Hartlepool singer Michael Rice is in Tel Aviv for this year's Eurovision Song Contest, where he will represent the UK with his song Bigger Than Us.
Ahead of the competition's live final tomorrow, Martin Phillips is reporting live from Israel bringing the latest updates on all of the build-up to the competition. Stay tuned for more articles from Martin on Michael's journey ahead of the grand final.
Viewers across Europe and Australia got their first introduction to Michael Rice during the second Eurovision semi-final on Thursday.
Michael was then introduced personally to viewers, when he was asked about his work around the UK to tackle bullying in schools.
As always, he came across as endearing and loveable, and hopefully, this short introduction will increase the interest in his Michael’s song ahead of his full performance on Saturday.
The second semi-final had no surprises – the most popular songs advanced to the final, including Northern Macedonia for the first time in seven years.
After each semi-final, the qualifying acts drew in which half of Saturday's grand final they would perform.
Early on Friday, the final running order of all songs was decided.
Michael had drawn a second-half spot earlier this week and was given position 16 out of 26 last night.
Hopefully, his performance won’t get lost between Norway’s upbeat Spirit in the Sky (perhaps the most well-received song in the second semi-final), and the bombast of Iceland’s Hatrid Mun Sigra.
Switzerland’s Luca Hanni and Australia’s Kate Miller-Heidke are perfectly placed in position 24 and 25 with two stunning performances, both of which received huge approval from the audiences during the semi-finals.
Could the Netherlands win after 44 years?
Currently, Duncan Laurence from the Netherlands with his song Arcade is the runaway favourite in the betting odds with a stunning 43% chance of winning and 4/5 betting odds.
The rather morose Arcade may be impacted negatively by an early 12th placing with strong performances by Switzerland and Australia coming late in the show.
The Netherlands has not hosted Eurovision since 1976 after Teach In won with the silly Ding-a-Dong. For a country so devoted to Eurovision, their long wait for another win has been a little perplexing.
While betting odds suggest a victory for the Netherlands, everyone here in Tel Aviv believes the contest will be much more competitive.
We can’t count out Russian superstar Sergey Lazerev in his second attempt – he also represented Russia in 2017.
Currently polling sixth in the betting odds, he will take many of the votes from ex-soviet countries, and like his compatriot Dima Bilan, could win on his second attempt.
Madame X Overshadows
Of course everything on Saturday could be overshadowed by Madame X, Madonna, who after intense discussions, signed the contract to perform only this week.
Rehearsals have been highly secretive, as has her location while staying here in Tel Aviv. In a contest where the performers are required to sing live, it will be interesting to see if Madonna performing“Like A Prayer and a couple of new songs during the break, escapes that obligation and lip syncs, as did Justin Timberlake three years ago.
As of yet, there has been little controversy other than the Madonna “will she, won’t she perform” issue.
Iceland’s Hatari has stayed tight-lipped to avoid being misquoted or taken out of context after having previously discussed their thoughts on the plight of the Palestinians.
Also, a female concert goer was ejected from the semi-final after displaying a t-shirt supporting Palestine and shouting that as an Israeli citizen she was entitled to express her opinion. This appears not to have been reported by the press.
Sabbath stymies Israel’s best chance
One other minor controversy occurred some weeks ago, when the orthodox Shalva Band won the national final to represent Israel at Eurovision but then withdrew from consideration because they would have been required to perform on the Jewish Sabbath.
TV station KAN tried to negotiate special consideration from the EBU (perhaps a Sunday broadcast for Eurovision), but were unsuccessful. Shalva is comprised of eight musicians with disabilities.
Shalva instead performed an interval song during the second semi-final and really stole the show with the emotional A Million Dreams sung by two blind members. There was a huge wave of love from the audience for them – many saying that had they actually represented Israel, they would have won.
Kudos to Tel Aviv - a beautiful host
The City of Tel Aviv has done a magnificent job of promoting Eurovision and providing services and entertainment for the thousands of fans and press members. Some months ago, it appeared that the Israeli broadcaster KAN and the authorities were struggling to guarantee the usual services with the requisite security. Security, while ever present across the city with military members on every train, and security at entrances to all main buildings, has not been an imposition.
Tel Aviv has devoted a major party of the sea front to its Eurovision Village. Always a draw for locals and Eurovision fans alike, Tel Aviv has provided a better attraction than most recent Eurovision hosting cities, providing a huge stage and sound system upon which most of the performers present their songs during the day and hundreds of stalls selling products and/or promoting services and charities. The TV station has also laid on trips for performers, accredited press and fans to visit Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.
*Video by Darron Copeland