We're all set for glamour and glitter, fashion and fame at the Eurovision Grand Final in Rotterdam so get Kevin Hatchard's two bets for Saturday night.
"Italy have a strong recent record at Eurovision, a rock song that clearly has wide public support, and a great place in the running order. I still think Malta have the best song and performer, but Italy are in with a great chance of winning."
Malta have the best song, but clouds are gathering
From my first preview onwards, I have banged the drum for Malta. Teenage songstress Destiny is a former Junior Eurovision winner, and she belted out the up-tempo "Je Me Casse" superbly in Tuesday's first semi-final.
That said, I now fear that Destiny didn't even necessarily win the semi, because the organisers have placed her in sixth in the running order for Saturday's extravaganza. That placing can make or break an entry, and as data expert and Eurovision superfan Simon Gleave has noted on social media, no-one has won the contest from sixth position since 1957.
I still believe that this female empowerment anthem is the best song in the contest, and that Destiny's vocal should hoover up plenty of jury votes, which make up 50 percent of the overall total. My only fear is that televoters have another 20 songs to get through once she's performed, so will she be forgotten? If you want to trust the viewing public to do their bit, you can back Malta in the Winner market at 8.27/1.
At time of writing, Italy are the 4.03/1 favourites, and I personally love "Zitti e Buoni" by rock band Maneskin. All of the cliches are there (long hair, heavy make-up, a fair bit of roaring), but they are great performers (especially frontman Damiano), and the song (sung in Italian) has genuine impact. Italy have finished in the top five in five of the last 10 contests, and 24th is a really good place in the running order. The official video has had a whopping 21 million views on YouTube, and this is 2.226/5 favourite in the Tele Vote Winner market.
I'll freely admit I didn't see this as a winner originally, but the public seem to have really taken to it, and the placing in the running order has tipped me over the edge when it comes to backing it. Financially and stylistically, I'd prefer Malta to win, but I usually have two contenders in the stable for this market, and I'll back Italy as an alternative.
It was really interesting that France, who have been among the favourites, saw the market move in their favour off the back of a brief preview clip of Barbara Pravi's "Voila". This is a 21st-century slice of Edith Piaf, and it's sung with presence and charisma. My fear has always been that the end is a bit chaotic, and French-language songs haven't won for a long time.
However, there's a reason this has hung around at the top of the market - it's 4.47/2 to win - for as long as it has, and getting a place in the last quarter of the running order does no harm at all. This is the 2.427/5 favourite to be the Jury Vote Winner, and I can see why. That market's a toss up between France and Malta, who are trading at 3.7511/4 there.
Pandemic strikes, but Iceland still going strong
If we're looking at longer shots, Iceland are 16.5, and I recommended them as a Top 4 shot in my first preview at 4.3100/30, with that price having now dropped to 2.8615/8. Dadi Freyr and his band (including his heavily pregnant wife) have put together a quirky and likeable performance, and they should have a lot of residual support from last year, when their 2020 song "Think About Things" went viral.
The problem is that Iceland won't be able to perform "10 Years" live, because one of their band has tested positive for COVID-19, so the recording of the second rehearsal performance will be shown instead. Luckily, Dadi and company nailed it, but it's impossible to know at this stage whether their inability to perform live and connect with the audience at the Rotterdam Ahoy will have a negative impact on the televote.
Switzerland have had an interesting journey in the Winner market. They were 7.26/1 before the rehearsals began, but concerns over the rather static staging pushed it well outside the group of favourites. However, the haunting and technically excellent vocals of Gjon's Tears have dragged "Tout l'Univers" back into favour, and it's now 10.09/1. I'm still not convinced enough televoters will go for this - you'll either think it's beautiful or really dreary, and it doesn't have a moment that grabs the attention.
I suggested San Marino as a back-to-lay in the Winner market at 100.099/1 earlier this week, and I saw it go as low as 38.037/1. Weirdly, it went back out to 100.099/1 after Thursday's semi-final performance (which I thought was perfectly fine), and the running-order announcement (Senhit and Flo Rida will close the show) has pushed it back down to 50.049/1.
American rapper Flo Rida, who has sold 80 million records in a glittering career, adds star quality to what is a decent pop song. Why he's actually involved (he dragged himself away from a bikini competition in Miami to attend) may remain one of Eurovision's greatest mysteries, but the silliness and spectacle of the whole thing should pull in plenty of votes from people at home, and I'll recommended backing this to sneak into the Top 10 at 2.568/5.
James Newman seems lovely, but UK will fall short
If the UK once again ends up on the second page of the scoreboard, you'll hear people who know nothing about Eurovision claiming it's to do with anti-British sentiment on the continent. It really isn't.
Every year, we send unknowns to the contest with songs that at best can be described as average, and then people are amazed that we didn't get many votes. This year, singer-songwriter James Newman has been despatched to Rotterdam with "Embers". He seems really nice, clearly respects the competition, and his vocals are perfectly acceptable. The song is decent, the staging is cool (if you like big trumpets, you're in for a treat), but the whole package pales by comparison to the kind of stuff Italy, France, Malta and Iceland have submitted.
I don't think this should be the 2.447/5 favourite in the Last Place market, but it is, and until we start sending better acts and better songs, we'll be looking at the bottom of the leaderboard rather than the top.
Things to look out for
If you liked Linkin Park back in the day, you'll love "Dark Side" by Finland's Blind Channel. I know I'm generalising a bit, but it seems like a skater's dream.
Ukraine's "Shum" by Go A is an assault on the senses that some people will love, and some will absolutely despise. I'd turn the TV down a bit for that one if I were you.
If Russian doll to boiler-suit costume changes are your thing, check out Manizha's "Russian Woman". Folk meets rap meets craziness, but it's actually really good fun, with an important message at its heart.
Oh, and there's a lot of silver. I suspect there was a two-for-one at the Hi Ho Emporium, and the costumiers went wild.
Kevin Hatchard Eurovision 2021 P/L
Points Staked: 5
Points Returned: 5.55
P/L: +0.55 points
Backed Malta in the Winner market at 4.77/2
Backed Iceland in the Top 4 market at 4.3100/30
Backed Iceland in the Top Nordic market at 1.855/6
Backed Russia in the Top 10 market at 2.3211/8