And then there were five. The market has decided all but a handful of acts are rank outsiders. Behind the top tier of Russia, Australia, Ukraine, France and Sweden there’s a gap to Malta, which is the falsest position of all in the outright. I don’t think France is going to win, but I wouldn’t discount any of the other four from taking the trophy – each has plenty going for them.
Let’s start with hot favourites Russia, represented by Sergey Lazarev with ‘You Are The Only One’. Arguments for are: country/singer popularity, exciting staging, and impressive iTunes downloads. The main concern is a dated song that could potentially be mildly marked down by juries. Given the latter, I can’t recommend backing it at odds-on – shorter than Mans Zelmerlow, Emmelie de Forest and Loreen at the same stage. If you do think Russia has enough firepower to win – which is a very valid opinion – the best strategy may be waiting until the 40-minute jury voting sequence, when it may not be leading the scoreboard. If it’s being beaten at this point, what price will it be? It shouldn’t be odds-on.
Australia are second favourites, having been hot on the markets since Dami Im’s semi-final appearance with ‘Sound of Silence’. This is a recognisably Eurovision package – a big female power ballad – but also manages a contemporary, Sia-esque feel. The popularity of the song with iTunes downloads indicates it is televote-friendly across Europe, and not just in one part of it as might have been feared. It’s a jury-friendly entry too, with a money note at its climax. I can envisage it winning this part of the vote.
Respected rival in that constituency is Ukraine’s Jamala, whose ‘1944’ is a far more difficult and untypical Eurovision number. It’s a war lament for the Crimean Tartars who suffered mass deportation in World War Two. Its power comes from an intense live performance with staging to match. That was enough to wow bloggers throughout rehearsals. Now it faces the voting public and juries, where its difficult nature may mean it’s not universal enough for victory, unless the topical Russia / Ukraine narrative takes root. But much as I’ve loved it over the last two weeks, I don’t think there’s enough for viewers to latch onto for this to happen.
Sweden’s Frans didn’t get as much exposure in the semi-finals, being one of the automatic qualifiers who got a minute-long rehearsal clip played instead. As a result, ‘If I Were Sorry’ has fallen slightly under the radar in terms of final week hype. But that hasn’t stopped it doing impressively in iTunes downloads. It seems likely to do very well in the western televote, and maybe the eastern one too. Juries may also reward its contemporary, commercial nature, though it’s the opposite of vocally driven.
In sorting my four contenders into a predicted order, I’ve imagined each racing on their own road with potholes along it. These potholes are moments when they fall reasonably below a high score, whether it’s because of juries or televoters, differing appeal in Western or Eastern Europe, or a more general niche rather than universal sound. I’ve placed the country with what I think are the least potholes in its road first, and the others behind it accordingly, to come up with this top four:
I don’t think France is a top four finisher because whilst it’s a nice song with a charming performer, it seems to fall short in the arena setting. The staging is partly to blame for that. Amir is alone on stage throughout, and doesn’t command it like say, Mans Zelmerlow. In fact, there are a good few other performers you’ll see tonight who command it better than Amir. The four that spring to mind come from Serbia, Armenia, Latvia and The Netherlands, and these are my idea of the main challengers to the top four.
I envisage all of them doing well in the jury vote. Televote-wise, The Netherlands is rather hindered by a very early slot, and trying to persuade people to ‘Slow Down’ after they’ve watched the Czech ballad. A top ten finish may be the best it can hope for. The other three all have second-half draws, strong performers, and varying sizes of diaspora to rely on. Given a good jury score too, that means they’re knocking on the door of the top four.
I think there are another handful of countries that are competing for the final few places in the top ten, which has become a close bunfight in recent years. In that list I’d put France, Austria, Bulgaria, and one of the back-to-back early ballads of Italy/Israel. I’ve surrendered to the charms of Austria’s Zoe having completely underestimated it; and whilst I’ve been critical of the Bulgarian staging from the off, Poli was very confident during last night’s jury rehearsal.
That means I don’t think there’s a place in the top ten for, among the more elevated entries in this market, Belgium and Malta. The former is a classic case of a song that is far less competitive in the final than the semi. Starting the show rather than finishing it only reiterates that. Malta is to my mind one of the weakest packages left in the contest, and its high ranking in the markets can only be the result of a concerted campaign. I imagine that, like most Maltese entries, some juries may reward it highly, and a lowly televote will be more indicative of its merits.
In terms of last place, the Czech Republic has to be a front-runner given that draw, some terribly uninspired staging, and a weaker performance than usual during last night’s jury rehearsal. Germany’s even more hopeless staging means that it’s well in the wooden spoon race, and I can’t discount Hungary’s Freddie. The likes of Azerbaijan and Croatia at least may get a few regional votes.
That’s my reading of the runes. Do let us know your thoughts below, and best of luck to everybody tonight.