Hello Europe, Tel Aviv calling: the acts that could shine in this year's Eurovision Song Contest

Bondage, zero-gravity opera and lots of sequins — this year's contest will not disappoint fans


More than 200 million viewers are expected to watch Saturday’s grand finale of the Eurovision Song Contest hosted by four Israeli presenters, including supermodel Bar Rafaeli.

Barring a spectacular upset in Thursday's semi-final, The Netherlands’s Duncan Laurence, a brooding 25-year old singer from Spijkenisse, is the clear favourite.

His song Arcade has a haunting introduction but simple staging, seeing Laurence sitting at his piano bathed in blue light, has helped the bookmakers tip a Dutch win.

But he faces a challenge from Sweden’s John Lundvik, who has established himself as a second favourite with Too Late For Love, a song he wrote himself, and Sweden has been praised for choosing international, multi-racial vocalists to front its entry.

And it’s not even the only Eurovision song Lundvik has written this year: he also penned the UK entry, Bigger Than Us, although it is not rated as highly as strong contenders like Russia’s Scream, a powerful rock song by pop star Sergey Lazarev.

After her entertaining performance at the first semi-final, Australian soprano Kate Miller-Heidke has snuck into the bookies’ top three with her pop-opera song Zero Gravity.

Standing on top of the world in an evening gown, wearing a crown made of cable ties, Miller-Heidke’s song is like nothing else in the competition. She sings, she flies and dazzles with her vocals to create an ethereal three-minute piece that might just have you reaching for the phone to vote.

Other strong female contenders include Katerine Duska from Greece, whose song Better Love ticks lots of camp Eurovision boxes, and Tamta from Cyprus, who picks up just where Eleni left off last year with Replay.

Of course this is Eurovision, so not everything makes artistic sense.

Iceland’s anti-establishment Hatari are sixth favourites with their angry, BDSM-themed song Hate Will Prevail; they previously expressed disgust at the competition taking place in Israel and the act is also not family friendly: a moment to put the kettle on or send the kids to bed.

Fans of Netta Barzilai will enjoy France’s male drag artist Bilal Hassani, who claims to represent modern multi-cultural France and the emotions of the disenfranchised with Roi. He shares his stage with two ballet dancers, empowerment slogans and lots of sequins.

Bilal came to Israel with a selection of wigs, including one named “Tel Aviv”, which he might wear for the big night. But anything could happen at Eurovision, so do not rule out the likes of Czech Republic, Belarus, Serbia or little San Marino either.

And what of the host nation’s chances? Things look bleak for Israel right now: the young Tel Avivian Kobi Marimi sings Home with passion, but it has split public opinion. Some say it’s a near perfect piece of emotional pop; others call it a depressing, mournful ballad, more suited to a funeral.

Marimi says his biggest challenge is holding his own emotions together when he steps on stage. “I have to stop crying, because I always cry,” he said. “I call my mum before I go on stage”. Hope she can help.

Saturday night’s show is a huge showcase opportunity and Israeli-Canadian entrepreneur Sylvan Adams hopes to pull off a world exclusive for the country, with an interval performance from the Queen of Pop herself: Madonna.

Mr Adams paid $1 million for Madonna to sing two songs — rumoured to be Like A Prayer, somewhat aptly, and new song Crave.

But at the time of writing her contract had not been signed, leading Eurovision executive supervisor Jon Ola Sand to throw jeopardy on the arrangement, saying: “It is true that we, the EBU or KAN, has never confirmed Madonna as an act for the Eurovision Song Contest.

For the simple reason that we do not have a signed contract with her team. And if we do not have a signed contract, she cannot perform on that stage. It’s very simple.”

But no need to worry if it all falls thorough. Last year’s winner Netta Barzilai will be back with an exclusive performance of her new song Nana Banana, Wonder Woman Gal Gadot is rumoured for an appearance and Israeli legend Gal Atari will perform her winning song from 1979, Hallelujah.

And then there’s the former Eurovision participants and winners Måns Zelmerlöw, Eleni Foureira, Conchita Wurst and Verka Serduchka. It will be a night to remember.

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