My guide to the ESC Grand Final

Salvador Sobral Semi FInal Dress Rehearsal Photo Andres Putting

Salvador Sobral (Portugal) Semi Final Dress Rehearsal | Photo: Andres Putting (EBU)

This is it – just after midnight tonight we’ll know if Francesco Gabbani and his gorilla will bring home the crystal microphone to Italy or if anyone else will be fortunate enough to challenge him for the victory. Things have changed during the last couple of days though with Portugal and Bulgaria slowly closing the gap up to the seemingly unbeatable favourite – and we all remember how it went for last year’s Russian favourite Sergey Lazarev (we’re in Kyiv this year, not in Moscow). As far as I can see though, the battle will stand between these three guys, all the others being too far behind to being able to catch up.

If I had to make a prediction for the top five right now, I’d put Sweden in fifth, Belgium in fourth and Bulgaria in third. I don’t know if I dare to venture a guess as to whom will bring home the victory… If you’d asked me two days ago I’d been dead certain Italy would win this comfortably, but when Portugal’s Salvador Sobral just caught up to Francesco in the bookies’ list last night I almost couldn’t believe it. Furthermore, I woke up this morning with Bulgarian Beautiful Mess playing in my head so I must also say there is a possibility Kristian Kostov does a Jamala tonight and rob them both of the victory. Suddenly it looks like anything could happen, and this year’s final just got wa-ay more interesting…

So, what do we have to look forward to tonight? Well, the qualifiers from Tuesday’s First Semi Final include five ballads, five up-tempo songs, one turntable, five treadmills, one upside-down waterfall, two violins, three brides, two dancing swans in a water basin, one horseman on a ladder and an epic sax guy.

And after Thursday’s Second Semi Final, we were able to add five more ballads, one opera-pop duet, one yodel-rap duet, one lace-ornamented guitar, two gigantic non-functional cannons, one milk jug, half a boat, one silver cello, the man in the moon, two more violins, one futuristic Darth Vader mask and some record-breaking pyros.

And to top it off, we complete this evening’s Grand Final with the pre-qualified entries: a sunny Spanish beach, a gigantic Ukrainian head, a staggering view over Paris, a powerful ballad from the UK, a perfect life from Germany and an Italian dancing ape.

Sounds good?

Before we start though, I’d really like to stress the fact that all acts sung in non-English have qualified for the Grand Final this year. Yes, they were only three in the Semi Finals to begin with – Portugal, Belarus and Hungary – but they all made it and this makes me so happy. And furthermore, if the bookies are correct about their predictions, a non-English song will finish at the very top of the scoreboard for the second year in a row. Many countries haven’t had the guts to send native language songs to Eurovision since the rules changed in 1999, but I hope (hopefully not in vain) that this will slowly start to change with this year’s result.

I wish you a fantastic evening – filled with ‘oh’s, ‘ah’s and ‘what the f***?’s – and regardless of who’ll finish on top tonight – Italy or Portugal – to me, either destination looks nice enough for a trip in mid-May next year. Who’s coming with me?

01 Israel: IMRI, I Feel Alive
This is IMRI’s third time on the Eurovision stage, competing as a backup singer behind Nadav Guedj, in Vienna 2015, and Hovi Star last year in Stockholm. That’s probably the reason he’s practically oozing confidence up there, delivering this upbeat song with a certainty many other contestants in this competition should be jealous of. I Feel Alive was the last entry on stage in the Second Semi Final and is now picked to open this evening’s Grand Final for the same reason; it’s a really good party song which puts you in a good mood.
Just the other day, some media pointed out that, due to the rules of EBU, there’s a possibility this will be the last Israeli act in Eurovision ever – so you’d better go out there and make it a memorable performance, mister!
Bookmakers’ ranking: 18/26

02 Poland: Kasia Moś, Flashlight
Yes, she’s talented, and her voice is so much more powerful on stage than it was in the official video where she sounded more scared and fragile. But even so, this song is just one of those million boring ballads you’ll forget as soon as it’s over. And, as we’ve seen through the week, being dressed in white is not the best way to make yourself memorable in this year’s competition either… She’ll probably end up somewhere near the bottom of the scoreboard tonight.
Swedish Connection: Swedish composer Rickard Bonde Truumeel has written this song together with UK based Pete Barringer and the singer Kasia.
Bookmakers’ ranking: /26

03 Belarus: Naviband, Story of My Life
A friendly, catchy, folksy tune – and the first Eurovision entry ever sung in Belarussian. The duo is so enthusiastic and energetic you have to be dead, or at least paralyzed, not to move at least a part of your body to the rhythm of their song. Their enthusiasm, energy and happy smiles got them to the Grand Final, but I guess they’ll rank pretty low tonight.
Bookmakers’ ranking: 23/26

04 Austria:  Nathan Trent, Running On Air
From a woman dressed in white, via a couple dressed in white, to man dressed in white. Austria’s Nathan Trent looks great though, in his white outfit and his corny winged silver sneakers, and his song is a catchy tune that makes me happy every time I hear it. And I just can’t help but noticing the similarities (that almost borders to plagiarism) when I watch him sitting so peacefully among the clouds on that crescent moon… the only thing missing is a fishing rod…
Bookmakers’ ranking: 21/26

05 Armenia: Artsvik, Fly With Me
Armenia has a tradition of sending strong acts to Eurovision, usually a little suggestive and mystical which I like. Artsvik reminds me of Loreen and her performances on stage during the rehearsals look confident and reassuring. I have no doubt she will end up in the upper half of the scoreboard tonight.
Swedish Connection: Behind the Armenian act we find Swedish Sacha Jean-Baptiste responsible for the staging in the role of Creative Director.
Bookmakers’ ranking: 9/26

06 The Netherlands: OG3NE, Lights and Shadows
These three sisters, Lisa, Amy and Shelly, sing in perfect harmony and they’re absolutely stunning on stage in their black, sparkling outfits. Their song is sweet and loveable, with a gospel flavoured a capella break that’ll give you serious goose bumps. Lights and Shadows is written by their father, and the sisters are singing it as a tribute to their mother who’s been seriously ill for several years. I really hope there’s enough musical viewers to get them to the upper half of the scoreboard where they belong.
Bookmakers’ ranking: 12/26

07 Moldova: Sunstroke Project, Hey Mamma
The small country of Moldova has a tradition of sending good humoristic acts to Eurovision (who’ll ever forget their premier entry in 2005, Bunica Bate Toba with the adorable drumming grandmother?) Sunstroke Project have represented the country once before, in 2010, when their saxophonist Sergey became a YouTube phenomenon under the nickname Epic Sax Guy. This song has a way of sticking to your brain and once you’ve started you’ll most likely keep humming it for hours, maybe even days – believe me, I’ve been there. The staging, with the backup singers dressed as brides hiding their mikes in the bouquets, is so corny, but it goes well with the song so I buy it. And with a traditional costume change to top it off, they’ll probably have no trouble making it to the upper half of the scoreboard.
Bookmakers’ ranking: 10/26

08 Hungary: Joci Pápai, Origo
Savour the precious moments – It’s time to enjoy another one of this year’s only six acts sung in a non-English language. Even though the lyrics are lost on me, their meaning is not and Joci’s melancholy song goes straight to my heart. His soothing voice melts my defences and the mantralike chorus brings peace to my soul. I’m so happy he qualified for tonight’s final so I get to enjoy this act once more on the Eurovision stage.
Bookmakers’ ranking: 14/26

09 Italy: Francesco Gabbani, Occidentali’s Karma
I’ve already mentioned this entry so many times I almost don’t know what more there is to say about it. He sings in Italian so the message of the song may be lost to some viewers, but I hope you all get the parody and irony he’s after – the tale of the lost westerner’s chase for peace and self-fulfilment by trying to “westernize” the eastern traditions to fit their western lifestyle. Here’s a short video of Francesco explaining the lyrics if you’re curious. After his victory in the San Remo Festival, Occidential’s Karma went Gold within a week and double Platinum in a month. As of right now it has a breath-taking +113 million views on YouTube – over 100 million more than the second most watched Eurovision entry, Hungary, who just reached 8 million. He’s been dominating every scoreboard there is connected to the contest, from the betting odds, to the press polls, to the fans’ voting. Spotify, iTunes, YouTube – you name it, Francesco has been right there at the top for months, wa-ay ahead of everybody else. Since the first Semi Final though, Portuguese Salvador Sobral has been closing in on him and chances are he’ll steal the trophy away from what, just a few days ago, looked like a dead certain winner.
Bookmakers’ ranking: 2/26

10 Denmark: Anja, Where I Am
Please welcome to the stage, the first of this evening’s two Australian artists. 21-year-old Anja Nissen was born and raised by her Danish parents in Australia where she’s quite famous nowadays since her victory in the Australian version of The Voice in 2014. Where I Am is a massive power ballad where Anja is allowed to show off her great voice, and with a little sparkling gold rain in the background, what could go wrong? The pyros in the last chorus is, with its 40 seconds, the longest running pyro effects in Eurovision history.
Bookmakers’ ranking: 13/26

11 Portugal: Salvador Sobral, Amar Pelos Dois
This is the most precious gem in this year’s Eurovision, so delicate it tears down all your defences and cuts right through your heart. A timeless evergreen that might as well have been the number one hit of the 30’s, sung by the incredibly talented jazz singer Salvador Sobral. Due to medical conditions, he was absent from the first week of rehearsals but joined the Portuguese team in Kyiv in time for the Opening Ceremony last Sunday. Since his performances earlier this week he’s been closing in on the undisputed leader of bookmakers’ prediction lists and is currently the only one who seems to be able to steal the victory away from this year’s all-domineering favourite, Italy’s Francesco Gabbani.
Amar Pelos Dois, which translates into Love For Two, is one of only six songs this year not sung in English.
Bookmakers’ ranking: 1/26

12 Azerbaijan: Dihaj, Skeletons
I’ve had a hard time trying to connect to this song, it just doesn’t make sense to me. And the stage performance in Kyiv will probably not make much sense for the general viewer either. Dihaj explained the metaphor of the staging in a press conference the other day and after that I admit it’s a little bit clearer to me what they’re trying to express on stage, but I’m fairly sure their message won’t come across easily so they just have to rely on it being explained by the commentators. The song is quite alright though, and Azerbaijan has a strong track record historically, so they’ll probably end up somewhere in the middle of the scoreboard.
Swedish Connection: This is the fifth Azerbaijani entry for the Swedish lyricist Sandra Bjurman who’s most successful Eurovision song to date is the 2011 winner, Running Scared, performed by Ell & Nikki.
Bookmakers’ ranking: 15/26

13 Croatia: Jacques Houdek, My Friend
Both these voices are immaculate in their own right. The powerful opera tenor and the great pop voice both go well with this song. But I still insist, he should’ve chosen one of them – either one, I don’t care which, they’re both great – for this performance. I understand he wants to show off his unique talent, but great art is never about showing off but doing what’s best for the work; in this case, the song. When he’s singing this duet with himself it just feels schizophrenic and gives me the creeps. He has a pretty cool outfit that matches the performance though… And it’s unwillingly I tell you he’s skyrocketed from 21st to 8th in the rankings since his performance in Thursday’s Semi Final so people seem to really like this ambivalent act.
Swedish Connection: Among the composers of My Friend we can find Swedish Tony Malm.
Bookmakers’ ranking: 8/26

 14 Australia: Isaiah, Don’t Come Easy
Since my amazing Eurovision adventure last year, I’ll always have a special place in my heart for my awesome Aussies. However, I think 17 years old Isaiah Firebrace will have a hard time living up to the high expectations his predecessors have raised before him. With Guy Sebastian’s fifth place in Vienna 2015, and Dami Im’s second place in Stockholm last year, I think a lot of Aussie fans may leave Kyiv disappointed. But the song is good, the lyrics are beautiful, Isaiah’s a talented singer and Sacha’s made a good staging for him. People say the main problem is that the lyrics don’t match the young age of the performer, and maybe they’re right. With both Isaiah and Denmark’s Australian Anja qualifying from their respective Semi Finals, media seems to have cooked up some kind of rivalry between the two. Question being, who will reach the highest ranking tonight: Isaiah, the winner of X Factor 2016, or Anja, the winner of The Voice 2014?
Swedish Connection: Stockholmer Sacha Jean-Baptiste is the Creative Director of Isaiah’s act, this being he second act she has staged this evening.
Bookmakers’ ranking: 16/26

15 Greece: Demy, This is Love
A generic pop song about love that you’ve already heard a million times before. Greece are usually really good at putting an ethnical vibe to their songs for Eurovision but this entry has no Greek ethnicity in it whatsoever. It’s up-tempo though which may help them get a decent result, and they usually do well in this competition, but their staging is poor, despite the water basin – or maybe because of it? – and the half-naked male dancers – who apparently are supposed to be swans (isn’t it obvious?) –  so it’s definitely not a given. Bottom half for sure, maybe even the bottom five if they’re unlucky.
Swedish Connection: The lyrics are written by Swedish lyricist John Ballard who’ve written a lot of Eurovision songs over the years, among others last year’s entry from Russia, You Are The Only One.
Bookmakers’ ranking: 22/26

16 Spain: Manel Navarro, Do It For Your Lover
Spain’s Do It For Your Lover is probably this year’s strongest sleeping pill. It starts pleasantly enough, some young kids on the beach surfing in the waves, singing leisurely in Spanish. Why they didn’t bother to come up with any Spanish lyrics – or any lyrics at all for that matter, I’m not picky – for the chorus is beyond me. Are those five words the only English one’s he knows? Then maybe he should have stayed clear from the foreign language and stuck to what he knows… This is so dull I have a hard time believing it’ll attract any points at all, except maybe from Portugal because, you know… Eurovision politics…
Bookmakers’ ranking: 26/26

17 Norway: JOWST, Grab The Moment
Welcome to the present, Eurovision! This is by far the most contemporary and modern entry we’ve heard this music competition in I don’t know how long. So contemporary in fact, that it has awakened discussions about rule changes again due to the voice samplings it contains. This doesn’t feel like Eurovision at all, more like Avicii – and that’s a good thing, folks! And the lyrics, presented by the excellent voice of Alexander Walmann, are sending a great message of confidence and independence that I absolutely love. I’m pleased these guys qualified for the Grand Final and I’ll keep my fingers crossed they’ll grab a higher ranking than the bookies’ predict.
Bookmakers’ ranking: 20/26

18 United Kingdom: Lucie Jones, Never Give Up On You
Lucie Jones is an experienced actress and musical artist who delivers this passionate ballad in a powerful and confident manner, bringing depth and emotion to the beautifully written lyrics filled with a love stronger than any other in this year’s competition. And with those mirror effects she just happens to have one of this year’s most powerful stagings to back it up. This is the best song the UK have sent in I don’t know how long. With five victories to date – the latest with Katrina and the Waves in 1997, which is now 20 years ago – they still have a pretty good track record in this competition. But in this millennium, they’ve only reached the top ten twice, in 2002 and 2009. Being the second biggest music export country in the world, they should be able to do better. And why not in Kyiv? If predictions turn out to be correct Lucie will make it into the top ten this year. From her current ranking in sixth place, she’s even getting close to catching up to our Swedish Robin, who’s falling behind from his earlier so assuring third place.
Swedish Connection: Of course, we still claim Emmelie de Forest’s Swedish heritage when it comes to Eurovision, with a Swedish father and growing up partially in Stockholm. The former Eurovision winner, for Denmark with Only Teardrops in 2013, has written the British entry together with Danish Daniel Salcedo and London-based Lawrie Martin.
Bookmakers’ ranking: 6/26

19 Cyprus: Hovig, Gravity
Gravity sounds like a typical Eurovision song and I was expecting more dancers and stronger choreography to go with the heavy beat. The choreography is still strong and fits the song, let’s just hope we can keep his balance during the whole performance. He has looked a little wobbly from time to time during the rehearsals, but he made a strong impression in his Semi Final so he should be fine. Biggest problem though, is that this must be the most monotonous melody I’ve heard in ages – and he didn’t even get a key change to work with… Add to that the graphics, which looks like a mash-up from Belgium 2015 and Russia last year (I believe you remember the stagings of both Loïc Nottet’s Rhythm Inside and  Sergey Lazarev’s You Are The Only One, don’t you?)
Swedish Connection: If Gravity sounds familiar you’re not mistaken. After all these years, it’s hard not to recognise the work of Sweden’s very own Melodifestivalen and Eurovision guru, Thomas G:son.
Bookmakers’ ranking: 24/26

20 Romania: Ilinca ft. Alex Florea, Yodel It!
Get ready for some genuine traditional Romanian – yodelling? Yep, you heard me right – and I’m not even joking. And the song title even contains an exclamation mark to make it even more terrifying… All jokes aside, Ilinca is actually a pretty good yodeller – her singing voice on the other hand is terrible. Mix it with the rapping of her sidekick Alex Florea to make it even more unbelievable and what you get is the most surreal song of Eurovision 2017. It’ll stand out in the competition though, and sticks to your brain like glue. Crazy stuff has a way of surviving in Eurovision against all odds, and these guys even have the odds in their favour so I won’t be surprised if they end up in the top ten tonight.
Bookmakers’ ranking: 7/26

21 Germany: Levina, Perfect Life
Despite being one of the original eight contestants from the very first Eurovision in 1956 Germany has only been able to win twice, once in 1982 with Nicole’s Ein Bißchen Frieden, and most recently in 2010 when Lena won the hearts of Europe with her Satellite. The last couple of years though, they’ve finished dead last in the Grand Final, but hopefully this will change now since Spain seems to be willing to challenge them for that last spot on the scoreboard in Kyiv. Perfect Life starts out promising, just to crush all my expectations right after. The staging is cool, but nothing else is… I don’t know what’s worse, being bored or being disappointed…
Bookmakers’ ranking: 17/26

22 Ukraine: O.Torvald, Time
Ukraine is giving us the only real rock band of this year’s competition. O.Torvald, which sounds like a bunch of jolly Vikings but isn’t, was formed in 2005, the same year Eurovision was last held in Kyiv after Ruslana’s victory in Istanbul the year before. I predict it will end up somewhere near the bottom of the scoreboard, fall into oblivion and never be heard of again. Obviously, Ukraine wanted to be certain they didn’t have to host this competition two years in a row…
Bookmakers’ ranking: 25/26

23 Belgium: Blanche, City Lights
Belgian Blanche and her City Lights was one of my absolute favourites when I first listen through this year’s songs. Her voice is amazing, suggestive – mystical even – and the official video was so well produced and matched her performance beautifully. For the live show, I had high hopes for another innovative modern act like Loïc Nottet’s from two years ago, but unfortunately the act they brought to Kyiv hasn’t lived up to my expectations. It has improved over the week though, and just in time for the Jury Show on Monday they finally decided to change her previous white gown for a black one, and I’m certain this was a really smart move since the first Semi Final already contained three other women in white outfits. I can’t say if this was what helped her qualify in the end, but the fact is Blanche’s the only finalist from the first Semi Final who wasn’t predicted by the bookmakers to qualify. And, after Tuesday’s broadcast it didn’t take even 24 hours until Belgium had skyrocketed from 12th to 5th place in the bookmakers’ predictions.
Bookmakers’ ranking: 4/26

24 Sweden: Robin Bengtsson, I Can’t Go On
Robin’s performance is cool, slick and confident. By starting backstage the act is innovative enough to make history and once again the Swedish entry is one of the favourites in the competition. I Can’t Go On has long been predicted by the bookmakers to finish up in third place but fell back to fifth after the first Semi Final in favour of Portugal, who’d already been right behind Robin for quite some time, and Belgium, who has skyrocketed from 12th to 4th after her performance on Tuesday. The song is written by, among others, Robin Stjernberg who competed for Sweden in Malmö 2013 with You.
Bookmakers’ ranking: 5/26

25 Bulgaria: Kristian Kostov, Beautiful Mess
17-year-old Kristian Kostov is the first Eurovision contestant ever born in the new millennium and furthermore one of this year’s absolute favourites. He’s currently ranked in a comfortable third place by the bookies with a huge gap down to Belgian Blanche in fourth.  And if anyone will be able to challenge the two favourites at the top of the betting lists it’s probably Kristian. Learning from last year’s voting drama – when Russia was ranked on top with Australia in second place and the victory surprisingly going to Jamala in the end thanks to the jury and televoters being so divided – we should be aware this can actually happen in this case as well. If Portugal wins the jurys’ hearts, and Italy brings home the televoting or vice versa, Bulgarian Kristian Kostov may eventually end up on top. And honestly, that wouldn’t be too bad either. The song is a powerful ballad, his voice fits it perfectly and the staging is superb.
Swedish Connection: Swedish composer Joacim Persson had no less than a record-breaking three entries in Thursday’s Semi Final, Beautiful Mess being the only one who made the cut. Behind the scenes we can also find Swedish Artistic Director Sacha Jean-Baptiste, this being her third act this evening, fourth over all this year.
Bookmakers’ ranking: 3/26

26 France: Alma, Requiem
After some years with really embarrassing results France shaped up nicely last year when Amir reached an honourable sixth place with his great summer hit J’ai cherché. However, once one of the most prominent of the Eurovision family, with five victories to date, it’s now a remarkable 40 years since their most recent victory in 1977. The song is pretty good, and the official video was awesome, but I don’t like the fact that she gives up the beautiful French language for English in the choruses. (I know Amir did it as well, but it never bothered me in the same way this does.) The staging, with the Parisian graphics on the back screen, is amazing at times – but I miss the dancing couple from the video on stage. I don’t think she’ll reach Amir’s sixth place, but she’ll definitely not finish last – and that’s pretty good for France these days. If lucky, she might even reach the top ten.
Bookmakers’ ranking: 10/26

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