Welcome along to my fourth annual attempt to predict the result of the Eurovision Song Contest final. Now, as I may possibly have made reference to once or twice before, I successfully picked the winner in 2008, 2009 and 2010 - and for good measure I got the top three in the correct order last year. So what does that tell you? Yup, that's right, it tells you that the law of averages is about to kick in and as a result I'm going to fall flat on my face. But am I deterred? Pah! Not a bit of it.
To my mind the three class songs in the field are France, Germany and Hungary. The fact that 50% of the vote goes to juries comprised of musical professionals should mean that the cream has a fair chance of rising to the top this time, but even so I think we can safely rule Hungary out of contention. Kati Wolf's vocals have been a wee bit shy of perfect, and in any case dance tracks have such an atrocious record in the public vote that I'm not sure even a good placing with the juries will be able to save her.
As I mentioned when I ventured my pre-rehearsals prediction a few weeks ago, I think the puzzle at the heart of this Eurovision is whether France will win by a country mile, or won't win at all - I don't think there's going to be a middle way. I'm not really any closer to solving that puzzle, and if younger televoters don't go for the song, it wouldn't completely surprise me if France finished well down the leaderboard. But the next question is "if not France, then who?", and having watched the semi-finals and seen some of the rehearsals, no-one is really leaping out at me. The obvious answer a couple of weeks ago might have appeared to be the UK's Blue, but the general view is that they've been underperforming. Jedward are clearly going down a storm for Ireland assisted by some inspired staging (and also by the fact that the "backing" vocalists are doing the singing for them), but it's hard not to feel that the juries will mark them less favourably than the public. So, almost by default, I'm plumping for France as the winners, but without a huge amount of confidence. Here is my top five...
Winners - France (Sognu - Amaury Vassili)
2nd - Germany (Taken By a Stranger - Lena Meyer-Landrut)
3rd - Ireland (Lipstick - Jedward)
4th - UK (I Can - Blue)
5th - Denmark (New Tomorrow - A Friend in London)
Possible dark horses - Austria, Estonia
Of the obvious favourites, I've left out Azerbaijan simply because I don't think the song is strong enough, although it certainly can't be discounted altogether because it's beautifully staged and choreographed. I changed my mind at least five times about whether to have Denmark or Austria in fifth place - Austria have the better singer and a more favourable draw, but I think the anthemic Danish song is slightly more memorable.
I have Lena of Germany pipping Jedward to second place for a couple of reasons - we know from past experience that she'll nail the vocals on the night, and she'll probably be preferred by the juries. But for all that and everything, Taken By a Stranger is such a laid-back, offbeat, ice-cool entry that I just struggle to see it winning Eurovision outright. So I suppose what I'm saying is that if France do falter, Jedward may find themselves next in line for victory, which is...well, a startling thought.
With Ireland, France and the UK all in genuine contention, tonight's result could have some significance in the overall history of the contest. If either France or the UK win, they'll move clear of the other and of Luxembourg to become the second most successful country in Eurovision history with six victories - just one behind Ireland. But if Ireland notch up their eighth win, they'll move three clear of the others once again. One curiosity is that six of Ireland's seven victories to date occurred in the 1980s and 90s, whereas the most recent of France's wins was as far back as 1977 - although to be fair they couldn't have come much closer in 1991, losing to Sweden on the countback rule.
One prediction that is an absolute banker for this evening is that the UK public will want to award twelve points to Ireland (although whether the UK jury will play ball with that is another matter). And Ireland may even return the compliment, although I must admit that when I heard the Icelandic entry the first thought that went through my head was "douze points from Ireland".