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Early Eurovision preview

The Festival of Cheese is nearly here, it's Eurovision 2015, previewed by Eurovision tragic/superfan Andrew Hawkins, @AndrewNJHawkins! There'll be more later in the week too...

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Eurovision 2015 preview - pre-semi-finals Vienna

That annual festival of wind machines, key changes and novelty acts is here! Yes, it's Eurovision time once again and once more, we line up to try and beat the bookies in the world's biggest music event.

We struck out badly last year, with a big result on the Netherlands going astray as Conchita Wurst won the title for Austria.

Amazingly, last year's 1-2 Austria and the Netherlands were both still at big prices five days out. In fact, both were greater than 33/1 hours before they performed in their semis. Extraordinary.

The time to jump aboard a number of these is now, before the first semi. A good semi performance can begin the momentum towards taking out Eurovision.

So who would we be wanting to back now? Here's how we assess it before the first semi final tonight.

CURRENT STATE OF PLAY

Sweden has been the hot favourite to win this year's Eurovision ever since Måns Zelmerlöw scored one of the most emphatic wins ever in their selection series, Melodifestivalen. Heroes is one of those songs that buries itself in your brain quickly, good for a song contest, and the visuals on the display behind are pretty unforgettable. It's a worthy favourite but as always, we're going to try and get him beaten.

Italy holds down second favouritism with the operatic group Il Volo. Opera-esque songs have not gone down well in the past - for instance, France was favourite in 2011 but Amaury Vassili could only manage 15th. I say opera-esque because it's not really opera, just a hint of it, sort of along the lines of Il Divo. It's probably the best operatic song that's been sent to Eurovision though and again, can't argue with its place at the head of the market.

The novelty of Australia participating in a European contest has seen the country maintain a high place in the markets since it was announced in early March. Guy Sebastian brings something different to Eurovision, it's upbeat in a year of more mellow songs and it's a different sound. Yet while I'm as parochial an Aussie as there is, I'm keen to take the Australians on.

The big talking point in recent days has been the Russian entry, Polina Gagarina. She's firmed in a week from 50/1 into 14/1 and now into 7/1 third favourite. Quite a marked change from last year, when their representatives - the 17-year-old Tolmachevy Sisters - were consistently booed in the Copenhagen arena. I'm not sure the song, A Million Voices, is a winner, it sounds like a likely top five finisher but it seems a bit bland overall really. Happy to oppose.

THREE TO WATCH

ESTONIA (12 on Betfair) - Elina Born & Stig Rästa, Goodbye To Yesterday

The first time I heard this, right after it had won Estonia's qualification show Eesti Laul, I was convinced this would be a major player. Nothing in the prevailing months has changed my mind about that.

Stig and Elina play the angst-ridden former couple to perfection, wondering where it all went wrong.

Elina is a goddess of vulnerability, and every performance she's given she's nailed it. So their success depends on Stig being able to put enough angst into his performance.

It was described on a Eurovision fan site this week as angry, passionate sex in song, and it's not far from being spot on. And hey, sex sells.

It's a likely winner of the first semi final tonight - if so, expect it to firm up dramatically after tonight.

NORWAY (65 on Betfair) - Mørland & Debrah Scarlett, A Monster Like Me

Norway's entry is also a passionate duet, but passionate in a different, almost an emo, way. There's something very dark about it all.

This strikes me as one that is very hit or miss. I love the song, but live it has either shone or it has flopped. In a recent performance in London with a number of other Eurovision acts, it was the clear standout, with the crowd giving it the loudest ovation.

If that translates come the performance, then watch out! They are a huge price.

They don't perform until Thursday's second semi so it may potentially drift after tonight.

SLOVENIA (60 on Betfair)

Clear third pick for me. And another duo! Maraaya are a married couple, Marjetka and Raay.

The whole thing is wacky - Marjetka's a stunner but has those crazy headphones on. Raay looking at the camera with that almost creepy smile.

But the song itself is pretty good, stands out again in what is a year of schlager, slow songs and ballads and they can shock.

What is concerning is that it was as low as single figures at one stage but has just continually drifted in the weeks and months since.

Not in until Thursday night so expect a possible drift after tonight.

WILDCARD

ARMENIA (360 on Betfair)

If there's one that could shock, it could be this ditty from Armenia.

The song itself is a thinly veiled reference to the Armenian massacre a century ago, and celebrates the Armenian diaspora by bringing six singers from different continents together. Their one common link?Armenian heritage.

It's a cacophony of sounds, styles and substance - and yet somehow it all seems to work. Whether it will translate is anyone's guess, but they could shock a few people for sure.

It has a terrible spot in the semi tonight, they'll perform second and could easily be forgotten by the end. If they do qualify out of the semi though, I think they'll be a top 10 chance if they can secure a good spot in the final. And who knows? It's so different that it could be a surprise contender for the whole thing.

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