Australia’s Isaiah Firebrace backstage at the dress rehearsal for the first semi-final. (Eurovision: Thomas Hanses)
Isaiah Firebrace will no doubt be hoping he can keep up Australia’s strong record in Eurovision, but before he starts thinking about the big night, he has to get through his semi-final first.
Eurovision acts have to undertake a delicate balancing act, finding a song that can attract two very different sets of voters.
The televoters watching at home or at a party, are more likely to go for more contemporary and catchy numbers, not to mention the most eye-catching performances visually.
Then there are the juries — usually made up of people linked with the music industry in their respective countries — seen as more likely to give a tick to ballads and more traditional-sounding songs.
Now that Russia is out — and that’s a WHOLE other story — that leaves 18 songs in semi-final one looking to grab 10 spots in the final.
These are better than even odds, but there is a lot of competition out there for Isaiah. It all starts with:
#1 Sweden: Robin Bengtsson – I Can’t Go On
Sweden — like Australia, third in the performing order — has to hit the ground running and hope voters still remember them at the end.
This three minutes of pop is slickly produced, and the moves are good but Bengtsson isn’t the strongest singer in the world.
However, Sweden never fails to get plenty of love from juries and televoters, so this is almost an automatic qualifier.
#2 Georgia: Tamara Gachechiladze – Keep The Faith
This dramatic piano ballad could easily be the next Bond theme, and Tamara has a great voice.
The song builds strongly and is a bit reminiscent of Fly Like A Phoenix which won for Conchita Wurtz in 2014 — it could well hoover up some votes around Europe.
#3 Australia: Isaiah – Don’t Come Easy
Isaiah, fresh off his X-Factor win, has a great voice and is sounding good in rehearsals in Kiev.
Not sure this is as strong a song as Sound of Silence last year, but Australia has a solid chance of making the final for the third straight year.
#4 Albania: Lindita – World
The song is not a standout, but she has a great voice, and if she gets her vocal right on the night, it could do some reasonable business.
#5 Belgium: Blanche – City Lights
This atmospheric indie pop song was an early favourite, as its official video got everyone pretty excited about its chances.
The problem for Belgium is that singer Blanche is just 17 and reports from Kiev is that she is struggling a little in rehearsal. Still, this should qualify.
#6 Montenegro: Slavko Kalezic – Space
This flamboyant number has a little bit of everything – synth, strings and a beat, and sounds a little mysterious early on, before switching into dance floor mode to get the crowd bouncing along.
It will go off in the hall, and should do very well if the TV audience is in a party mood, although it may struggle to get jury votes.
#7 Finland: Norma John – Blackbird
Finland won the contest with the monster rock of Lordi in 2007 — this is a very different performance but it could do very well indeed.
This stripped back ballad uses Norma John lead singer Leena Tirronen’s voice, a piano and synth, some strings and that’s it.
It doesn’t need much else, and should qualify with a strong jury vote.
#8 Azerbaijan: Dihaj – Skeletons
Azerbaijan’s song continues a solid set of more modern entries than usual. It doesn’t sound particularly Eastern, going instead for a slice of electronica.
The original version is dramatic, and reports from Kiev suggest the staging will be … interesting.
It’s in the top 10 in the betting for the final, so should go through.
#9 Portugal: Salvador Sobral – Amar Pelos Dois
This jazz ballad is not traditional Eurovision fodder, but it rises and falls on Salvador’s vocal and interpretation of the song.
It stands out from the big ballads, dance numbers and other more modern entries and is tipped for big things in the final, never mind the semi.
#10 Greece: Demy – This Is Love
This starts off a little slow, then segues into hi-energy territory, and does a pretty decent job.
Nothing groundbreaking, song-wise, but the staging is understood to be spectacular, and perhaps a game-changer for the televote.
#11 Poland: Kasia Mos – Flashlight
Poland has sent a serious big ballad to have a crack at Eurovision 2017.
Kasia Mos has got the power to carry it off — the chorus is a bit rhyming by numbers, but if it doesn’t kick on in the voting it won’t be for lack of trying.
#12 Moldova: SunsStroke Project – Hey Mamma!
Sunstroke Project came 22nd in 2010 for Moldova, but were overshadowed by their saxophonist, who became known as Epic Sax Guy thanks to an extremely popular meme.
They’re back, and Epic Sax Guy is too in this upbeat romp about trying to get the mum of the girl you’re interested in to like you. Has a tough task to qualify.
#13 Iceland: Svala – Paper
We’re back to the serious power ballads again, with Svala Bjorgvinsdottir singing about a depressed lover. It’s well sung, but it risks getting lost in the shuffle.
#14 Czech Republic: Martina Barta – My Turn
This simple song is a ballad about love and helping people when they’re down.
Martina has a nice voice and the song builds to a big finish, but like Iceland this could struggle a bit.
#15 Cyprus: Hovig – Gravity
Hovig comes across as a bit of a Cypriot Shannon Noll, with much better dance moves.
This minor key number with an electronic beat works well with his rock voice. It has a big chorus and will grab some votes, but again, there are only 10 tickets to the final.
#16 Armenia: Artsvik – Fly With Me
This is rapidly rising in calculations for the contest as a whole. It mixes a more modern sound with a distinct ethnic vibe.
Artsvik has a cracking voice, and the performance in Kiev is by all accounts going to be stunning. This should qualify in a canter.
#17 Slovenia: Omar Naber – On My Way
This absolute outsider is a power 80s ballad, mixed with a bit of Disney, and a lead singer doing some vaguely hip-hop dancing in a matador outfit (at least in the previews!).
You get the feeling this could have won the contest 20 years ago, but now feels (even more) dated.
#18 Latvia: Triana Park – Line
Latvia’s bit of electro-rock goes quite nicely, and as the last song in the semi-final it will have the advantage of being fresh in voters’ minds.
It will benefit from not being one of the many traditional ballads on offer.