It's that time of year again ..... IT'S EUROVISION 2017 and it all kicks off tonight, writes Karl Fradgley.
"Celebrate Diversity" is this year's Eurovision theme and tonight the semi finals burst onto our screens live from the Kyiv International Convention Centre in Ukraine's capital with 18 countries battling it out for 10 places in Saturday's final.
The Eurovision bandwagon rolled into Kyiv to "Celebrate Diversity" through the magic of music and madness. Rehearsals have been fast and furious for the past week and a bit and it all culminates in the first of 3 live shows tonight.
This evening's lineup features some of the big fan and bookie favourites, so let's take a look at what is in store.
First up and opening the show is Sweden - "I Can't Go On".
Robin Bengtsson's dreamy looks, funky pop track and superb stage performance combine to make this a dead cert for the final, as well as an almost certain top ten finisher on Saturday. Probably the best show opener ever - have a look and see what I mean. Currently 3rd favourite in the betting.
Next comes Georgia's entry - "Keep The Faith"
"Keep the Faith" is a big hair, big dress, big voice, big song affair. Its got the Bond theme thing going for it but it does descend into shouty 90's divadom towards the end. Despite a very strong vocal, this is a very borderline qualifier at the moment.
Australia were runners up last year in Stockholm. They want to win this year - but it's not gonna happen.
"Don't Come Easy" is performed by Isaiah Firebrand who won The Voice of Australia. He is just 17 and a great talent.. Shades of Sam Smith in this one and again another Bondesque song. This has nothing near the punch that Dami Im brought to Stockholm last year. I do think it will qualify but it's destined for Australia's worst result to date. There is just way too much good stuff yet to come.
Onwards to Albania - "World".
Another powerhouse ballad sung by a wonderful singer . This is right up my alley but it's dated - I admit it. Lindita gives it everything but I can see Georgia and Albania cancelling each other out and both missing the final. One of them certainly will.
Next we strip it all back to a very modern sound. Belgium - "City Lights" was immediately installed as second favourite when the song selection was announced but the live performance seems to be falling flat. This very cool on track. It's an awkward song to stage and they don't seem to have gotten their heads around it. Belgium have had a good run of it lately with at 4th and 10th place finish in the last two Eurovisions but this year it could go either way. Shock non qualifer I think.
Finally some fun. Montenegro have gone all Venga Boys on us. "Space" performed by X-factor alumni Slavko is about as camp as it gets. Hair-whipping, skimpy outfits and crotch grabbing - what's not to love? Enrique Iglesias has tipped this to win, (lol) I think Enrique Iglesias needs to have his ears checked. It's fun .... but I still think this is coming dead last people!
How do you follow all the Montenegrin madness? By bringing out the pure magic that is this year's Finnish Entry.
"Blackbird" by Norma John is sheer quality. It's a gorgeous song and arguably Finland's best ever entry. Think - a cross between Enya and Metallica!
This is a dark horse for the crown, it does depend on the running order though and whether the viewers want a second dark song in a row to win. Regardless of all that - this is sailing into the final and one of my personal favourites this year.
Another strong entry from Azerbaijan is next, "Skeletons" by Dihaj.
This is super cool, radio friendly and very now. It has a Sia vibe and an arty presentation that is sure to stick in voters minds. Easily in the final again and another terrific effort from the Azeris. Good job.
Next up is the second favourite to win, for Portugal - "Amar Pelos Dois"
Absolutely sheer magic, Portugal's entry is literally perfect. If anything can beat the favourite (Italy) then it is this. It's vintage, 1960s sound is authentic and timeless and this is destined to be a Eurovision classic regardless of where it finishes.
Salvador Sobral is the singer. He hasn't been able to attend the rehearsals due to a heart condition so his sister - who wrote the sing - has been standing in for him. So instead of her rehearsal performance, have a look at Salvadors winning performance at Portugal's national selection and you'll understand why Europe is going to fall in love with the Portuguese entry. If I had my way this would win the whole thing by a country mile.
Greece follows that wow moment. No easy task. Demy is the singer and she has a big fan base. This song "This Is Love" is fun and summery with a hint of Disney. It's well sung, well performed but it is Eurovision by numbers and that only gets you so far. Should qualify though.
Kasia Mos represents Poland this year. We all remember how Poland jumped from last to 8th as the new voting system was unveiled in 2016. This year though they have a much better song which means in theory this could be a dark horse contender. Kasia is a great singer and her ballad - "Flashlight" is moody and dark. This will qualify easily.
Moldova bring us back to fun ... only this time it actually works. "Hey Mama" is a fun, summery track that sees the return of Epic Sax Guy to the Eurovision stage. (Fan's love him). You gotta hand it to Moldova, year after year they bring good stuff to the stage with a great sense of humour. This is a borderline qualifer and with Romania not voting tonight it could just miss out.
Now we come to a few entries that are unlikely to qualify. Iceland with the song "Paper". it's well produced but it just feels lazy in this line up.
The Czech Republic have a very good singer with a very old-fashioned song. I like this - "My Turn", but I can see why most fans don't.
Cyprus - Gravity. Another well-produced entry but it's just boring. A lot of fans have this in the final but I can't see it. We have had some seriously good entries up to now and people will use these three for toilet breaks.
The fate of the above three is basically sealed by the arrival of Armenia's entry - "Fly With ME" by Artsvik. This is pure class and justifiably among the favourites to win outright on Saturday. It's cool, really clever on stage and a breath of fresh air after the blandness of the last few songs. This is the first ethnic sound of the year and for that reason alone it stands out. Soaring to the final and could well win this semi tonight. Bravo Armenia.
Slovenia are second last in the running order and I fear may well be second last on the night. "On My Way" in it's original form had an authentic cheesy charm. The reproduced the track and now it's just plain cheesy. Omar Nabar represented Slovenia the last time Eurovision was in Kyiv - 2005. He failed to make the final .... I sense deja vu!
The final song on offer tonight comes from Latvia. "Line" performed by skater band Triana Park. These guys have a big following in the Baltics but there are no other Baltics voting tonight so Latvia are borderline to make the final I think. It's cool, sort of retro and trancey. I think older viewers won't like this and younger voters will,. but will the younger viewers actually vote? Of course my massive generational generalisations may be totally off. Personally I like this.
So there you have it - your comprehensive guide to tonight's semi final - live from Kyiv at 8pm.
It is a tough semi to call this one and Ireland's Brenda Murray is lucky to be in Thursday's line up because there is no way we would qualify from this selection of songs.
In short - Portugal, Armenia, Sweden, Finland and Greece are all dead certs to make Saturday's final. It gets tricky from there. I think Poland and Azerbaijan are in and that Australia will scrape through leaving two places for either Latvia, Moldova, Belgium or potentially Georgia or Albania if one or the other soaks up the screaming woman vote.
Let's call it - Belgium make a shock exit and Moldova and Latvia qualify. Ouch it's too close to call!
Long Live Eurovision.