Previewing the Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final 2016

Adrian Kavanagh, 13th May 2016

Following on the previous posts reviewing Semi Final 1 and Semi Final 2, this post will offer a brief review of the 26 acts competing Grand Final of the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest. As in the case of the semi-finals, this contest will take place over two nights, with the professional juries voting on the contest taking place on the night of Friday 13th May, while the public will vote on the televised show, which takes place on the night of Saturday 14th May.

As well as offering a brief commentary on each of the 26 songs in in the Final, this post will also rate each song/act/country based on (a) that country’s position in the Final running order, (b) the latest Bookie odds (based on the rankings across different betting firms as detailed on the Oddschecker site at 12.00pm on Friday 13th May) and (c) placings as estimated by my Eurovision prediction model. For each of these categories, ***** will mean “Top 5 finish”, **** will mean “6th to 10th place/ranking”, *** will mean “11th-15th place/ranking”, ** will mean “16th to 20th place/ranking” and * will mean “21st to 26th place/ranking”.

(I’ll also given my own personal rating for each act/song. In this case, ***** will mean “I love this to bits”, **** will mean “I really like this”, *** will mean “I think this is pretty good”, ** will mean “Mmm, I guess this is OK-ish” and * will mean “Er, sorry, not my cup of tea”. But do make up your own mind on these entries by checking out the Friday afternoon dress rehearsals for all of these acts, by checking out the Wiwibloggs video playlist on YouTube.)

1. Belgium: What’s The Pressure? – Laura Tesoro: This was one of the earliest Eurovision songs to be selected and it never really attracted much in the way of love from the Eurovision commentators, but this was to overlook the the fact that 19-year old Laura Tesoro does bring something special when she performs this live. It’s perhaps a case of the “songer not the song”, or rather the “performer not the song”. This was very much evident in her semi-final performance, which was enough to bring Belgium to a relatively rare Eurovision Final appearance. However, Laura performed last in her semi-final, but she opens the show at the Final. It’s a good song to open the show with, but will the early place in the running order cost Belgium some valuable Eurovision points?

Running Order: *, Bookies: ****, Prediction Model: ***, AK Rating: ****

2. Czech Republic: I Stand – Gabriela Gunčíková. The most unsuccessful country in the recent history of Eurovision sent its strongest ever entry, by some distance, to the contest this year. The song is pretty good, but it’s the vocal power and performance ability of Gabriela Gunčíková that really makes this stand out. It would have been a travesty if this had not qualified out of its semi final. How well this does in the Final needs to take account of the Czechs’ past record in the contest and the fact that they have few Eurovision voting “friends” (from neighbourly and/or diaspora voting). This really should get a significant boost from the voting juries, but that remains to be seen. This has not been helped at all by its positioning in the contest running order – on the Czech Republic’s debut at a Eurovision Final, Gabriela is given the dreaded second position in the running order. Thanks Swedish TV…not.

Running Order: *, Bookies: *, Prediction Model: *, AK Rating: ****

Douwe Bob (The Netherlands) (@ Eurovision Song Contest)

Douwe Bob (The Netherlands) (@ Eurovision Song Contest)

3. The Netherlands: Slow Down – Douwe Bob. The Netherlands brought an awful run of non-qualifications to an end with two Top 10 finishes in 2013 and 2014, although they missed out on the Final again last year. A country and  western entry from the Common Linnets brought the Dutch their best result at Eurovision for almost 40 years in 2014 and we again get another country and western entry this year. It’s hard yet to see whether this will have the same impact as their 2014 entry did, but Douwe Bob was more than strong enough vocally and performance-wise to  see this through to the Final. However, from third position in the running order, it must be questioned whether this is on too early in the contest to make an impact?

Running Order: *, Bookies: ****, Prediction Model: ****, AK Rating: ****

4. Azerbaijan: Miracle – Samra. Azerbaijan have had an excellent record at Eurovision since debuting at the contest back in 2008, although their results have not been as impressive over the past two years, let down by an over-obscure song in 2014 and over-obscure staging in 2015! The recorded version of this year’s entry sounds really good and modern, but the staged version doesn’t seem to be have the same impact. The choreography does not seem to do much for the entry and the staging doesn’t really seem to gel with what this song is about – it might work better with just Samra herself on stage without the sometimes over-excited dancers/backing singers. Samra has real charm, but there’s a sense that maybe Azerbaijan haven’t yet regained their lost Midas touch from the 2008-13 period, which seems to be reflected in the betting odds for the Final. On its past record, Azerbaijan would be viewed as strong contenders to finish in the Top 5, but this does not seem likely to happen this year, especially from this unfavourable slot in the contest running order.

Running Order: *, Bookies: *, Prediction Model: ***, AK Rating: **** (song)/** (staged version)

5. Hungary: Pioneer – Freddie. Hungary consistently sends solid entries to Eurovision and this year’s act is another example of this. Freddie’s raspy vocals are probably the main selling point for this song. But Hungarian acts have tended to figure in the lower placings (with the notable exception of 2014) when they’ve qualified for the Final over recent years and Freddie will not be helped by the poor running order allocation.

Running Order: *, Bookies: *, Prediction Model: ***, AK Rating: ***

Francesca Michielin (Italy) (@ Eurovision Song Contest)

6. Italy: Nessun Grado di Separazione – Frances Michielin. Classy, classy entry from Italy. The runner up from this year’s San Remo festival is brimming with quality, as is particularly highlighted by Frances Michielin’s exquisite vocals and performance ability and some simple yet sweet staging, suggesting that this should score well with the voting juries, at least – particularly those who are looking for simpler entries (in terms of staging). This could be a dark horse in this contest, but the very early position in the running order might work against Francesca’s hopes of a Top 3 finish (unless she gets a significant boost from the voting juries, who in fairness “owe Italy one” after the 2015 Final…

Running Order: ***, Bookies: ***, Prediction Model: ****, AK Rating: ****

7. Israel: Made of Stars – Hovi Star. Like Poland’s entry, this is a well-sung and solid ballad that might, or might not, prove to be a dark horse in this contest. As with Poland’s entry this was not really my cup of tea, but I was won over somewhat by the quality of Hovi Star’s performance at the semi-final. Israel also deserve credit for significantly revamping the earlier edition of Made of Stars, transforming a guaranteed non-qualifier into a semi-final qualifier, though it remains to be seen if the ballads in the first half of this Final could possibly cancel each other out, given their proximity in the contest running order.

Running Order: ***, Bookies: ***, Prediction Model: ***, AK Rating: ***

8. Bulgaria: If Love Was A Crime – Poli Genova. Ahead of this week’s semi finals, only the Czech Republic had a worse semi-final qualification record than Bulgaria out of all the countries in this year’s contest, but despite this Poli Genova (on her second appearance at the contest) has brought Bulgaria to the 2016 Final. Bulgaria have really upped the ante this year, sending to Eurovision one of the more radio-friendly songs in this year’s contest. It’s easily the best entry ever from Bulgaria – and follows on a run of two strong performances for that country at the Junior Eurovision Song Contests in 2014 and 2015. The staging could be perhaps more impactful, but Poli Genova is a highly competent and engaging performer. The relatively early position in the contest running order may limit this entry’s potential to break into the Top 10, or even the Top 5, however…

Running Order: ***, Bookies: ***, Prediction Model: ***, AK Rating: ***

9. Sweden: If I Was Sorry – Franz. The youngest contestant in this year’s (very young!) contest, 17-year old Franz, represents the hosts, Sweden. This is very different from the usual Swedish Eurovision entries, but there’s no doubt that this is a good song, although the “talky bits” in the chorus may turn off some jury voters/televoters. This entry has garnered a good level of support, even though it’s “received some shade” from a number of the Eurovision fanbase. There’s an outside possibility that this could bring about back-to-back wins for Sweden, but perhaps there’s even a more likely possibility that this could win, or come close to winning, the jury vote (especially given that Sweden always fares well with the voting juries), but not win the overall prize. On the other hand, the fact that all the other Nordic countries were eliminated in the semi-finals could allow Sweden to hoover up the “local vote” in the televote, given that they won’t be competing for the Nordic vote with Norway, Denmark, Finland or Iceland in this year’s Final…

Running Order: **, Bookies: *****, Prediction Model: *****, AK Rating: ***

10. Germany: Ghost – Jamie-Lee Kriewitz. You wait around for to see/hear a teenage Big 5/Hosts entrant and then two come at once! This entry has a lot going for it and it’s one that I particularly like – the song itself is suitably atmospheric and (groan!) haunting, while Jamie-Lee’s vocals are really excellent. But, most of the focus here may be on Jamie-Lee’s “unusual” stage outfit, as well as the eccentric staging – to such an extent that this might cost this entry the relatively high level of serious voters that it might otherwise have warranted. The position in the running order is a pretty good one for an act drawn to perform in the First Half, but there is a danger that this could get lost in a section of the contest that figures a number of contest favourites, such as Australia, Sweden and France.

Running Order: **, Bookies: *****, Prediction Model: *****, AK Rating: ****

11. France: J’ai cheché – Amir. Just like Dublin Bus, after a long wait to see the Big 5/Host entries, we suddenly see three of them appear at once! If a Big 5/Host entry is to win the contest, this will be the one to do it according to the Bookies, although France’s odds have drifted somewhat since rehearsals commenced last week. Much of that has to do with problems/concerns with the staging, but if these can be sorted then Amir has enough charm as a performer to take advantage of the relatively good position in the running order to bring France it’s best result at the contest for a long time with this very catchy entry. Could this contend for a Top 3 finish, or possibly challenge for the win? Peut être. Peut être pas…

Running Order: ****, Bookies: *****, Prediction Model: ****, AK Rating: ****

12. Poland: Color of Your Life – Michal Szpak. Poland emerged as the early favourites to win the contest with the expectation that Margaret’s Cool Me Down would win out there, but that lost out to this ballad entry in the Polish national selection final. Poland’s odds have dropped somewhat since then as a result, but the Bookies still expected this to just about to make the Final, which it did. While the song itself is not very interesting (and it’s not really my cup of tea), there is no doubt that Michael is a very strong live performer and he did enough to get this out of the semi-final. The position in the running order is pretty good for an entry drawn to perform in the First Half of the show. But it is not helped by the clustering of a number of ballad style entries in the First Half of this semi-final, but especially given that this entry seems to be set up as the filling in a sandwich of contest favourites, such as Australia, France and Sweden. Just like Cyprus in 2015, this could get lost in highly rated company…

Running Order: ***, Bookies: **, Prediction Model: **, AK Rating: *

13. Australia: Sound of Silence – Dani Im. Australia finished 5th in the 2015 Final. Dani Im’s entry is a much stronger one than last year’s entry – it’s a strong up-tempo ballad and very competently performed – suggesting that Australia will be strong contenders to do equally as well this year and could potentially emerge as the main challengers to Russia in this Final, even given the continuing debate/controversy over whether Australia should be a part of Eurovision, or not. Rehearsals suggested that the staging seemed to lack a certain “wow” factor, but this looked decidedly better in the televised version at the semi-final. Australia got a very position in the running order in 2015. The disqualification of Romania meant that Australia – initially drawn to perform in the First Half of the semi-final – effectively got to perform in the Second Half of that semi-final. Now Dani Im has been assigned the latest possible slot in the running order for an act drawn to perform in the First Half of the Final, so Australia really do seem to be getting all the breaks this year.

Running Order: ****, Bookies: *****, Prediction Model: *****, AK Rating: ***

14. Cypus: Alter Ego – Minus One. Cyprus have sent one of their best entries in years to Eurovision (a common theme for a lot of countries this year, in fairness), with this very solid and well-performed rock entry from Minus One, which is further enhanced by some very strong vocals from their lead singer. Some early issues in the staging were resolved during rehearsals and this went on to qualify out of Semi Final 1. But it’s not helped by getting the earliest possible position in the running order for an act drawn to perform in the Second Half of the Final, although the contrast between this entry and the Australian and Serbian entries may be to its advantage.

Running Order: **, Bookies: *, Prediction Model: *, AK Rating: ***

15. Serbia: Goodbye (Shelter) – Sanja Vučić ZAA. Serbia and Montenegro initially, and later Serbia on their own, established themselves as one of the strongest countries in Eurovision between 2004 and 2008, based on strong results for a series of well-performed Balkan ballads sung in the national languages. Serbia, in more recent years, have proven themselves to be more versatile in terms of the entries it sends to Eurovision, moving away (with the exception of a strong 3rd place finish in the 2012 Final) from the Balkan ballad mould, as was perhaps most evident with last year’s crowd-pleasing dance entry. This was also the first Serbian entry to be performed in English and not the Serbian language. This year we get a strong ballad from Sanja Vučić on the dark theme of abusive relationships. It’s a strong song and it’s well sung, though some viewers may not fully “get” the idea behind the dark choreography and staging. The early position in the Second Half running order may not help this entry, but it may stand out when performed directly after/before Cyprus/Lithuania.

Running Order: *, Bookies: **, Prediction Model: ***, AK Rating: ***

16. Lithuania: I’ve Been Waiting For This NIght – Donny Montell. Donny Montell finished one place and one point behind FYR Macedonia’s Kaliopi in the 2012 Final. Both acts returned to Eurovision in this year’s second semi-final, but only Donny survived to make the Final. I’ve Been Waiting For This Night is a much stronger entry than his 2012 song, Love Is Blind, and earlier in the Eurovision season there were some hopes that this might make the Top 10 in the Final. However issues with the staging proved problematic at the rehearsals. The staging came across much better at the actual semi-final, however, and was enough to send Lithuania to the Final. Lithuania do tend to end up usually in the lower placings at the Eurovision Final, however, and – given the exceptionally strong competition this year – this entry could attain a similar result.

Running Order: **, Bookies: *, Prediction Model: *, AK Rating: **

17. Croatia: Lighthouse – Nina Kraljić. After a few years away from the contest, Croatia return with their strongest entry since their golden era of the late 1990s; a song that sounds not a lot unlike an Ellie Goulding single. Based on the song alone, this was initially looked on as a potential contender for the overall prize, but the, er, unusual costume choice did seem to distract viewers from the quality of the song and her vocals at the semi-final, but not to enough of an extent to cost this a place in the Final. The same issues/problems may remain an issue for the Final and cost Croatia a potential place in the Top 10 of the contest. This does have a pretty good slot in the contest running order, based on past voting statistics, but may not be helped by the fact that it’s on just before the contest favourites, Russia.

Running Order: ****, Bookies: *, Prediction Model: **, AK Rating: ***

Sergey Lazarev (Russia) (@ Eurovision Song Contest)

Sergey Lazarev (Russia) (@ Eurovision Song Contest)

18. Russia: You Are The Only One – Sergey Lazarev. Signalling some serious intent, Russia send probably their biggest act to this year’s Eurovision and they are currently strong favourites to win the contest. Expect to see a staging that will even outshine Sweden’s staging from last year, although some purists may think this is a little too busy. On another hand, it could be argued that this entry offers homage to past entries, such as Sweden 2015, Ukraine 2008 and…er…even Germany 1998, given the fact that Sergey engages in a light spot of mountaineering (or abseiling) in the middle of the song. Personally, while I find that the song is not bad at all, it does sound more to me like a song that would have won the contest back in 2006, rather than in 2016, although it has grown on me somewhat in the last few weeks. And, as opposed to Azerbaijan, I like the live version of this a lot better than the recorded one. Sergey Lazarev’s star quality, the staging and the power of the Russian diaspora vote should ensure that this is highly likely to, at least, make the Top 3. He’s a consummate professional and still nails the vocals, while negotiating some tricky and highly complex choreography. The Swedish TV producers have also given this one of the best positions in the running order that an act can hope to get, based on a statistical analysis of past voting trends.

Running Order: *****, Bookies: *****, Prediction Model: *****, AK Rating: *** (song)/**** (staged version)

19. Spain: Say Yay! – Barei. The one position in the Second Half running order that an act does not want to get is to perform directly after the contest favourites, Russia. Hard luck Spain. This sounds pretty good as a recorded song, but Spain – based on the rehearsals – have had problems with the staging of this. Barei’s vocals are fine, but the backing does not sound so good. This needs to improve notably before the Friday/Saturday night shows, but time is running out and this could simply get lost in the crowd…

Running Order: **, Bookies: **, Prediction Model: *AK Rating: *** (song)/** (staged version)

20. Latvia: Heartbeat – Justs. After a very poor run of results from 2008 to 2014, Latvia returned to Eurovision form with a vengeance in 2015 with a Top 6 finish for Aminata. This song – not surprisingly, given that it’s also written by Aminata – is also a strong entry and is well sung/performed by Justs, but perhaps not does not the same impact as last year’s entry, especially with the more staid staging. The position in the running order is not bad, but it will have to do a lot to avoid being over-shadowed by the strong contenders, such as Ukraine and Russia, that are located in this section of the contest. Just as the First Half of the contest is ballad-heavy, this section of the Final has more up-tempo entries and this may limit Justs’ chances of emulating Aminata’s 2015 result.

Running Order: ****, Bookies: ***, Prediction Model: ***, AK Rating: ***

21. Ukraine: 1944 – Jamala. Ukraine have been probably the most consistently strong country at Eurovision over the past decade, developing an uncanny knack to offer perfect staging at the contest and being able to rework problematic entries in the period before the contest to turn them from potential non-qualifiers into Top 10 entries. This year, Ukraine really doesn’t need to do the hard work – this song is exquisite and Jamala is an amazing performer. This song will get a lot of attention for the politics surrounding it and it may be a bit too “different” for some Eurovision viewers, but for me this is perhaps one of the best songs to have gone forward to the contest in quite a while and it should hopefully prove that there is no such thing anymore as a “Eurovision-y” song. This could be very much in the shake up for the overall prize on Saturday night, especially given that the odds on this entry have rapidly shortened in the period since rehearsals commenced in Stockholm. But, if this is not a political song, it is a very personal song for Jamala and there is a danger that the emotions she invests in this song can sometimes overpower the impact of the performance, as seemed to be the case in the semi-final. But, it is a really great song, with a really good position in the running order, and this cannot be discounted.

Running Order: ****, Bookies: *****, Prediction Model: *****, AK Rating: *****

22. Malta: Walking On Water – Ira Losco: Malta has won two of the last three Junior Eurovision Song Contests, but the country has yet to win (the “senior”) Eurovision. Ira Losco came closest to doing so for Malta back in 2002, finishing second in the Taalin Final and losing out by just 12 points to Latvia’s Marie N. She returns to the contest 14 years, having won the Maltese national selection with Chameleon but subsequently changing her song to the much stronger Walking On Water. Since then, she’s been consistently ranked in the Top 10 of the Bookie odds in terms of which act will win the contest outright. She is a very strong performer, although the staging of the song does not seem to be overtly striking, or do much to enhance her strong vocals, while – to me – the song is not especially exciting and could be overshadowed by the relatively similar entry from Australia. But that being said, what we have here is a strong contender slotted in to perform in the latter stages of the Final, which suggests that Malta could be in contention for one of the country’s strongest results at (the senior!) Eurovision in recent years. But this does not strike me as being a potential winner.

Running Order: *****, Bookies: ****, Prediction Model: ****, AK Rating: **

23. Georgia: Midnight Gold – Nika Kocharov and Young Georgian Lolitaz. What do you get if you cross Blur with Tblisi? Why this. This sounds like a 1990s Brit Pop song and early commentary suggested that this was a likely non-qualifier, but this act has been gaining some momentum over the final few weeks of Eurovision season and Georgia really seem to have got the staging right for this. The problems with the song – that initially saw this being rated lowly in the Bookie odds – however still remain – it can get rather monotonous as it progresses and it remains to be seen whether this could struggle to win points from the professional juries at the Final. But there is no doubt that this is different enough to stand out in the latter part of the Final running order.

Running Order: ***, Bookies: *, Prediction Model: **, AK Rating: **

Zoë Straub (Austria) (@ Eurovision Song Contest 2016)

Zoë Straub (Austria) (@ Eurovision Song Contest 2016)

24. Austria: Loin d’ici – Zoë. This is the only entry in this year’s contest not to be entirely/partly sung in Engligh – being performed entirely in the French language. Now, an Austrian entry in the French language shouldn’t work, but this really really does. J’adore! – this has real charm and Zoë Straub is an amazing vocalist and performer, especially given that she is still a teenager (in what is, admittedly, a very young Eurovision final). She’s also been going down a storm with Eurovision fans any time she’s performed this live at the contest preview shows and being a fan favourite definitely helped Serbia and Israel at last year’s contest, as indeed proved to be the case for Zoë at the first semi-final. As in the case of the Czech Republic, Austria do not have many friends in terms of Eurovision voting patterns – Conchita’s win in 2014 was a blip in the usual trend of weaker Austria results at the contest. However, this has got an excellent position in the contest running order – statistically the best position that an act can hope to get in a Eurovision Final. Can Zoë take advantage of this excellent position in the running order and translate her unique song/performance into a Top 10, or even a Top 5, finish in the Final? Peut être pas? Peut être? In any case… Allez #TeamZoë!

Running Order: *****, Bookies: ***, Prediction Model: ****, AK Rating: *****

25. United Kingdom: You’re Not Alone– Joe and Jake. The United Kingdom selection provided some welcome distraction for me on the night of General Election 2016, but initially I was not unduly impressed by the Coldplay-lite song that won this selection. However, this song has, in fairness, grown on me somewhat over the interim period and – as opposed to some other Big 5 entries – this has been improving notably as the contest rehearsals progress. This may be scheduled just too late in the running order (as happened with the United Kingdom’s Molly in 2014) to emerge as a serious contender for a Top 10 finish, especially given that voters may have already decided on “their winner”, possibly after the performance of Jamala or possibly after Zoë. But this has to be viewed as one of the United Kingdom’s best entries over the past decade.

Running Order: ***, Bookies: ***, Prediction Model: **, AK Rating: ***

26. Armenia: LoveWave – Iveta Mukuchyan. In terms of the structure of Lovewave, this amounts to a very unusual entry – especially the first minute of this song – and it really cannot be accused of being a “typical Eurovision” entry. Iveta Mukuhcyan has been storming the rehearsals so far and put in a very strong performance in the semi-final, although this is not the sort of act that will appeal to Irish mammies!!!  Given the voting power of the Armenian diaspora and the late position in the running order, this entry could be in contention to at least replicate Armenia’s best results in a Eurovision contest (the 4th place finishes in 2008 – Qele Qele!!! – and 2014) and this is perhaps one of a handful of entries that could entertain prospects of challenging Russia for the overall prize. But the 26th position in the Final running order has not helped acts that have previously performed from this position – think Ryan Dolan in 2013 and Molly in 2014. However, against that, Il Volo did manage to win the televote from an even later position (27th) in the 2015 Final running order, so this may not be an issue. How well this does may well boil down to whether the juries are willing to reward this for its inventiveness, or whether they punish this for being “just too out there”… Still,this a very good act to close the 2016 Final with.

Running Order: *****, Bookies: ****, Prediction Model: *****, AK Rating: ***

Top 10 based on Running Order: 1. Austria, 2. Russia, 3. Germany, 4. Malta, 5. Armenia, 6. Latvia, 7. France, 8. Australia, 9. Ukraine, 10. Croatia 

Top 10 based on Bookie Odds: 1. Russia, 2. Australia, 3. Ukraine, 4. France, 5. Sweden, 6. Armenia, 7. Malta, 8. The Netherlands, 9. Belgium, 10. Israel (NB: The countries falling just outside the Top 10 as regards the betting odds would include Italy, Austria and Latvia.)

Top 10 based on AK Prediction Model Estimates: 1. Russia, 2. Australia3. Ukraine,  4. Sweden, 5. Armenia, 6. France, 7. Italy, 8. Malta, 9. Austria, 10. The Netherlands

My Own Personal Favourites – Top 12: 1. Austria, 2. Ukraine, 3. Belgium, 4. Italy, 5. Czech Republic, 6. Azerbaijan, 7. Russia, 8. Cyprus, 9. Serbia, 10. The Netherlands, 11. Bulgaria, 12. Armenia




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