Lisbon (AFP) – Portugal plays host for the first time Saturday to the Eurovision Song Contest — the annual music spectacle known for its mix of outrageous costumes, glitz and politics.
Cyprus, Israel, France and Norway are among those predicted to do well at the final in Lisbon but unlike last year — when Salvador Sobral took the Eurovision crown with a jazzy-style ballad — there is no out and out frontrunner.
Cash-strapped public broadcaster RTP has vowed to stage a more “theatrical” contest that makes less use of video projections and new technologies, following in the footsteps of Sobral’s performance at the festival in Kiev last year.
Sobral, 28, who said after his win that “music is not fireworks, music is feeling”, turned down the lights and simply swayed to the music as he performed “Amar pelos dois” (“Love for Two”), a song penned by his sister.
“We want our project to be as simple and elegant as Salvador Sobral’s performance in Kiev,” said Eurovision executive producer Joao Nuno Nogueira last month as he discussed RTP’s plans for the contest, often billed as the biggest non-sporting television event in the world.
The competition will cost around 20 million euros ($24 million) to stage, the lowest amount since 2008 when it started to have two semi-finals, the executive supervisor of the contest, Jon Ola Sand, told a news conference in Lisbon late Wednesday.
It is expected to have a combined global television audience of 200 million viewers.
– Thank you for the music –
The president of Britain’s main association of Eurovision fans, Alasdair Rendall, welcomed the changes, predicting it would give a “different feel” to the contest, started in the 1950s with the aim of uniting Europe after World War II.
“I think it will make it more of a live music show, it was in danger of becoming too much of a pure TV show,” he told AFP.
“Some of the graphics and LED screens have been taking away from the performance element of it,” added Rendall, who has attended 10 other Eurovision finals.
Sobral’s victory was the first time Portugal had won Eurovision since it entered the contest in 1964 — and the first time a song sung entirely in a language other than English had won since 2007.
His success appears to have inspired more countries to field candidates performing in their mother tongue.
Of the 43 acts taking part this year, 13 are sung entirely in a language other than English, up four from last year.
– Four women hosting –
Among those tipped to win the outlandish annual extravaganza is Norway’s Alexander Rybak, who won Eurovision in 2009. If he does, it would be only the second time in Eurovision history that the same singer has won twice, after Ireland’s Johnny Logan in the 1980s.
After getting some chiding for picking three men to host last year’s competition, contest organisers this year enlisted four Portuguese women to host the final at Lisbon’s Altice Arena, including Daniela Ruah, who stars in hit US TV crime drama “NCIS: Los Angeles”.
Sobral will perform “Amar pelos dois” on Saturday at the final with Brazilian music icon Caetano Veloso. It will be the first time that he hits the stage since he underwent a heart transplant in December.
Lisbon’s riverside Praca do Comercio has been converted into a buzzing “Eurovision Village”, complete with bars and food trucks, which will broadcast the final on a giant outdoor screen.
Viewers and professional juries in all 43 participating countries will pick the winner, with the televoting and juries each representing 50 percent of the outcome.