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The first day of rehearsals seems to have had an impact on some of the views as to who will do well on the Big Night. Russia, the major favourites since the start, had a difficult day. The staging seems so complex and requires all sorts of manoeuvres by the singer, few of which actually succeeded today. Having said that, Russia are renowned for not giving up and will, I am sure, put every conceivable effort into make things go perfectly on the night. For that reason, they may have broader odds now and, for the first time, France are 1st equal but they do remain at the top.


The young lady from Armenia got the only real appreciative applause from the various people watching, a sort of press gallery plus hangers-on and relatives I suppose. That does say something, though, and I get the feeling she impressed everyone. Armenia has been in the Top 10 for weeks already. This put her in the Top 5 for the first time.

The Netherlands and Hungary had a reasonable day but didn't do enough to move their odds much. They have each been consistently between 14 and 18 and seem to be around there still, Hungary climbing a few places but there are still 14 higher.

Croatia is the big disappointment for me so far. Once as high as 3rd, they are now 23rd. I can only assume that the singer simply isn't doing a good job at all. Or that expectations were way too high at the outset. Indeed, Croatia would,as the betting stands at the time of writing, not get through the Semi Final. There would be some recompense in that would mean Austria, another of my own favourites, would get through in their place. Group 1 is a tough one this year.

Although several others also rehearsed they are pretty unlikely to get very far so I won't bother with their reviews at this time. There is always some strange freak event that puts through a really bad act from the Semi Finals and I can comment at that time if and when it happens! For now, suffice it to say that San Marino, Moldova, Greece didn't exactly move from their 1000-1 odds and Finland, at 800-1 stay pretty much out there too!!

One surprise beneficiary of the misfortune of others seems to be our UK boys who have not only made the Top 20 but reached the dizzy heights of 18th equal! They are the only act who have closed odds so significantly as the chart above shows. It does also show, however, that they have not exactly wobbled much further down since mid-April. I still think they'll make it a fair bit higher. But then I always do overrate UK's chances.

Prediction time. Here are the countries that I think will comprise the Eurovision Top 10 this year.

10 Malta

There's a certain Carrie Underwood feel to this lady's intensity and she can certainly sing. The song is still not great and not exactly memorable which is why it doesn't rate more highly but, out of the dark haired big ballad ladies with serious songs this year, she is likely to be the third favourite amongst voters. It is difficult to choose between her and Italy who probably have the better singer but my current thinking is that Malta will get a few more votes.

9 France

Already high in the charts in several countries, France have a good-looking bloke and a very catchy number, satisfying two of the criteria to do well in this competition. I just wonder whether it may not have peaked too soon and I am also unsure whether the live performance will match the video. In the blokes poll, he is likely to be a good second.

8 Cyprus

Those voters who like a rough-looking band of slightly older blokes and those who just like a bit of earthy singing and live euro-ballad-rock have few choices this year which ought to propel Cyprus into the higher regions of the board this year. It's a good driving number, well-sung and I suspect the band will be good on stage live too.

7 Bulgaria

The young girl pop star will always have a place in the Top Ten and this year it's the girl from Bulgaria. She is very popular there already and has a fairly good track. Not brilliant but it will get plenty of votes from those who like this sort of thing. Fairly modern with a hint of politic and rebellion in there too. She also has little competition in the sector.

6 Ukraine

A very powerful song and a tremendous performance will make this entry not only much talked about but also voted for by Ukraine's many friends out there. It has the potential of being a winner but I feel it may be just a little too dark and heavy on the political side to attract as many votes as would be needed. It will get respect, however, across the board and, in a year when there seems no obvious runaway winner, the middle ranking points mean a lot.

5 Russia

Big Red are predicted widely to win this year. They have a good song and the compulsory good-looking bloke to sing it. He is a major star in the big country and will appeal hugely to Russia's neighbours too, where voters may well have his albums on their shelves already. I just feel that this track is missing something. It is all big, dramatic back-screen projection and digital this and that but whilst that is enough to get it near the top I just feel it will fall at the final hurdles when the 40-odd countries allocate their top numbers on the night. He is the #1 ballad guy, though, this year.

4 Australia

A fabulous singer who will be really popular and I am confident she will put on an excellent performance too. It is just a shame that the song isn't better. Australia could have taken the 'Europe' crown this year with this girl but someone has chosen the wrong song for her. That's probably just as well as it is a long way to Sydney for every other entrant in this competition. Miss Im is, though, the best female singer this year.

3 Spain

I am going out on a bit of a limb with this one. It is, though, one of few pop songs this year and voters do need a pop song. It is catchy, cheerful and even has its own dance attached. I am not keen on the way they dress Barei in the videos I've seen so far and some of the dancing has been embarrassing but I am ancient now and may not appreciate what youngsters really enjoy now as much as I may need to. This has a lot of fans from what I can gather and is possibly the only track that'll get your foot tapping. It will get votes and, possibly, this year is a good one for an average pop track to do well.

2 Croatia

One of my favourites, this is a beautiful and quite atmospheric song. Unusually, the artist, Nina has been pretty well hidden from us so far so I don't know how well she will actually perform this on the night. I am hoping she will look and sound as good. It is a good, well-written song and has a Balkan feel but also a Celtic feel so covers quite a few important bases from the start. If it's a folk sort of year then this is the one to vote for.

1 Sweden 

So here it is. I do believe we will be back in Sweden again next year if the young lad singing about not being sorry performs this well. It is quite unlike anything else this year and the boy is a popular star over there already. He knows how to perform on stage and the track will be popular across a wide range of current genre pop fans. Assuming the votes do allow a good flow of the younger element preferences and aren't all from crusty old communists and Balkan warriors then the boy will do well.

Other entries that I feel are worth a mention and may still surprise us include:

United Kingdom

I haven't given up hope that Joe and Jake will manage to put in a strong and tuneful performance. If they do then their catchy and actually quite well-written number deserves a Top Ten place and could knock a few of the above off the charts.

Iceland

It's a good song and has what will probably be the most dramatic back-screen effects. They do count for something as they make the performance so memorable when it comes to remembering who to vote for. If the girl does a good job and the setting is as dark as the videos have been then this may kick out one or two of the others.

Austria

They may not make it through the Semis, unfortunately, being in a tough group this year and will be competing with Netherlands (below) to get into the Final. I think this is a great track, very Eurovision, sung in French and quite delightful with, again, a groovy back-screen too. It is, perhaps, rather dated but then so am I. I'd love to see this do well but am resigned to that not happening. If it does squeeze through to the Final, however, it could well be one to surprise us all.

Netherlands

'Slow down, brother', sing the band. They're good and it's a cool song that trundles along nicely. The Netherlands have done well in the past with similar numbers that just appeal in a gently pleasant way to voters. Not enough to win, though. I like this a lot and if it gets through to the Final then it may be one to watch too.

Italy

I had Italy in the Top 10 initially but replaced them with Malta. Neither are going to win and I may have underrated Italy's chances of making the Top 10. Their singer is excellent, really good, and the track is reasonable although the video that went with it was dreadful. That is irrelevant on the night, however, and if this girl puts on a spirited and passionate performance and the Maltese lady doesn't then they may well swap positions.

Germany

In a year short of modern-style pop stars Jamie Lee may do better than I am predicting. She has a slight sense of the Satellite girl about her but she is not sufficiently different. She'll do well and a few votes either way could make the difference between where she comes in the middle of the Top 20.

FYR Macedonia

'Donna, donna, donna' will stick in your mind and you'll be thinking how much like a cross between Charlene from Texas and Chrissy from The Pretenders this girl is. Now that's no bad thing at all. A good, catchy song and a good singer ought to be a winning combination. It's Macedonia, though, and they'll be lucky to reach the Final.






The Spanish girl has revised the Spanish entry quite well and it now becomes much more of a contender, being one of the few that might appeal to the kids out there.

The 'dance' is now quite a feature but, as it's all about the feet now and even looks quite cool, we should be able to forget the slightly embarrassing version Barei did before. If she can control herself on the stage Spain will do well this year. She now just needs to change the hair. Oh, yes, and the trousers.




The United Kingdom entry has been improved a bit. It has a slightly stronger start and stronger, less complicated, beat. It also seems to get to the catchy bit quicker as well but I fear that, unless the boys can do exceptionally well with the solo notes on the night - the register just seems totally wrong for Joe - this isn't going to do terribly well. Having said that, if they do manage, somehow, to get everything right then it is as catchy as the French number, currently predicted to be Top 5, and they could then match that.

It will be a messy competition at the top with changes all through the evening, I suspect, and the winner will depend upon the audience votes added on at the end. I reckon Russia will be leading but will not get the audience votes which will help Sweden, Australia, Croatia, France and even UK. In that mêlée, anything can happen!



At last, Bulgaria have published their song. Oh. It's disappeared. It was available for about 30 minutes and then YouTube says it's 'private'. I can only guess they're tweaking the video again, not that it seemed bad at first glance.

The odds briefly fell after its release so I think it went down well with the few observers of note who managed to see it and it should definitely get Bulgaria onto the Final this year after a long period away and it may make up a little for Polina's bad luck in not being selected in 2012 with a good song.

It is back now. How long for, I don't know. This sounds like it might just make the Top 10.




We're also waiting for a revised one from Italy.




Azerbaijan



Azerbaijan have a decent entry, a strong song and if Samra sings it well on the night then this will do well. Actually, it'll do pretty well anyway as Azerbaijan have lots of money and the top guys there would like the opportunity to do some more trading through hosting the competition in 2017,

In a year when almost anyone can win - there being no obvious favourites that I can identify - anything can happen and this may sneak in to the Top 10 more by luck and friendly votes than anything else but that sort of placing is, I reckon, pretty much assured.

I would not say the same for Serbia, who have a distinctly unpleasant and frantic sounding song, with its inevitable key change and crazy high notes too being quite annoying. It does have the regulation Balkan flute and big drum so may find a few votes in the region and from states unsure of who else to vote for. I don't like this much.

Lithuania



Not renowned for their success in Eurovision, one of their best efforts was 14th in 2012 and it was the same singer who got them there that time. It's a reasonably good track, lively and sung with some energy and passion, although not much accuracy note-wise. It will get some votes and ought to qualify too. This recording is rubbish, though, so he'll need to better on the night but I reckon they might make the left hand side of the scoreboard.




Sweden put a huge national effort into picking their Eurovision entry and it seems to pay off. This year they are favourites again with this excellent track from a nice lad called Frans. It is easy to listen to and very cleverly doesn't throw every trick in the book at us but merely suggests we might sing along in the breaks.

This is not guaranteed to be the winner but it will be up there in the Top 5 for sure.

I really wish we could have a similar 'Melody Festival' here. We did get to choose, admittedly, after years of just being told by a small committee at the BBC, but we had just one week of limited exposure and one short programme with a vote amongst those watching a secondary TV channel. Songs now get a lot of publicity around Europe and people get to hear many on the radio as well as on the stage so the requirement for instant hit is not as necessary as it once was. The Swedish system may involve a little too broad an audience and favours the middle of the road rather than something a bit special.

Their guy is also an established performer. We choose a couple of nervous lads who didn't make The Voice finals.

By my calculations there are just five more songs to be released for Eurovision 2016. We're waiting for Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Serbia and the host, Sweden.

I haven't published the UK number as I was waiting for them to tweak it a bit and make it a bit more solid, especially at the start. However, you'll need to get familiar with it so here it is as it currently stands. Those first few lines really do need work. Once they reach the I, I, I bit it's pretty good but one of them is so wobbly on the lower register vocals.



Amongst these there are three nations that have won before and regularly do pretty well so no-one should really be placing any bets until we hear what they have to say, or, rather sing.

There is a lot to be said for coming out late. Assuming the Powers That Be in each nation can tweak the results of any voting or assist in the decision-making for the final number then they can take a good hard look at what is already out there and looking good and ensure that they either beat someone at their own game or distance themselves accordingly and go for a different vote.

This year there are a lot of quite good female singers with well-written songs who, in my view, lead the field. I would include amongst these the dynamic Australia, who will certainly get a lot of support, Croatia, possibly the top Balkan with a very good entry that'll pick up support across the region and a few more elsewhere too, FYR Macedonia and Italy, each with a very good singer and impressive, albeit more serious, songs and, with a slightly younger feel, Germany with a song that could do well if she performs it well and Spain who, whilst a bit old-fashioned with its la la las is actually much more current than most others. Austria has a delightful number and singer with a distinctly French sound and she ought to appeal. There very serious Ukraine deserves a mention too but I don't see her with a chance of winning.

Although there are many attempts to cash in on the Swedish bloke's style from 2015, none really seem to work that well, Russia probably being the best of that bunch and more or less guaranteed a Top 10 place again. The best bloke so far, though, seems to be the one singing for France with a very catchy number and he will do well in a field where he has little competition so far. The Netherlands have a nice number again and should do well as that, also has little real competition so will garner all the votes from people who like that sort of thing.

There are very few duos or groups of interest. In fact the UK stand quite alone with Joe and Jake's effort and really may benefit quite substantially from that and also having one of the catchiest songs this year. The only other groups I expect to see get votes are the Cyprus and Georgia Oasis bands.Neither band look like the sort of group that would give Eurovision a second glance. Cyprus have the more commercial number but Georgia the mor interesting and original. I guess neither will win but those voteres who like their styles will not have many other people to back so they will do comparatively better as a result.




Greece


I was fairly hopeful at the start with some nice traditional-sounding instruments and a beat but then it all went wrong. A sort of Greek rap intersperses with the chorus line. There's not a great deal going for this. It is about refugees, apparently, which may be a good move and get some sympathy votes from the politically see-me-I-am-correct types but I doubt if that'll be enough.

Greece usually do well with support from all quarters so they'll get some way up the board but whether this will get off the right hand side is not guaranteed. The video is not that attractive. See it here.

Malta

Malta is neither here nor there this year. With the We are invincible line the singer seems to be echoing the sort of lyrics from a few years back. Molly tried Power to the people a couple of years ago and didn't do terribly well and I suspect Malta will rather fall by the wayside this year. I usually back Malta and they have had some great entries but this is a bit average and, with so many similar entries this year will lose out to several others anyway. Ira is a great singer - maybe better than a lot this year, but that will not be enough. Since coming 2nd in 2005, Malta have failed to qualify in five years and, apart from one respectable 8th place, they've been placed 21st, 22nd, 23rd and 24th. Not looking good.

Czech Republic

A reasonably good song but it isn't inspirational and not particularly memorable either. I feel this will struggle to get anywhere. It is not helped by a totally pointless video which shows Gabriela singing I Stand but mostly lying down. It also doesn't exactly flatter her either in a pretty poorly produced affair generally. You can decide here.




This is Australia's Dami Im, the South Korean winner of their The Voice show. She is an extremely good singer and performer and, listening to some of her previous efforts, I came to the conclusion that she was a very likely winner this year if they found a suitable song.

If they found a suitable song... The trouble is, I am not sure they have. Sound Of Silence isn't the Paul Simon number but a new ballad, quite a strong number but which includes an odd pronunciation of the word silence with equal emphasis on each syllable for some reason I can't quite figure. It sounds wrong. Dami looks lovely. She hits every note where it needs to be hit and will, I am sure, be dressed perfectly and just wow the audience on the night with her grace and power. However, one slightly more catchy and less annoyingly phrased number could still beat her.

No, I don't know what that number is. If there isn't one then she may make it and I certainly placed a bet while her odds were very long but I feel she is just in the melting pot with Russia and others yet to emerge and winning will be more by luck than judgement.

To be honest, UK's entry is sounding quite catchy and if they can sort out the presentation to avoid the poor start and emphasise the mid-range stronger tones of the two boys and enhance catchy bits then they are in with a chance this year. I'll publish a video as and when there's a better one than their TV show win which was not very spectacular.

There is also Sweden still to declare.

San Marino


Oh dear. This reminds me of Charles Aznavour but without the charm. It's another bloke with a beard. Older this time and he does a spoken bit in low range, almost bring Telly Savalas in on the act too. He is also bald. It's a moderately pretty little number but I don't think the bald bloke with the big nose and, especially if he still has a strap across his head, will appeal a great deal to voters. Make your own mind up.

Croatia


They have a reasonable song with a Baltic feel about it at the start. The girl has a nice tone of voice and the quarter tone flicker always appeals to me. It is definitely one of the better Balkan entries but it remains a bit weak and needs more to make it memorable and get attention. The song is called Lighthouse and it is, indeed, quite 'light' but won't light up the house on the night.

Australia


I have only heard snippets of the Australian entry but it has a superb singer doing it in Dami Im. She has a South Korean background and so Eurovision will have not only the oddity of an Australian entry again this year but also, I think, one of the first singers from South Korea or even a country in that area. She is popular there and won Australia's The Voice with some impressive covers.

Titled Sound of Silence,  I did wonder whether they had somehow managed to tweak Paul Simon's song into an entry! It's not as good as I had expected. The song doesn't flow brilliantly from what I've heard and success will be down to how much of Dami's personality comes across and adds to the overall impression. I would not, though, underestimate her ability to win this thing.

As soon as I get it I will publish the song in this blog.


Poland


I have no idea why Betfair had Poland as favourite to win a few days ago but they have dropped to a predicted 6th at the time of writing. The lead singer reminds me a bit of The Darkness guy with his straggly long hair, twig-like legs and the voice is a bit similar too. He sings in English, a sort of ballad and has a habit of trying to appeal to camera. Not for me, though, thanks all the same.

I found the song a bit boring but it had its moments and maybe it will have some appeal. It does have an effectively catchy o-o-o-o bit but nothing like as good as either the UK's or another I can't now remember in that respect.

So it has no chance of winning but may be around there on the left side of the board for no reason I can really give you. Make your own mind up if you really are interested in Poland.

Romania


They have a pretty good record at Eurovision with a couple of 3rd places and they've been just outside the Top 10 in recent years with more consistency than most. This year, though, I doubt they'll even make the left hand side of the big scoreboard. It's one of those big and dramatic type of productions with mist and gloom and three rather ugly blokes dressed up like walk-on characters from Game Of Thrones. There are three blokes and two slightly better looking females but only one bloke seems to sing. Oh, there is a sixth who wiggles around with a sword for what I perceive to be no purpose whatsoever.

I really dislike this sort of entry and hope it fails to qualify as I really don't want to watch it again. You can here. It is called Moment of Silence and if you'd like to see how bad it is, watch the remarkable Disturbed version of Paul Simon's Sound Of Silence first. Now, that's how to perform in that style (if you have to, that is).

Estonia


This nation has a strange record in Eurovision. They have either done really well and made the Top few or finished in the lower regions. They've won and come 3rd in recent history but also failed to qualify more times than most. This is not likely to be a good year as this is an unexceptional number and I can't see how it could garner much by way of votes unless all the voters are in their middle age and live in grey semi detached suburbia, visit IKEA and a garden centre on Sundays and find this sort of thing comparatively interesting.

The singer is a pleasant enough young man and, rarely for this competition this year, clean shaven. He can sing very well but has been given a dull number. Now sometimes dull numbers do well as we find something in them second time that we missed the first time. See if you can see something for yourself.

This may not even qualify if their group has a lot of Nordic competition.

FYR Macedonia



Macedonia would love to improve on their best place so far. 12th ten years ago. They really haven't done terribly well and haven't even participated that much. Kaliopi puts on an emotional performance of quite a good song. She is a talented singer with a rough tone in places which sort of works for a song like this. The backing orchestra seems a bit out of place but maybe the staging will change on the night. One or two violins would work well rather than lots of instruments. The girl is a cross between Texas and Pretenders lead singers in many ways so that has to be in her favour too.

It is unlikely to do a great deal better but she might get lucky and make 11th place if she qualifies. Now that is by no means certain either as I am not sure how popular the country is these days. I say it deserves a second play and to reach the Final for what it's worth. If it's a year for an anthem then Macedonia have a good one.



Norway often do well these days, obviously getting nul points back in the 1980s had an effect and since then they have made quite an effort most years, including winning with the cute boy and a violin. And, it has to be said, a well-written song.

They won't come last with this year's entry but they won't do particularly well either. It's a pretty boring affair from a nice enough blonde lass in the regulation white dress. Agnete has Loreen's backing track at the start but then the beat changes and it's all a bit odd. The staging of the video version is odd too but maybe they'll come up with something better in the live show.

They should just make it through the Semis but don't expect a great deal after that.

Russia, as I said before, mean business and they are throwing one of their leading stars at the competition in an attempt to drag us all to Moscow in 2017. This is a different video to the one published before.


Not my favourite entry but it has to stand a good chance. I predict another 2nd place. They really should have brought Polina back.

Germany have another young girl in the shape of Jamie-Lee. She sort of swallows some of the English words and sounds quite odd at the start. She won their version of The Voice this year and certainly has some talent and a fun personality. She may appeal to some but I don't think she'll get very far with this.





France have a good entry this year. They did have the favourite a few years back but the singer completely failed to do the song justice on the night. Here, with a fast and solid driving beat, Amir, who is yet another bloke with a beard this year, should be fine on the night. With a backing group doing the you-oo-oo-oo-oo bit all should be well.

This is one of the better ones so far and should make Top 10 although it won't be remembered much after the event, I suspect. But that's the point - grab the voters' attention for the evening and get them to support you and you'll beat songs that may actually be brilliant but take more than one play.

Montenegro give us flashing lights and a heavy number which even includes some disco synth work in places. I don't think this will work live, though, unless they are very fortunate and talented. Lots going on in the equipment department and the video has a very earnest and energetic blonde dancing in a tight black swim suit. She's eminently watchable but is unlikely to have much impact on the night.

Israel follow the tend for having a single electronic beat prominent in the track, especially at the start. It's a pleasant enough number and, for a change the singer doesn't have a beard. There really is nothing to remember about this song, though, and towards the end it all gets a bit frantic and it all goes wrong anyway.



Latvia have yet another earnest and good-looking bloke with stubble, performing with lots of graphics. Cool sound effects but it all goes horribly wrong a third of the way through.

The chorus is OK but I can't see this going very far. Make up your own mind here.

Switzerland's Rykka has a certain attraction. She is blonde and looks like something out of the 1930s but she seems to have real trouble with high notes on what might have been a decent track. She looks sweet and the song has its good moments but I doubt it'll get very far in this competition. Switzerland really do have a habit of messing up with their song choices.


Ukraine has an entry that is controversial with its reference to invasion of Ukraine in 1944 and is bound to be seen as a side-swipe at Big Red for events in Crimea and other land along its Eastern border.

Quite how this will work for them as a Eurovision entry I don't know. It is classy and Jamala has an amazing voice, extremely professional. Not the usual pin-up girl, half-naked, drum bashing here. I feel it will get respect and nods of approval from some countries and may make the Top 10. Ukraine nearly always do make the Top 10 anyway. It could be a highly controversial winner but unless something happens to swing people's votes specifically in Ukraine's direction between now and the Final, I think they will get token 5s and 6s from supporters. Now, that might be all that's needed in an open year and who knows what the competition will be with so many still to be announced.






One day the Netherlands will make it. They have been close several times recently and, again, I think they'll make the top few with this genuine but simple track. It hasn't the appeal of the Common Linnets and I don't know how appealing the guys will be on stage as opposed to having fun on a well-produced video but I reckon it is in there with a chance.

They might be best advised to hide the drummer.




This is Georgia showing that they can do Oasis and even the Manchester accent. The rock band add feedback, just like the 60s but it does seem modern too. They are very accomplished and it's a good track that anyone fond of some rock would like. Is it Eurovision, though?

Probably not. The only vaguely similar sound that won was the extraordinary, visually, Lordi, and that was a bit more commercial as well and just had that shock factor that meant voting juries couldn't forget it. This is just a good band. I wish them luck.

Ireland add yet another earthy bloke in his late 20s / early 30s with stubble, basically copying Sweden without realising that Sweden won last year and have now moved on, and it is unusual for the same type of thing to win twice. It isn't the 70s any more when La La La could follow Boom Bang A Bang and get away with it.

The song is really pretty meaningless too which would have been great in the 1970s but now if it is going to be meaningless then it has to sound interesting at least or have a catch you simply can't get rid of and finish up voting for without necessarily meaning to. That's meaningless 2016 style.

So, sorry, Ireland. The country's had a tough time at Eurovision for a while, much like ourselves but they will never be forgiven for the Turkey thing or the way Jedward ruined an otherwise brilliant song a few years back.

I can't be bothered to publish the video. It just isn't worth the effort but you can see the bloke here.

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