Never Give Up on the Eurovision: our guide to this year’s festivities

2017-03-09
It’s time to dust off your spandex, whip out your tribal drum, and consult a map of the world to confirm that Australia hasn’t gravitated around the Cape of Africa to join Europe... It’s the countdown to Eurovision!

There are approximately two months to go until the 62nd annual Eurovision Song Contest, which means that you’re probably in one of two camps right now; while the ever-optimists are no doubt sure that we can do it this year, the Euro-sceptics have already retired to a quiet corner with a good book and will await the right moment to say, “I told you so.” However you feel about the contest, there can be little denying its tenacity or its well-meaning attempts to unite a continent that’s feeling the stress of political discontent, social activism, and a few choice words exchanged via social media and newspaper columns. Indeed, since the contest introduced the concept of themes in 2002, the overwhelming majority have centred upon unity, with “Building Bridges”, “Come Together”, “We are One”, “#JoinUs”, and “Share the Moment” among them. The Eurovision Song Contest is a time to forget that we’re separated by differing ideals, laugh at the audacity of the costumes, and put the past behind us for just a few days. After all, 2015 will go down in history as the year that Russia was booed for every point that it accrued, and still its competitors have returned.

What do you need to know about this year’s contest? We’re here to fill you in with details on the UK’s entry, the contenders to look out for, and the great ape that’s got everybody talking...

Welcome to Kiev

The 2016 Eurovision Song Contest, which was hosted in Stockholm, Sweden, was won by Ukrainian act Jamala with a song named “1944.” Jamala scooped 534 points, with Australia, Russia, Bulgaria and Sweden completing the top five. Ukraine’s triumph means that this year’s contest will be held in the capital city of Kiev, at the International Exhibition Centre. At the end of January, the show’s producers revealed that this year’s theme would be one of diversity, or “Celebrate Diversity” to be more exact.

During the press reveal, Eurovision Executive Jon Ola Sand explained: “The notion of celebrating diversity is at the heart of Eurovision values: it is all-inclusive and all about countries around Europe, and beyond, joining together to celebrate both our common ground and our unique differences, as well as some great music.”

Well, we certainly can’t argue with that, since Eurovision is often viewed as the glue that holds our continent together during ahem tougher political times. Following the theme of diversity, the contest’s first all-male trio, Oleksandr Skichko, Volodymyr Ostapchuk and Timur Miroshnychenko, will present this year’s spectacle. This will be only the second time in the show’s history that it has not featured a female presenter.

What of Ukraine’s Eurovision history? Ukraine first joined the Eurovision scene in 2003 and has won the contest twice in that time. Kiev last hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in 2005, following a win for Ruslana and her song “Wild Dances” in 2004. Away from the Eurovision’s main stage, the city hosted Junior Eurovision in 2009 and 2013. All eyes will be on Ukraine’s capital this year, following memorable opening and interval performances during Sweden’s efforts last year. Pastiche pieces “That’s Eurovision” and “Love Love Peace Peace”, and a performance by some trendy young upstart named Justin Timberlake, were received rapturously, so it remains to be seen what Kiev has up its sleeve...

Who are this year’s contenders?

We can’t be completely sure who this year’s main contenders will be, as the semi-finals to whittle down 43 countries to those competing in the finale won’t be held until Tuesday 9th and Thursday 11th May, ahead of the main event on Saturday 13th May. Indeed, at the time of going to press, some countries had yet to pick an act to represent them in the upcoming competition. However, there are a few things of which we can be certain...

The guaranteed six...

Six countries are eligible to dodge the semi-finals and enter the Eurovision Song Contest’s Grand Final without needing to charm the public first. These six are the so-called Big Five of France, Italy, Germany, Spain and the UK, alongside last year’s winner, Ukraine. They will be joined by ten acts from each semi-final, totalling 26 grand finalists. The Big Five are the contest’s biggest sponsors, though the UK’s continued support has been a bone of contention amongst the British since we last won. Well, we’ve got to complain about something, and the weather’s usually improving by now...

The returning two...

Romania has “enjoyed” a chequered past at previous Eurovision Song Contests. The country’s first representative, Dida Drăgan, failed to qualify for the first attempt at the title in 1993, and subsequent low-scoring artists have meant frequent breaks in participation. Returning to regular appearances in the year 2000, Romania was banned from last year’s contest for failing to pay its broadcasting debts, which date back to 2007. Whoops! Portugal, on the other hand, has only missed five contests since its debut in 1964. Last year’s absence was allegedly due to the Portuguese broadcaster’s decision to focus on a new program of talent. We have been promised a huge comeback for 2017, so watch this space during the semi-finals.

There will be an appearance by a gorilla...

Italy’s entry, Francesco Gabbani, is heading into the competition with confidence. Well, his song, “Occidentali’s Karma”, is already being heralded as the favourite to win, thanks to its catchy tune, themes of humanity, social media reliance, and evolution, and a dancing gorilla. Wait, what? Yes, you did read that right. As Francesco begins to sing his heart out, he’s joined on stage by a toe-tapping, hand-waving gorilla in a red bow tie, and we’re hooked. If Francesco wins, it will be Italy’s third victory at the contest. Stranger things have happened...

What of the UK?

This will be the UK’s first Eurovision Song Contest since Brexit, and we can’t say we’re too optimistic of bagging the title that has eluded us for so many years. Our last win was the brilliant “Love Shine a Light”, performed by Katrina and the Waves at the 1997 contest, and since then we’ve come last a total of three times. Gulp. Things haven’t always looked so glum for the UK; we’ve won the contest five times, and until 1999 had placed outside of the top ten only twice since our debut in 1957.

This year’s entry, Lucie Jones, made a name for herself on The X Factor in 2009. Surviving in the competition until the fifth week of the live shows, Lucie showed a determination to succeed, and it’s that kind of spunk that we could use right now. Her song, “Never Give Up on You”, certainly won’t sound out of place at a Eurovision competition, and this is a Welsh lass with a decent voice. It remains to be seen how she fairs on the evening, but we’ll be crossing everything.

Who should I look out for this year?

Despite the fact that this year’s Eurovision semi-finals have yet to take place, fellow bookmakers have been quick to predict the outcome of Kiev’s Eurovision Song Contest. Eurovision site Eurovision World has gathered together a series of odds provided by a handful of sporting sites, and is currently anticipating a Top Five of Italy, Sweden, Greece, Russia and Australia – perhaps based on these countries’ performances in recent years. Indeed, since its debut in 2015, Australia has placed fifth and second respectively, while Russia hasn’t left the top ten since 2011. Sweden is also a firm favourite amongst contest diehards, following a succession of hits and, oh, ABBA.

Aside from these five, plus Italy’s ape and our own entry, of course, we’d recommend keeping an eye out for Cyprus’s entry, Hovig, and his infectious song “Gravity”; Romania’s yodelling epic by Ilinca, featuring Alex Florea; and the stirring “Verona” by Estonia’s Koit Toome and Laura. Who knows what other golden opportunities we’ve yet to uncover during the semi-finals? We, for one, can’t wait. The Eurovision Song Contest really could be anybody’s this year...

Is that everything we need to know?

Pretty much. At this stage, the 62nd annual Eurovision Song Contest is still anyone’s to win, though the UK’s hopes aren’t as high as they have been in the past. It would be easy to blame Brexit, the current global political climate, or the strength of the song, but it would be just as easy to have a little faith in Lucie Jones. You go, girl! The UK’s coverage will be shown on BBC One as usual, and compered by Graham Norton. At the time of publication, it isn’t known who will be presenting the UK’s douze points – and all of those points in between. If there’s an opening for that particular position, you know where we are, BBC...

Oh, and in case you’re planning your annual Eurovision Song Contest Party, or would like to follow the event in the interest of predicting a winner, here are the dates that you’re going to need for your diary:

Semi-finals:

Tuesday 9th and Thursday 11th May 2017

Grand Final:

Saturday 13th May 2017

The official Eurovision website contains everything that you could ever want to know about the event until it happens. If you’d like to edge a little trivia into your evening, do consider this titbit; televoting was introduced in 1997, meaning that this year’s contest marks its 20th anniversary and appearance. Well, what better excuse do you need for a Eurovision-themed tipple? In the meantime, do keep an eye out on 888Sport for all of our Eurovision news and odds as they’re announced. You can bet that we’ll be watching the main event with the rest of you – for research and work purposes only, of course...