My starting-point for this prediction (which may well look very foolish in 24 hours' time) is that the bookies have called it completely wrong - I just don't see how either Sweden or Russia are going to win the contest. Sweden are unlikely to win because dance tracks always underperform at Eurovision, including those tipped for victory (Xandee finished a miserable 22nd, Kate Ryan failed to even qualify for the final). Russia are unlikely to win because juries comprised of music professionals hold 50% of the vote, and they're simply not going to go for a novelty act with dodgy singing, however beguiling it may be.
Looking back twelve months, it's quite astonishing how big a divergence there was between the juries and the public vote. Italy were the runaway winners with the juries, but finished just 11th on the televoting results, leading to an overall result of second. The disparity for Denmark and Slovenia was even more extreme - they were placed third and fourth respectively by the juries, but were a mere 18th and 22nd on the public vote. I must admit I'd completely forgotten about the Slovenian song until I looked it up a few minutes ago. It's really good, worth far more than 22nd place, so there's not much doubt that the juries were doing the job they were paid to do, and pushing the classier songs up the leaderboard. Realistically, therefore, for a song to have a chance of winning it needs to appeal to two very different constituencies, and attract a high level of support from both juries and the public. Azerbaijan were the only country that managed that feat last year, and were thus bound to win (not that I predicted it, of course!).
So which countries are likely to have that dual appeal this year? Let's start by considering what will appeal to the juries. It wouldn't surprise me if for the second year in a row they give the nod to Italy. As you may have noticed, my opinion of the Italian song has been 'evolving' at a rate of knots over the last two or three weeks (as has my understanding of one of the key lyrics - it turns out that it's actually "you're an independent grown man after all"!). I now belatedly recognise that it's dripping with class, and I think the professional juries are bound to go with it, regardless of how much it might be overshadowed by the 'showier' entries later on in the running order. At the absolute minimum, I expect them to place it in the top three. It's a touch harder to judge how music professionals will react to an ethnic ballad like Serbia's - it depends what type of music professionals they are, I suppose. But surely they'll recognise the quality? And strange though it may seem, I also think the juries will go with Ireland. Jedward were actually quite a bit more popular with the juries than with the public last year, and Waterline is a stronger song than Lipstick.
I'm not sure the juries will be quite so kind to the contest's dark horses, such as Ukraine and Turkey, but nor do I necessarily think they'll push those songs out of contention completely.
Now let's move to the public vote, where all sorts of factors that are (or should be) irrelevant to the juries suddenly come into play with a vengeance - such as running order, visual gimmickry and political voting. And that's where I think Italy may run into a problem. Certainly there's no doubt that they have a much less favourable draw than Ireland, Serbia, Ukraine, Spain and Turkey. They also have fewer natural allies than three of those five countries. From the point of view of the visual impact of the performance, it's harder to make a direct comparison, because we've already seen the majority of the leading contenders in the semi-finals, but not Italy or Spain. I have seen dodgy video footage of a couple of Italy's rehearsals, for what that's worth. The backdrop looked stunning, and Nina Zilli's vocals were near-perfect, but she did seem to be holding back slightly on selling the performance visually, which makes it impossible to draw too many conclusions. She also didn't bother with the high note in the final "femmina", which is a pity, as it's a memorable feature in the studio version.
Although I was slightly disappointed with the visual impact of Serbia on Thursday night, Željko Joksimović sounded fantastic, as he always does. Unlike Italy, we don't even need to pose the question of whether he can attract public votes - he has a formidable track record of doing so in three previous contests, with very similar songs to this one. Some of that might be classed as political voting, but votes are votes. And he has a fantastic draw. So the stars seem to be aligned for Serbia this year, and my gut feeling is that they're the most likely winners. But it wouldn't surprise me if Italy or Ireland won, and Spain, Ukraine and Turkey all just about have a chance as well. Turkey are potentially this year's Marie N (the Latvian performer in 2002 who won with a striptease rather than a song) - they're carried by just one very strong visual gimmick, but it's not entirely inconceivable that could be enough.
On balance, this is how I see it working out...
Winners - Serbia (Nije Ljubav Stvar by Željko Joksimović)
2nd - Italy (L'Amore È Femmina by Nina Zilli)
3rd - Ireland (Waterline by Jedward)
4th - Russia (Party for Everybody by Buranovskiye Babushki)
5th - Spain (Quédate Conmigo by Pastora Soler)
Possible dark horses - Turkey, Ukraine, Iceland
Italy's second place is based on the assumption that they'll win the jury vote - if they don't, obviously their overall placing could be quite a bit lower. Until a few days ago, I'd have had the UK in the top five, but I'm not even putting them/us in the 'dark horse' category because Engelbert Humperdinck's performances in the rehearsals have been so patchy.
My own favourite songs are (in no particular order) Serbia, Italy, Iceland and Spain, but because of my personal rule that I only vote for songs performed entirely in a language other than English, I'll be voting for Serbia and Spain. Which I have some regrets about - the segments of L'Amore È Femmina that are sung in Italian are an amazing showcase for that language, and a perfect antidote to Terry Wogan's theory that "pop is an anglophone thing".
Last thought - I don't know if the Azerbaijanis are persevering with Leyla Aliyeva as the sole 'results host' tomorrow night, but I certainly hope so. She has an old-school panache about her that reminds me of female Eurovision hosts from a bygone era.
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Lib Dem blogger Caron Lindsay on the launch of Yes Scotland -
"Nothing I have seen from anyone in the SNP has come close to persuading me that there is any need for independence other than they want it. As a highlander, I have as much of an issue about being told what to do by Edinburgh as I do London."
You see, this is one of the stock unionist arguments that baffles me. Edinburgh rule is just as bad and remote as London rule...therefore by definition London rule is better. How exactly does that logic work?