Portugal: "Vida Minha" - Filipa Sousa.
Question: is this better than last year's abomination? Yes actually it is. Gotta hand it to Portugal, they mainly stick to the fado style and to hell with everything else. Although this year it has a bit of a Balkan-Schlager-Fado style, which maybe has something to do with the fact that one of the writers is Andrej Babic, who's been putting it about for the past few years in various national finals and has also previously written ESC entries.
Ukraine: "Be My Guest" - Gaitana.
As I said before, this is like Anastacia singing "When Love Takes Over" and Gaitana is definitely the Ukrainian Kelly Rowland. This will sail through to the final, although it's not much of a song IMHO. The football stuff in the video got me thinking and I wondered if this is one of the official Euro 2012 songs?
Bulgaria: "Love Unlimited" - Sofi Marinova.
No, it's not a cover of the Fun Lovin' Criminals' legendary tribute to the great Barry White, but rather yet another one of those Inna/Alexandra Stan-type numbers which their Romanian neighbours seem to churn out with regularity. It's a bit grating on first listen but could be one of those songs which sneaks a qualifying place at the expense of a more deserving entry and has us wondering..."why?!?!"
Slovenia: "Verjamem" - Eva Boto.
This is like "Euphoria" on sleeping pills. It's a big Balkan ballad and where would ESC be without them? Those women with the bath scrunchies on their heads are beginning to freak me out. As usual, they probably won't qualify for the final because it's Slovenia. But then they did last year with "No One" and I actually like this better, so....it probably won't qualify.
Croatia: "Nebo" - Nina Badric.
You wait ages for a Balkan ballad sung by a dark-haired woman and two come along at once. So they will probably cancel each other out, and then Loreen will completely destroy them. Croatia haven't really covered themselves in glory in recent years and I doubt if this one will do any better. It's not bad, it's just not that great. She really needs those blokes from the video on stage with her :)
Sweden: "Euphoria" - Loreen.
In these days of internet sensations and pre-determined winners, it appears that it could be Sweden's year. An everlasting piece of art? Not quite, but her unique, distinctive performance will propel Sweden out of the semi-final although the novelty may have worn off by the final. Or maybe not. Will she bring the title back to Eurovision's spiritual home? I'm still not 100% sure. Although it would be nice if she did. And now for something completely different: this is my favourite version of the song....http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6zel_2lJPs
Georgia: "I'm A Joker" - Anri Jokhadze.
I hadn't heard this one until tonight. After one listen I really don't know what to make of it. It's all over the place. The song starts all Nessun Dorma and then goes into cheesy cabaret and goes off on little Eastern tangents. The main problem is that for a song claiming 'I'm a joker' it's not actually that funny.
Turkey: "Love Me Back" - Can Bonomo.
Unlike this song which never fails to bring a smile to my face. It's bonkers o'clock. "I'm a lonely sailor drinking the night away" declares Can. He's a cheeky chappie, and this is a totally mental song which is terribly addictive. It's not up there with the classic Turkish entries though, but will get enough attention to make the final and could sneak a top 10 place on the Saturday night.
Estonia: "Kuula" - Ott Lepland.
The ballad of the contest (The Hump excepted of course) and there are so many reasons to love this - he's got a great voice, he looks like Kasper Juul off Borgen, it's in Estonian, and Ott's versatility knows no bounds - anyone who can sing Snoop Doggy Dogg's "What's My Name" in Estonian Idol http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mFL_rKD9dvM deserves major respect. Bow wow wow yippee oh yippee ay indeed.
Slovakia: "Don't Close Your Eyes" - Max Jason Mai.
I always have a soft spot for Slovakia, purely based on the fact that I went to Bratislava 2 years ago and loved it. At least this song dares to be different, just a straightforward unpretentious rock song. He's got big hair. She hasn't seen him yet, but my mum's going to love him.
Norway: "Stay" - Tooji.
A few weeks ago, I had a dream where this song was playing when the the final ESC credits were going up on the screen. Premonition? Wishful thinking? I still have a very good feeling about this song, and wouldn't be surprised if it goes at least top 10 if he can deliver a decent vocal performance.
Bosnia-Herzegovina: "Korake Ti Znam" - Maya Sar.
I would always want them to do well but sadly this year this doesn't really cut it for me. "Love In Rewind" was so much better.
Lithuania: "Love Is Blind" - Donny Montell.
Maybe a little too gimmicky with the blindfold and all, but it's a good old fashioned uptempo ESC number. I'm not sure how it will do though in this 21st century contest which tends to reject that kind of thing though. Good draw position but in the semi-final of death it may not be enough to survive.
The Big 5
Onwards to the final, and the 'big 5' who get automatic passage to the big night, just over 4 weeks away!
United Kingdom: "Love Will Set You Free" - Engelbert Humperdinck.
This is probably the best Royaume-Uni entry in years, because it's such a simple song performed by a music legend. So what if he's 75 years old? Who cares? It's a song contest, remember! The down side of the big 5 is that they only get one shot, and this is drawn in that horrible first position, but I remembered this after just one listen and Europe may hopefully do the same. A top 5 placing would be very very nice indeed. I'm no patriotic flag waving Brit but this is an entry we can really be proud of, for a change!
France: "Echo (You and I)" - Anggun.
Drawn in 9th spot in the final, France have gone for a real proper star this year - Anggun, who came to my attention a few years ago. She has a great, distinctive voice but I feel it's not used to its full advantage on this quite frankly messy song. Multiple key changes which Fredrik Kempe would envy, and gratuitous whistling throughout. It's not bad, but it could and should have been better. And a French entry with some English lyrics? Sacrilege, if you ask me.
Italy: "L'amore E Femmina (Out of Love)" - Nina Zilli.
Singing 10th in the final, this is a serious contender for the win and absolute top 5 placing at least. Boom boom boom. Very catchy song and her retro style is a refreshing change and reminiscent of Amy Winehouse. However my major gripe with this song is the same as with the French song - why the English lyrics? Italian is such a fantastic musical language so let's leave it at that eh?
Azerbaijan: "When The Music Dies" - Sabina Babayeva.
Singing in 13th position in the final, this is separated at birth from "Drip Drop" although hopefully without the histrionics and stupid running in heels. It's not bad though, as this type of dramatic ballad goes. A little reminiscent of Sam Brown's "Stop" for people of a certain age. And on a fashion note, I hope she wears a pretty stunning dress too!
Spain: "Quedate Conmigo" - Pastora Soler.
19th position in the final is a pretty good place to be. This is written by Thomas G:son and is yet another strong ballad. Not sure how it will go votes-wise but it's not the worst. Big key change of course. Anyone think she looks a bit like Kate Garraway off breakfast telly though?
Germany: "Standing Still" - Roman Lob.
The most favourable draw of all of the big 5: 20th out of 25. This is one of my favourites this year, a strong mid-tempo contemporary number, co-written by Jamie Cullum no less! He's quite cute too, although I hope he leaves the headgear at home. Not a winner, but a strong performance on the night could push him up the results table.
After having heard all the songs I'm no closer to predicting a winner than I was before!