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Eurovision Song Contest 2018: Nine contenders to win in Lisbon

Brexit may have thrown a spanner in the works of European unity, but for a few nights in May those troubles will be put aside as one of the glitziest shows on the planet brings nations together in a spirit of love and harmony.

Eurovision is just around the corner as countries compete in front of a global audience of around 600 million viewers to find the best song of this much-loved annual contest.

Portugal won it for the first time in Kiev last year with Salvador Sobral's entry 'Amat pelos dois' which scored 758 points - the highest total in Eurovision history - and as winners the Iberian country will host this year's competition, as is the tradition.

Where is the Eurovision Song Contest?

Altice Arena, Lisbon, Portugal

When is the Eurovision Song Contest?

Semi-finals on May 8 and 10; final on May 12

How does Eurovision work?

Although 43 countries have submitted entries for this year's competition, not all of them will be heard at the Grand Final. That's because since 2004 Eurovision has operated semi-finals in the same week with the aim of whittling down the songs to a manageable number for the big night.

This year there will be 37 nations hoping to join the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and host nation Portugal in the final on May 12.

The first of two semi-finals takes place on May 8 when 19 countries are involved, followed two days later by the remaining 18 nations. The best 10 songs from each night qualify for the final, making an overall total of 26 acts singing their hearts out on Saturday evening.

Voting has changed over the years but the current format involves a 50% split between a jury and a televoting public, who award 12 points for the best song, 10 for the next and then eight all the way down to one.

For those who love Eurovision betting, there have been five countries that have qualified every year since the semi-finals were introduced in 2004 - Australia, Russia, Romania, Ukraine and Azerbaijan.

Australia, for those of you wondering, may not be a European nation but they were invited to make their debut as a one-off in 2015 and have competed ever since, finishing runner-up in 2016 with top-10 spots in the years either side. This year's Eurovision odds suggest Australia will be mounting another challenge.

History of Eurovision

Lys Assia, who died on March 24 aged 94, won the first Eurovision Song Contest for Switzerland with her song 'Refrain' in 1956, when only seven nations competed, but since those early days the competition has expanded to more than 40 countries.

Ireland have the most number of Eurovision victories with seven, their golden period coming in the 1990s when they won it four times in five years from 1992.

Sweden are the next most successful nation with six and have two wins in the last six years with 'Euphoria' and 'Heroes' performed in 2012 and 2015 respectively by Loreen and Mans Zelmerlow.

Can the UK win Eurovision?

The United Kingdom should not be dismissed as potential winners as the third best performing nation alongside France and Luxembourg with five victories, but the last success came more than 20 years ago and a repeat of Katrina and the Waves' triumph in 1997 appears unlikely.

Last year the UK sent a polished performer in Lucie Jones and staged the song well on the night, but 'Never Give Up On You' was just not strong enough. It found favour with the juries but not the public.

This year the UK has selected another strong vocalist. SuRie provided backing vocals for the Belgium entries in 2015 and last year, both songs placing fourth at the final. But 'Storm' probably isn't strong enough to end up in a high position despite being a catchy Eurovision song which acknowledges the current political climate with optimism and hope, and sends out a message of peace and love.

The only times the UK has done well this century have been when a good deal of effort has been put into finding a singer and a decent song. Jessica Garlick was third in 2002, Jade Ewan was fifth in 2009 and Blue were 11th in 2011. The public voters placed Blue fifth on the night but the band gave a well below-par performance at the previous night's dress run which was when the juries voted. This resulted in juries placing them 22 out of 25 countries.

Eurovision 2018

At this moment in time it is very much guesswork as to who will take the Eurovision crown. Fans have probably already watched the songs countless times but we should remember that most viewers voting on the night of the final will be seeing and hearing the songs for the first or, at the very most, only the second time before they cast their votes.

At this point last year Italy were the hot Eurovision betting favourites. The month before the contest Francesco Gabanni's song Occidentali's Karma had notched up 86 million views on YouTube, but on the night the song could only manage sixth place, not helped by the fact that around half of the voting juries gave the song nul points.

The winners from the last two years (Ukraine and Portugal) didn't start to pick up in the Eurovision betting odds until rehearsals commenced in the host nations. Neither of these songs will go down as either commercially successful or Eurovision classics. They probably won because they stood out as being different to a lot of the other songs on offer in the final. Ukraine might have also been helped by some anti-Russian sentiment.

Four out of the current top 10 in the betting market have yet to be seen as live performances, so the studio versions could be very different to what the live performance will look like.

However, we have pulled together the top 10 contenders in our Eurovision Song Contest betting preview to show who's hot ahead of this year's extravganaza, plus next Eurovision winners odds as a guide.

Israel

Israel to win Eurovision 2018

Performer: Netta Barzilai

Song: Toy

Eurovision odds: 16/5

Previous wins: 2 (1978, 1998)

The current hot favourite touted as a K Pop/Euro pop hybrid. Immediate and memorable, but 'Toy' also has the potential to be a very difficult song to reproduce live on stage so might fall by the wayside in the same way that Italy did last year.

Quirky lyrics about female empowerment interspersed with a few weird chicken noises make this a song to stand out from the rest and is also the most viewed of all the entries on YouTube at more than eight million. Israel won in 1978 and 1998, so is another victory written in the stars?

Estonia

Estonia to win Eurovision 2018

Performer: Elina Nechayeva

Song: La Forza

Eurovision odds: 40/1

Previous wins: 1 (2001)

Well performed pop/opera hybrid, but popera hasn't got a great record of doing well at Eurovision. Italy's Il Volo did best when finishing third in 2015. Estonia has a gimmick with a stunning lava dress but a similar approach was used to great effect by Russia in 2015, so it's not new.

Despite being an Estonian soprano, Elina Nechayeva will be singing La Forza in Italian hoping to repeat her country's success of 17 years ago when Tanel Padar won the event with Dave Benton and boy band 2XL in Copenhagen. Nechayeva also has Eurovision experience as a co-host of Estonia's national semi-finals.

Czech Republic

Czech Republic to win Eurovision 2018

Performer: Mikolas Josef

Song: Lie to Me

Eurovision odds: 66/1

Previous wins: 0 (Best: 25th, 2016)

To date this country has not fared well at Eurovision since making their debut in 2007, but this could all change this year with a Justin Timberlake-style offering filled with sassy, jazzy trumpet plunger. Mikolas, a songwriter from Bohemia, also proved he can sing live at the Riga pre-party.

The 22-year-old former model and London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art graduate already has a top-20 hit in his native country and he expects to use elements of his video for his performance in Lisbon which is likely to go down well.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria to win Eurovision 2018

Performer: Equinox

Song: Bones

Eurovision odds: 55/1

Previous wins: 1 (Best: Runners-up, 2017)

The electro-pop five-piece were put together in a bid to secure a first Eurovision win for Bulgaria and were installed as the red-hot favourites even before they had been revealed as the official entry. Bulgaria have achieved great positions in the last two years, fourth in 2016 and second last year. This dark and atmospheric track still packs a tune and while it might not win, a top-four finish is not out of the question.

Singer Zhana Bergendorff has had her problems since winning the second series of the Bulgarian X-Factor in 2013, but this could be her chance to hit the big time once again.

Australia

Australia to win Eurovision 2018

Performer: Jessica Mauboy

Song: We got love

Eurovision odds: 60/1

Previous wins: 0 (Best: Runners-up, 2016)

'We got love' has not had a live performance anywhere to date. Australia has achieved top-10 finishes in all three previous participations and hopes are high of another decent result in Portugal. Jessica rose to fame as runner-up on the 2006 Australian Idol and has previous Eurovision experience appearing as a guest interval four years ago, so she could do all right on the night.

Last year's entry 'Don't come easy' was helped greatly by the jury vote as the public only gave it two points in the final, but with a decent song behind her Jessica is looking forward to getting "to work on the visual part".

Sweden

Sweden to win Eurovision 2018

Performer: Benjamin Ingrosso

Song: Dance you off

Eurovision odds: 25/1

Previous wins: 6 (1974, 1984, 1991, 1999, 2012, 2015)

Another great pop offering from Sweden who always put a huge amount of effort into choosing their entry and this shows in their recent results. In the last seven years they have won twice, come third twice and been placed fifth twice.

This Bieber/Timberlake-influenced track looks like it could be another contender from a guy with music in his veins and he has the moves too, having won the 2014 Let's Dance TV series in his native Sweden. His mother is a singer and actress, while his cousin Sebastian Ingrosso is in dance act Swedish House Mafia. Excellent top-four prospects.

Norway

Norway to win Eurovision 2018

Performer: Alexander Rybak

Song: That's how you write a song

Eurovision odds: 16/1

Previous wins: 3 (1985, 1995, 2009)

An interesting one. Singer Alex Rybak was the country's last winner in 2009 with the song 'Fairytale' which scored 387 points, the highest ever total under the old voting system. The 31-year-old composer, born in Minsk during the Soviet Union period, clearly has a love for Eurovision having returned to play violin in 2012 and 2016 during both interval acts.

However, Eurovision fans seem to have a bit of a downer on his song this year but don't rule out him winning again. It is instant, you can sing along after one listen and a dance routine people watching at home can join in with. What's not to like?

Netherlands

Netherlands to win Eurovision 2018

Performer: Waylon

Song: Outlaw in 'Em

Eurovision odds: 125/1

Previous wins: 4 (1957, 1959, 1969, 1975)

An out-and-out country offering from a nation with a pretty impressive record in recent years. Waylon nearly took the Eurovision title as part of The Common Linnets in 2014 when they placed second but that was probably down to the impressive staging of the song and his co-performer IIse Delange.

Took his name from his idol Waylon Jennings, an American country artist who famously wrote the theme tune to the original 1970s TV smash Dukes of Hazzard. Waylon chose the song himself but a straw poll conducted by Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf would have preferred his 'Thanks but no Thanks' to represent Holland.

France

France to win Eurovision 2018

Performer: Madame Monsieur

Song: Mercy

Eurovision odds: 14/1

Previous wins: 5 (1958, 1960, 1962, 1969, 1977)

France last won Eurovision in 1977 with Marie Myriam's L'oiseau et l'enfant, but they might go close in 2018. A very good simple song about the plight of refugees in the style of Christine and the Queens.

The French duo were formed five years ago and vocalist Emilie Satt revealed this track was inspired by a tweet from a French journalist showing a photo of a baby born on a rescue boat in the Meditteranean Sea. This could be the dark horse to steal the crown on the night.

Warren Barner
@warren_barner in Entertainment