So here we go! No more rehearsals, no more speculation - it's time for the real thing. And here in the UK that means enduring rather than enjoying the BBC3 coverage; this year's commentators are Scott Mills and Mel Giedroyc, and it can only be an improvement on last year, although I continue to have a real problem with BBC3's coverage. Too much chit-chat and unnecessary video clips etc etc. On your marks, get set, bake! (Sorry, wrong show.....!)
As is now the tradition, the show opens with a tantalising glimpse of what could be, if the orchestra was brought back - but it's only a brief appearance by the ORF symphony orchestra to back Conchita - a.k.a. the artist formerly known as Conchita Wurst - "the queen of Europe" - on what, for me, was a surprisingly muted recap of last year's winner, "Rise Like A Phoenix". Conchita is all dressed in white.
Conchita is followed by the now-standard parade of countries, each country is called and their contestants make their way from the green room down the catwalk lined with random dancing/flashmobbing people - I don't get the point of them, but that's just my opinion. Conchita finishes her song, by which time all the contestants are on stage.
For the 60th ESC, ORF are going for some record-breaking: why have one host when you can have four? Arabella, Mirjam and Alice are this year's main hosts, with Conchita working the green room. The multiple host phenomenon seems to be a scourge of modern television these days unfortunately. My other main gripe, apart from the unnecessary number of hosts, is the poor styling on show. In particular, poor Alice - what did she do to deserve that?
Mum: Why is she wearing a towel? Is she just out the bath? Did they not have enough money to buy her a nice dress?
The three hosts look very uncomfortable in the opening minutes. With those outfits, no wonder!
This year's postcards are clearly not going to be anywhere as good as last year's make-your-own-flag exercise. In 2015 the contestants have a parcel delivered to their home country which gives a clue to their Austrian activity which makes up the remainder of the postcard.
MOLDOVA: "I Want Your Love" - Eduard Romanyuta.
So this year's Ukrainian entrant in exile blends Liberty X, Britney Spears, every 90s boyband and George Michael's "Outside" video and the result is an energetic if dated slice of pop. And there's certainly a lot worse this year. As it's one of the few remotely uptempo songs tonight, I wasn't surprised to see it first in the running order. And they are definitely aiming for the demographic with those cops in tight leather shorts :) In recent years Moldova has carved its very own particular niche at Eurovision, but they're missing something for me this year - probably because there's nothing particularly Moldovan about it at all. Time to bring back Pasha Parfeny, I reckon. And maybe even his trumpet.
ARMENIA: "Face The Shadow" - Genealogy.
This is a surprisingly well-staged, dramatic and sincere rendition of a song I haven't really been excited about since it was chosen as the Armenian entry. Of course despite the change of title, the whole concept is designed to make a statement, what with the various singers of Armenian origin, and then there is this very nice effect towards the end where a map of the world appears and all the singers go to their particular area of the map. The performers make the best of what is not a great song. But then mum goes and says something which will probably redefine this song for me for ever.
Mum: Are they singing "Don't be nice?"
Laura: "Face The Shadow" will hereafter be known at EuropeCrazy HQ as "Don't Be Nice"!
BELGIUM: "Rhythm Inside" - Loic Nottet.
So I get very excited at seeing Brussels (where I've just been on holiday) in the Belgian postcard.
This very minimalist song starts off with stark white staging before the lasers erupt all over the place. The choreography of the backing singers is exquisite, Loic performs the life out of this song and that little spin after the first chorus is terrific!
L: Do you like this?
M: It's very,um.....different? Definitely not a "Eurovision song". The lights are a bit too dazzling for me though.
NETHERLANDS: "Walk Along" - Trijntje Oosterhuis.
So....Ms O has attracted rather more unwanted attention over the past week after, let's just say, some attention-seeking styling (to say the least) in rehearsals. So with a continent on the edge of our seats, we wondered: just what would she wear tonight?
The answer: a black pantaloon-ensemble which even MC Hammer in his heyday wouldn't have given house room to. She starts off with her eyes covered by a veil, which she pulls off to reveal messy hair....and don't start me on the backing singers' outfits which are awful and Trijntje herself looks as if she's in pain all through the song. As the viewers probably are at this time. Not since Serbia in 2013 has styling killed a song so much.
M: This song is far, far too repetitive. What's all that "i-i-i-i" about?
L: I thought this was ok at first when it was chosen as the Dutch entry but after tonight the only thing people will remember will be the outfit.
M: 3 hours later and she's still singing why-i-i-i-?
L: Why aye man! Actually I'd probably prefer the Mark Knopfler song to this right now.
FINLAND: "Aina mun pitää" - Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät.
But now here come the Finnish punks to blow away the cobwebs. I briefly give mum a very quick summary of the back-story but she's briefly decided to go and do something else so she misses this song. It's certainly different, and I'm very happy for them that they got their chance to represent Finland and also raise their own profile along the way. But on the other hand, if they are to qualify, will it be for the back-story or will it be on the song's musical merits?
If you are having your own little drinking game going, every time they mention Australia, then take a drink at this point of the evening.
Conchita's changed into a dark blue trouser-suit and has her first green room interlude, where we get a lesson in how to pronounce Trijntje.
GREECE: "One Last Breath" - Maria Elena Kyriacou.
Power ballad alert. The one which for me is more derivative of last year's winner, than any other song this year. You could probably sing Rise Like A Phoenix over it. Maria Elena's a dramatic diva in a slashed-to-the waist silver gown. The backdrop reminds me of the ITV Schools and Colleges countdown clock from my school days by the way! (younger readers - this will probably go over your head!)
Mum has returned, she has spoken and she doesn't like this.
M: Where's this from? It doesn't sound like a Greek song, does it?
L: I prefer my Greek entries to be more uptempo and bonkers and, well, Greek.
But you'll like the next song.
M: Are you sure??
ESTONIA: "Goodbye To Yesterday" - Elina Born and Stig Rästa.
Right, so let's get the obvious stuff out of the way: Estonia is one of my favourite ESC countries. Estonian women who enter ESC are all fabulous and gorgeous and have fantastic hair. Elina is yet another of those women, and Stig is never going to be anything else than mega-cool. Oh, and this song and this duet is one of the country's best entries in years and earlier in ESC season was being tipped as a possible winner.
L: Don't you remember this from the national final which we watched?
M: That was too long ago to remember. But I like this. Is he quite young? He's got that kind of face it's hard to tell his age.
L *Checks the internet* He's 35.
M: 35? I thought he was younger than that. She's a nice looking girl too.
L: I really like them - I hope this does well.
There's some major intensity being thrown around during this performance and by the end of the song Stig is gone, leaving Elina all alone on stage.
L: Macedonia next!
M: Don't know anything about Macedonia?????
L: I like this song.
FYR MACEDONIA: "Autumn Leaves" - Daniel Kajmakoski.
Way back in the mists of time, in late 2014, Daniel won Skopje Fest. Somewhere along the way, "Lisja Esenski" was re-imagined as OneRepublic and Timbaland's "Apologize", with the help of Blackstreet (yes the 'No Diggity' Blackstreet, now known as Merj for some reason).
In the long lead-up to the contest this has been one of my favourite entries - I like both versions of the song by the way!
Unfortunately Daniel's vocals lose it a little bit and he goes off key a couple of times. I'm worried for his qualifying chances, it has to be said - and if FYROM fails to make it again, I worry if they may decide to quit the contest altogether. Which would be a real shame.
SERBIA: "Beauty Never Lies" - Bojana Stamenov.
I'd have preferred if this had stayed in its original language but qualification is vital, and Bojana performs as if her life depended on it. And then you have that moment when it turns into the biggest, gayest anthem of the year. ("Here I Aaaaammmmmmm!")
M: This is just a bit too over the top for me. A bit too much screaming (covers ears).
L: Serbia had to come back with a big showstopper though.
HUNGARY: "Wars For Nothing" - Boggie.
I'm completely worn out after the last song but things are really being taken to extremes now - from the stompiest song of the evening to the sleeping pill of the night. Very effective staging though, it must be said, as the tree of guns turns into a real tree. And I like her very understated dress. But that's about it really.
BELARUS: "Time" - Uzari and Maimuna.
M: Ooh he's quite nice looking!
L; Yes he's had a bit of a makeover since I saw him last. (I explain to mum that the Belarus final took place around Christmas time).
Maimuna meanwhile is a very striking and classy presence on stage and I end up enjoying all this more than I thought I would. The most negative thing about this is that it's just too repetitive. What really surprises me is that for the 2nd year in a row, Belarus has stuck with its national final choice!
RUSSIA: " A Million Voices" - Polina Gagarina.
*OK, listening very carefully for boos!*
It's another Gabriel Alares co-write for Russia, and he's also on guitar in her band. And yet again it's another song about how we should all get along blah blah blah....
I'll be honest here - if Polina wasn't representing Russia, I'd probably feel more positive about this entry, as she seems likeable enough. She's a powerful vocalist with strong stage presence.
Conchita's interviewing again and finds out that Stig from Estonia has tried 9 times to represent his home country. Oh, and check out the Serbian delegation - isn't that a certain Marija Serifovic among them??
DENMARK: "The Way You Are" - Anti Social Media.
The winners of one of the more lacklustre Danish finals of recent years. But it's uptempo, and let's face it folks, we need all the uptempo we can get! The staging hasn't changed too much from DMGP, with 60s styling and Beatles-type microphone-sharing.
M: This is quite catchy, I quite like it. Sounds familiar.
L: Don't you remember it from the national final?
M: Maybe that's the reason.
They do the best with what they have, although it's one of those songs which really doesn't stand up to repeated listening.
ALBANIA: "I'm Alive" - Elhaida Dani.
This song and singer, have a lot of support within the ESC fan community. I tell mum that this replaced the song which Elhaida initially won FiK with, back in December.
M: If this is a better song I wouldn't have liked to hear the other one!
I have never seen the appeal of this song and it really doesn't deserve to qualify. She is better than the song though, But I then go on to spend the rest of the song talking about Lindita Halimi and Rezarta Smaja....
ROMANIA: "De La Capat" - Voltaj.
Although this is a rarity - a Romanian entry in its own national language (well partly anyway) this song has a clear emotional pull, with the suitcases on stage symbolising the theme of the song - Romanians moving abroad to work, and the children they leave behind. In other words, it's the antidote to all those Channel 5 documentaries....
Aww and they've brought the little guy from the video too!
M: I don't know what they are singing about but it's quite a nice tune.
L: (explains the theme of the song)
GEORGIA: "Warrior" - Nina Sublatti.
Nina does some sewing in her postcard. I wonder if she could give me some tips as my sewing's not going too well at the moment....but I digress. Everything about this turns out to be wonderful. The staging, her outfit, those feathers, and well, just her. She is great, and probably the nearest that ESC is ever going to get to Evanescence's Amy Lee. Although I still don't know what oximated means....anyway the ESC voters don't take kindly to feisty females if Mei Finegold was anything to go by last year, but this is a real vote-grabber.
M: It's not much of a song but I love her look!
Voting recap time and then BBC3 being BBC3 it's time for a VT. Of course given that Mel Giedroyc is one of the presenters of "The Great British Bake-Off" then we've got her working in a cake shop serving cake to Monika and Vaidas, Anti-Social Media, Nadav Guedj and major Macedonian flirt-magnet Daniel Kajmakoski.
And then another VT about Electro Velvet. And then yet another VT this time with Scott Mills interviewing devoted fans and then an interview with Dr Eurovision and John from Cyprus.
Right, on with the drinking game - an Australian-themed VT followed by interviews with Guy Sebastian, Lisa Angell and Edurne, then videos of the automatic qualifiers....oh come on, let's get on with the results! Also, Mel is prattling just a bit too much over the songs. The BBC3 coverage irritates me but as the years go by I'm getting irritated by commentary in general, that's why I love getting the commentary-free official DVD in June!
So, which 10 countries are going to the grand final? Well, you'd think that they'd take a little bit more time over the announcement, rather than a dismissive 2 minutes at the end of the show. I'm not asking for interminable X Factor-style pre-announcement pauses but after so much time-wasting and interviews and gratuitous mentions of Australia *GOOD MORNING AUSTRALIA KLAXON!* I don't think it was too much to ask for a little bit more time to just build up the right amount of tension to announce the finalists, who are....
So there is only one more spot in the final, and it goes to...
So it's a great big yay!!!! for Loic - I wondered if it was maybe a little too experimental but obviously not! I got 7 out of 10 predictions right - very sad that Daniel won't be in the final, and disappointed for Denmark but this may be the jolt they need to improve the selection of songs in their national final.
Up next: semi-final 2 - better songs and tougher competition ahead.