In just under 2 hours, the first semi-final of the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest kicks off in Kyiv, Ukraine. So here, as ever, are my foolish predictions about who will qualify for the final and who won't.
SWEDEN - "I Can't Go On" - Robin Bengtsson
I didn't agree with this song winning Melodifestivalen. Yes, it's a very slick and well-executed pop song but it's completely joyless. But it's slick, and it's Sweden, where polished, confident and professional come as standard. The swear word in the original version was unnecessary; the "ok" hand-signal is intensely annoying. The only redeeming feature for me is that I think the polo-necks have been replaced by shirts. I like polo-necks, but for me, shirts are better.
GEORGIA - "Keep The Faith" - Tamara Gachechiladze
Georgia is definitely not on my mind this year. They are so inconsistent with their ESC entries but the law of averages should mean that we get a decent entry from them next year. I've always had a soft spot for Georgia since "We Don't Wanna Put In" ;)
It's this year's great lost Bond theme - there's always one - and the first outbreak of "big singing" this evening.
AUSTRALIA - "Don't Come Easy" - Isaiah Firebrace
I heard an interview with their Head of Delegation on the ESC Insight podcast and I was very impressed with his vision and ambition for Australia in Eurovision and eventually an Asiavision which has its own set of problems. Australia established very quickly that they "get" Eurovision. After Guy and Dami, this is a minor setback but more to do with the song than the artist. Isaiah is clearly a talented young man, this is well-staged if a little egotistical with all the faces in the background (which has become an unwelcome trend for me at ESC this year if I'm honest). The main problem I have with this is that it sounds like a Sam Smith song. Enough said. Although Isaiah delivers it well enough I guess.
ALBANIA - "World" - Lindita
To really understand how I feel about this song, you have to know that I am a devotee of the Albanian Festivali i Këngës (FiK), which is an annual Christmas tradition in our little world of FiK fanatics. That contest also selects Albania's ESC entry. If Lindita had gone to ESC 2015 with "S'të Fal" she would completely have ripped up the competition and got Albania's best result since "Suus". But she didn't. She came back to FiK with this song, which disappointed me. Yes she can sing, and she can sing big long notes too. But this song is just a bit too much on the shouty side, and the staging of it doesn't really make any sense either. In my parallel universe Lynx would be up on that ESC stage tonight :)
BELGIUM - "City Lights" - Blanche.
This has been a fan favourite from day one, continuing that trend (of the RTBF-years anyway) of Belgium upping its game and becoming serious contenders, winners in waiting. No-one really rated Laura's song last year either and she did very well indeed. This song is working that Lana del Rey sound, a feeling of emptiness and isolation. It is very contemporary and I can see it doing very well although there have been some concerns over nervous rehearsal performances by this young singer (she is only 17 years old) and I hope that she has received a good level of care and support from the people around her, to help her overcome any nerves and cope with the biggest performance of her life.
MONTENEGRO - "Space" - Slavko Kalezić
Just let me take a moment here, a moment of completely irrational thought. "Space" has been one of my most-played songs this year. I love this song in its studio version. It's packed with innuendo, the whole package is camper than the proverbial row of tents and as a middle-aged straight woman I'm probably a long way off from his target demographic but what the hell, I love him. Just watch out for that swinging plait......aargh! Too late!
When it comes to the live version, there is one major problem. He can't sing for toffee and this will suffer the same fate as that other great-in-studio, car-crash-live camp dance banger fave of mine from 2009, "Dance With Me" by Zoli Adok.
FINLAND - "Blackbird" - Norma John
I said it all in my previous post, but just to reiterate, I love this.
AZERBAIJAN - "Skeletons" - Dihaj
I've never been able to get too enthusiastic about this very modern, abstract mid-tempo ballad but credit to Azerbaijan for at least trying something a bit more edgy/leftfield this time round. However it may just go up in my expectations for the crazy staging. Put a man with a horse's head on top of a stepladder and now we can talk about this.
PORTUGAL - "Amar Pelos Dois" - Salvador Sobral.
If there's any justice this will be the winner of semi-final 1 :)
GREECE - "This Is Love" - Demy
This is a rather sterile pop song from the team behind "You Are The Only One". She seems quite a likeable performer but there have been vocal issues (either from Demy or her backing singers) during rehearsals so I really can't predict how this will go tonight. After some thought I decided that it will very narrowly miss out on qualification, losing out to Moldova. Although (covering my back here!) it could go either way.
PREDICTION: Non-qualifier (borderline with Moldova)
POLAND - "Flashlight" - Kasia Moś
It's hard to review a Polish song without mentioning the "D" word who strongly mobilise when it comes to the televoting. So it feels like they have an automatic pass to the final. Kasia is a strong singer, so that should also ensure jury points. She is probably better than this rather drab ballad which should automatically be disqualified for that /desire/higher/walking the wire rhyme.
PREDICTION: (an undeserving) Qualifier.
MOLDOVA - "Hey Mamma" - Sunstroke Project
And now it's time for some fun at Eurovision. OK so we don't want a load of throwaway novelty songs but it's nice to have a bit of light relief among all the serious songs and ballads, even if they are songs you love. Sunstroke Project are slick, professional and they look as if they are enjoying themselves. And they have Epic Sax Guy. This is not much of a song though, but they could be a shock qualifier thanks to the fun factor - however it may just be too lightweight when voting time comes round. So I have it qualifying by a thread in 10th place.
PREDICTION: Qualifier (borderline with Greece).
ICELAND - "Paper" - Svala
I have desperately wanted Iceland to win ESC for years, but these days I'd settle for qualification to the final. This is strong, and she is a strong performer. But it is coming across as a little too cold and clinical, and in a field which also includes other cool electro songs I worry that this is going to get lost. I would love to be wrong though.
CZECH REPUBLIC - "My Turn" - Martina Barta
One of the few absolute certainties for non-qualification tonight. Again, another instance where the performer is better than the song. Sorry but this is probably tonight's toilet break :(
CYPRUS - "Gravity" - Hovig
I really wanted to love this - it's a G:son song, and Hovig is a good looking guy. However, I can't get excited about this song at all and it has never grown on me. I just can't see it qualifying in this cut-throat semi-final.
ARMENIA - "Fly With Me" - Artsvik
Ethnic and mystical. Armenia, more than any other country in the modern Eurovision, know how to absolutely elevate a song which doesn't sound like much in the studio version, and turn it into a strong Eurovision entry. They "get" the vision-part. So it was last year, when the performance and staging of Iveta's song blew everyone away. This isn't quite up there, but Artsvik is a strong singer although my problem with this song is that it lacks a definitive hook.
SLOVENIA - "On My Way" - Omar Naber
At the time of the Slovenian national final I thought this might have an outside chance of qualification, despite the criticism that it was too "old fashioned". But the same was said for Michal's song last year and how well that did. But aah, there is no "Slovenian diaspora", then they went and revamped the song, ruining anything which was good about it. Since that Slovenian final I discovered a very unpleasant fact about Mr Naber - he served a prison sentence for sexually assaulting a young woman in a nightclub. He may have "done the time" but for that reason his presence just taints this contest and I can't bear the sight of him.
LATVIA - "Line" - Triana Park
We end the first semi-final with the entry from one of my absolute favourite ESC countries, from a band who are completely true to themselves. Yes, "Line" is repetitive, but it is also a welcome break from the heavy/arty/abstract ballads and the sterile pop songs. And when that rave-breakdown comes in after the second chorus, it's a euphoric moment like no other. This brings a very welcome change of musical style and like Georgia last year, it's needed in the final.
It's usually the second semi-final is traditionally the strong one, however tonight's semi-final has been a very tough one to call. We'll see after tonight just how many of my predictions are right.
So have a great night everyone and enjoy the show!