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Eurovision preview

It's nearly time for everyone's annual overdose of cheese - the Eurovision Song Contest. This blog is dedicated to quality previews of any betting event, not just horse racing, so Eurovision tragic Andrew Hawkins, @AndrewNJHawkins has mined all the available research channels to produce this genius summary of the contest. It goes without saying that Hawk needs to find a hobby.... #getHawkamissus

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EUROVISION PREVIEW

There is just one week until Europe (and much of the world) is captivated by the quirky competition that is Eurovision, with the first heat next week.

The Eurovision Song Contest remains the original talent show, long before franchises like Pop Idol, The Voice and The X-Factor took over our television screens.

First held in 1956 with the intention of bringing together countries divided by World War II a decade earlier, it has become a launching pad for artists as well as an annual opportunity to laugh at some of the worst musical acts to perform on the international stage.

The list of good artists to come through Eurovision is long. Celine Dion won it for Switzerland in 1988. Katrina and the Waves, better known for their 1980's hit Walking On Sunshine, won it in 1997 - the last time the United Kingdom was successful. And of course, 1974 saw the emergence of Swedish band ABBA, surely the most successful group to emerge from Eurovision.

Other notable winners have included Sandie Shaw, Lulu (one of four winners in 1969), Brotherhood of Man, Johnny Logan, Bucks Fizz, the Olsen Brothers, Lordi, Alexander Rybak and Lena.

In a poll conducted in 2006, though, ABBA's Waterloo wasn't even voted the best song performed at Eurovision. That title went to Nel blu dipinto di blu, performed by Italy's Domenico Modugno. If you don't think you've ever heard it before, think again. It is now better known the world over as Volare.

Artists to have been defeated in Eurovision include chart topping artists like Cliff Richard, the New Seekers, Julio Iglesias Olivia Newton-John, Gina G, t.A.T.u, Blue and Engelbert Humperdinck.

Hand in hand with the good is the very, very bad. And there have been plenty over the years! Who could forget Ireland’s maniacal decision to send Dustin The Turkey in 2008? Or the United Kingdom’s very own poor act Jemini in 2003, who could not carry a tune to save themselves?

For some countries, the aim of the country is to avoid the dreaded nul points – no points at all in the final. Over the years, it has happened 16 times.

Recent years have seen Eurovision become the focus of punters, willing to punt on their knowledge of music and politics in order to make money. Markets are up weeks before, while analysts with a love of music delve into the songs at hand.

It has become as opportunistic a betting contest as the Grand National, the Melbourne Cup and other big punting events, finding a niche market in the United Kingdom, Ireland and even Australia.

In many ways, it is easier than a horse race. A bad song simply won't win Eurovision, allowing the majority of entrants to be ruled out straight away.

But it is more complex than just the quality of song. Politics is a factor in determining which countries will receive points, and it can be the difference between winning and losing. For example, Turkey always seems to get a large proportion of the Eastern European vote and always finishes higher than most western commentators would predict. It is perhaps a relief to many that they will not perform this year.

With no Turkey this year, it will be interesting to see whether the Eastern European vote drifts to another country in the bloc - perhaps Bulgaria or Montenegro's acts would suit at first glance - or whether it dissipates.

The United Kingdom and Ireland always tend to include each other, as do most neighbouring countries around the area. That's not always the case though - Azerbaijan and Armenia will never vote for one another, for example.

Academic essays have been written about Eurovision voting, but there still seems to be no definitive guide to the mechanisms of the voting process. If you have some understanding of the geopolitics of Eurovision, you are ready to have a bet on this historic contest.

I remember scoffing at Eurovision betting a few short years ago, but the last couple of years have taught me there is money to be made at this stage if you have any interest in music and have the time to spare to listen to all the entries.

I learnt this lesson in 2011, when Irish twins Jedward were put up a short priced favourite. I liked their song, Lipstick, but I thought they were way too short for what they had to offer. I looked outside them for value.

It was the right idea - Jedward finished eighth - but I didn't back the Azerbaijani duo who were the eventual winners.

Last year, I identified Swedish entry Loreen very early, before she had even won the Swedish national final Melodifestivalen. Her victory in Baku left my pocket a lot fuller.

This year, I think there are only a few legitimate hopes - and I wouldn't be surprised if the Eurovision crown stayed in Scandinavia. But which countries are on top?

SEVEN TO WATCH

Denmark

Song: Only Teardrops
Artist: Emmelie de Forest
Betfair odds: 2.56


This song has been singled out early as the favourite, and with good reason. It seems to be a recipe for success. Twenty year old Emmelie de Forest is attractive with a rather endearing smile that screams confidence and vulnerability all in one.

The song itself is very good, with a strong Celtic influence. It is very likeable very quickly, which is incredibly important given the majority of voters are hearing all the songs for the first time.

There are a couple of factors though which ensure Denmark isn't over the line just yet - just what a punter wants to hear!

The songs from the Scandinavian countries are very strong this year, and it wouldn't surprise to see the vote split with Norway also a winning chance. Usually, when there is one strong Scandinavian entry, the rest tend to be overlooked. Last year is a case in point, when voters somehow ignored Denmark's magnificent Soluna Samay, who performed Should've Known Better. She was pegged as a top 10 chance, but finished a disappointing 23rd, with all the momentum swinging towards Sweden and Loreen.

Also, this year's contest is in Sweden’s Malmo, which is mere kilometres from Denmark's capital Copenhagen. There seems to be hesitation in Europe at a place holding Eurovision two years in a row, ever since the Irish won three in succession in the mid 1990s. Whether this influences voting remains to be seen - it may have more affect amongst the juries instead of the general population.

It is a deserving favourite though, and will be hard to beat come the final.



Ukraine

Song: Gravity
Artist: Zlata Ognevich
Betfair odds: 8

This has been the real firmer in markets in recent days, overtaking Norway to cement second favouritism behind Denmark. However, the last 24 hours, it has been on the drift again after a number of problems during rehearsals.

The song is catchy, sounding like it belongs on a Disney soundtrack. These songs tend to do well without winning, but most aren't so upbeat.

Zlata Ognevich is perhaps this year's most attractive contestant, especially for those who like brunettes - she might get more males to vote!

Significantly, though, this is likely to gain a lot of the Eastern European vote that may otherwise have gone elsewhere with Turkey out. The Eastern European vote may still spread, with Russia, Bulgaria and San Marino others likely to take a chunk of that vote. But the Ukrainian song seems the most likely to bridge the gap between Eastern and Western Europe.

It is a song which lends itself to a good live performance, and if she can nail it, don't be surprised to see Eurovision in Kiev in 2014.



Norway

Song: I Feed You My Love
Artist: Margaret Berger
Betfair odds: 9.4

If there’s a challenger to Zlata Ognevich for the sexiest contestant, it is definitely Margaret Berger. This blonde bombshell has been labelled “the ice queen” by many in her home country, which you will understand as soon as you see the clip for the song.

She’s been high in the markets ever since she was selected, although she has just started to ease in recent days.

Her song, I Feed You My Love (what is a rather unfortunate name), is best described as electropop, although it’s quite dark.

It’s a hit and miss song – it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. If you like it, you love it. If you don’t like it, it’s unlikely you will ever like it.

It took a while to grow on me, and while I now think it is a top song, it took a long time for me to reach that point.

That’s not good in a competition where you are trying to gain attention in a two minute window.

Not without a chance, but every day I begin to think she’s more unlikely.



Germany

Song: Glorious
Artist: Cascada
Betfair odds: 29

Remember Everytime We Touch, a Eurodance hit from 2005? If you can't remember it off the top of your head, check it out on Youtube. You will recognise it. That song was performed by dance trio Cascada, headed by Natalie Horner, who are back in the spotlight as this year's representative from Germany.

I can't believe the price about Germany this year. It's an instantly likeable song, with elements similar to last year's winning song Euphoria (in fact, there were early claims it was plagiarised, since dismissed). It's just a typical song you'd expect to see in the charts.

If Horner can nail the live performance - her performances to date have been a little bit pitchy - they are the best value of this year's Eurovision. I think they'll definitely be finishing top four or five, and that's where I'd be betting.



Sweden

Song: You
Artist: Robin Stjernberg
Betfair odds: 36

No country has won back to back Eurovisions since Ireland won four in five years in the mid-1990s.

I’d say it’s unlikely to happen again this year, although Sweden’s produced quite a good song.

Robin Stjernberg was an upset winner at Sweden’s national contest Melodifestivalen. But You is a good song, similar to a lot of songs that have taken Europe by storm recently.

If he can take command of the high notes, he’ll be in with some sort of a chance.

As mentioned with Denmark though, the fact that there are such strong entries from Denmark and Norway is likely to count against him overall.



Netherlands

Song: Birds
Artist: Anouk
Betfair odds: 34

This is probably the best song of this year's competition. It is rather ethereal. but I do have my doubts whether it can win the competition. It is too good for Eurovision in many aspects!

That said, sometimes class wins out over glitz and glamour. The mid-1990s saw two acts win in succession that highlighted this – Norway’s Secret Garden with Nocturne, and Ireland’s Eimear Quinn with The Voice.

This song wasn’t written specifically for Eurovision, which is a positive (better than many of the songs which seem written with Eurovision in mind). And Anouk is a brilliant story teller, her voice is superb.

She could win, she could come last. But I’d be having something small on her, just in case she does come out and win.



Georgia

Song: Waterfall
Artist: Nodi Tatishvili & Sophie Gelovani
Betfair odds: 26

Think Azerbaijan’s winning entry in 2011. You have Georgia in 2013.

It’s a soppy love duet, and they always seem to get support.

They’ve impressed in rehearsals this week, though, and if they can replicate that for the semis and the final, they will go alright.

The highest they’ve finished in the past is ninth. I reckon they should finish higher than that this year, and could even be an outside chance of winning the whole thing.

They’ll get support from Eastern Europe, and don’t be surprised to see them in the mix at some stage.



'HOME NATION' HOPES

United Kingdom

Song: Believe In Me
Artist: Bonnie Tyler
Betfair odds: 80

I doubt Bonnie Tyler can do as badly as Engelbert Humperdinck. I think, given her recent performance on the Graham Norton Show, she’ll do better live than the Hump did.

The problem is, it doesn’t stand out. It is a fairly bland song.

As has seemed to be the case for much of the last decade, they’ll need to go back to the drawing board.

Politics has nothing to do with it. If the BBC wants to win Eurovision – and let’s be honest, they want to win desperately to restore some pride – they need to take it seriously.

I’m not a fan of One Direction or similar bands, but I think the BBC needs to look to create something similar if they want to have a chance of winning Eurovision. And they need to stop sending similar ballads each year!

However, maybe the extent of derision for the United Kingdom in Europe means the UK will never win this competition again.



Ireland

Song: Only Love Survives
Artist: Ryan Dolan
Betfair odds: 120

Ireland’s taken the opposite approach. After two years of the horrors that are Jedward, they’ve looked to Ryan “I-Should-Have-Been-In-A-Boy-Band” Dolan. He sings alright, but the song is bland and it’s in a battle to make the final.

I reckon it should make the final, although he competes in the tougher semi-final. But Ireland will need a miracle to make the top 10 this year.



AND ONE THAT DEFINITELY CAN'T WIN

Romania

Song: It's My Life
Artist: Cezar
Betfair odds: 230

There have been some bad songs in Eurovision over the years, and I reckon Cezar's It's My Life is going to be remembered as one of those.

The first verse of the song is actually quite good. Cezar has this amazingly full operatic voice and it sounds like it will be a strong contender. But as the song reaches the first chorus, it takes a rather dramatic and unexpected twist.

I won't ruin the surprise: have a listen and judge for yourself.



MY BETTING PLAY

I’d be backing Germany to finish Top 5, there’s been a fair bit of $4 around about them. If you can get that, I’d be taking it. Also, I’d have small bets on Germany, Ukraine and the Netherlands to win the competition.

RANKINGS

1. Ukraine
2. Denmark
3. Germany
4. Netherlands
5. Georgia

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