Eurovision 2017: Everything you need to know about the favourites
42 countries, three live shows, but only one winner – yes, it's Eurovision time again. Comes around so quickly. The world's longest running annual singing contest returns for its 63rd outing, taking place in Kyiv, following Ukraine's victory back in Stockholm last year.
Aside from six countries – 'Big Five' France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, plus last year's winner Ukraine – everyone has to get through a semi-final to qualify to be in with a chance of the big one. They've got 180 seconds, and as many lights, bells, whistles and key changes as they can throw at the judges in that time. When you factor in the votes of the audience watching at home, it really can be anybody's, but a few entrants are already causing a significant stir. We look at potential favourites and a few who may not serve to be winners, but they'll certainly prove to be unforgettable.
It's quite usual for countries to sing in English, or at least a combination of their native language and English, but Italy has been fairly resistant over the years. Songs not in English have tended not to do as well in recent times, but Italy look almost certain to buck that trend with Occidentali's Karma, an upbeat, good-natured assessment of how useless humans are.
The singer Francesco dances alongside someone wearing the cheapest-looking gorilla costume you have ever seen, and the accompanying band shout out encouragement throughout – his performance should be quite something. Sadly, we only get to see it once; as one of the big five, Italy already qualify for the Grand Final.
Spain was the first country to win two years on the trot, in 1969, but since that milestone, their form has been decidedly dry – they haven't won since. Manel Navarro's Do It For Your Lover might be the one to shake things up – it's got a little but of Ed Sheeran, a soupcon of Bruno Mars and even a dash of tropical house influences in the chorus. Are they the right ingredients for Eurovision success?
Kristian Kostov may only be 17 but if the pundits are right, he's on the cusp of greatness with Beautiful Mess, an atmospheric ballad with a little bit of oomph. Bulgaria finished Top 5 last year and scored a personal best in the contest, but can Kristian take them all the way?
The Swedes have one five times – including twice in the last five years – and thanks to ABBA can claim the most successful Eurovision act of all time. Sweden are playing it fairly safe this year. While previous winner Loreen tried for another go with the unusual Statements, it was Robin Bengtsson's slice of dancey man-pop that won through.
For reasons nobody can quite understand, the song originally featured the F-word in the chorus (just showing off, probably) but this has now been subtly changed to avoid offending the sensibilities of the more prim and proper participating countries. See if you can spot it. 🙄
Eurovision is about the ballads as much as the bangers, and this one has potential winner written all over it – the buzz around this one is quite something. Charismatic, fidgety heartthrob Salvador Sobral sings Amar Pelos Dois (For The Both Of Us), penned by his sister Luisa, in his native Portuguese.
They haven't got through to the Grand Final since 2010, and the closest they've come to winning was sixth in 1996 – surely this is the song to change all that.
Belgium may have been there since the beginning, but they tend to be forgotten among contenders in the modern contest. This could all be about to change thanks to Blanche, who has teamed up with the producer behind London Grammar and Aurora for the atmospheric, electronic City Lights.
Amazing to think that a) Australia is in the contest at all and b) we waited so long to let them play. After a free pass in 2015, and qualifying last year, the Aussies are back and showing everyone they're taking this seriously.
Leading the charge from Down Under this time is 17-year-old Isaiah with the rousing, powerful ballad Don't Come Easy. It's got all the classics ingredients that tend to get modern Eurovision viewers excited – drama, thundering percussion, a message. Australia tends to get extreme reactions among the fans, at each end of the scale, but can they convert it into victory?
While Eurovision has definitely dialled down the camp in recent years, there are still a few contenders not afraid to stand out from the crowd.
With a song called Yodel it! you'd be expecting a bit of… yodelling, right? Good news. There's yodelling, all right, and then some. Ilinca has some impressive vocal acrobatics and her friend Alex is very enthusiastic, so that's nice. A good old-fashioned fun Eurovision entry.
So this song never made it past the first semi-final, but we're leaving this here for the sheer beauty of that plait. Slavko Kalezic, who kind of looks like Mandrake from Defenders of the Earth, doesn't appear to own any shirts, but he does have this quirky disco number. He and his glittery trousers were robbed!
Not enough songs with "ma-ma-ma-ma" in them, are there? Poker Face is the last one we can remember, in fact. Luckily, here are Moldova's Sunstroke Project to change all that. Including YouTube sensation (it says here) Epic Sax Guy, if the video is anything to go by, their performance will be cheeky and raunchy – just what we'll be looking for, thank you.
We'll confess to being a little disappointed that Lolita Zero's Get Frighten was pipped at the post in the Lithuanian finals, but every Eurovision has a near-miss, and the act that did make it, Fusedmarc, isn't too shabby. Rain of Revolution is what you dad would call funky, sounds a little like five radios playing at once and the performance is likely to include some dancing inside a firework, so what more do you want?
Also watch out for: a spot of opera singing from Croatia's Jacques Hiudek; Iceland's Sia-esque Svala, with Paper; France's Alma sounding like J-Lo circa 2001 (this is a compliment); the Netherlands' OG3NE deciding anything Haim can do, they can do better (we'll let you be the judge); the return of Estonia's Koit Toome and Laura getting lost in Verona (this one is quite good tbh).
And what about the UK?
It's the 20th anniversary of our most recent victory, with Katrina and the Waves, so all eyes and hopes are on Lucie Jones and her rousing ballad Never Give Up On You. Lucie cut her teeth on The X Factor in 2009, before going on to success on the West End stage. And it certainly shows – Lucie's performance is note-perfect.
The song is more dramatic than our usual UK entries, and seems to be popular. So can she do it? Italy is looking like a strong contender and while there are quite a few uptempo tracks in the contest this year (thank goodness), Lucie's main competition in the ballad stakes seems to be Portugal – they're the ones to beat.
Remember this lot? Look back at every UK Eurovision entry below: