Chicken dances, X-Factor runners-up and a man attacked by roses: What To Look Out For In Tonight’s Eurovision Semi-Final

It’s the biggest music contest in the world, with 180 million viewers watching worldwide. But with 43 countries competing – and only 26 places in the Grand Final on Saturday – competition is fierce. Relax: the UK are part of the ‘Big Five’ – France, Germany, Italy and Spain – who contribute the most money to the competition, so we automatically qualify, alongside the host country, Portugal, who won last year. The rest are left to duke it out over two Semi-Finals. The first is tonight. Only ten acts out of 19 will go through. Here’s what to look out for.

The Favourite To Win

ISREAL
Netta – ‘Toy’
Odds to qualify: The favourite to qualify

Netta has been the runaway favourite to romp to success with this #MeToo-inspired banger that’s the first Eurovision entry to involve vocal looping. Sounding like twelve Lady Gaga tracks mashed together – albeit with added chicken noises – it has a dance routine that comes on like Beyoncé getting pissed and doing a fierce version of ‘The Birdie Song’ at yer nan’s 98th birthday. On paper, it may sound like a KFC meets WTF? novelty, but it’s actually genius. As its video is the most-viewed of Eurovision ever, could ‘Toy’ be Israel’s first winner since Dana International in 1998? “I think it has the potential to be the crossover hit that Eurovision needs,” observes Paul Jordan, aka pundit Dr Eurovision.

How drunk do I need to be to enjoy it? No alcohol is necessary. Although if you have poppers, now’s the time to open them and take a celebratory huff.

The One By Somebody You’ll Recognise

FINLAND
Saara Aalto – Monsters
Odds to qualify: 13 out of 19

For years, people have suggested we should use X Factor to select our act. Well, Saaro Aalto – familiar to UK viewers as the runner-up to Matt Terry in the 2016 – is what might happen, and she’s brought along the show’s choreographer Brian Friedman to help with staging. ‘Monsters’ is a triumphant tropical-house bop, and she’s even released a version of her singing it in 34 different languages. But with it falling into the “danger zone” odds-wise in a semi-final loaded with favourites (it’s basically the Hunger Games with key changes), she’ll need all the votes she can muster if she wants to secure Finland their first win since metal monsters Lordi in 2006.

The one for fans of “YASSS QUEEN” gifs

CYPRUS
Eleni Foureira – Fuego
Odds to qualify: The second favourite

‘Fuego’ means fire, and Eleni Foureira – dubbed the “Queen of Pop” in her home territory – will be ramping up the pyro for her ethno-pop stormer, with the memorable lyric: “You got me pelican fly-fly-flyin”. Based on her dress rehearsal – which featured hair whipping and impressive choreography – she’s rocketed straight to the top of the bookies’ favourites to win the entire competition – Cyprus’s best result was placing fifth 14 years ago.

The Wackiest One Of The Night

BELARUS
Alekseev  – ‘Forever’
Odds to qualify: 14 out of 19

The grandiose aesthetic and sound of this Belarussian effort is akin to a Nailed It! version of Hurts. But if the song is all billow and bluster, the former contestant on the Ukrainian equivalent of The Voice is pulling out all the stops for the bonkers stagecraft. He performs with a red rose which he hands to a ballet dancer, who places it in a bow and shoots it through his hand. At the end, he turns round to reveal roses protruding out of his torn bloodied jacket and shirt. In short, this is basically what a dark Netflix reboot of Gardeners’ World would resemble.

The One Bringing The Swagger (And Rucksack)

CZECH REPUBLIC
Mikolas Josef – ‘Lie To Me’
Odds to qualify: The fourth favourite

When NME met Mikolas Josef at the London Eurovision Party, he emerged as one of our favourites. His gimmick is that he refuses to take his geek-chic rucksack off. He originally wanted to perform atop a camel (as he does in his video). And his jazzy Jason Derulo toe-tapper ‘Lie To Me’ contains bizarre, filthy lyrics that sound like having phone sex with Google Translate: ‘By the way she moved, she got me making a puddle…I know you ‘bop-whop-a-lu bop’ on his wood bamboo….set my camel in the mood’. He should receive some kind of Bafta award for commitment to innuendo. A Spaffta, perhaps. Unfortunately, he injured his back badly in a backflipping incident during his first rehearsal in Lisbon (which is precisely the only accident-plotline BBC’s Casualty hasn’t tried in its 1,082-episode history) and that’s stymied his ability to dance. But he’s struggled through, so you have to take your hat – if not backpack – off to him.

The One For Fans Of Big Dresses and Bigger Voices

ESTONIA
Elina Nechayeva – ‘La Forza’
Odds to qualify: The third favourite

Soprano Elina – who has graced various talent shows in her native Estonia and even hosted the finals of their Eurovision selection programme last year – is high up the odds pecking-order to give the country their second ever trophy, their first since 2001. She’ll be performing in a sprawling projection dress that swallows the whole stage, and there was a frisson of drama when the cost led to Team Elina appealing to the Estonian government for funding. But before tax hikes were introduced or bin collections were cut to pay for it, sponsors stepped in to shoulder the burden. Popera has never won Eurovision – could this be the year the curse is broken?

The One From Our Neighbours

IRELAND
Ryan O’Shaughnessy – ‘Together’
Odds to qualify: 17 out of 19

When Salvador Sobral won last year with ‘Amar pelos dois’, he trolled the contest by declaring it as a victory for “real” music. “We live in a world of fast food music. This is a victory for music…music isn’t fireworks, music is feeling,” he declared, sounding like one of those fun-police bores who complain about Madonna’s lip-syncing when she’s spinning on her head, slut-dropping on a mechanical bull in six-inch heels or wrapped around 20-year old backing dancer like a Yoga-toned sleeping bag. But someone who took his call-to-arms to heart is former Britain’s Got Talent finalist Ryan O’Shaughnessy – whose uncle Gary also represented Ireland in 2001 – with this break-up ballad. Ireland has the pedigree of having the most wins at Eurovision, but during the last decade they’ve only scraped the final four times. O’Shaughnessy is aiming to reverse that downwards tailspin.

The first semi-final airs 8pm on BBC4, hosted by Rylan Clark-Neal and Scott Mills