised by the combination of songs rooted firmly in the 60's and 70's but at the same time, has an extremely contemporary sound". Whatever that means. Looking like k d lang's nephew, Douwe happily strums on his Gibson trying to emulate the perplexing success of that Dutch couple a couple of years ago, with equally derivative C&W dirge. I quote "it was written in three countries Portugal, Spain, and Sweden. And to be honest, it's pretty clear to me which parts of the song were written where". No it isn't, it sounds like it is, namely a cheap attempt at Gnashville nausea. Sorry Robert, but I really hope this doesn't get through, natty suit or not. And more marks off for that huge carnation neck tattoo. Nasty.

 

21 year old Agnete Johnsen comes from Nesseby (pop'n 900) near the Arctic Ocean, which must be chilly. You'd think she'd be sick of white, but her act embraces it with gay abandon, along with a kid's trampoline without the actual trampoline. Even she recognises her entry as a Marmite "It seems like either you will love it, or you simply strongly dislike it". Can you guess if I like marmite? Let me give you a clue. She "won the 2008 MGPJunior with the monster hit 'Be Quiet Dog' and was the youngest winner of Norway's Strictly". Which goes some way to explain her national popularity. Less clear is why it got the Norwegian nod, as it's a safe vapid shouty effort, professional and sterile enough to get her to the Final but little else. A good point to break out the ice and add it to gin and tonic.

 

First off rumours suggest that Poland are liable to veto the contest if they don't get a Top10 this year. As a wise man once said there are no guarantees in life, and less in the ESC. Shaggy haired earnest 25 year old Mr Szpak (unfortunately pronounced as it sounds) was the surprise winner of their pre-selection, seeing off Edyta (their only previous success story - 2nd in the Final) & an annoying girl who was the stand out damp fan favourite EVER!..this year. So it is with relative pedigree his power ballard hits the stage. The most effusive I can be is that it's slightly above average, m'eh. So in the words of Michal "ders no life without fear ooh oh ohh ohh" & in the words of Jack Sparrow "time for a bottle of rum, ho ho".

 

 

It's hard not to feel sorry for Ovidiu. Not only does he get mistaken for the big bloke from Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, he also found out in April that he had been kicked out of the contest due to no fault of his own. The bosses at the EBU quite understandably have kicked TVR, the Romanian national broadcaster, out of their club for not paying their £12 million subs for the last 9 years...now that's some aged debt. But it leaves poor Mr Anton at a bit of a loose end. After all this is the bloke who "in 2008 started to perform with a very cool cover band Pasage, and rocked many clubs". Indeed this was his fifth attempt to get to the big show, so odds-on that you'll see him mooching about backstage with a black plastic bag with sandwiches in. Poor lad.
 

Big budget alert. I think its fair to assume we can expect much post-Mans technological backdrops across the contest this year, none more so than superdooper megastar Sergey who will probably have a 3-D Imax Illumiroom Surround sound £10 popcorn viewing fest, but a song of drivel. I know the song is drivel, the performance bit is pure supposition based on years of suffering. Mr Lazarev (member of the band Smash!) is inseparable from his dog who "even inspired his small business - The Confectionery for Pets". He is the hot favourite, due in part to "being followed by the whole country whilst growing up as an artist" and the associated diaspora, but less understandably due to the pop song he is peddling this week which fails to excite at all. Still, a brave man would bet against him.
 

Now then, I need to be a tad circumspect here. "Serhat is a successful singer, producer, and TV host who chose to work in show business after completing his education at the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of Istanbul" (presumably hence the use of his rather swanky headband monocle). Having tried to refrain from saying his song is like pulling teeth, I failed. "His single, Chocolate Flavour, became another popular hit, espcecially in Greece"...hmm. It's tricky to find adjectives to describe 51 year old Mr Hacipasalioglu but I'll have a go...shameful, suggestive, salacious, sybaritic. The song is gruesome, and as the slowest of the year, seems truly interminable. This is the pantheon of last places, the convergence of nadirs, the end of calamity. This is no wrose now, only better. Rejoice.
 

A bit of meat and drink Eurosong ethno quality from the always slightly off-centre Serbs. 22 year old Sanja is a bit of a human bobblehead. Apart from her eyebrows being a couple of centimetres too high, her neck comes in for a lot of stick from her head, as it appears to be constantly under some pressure from the constant wobble going on. "Besides studying Arabic, Sanja is a lead vocalist in the band ZAA"...hence the ZAA bit. She sings a song about violence to women, but then again a lot of Serbian efforts are about violence. It's highly capable, nicely understated, a tad contemporary ethnic if you will. I have it as finishing top in the semi, which may be a tad generous but stats don't lie. Fact: "I get around with my dancing skills, mainly in dancehall and afrobeat".
 

Sorry Slovenia, but from the sublime to the ridiculous in one year. It would be trite to say thia has the mild pong of manure, but it does. At the age of six Manuela Brecko (now 26 btw) "already played accordion and at 13 had her own band playing bass guitar". Precocious! This is another unwelcome Country & Western no-hoper, a painting by numbers type of song that disappoints in a big way. She's stilll trying to play it up though and not just with the jugs..."the stage performance includes a number of visual effects. The main elements are a LED display, many shades of light colours, fireworks and wind". And an acrobat. But the emphasis is on the wind and associated effluent that emanates from one of the low points of the year.
 

Hello Hello Mrs Corker! No need to be afraid. Barbara Reyzabal Gonzalez-Aller (shortened to Barei, but where the "i" comes from I'm not sure) is a 34 year old from Madrid and has delivered an adrenalin filled rocket-fuelled dance number that stands out from everything else this year, and thus gets my nod. Sung in English, but cleverly bypasses the Spanish broadcaster language rule by throwing the national language into the backing vocals. Sure it is probably too quick for its own good, but it's also dynamic, positive, uplifting and catchy. Throw in a cheesy heel dance move last seen in 2011 and I will be most put out if this doesn't get a Top 10. Love it. Fact: "At 18 she participated in the Benidorm Song Festival, and then moved to Miami". That's Benidorm for you.

 

The juggernaut that is Sweden have put the brakes on. I'm deeply unfashionable in the damp fan community by holding the view that if they really wanted to, the Swedes could mop up the title just about every year. And I think they even have a chance this year, with a low-key mumbling effort from a kid who used to sing about Zlatan Ibrahimovic (top of the Swedish charts for 21 weeks)... Frans Jeppson Wall, now 17, is a confident young Beiber/Sheeran clone type thing, and his humble, understated gramatically correct (for a change) ditty is to me what's called earworm. It's a minnow from the most bombastic of all Eurosong nations, and that is why I like it. It went from 7/4 favourite in March to around a 12/1 shot now, and I think the truth may be somewhere in between.
 

Blue rinse, bra fire, in need of the toilet Rykka is a funny one. She hails from Canada and "started as an acoustic folk artist under her name Christina Maria before reinventing herself as Rykka and emerging with an alternative pop bang!". She reminds me of a pleasure model replicant from Blade Runner. According to the official write-up the song "is a triumphant mega" ballard, and "her album Beatitudes is an offering to the pop gods, with throbbing beats and mega choruses contrasted with confessional comedowns"...got to love that shite. The song is of course none of the above but it does re-affirm the weak signs of life coming from the Swiss. Early opinion has this last in the semi, and although I find her unsettlingly alluring, I sadly have to agree with common opinion.
 

And so to the Brits. The Beeb decided to give the great unwashed another go at it after a few years of internal mis-fires the like of which not seen since my now deceased Hyundai Coupe. The output is a couple of The Voice rejects who have a passable little pop anthem which at least sounds British for once even if it won't travel well. They are Joe Woodford, 21, from Ruthin and Jake Shakeshaft, 20, from Stoke"who share a love of peri peri chicken & football". Like the song itself the two of them are likeable but a little bit too safe. And also in a year when many of competitors are a tad better, this is likely to seem hard done by locally with the inevitable sour grapes to follow. It's a step in the right direction though, it's just that there is a long constitutional needed before the UK is back on pace.

 

Earnest alert! With knobs on. In true Ukrainian style they've sent a svelte demure singer with an attitude more muscular than the Klitchko's. The subject matter covers the deportation of Crimean Tatars by Stalin, resulting in an estimated 100,000 deaths. Part of me feels that using such a historical, if not also a political, subject is a bit fishy especially considering the Tatar connection.. But seriously folks I'm not one to crack off poor puns on such a fervent subject matter, Jamala will leave it all out there with wailing (aka mugham), and a D&B (aka duduk and bass) denouement that is actually rather appealing in its own way. To my Western ears it's the first 2 minutes that is the problem. Regardless of what I think though this will be a jury's wet dream and will be knocking on the door until the end.