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Everything you wanted to know about this year's Eurovision but were afraid to ask

What’s up with the rule changes? Why are Australia in it again? Your questions, answered…

THERE’S NO GETTING away from it.

Spring has sprung, summer’s on the way and (just as inevitably) the Eurovision Song Contest is with us once again.

Whether you’re donning a Linda Martin outfit and tottering along to a Eurovision party, curling up on the sofa to watch it at home or merely hoping to get up-to-speed on the main points so you can chip in with some well-informed commentary down the pub (“it’s Russia’s to lose” – that sort of thing) – here’s everything you need to know…

nicky1 Nicky Byrne at Sunday's opening ceremony. Source: Andres Poveda

So where is it?

Sweden. Stockholm’s Globe Arena to be precise.

Why’s that then?

Because the Swedes won it last year – thanks to a barnstorming performance from Mans Zelmerlow (below). Mans is on hosting duty this year too – helming the show alongside comedian and actress Petra Mede, who also hosted back in 2013.

Source: Eurovision Song Contest/YouTube

And who are we sending?

Former Westlife star (now 2FM presenter) Nicky Byrne.

In a break with the usual format, RTÉ decided to select a contestant and song without any preliminary national competition this year.

His track, Sunlight, was co-written by Byrne with Wayne Hector (who has written for Britney Spears, amongst others) and composer Ronan Hardiman (whose credits include the soundtrack to Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance).

Here’s what it sounds like…

Source: RTÉ - IRELAND’S NATIONAL PUBLIC SERVICE MEDIA/YouTube

Does he have a shot at the title?

The folks at Montrose are hoping Westlife fans across the continent cast their votes in his favour – but the bookies are putting Nicky smack-bang in the middle of the table at the moment.

He’s at 80-1 to win it outright, according to the latest odds from Paddy Power.

Of course, he still has to get out of the semi-final stage before even thinking about the main event on Saturday night.

What’s the deal with the semi-finals?

There are two of them – tonight and on Thursday.

The likes of Finland, Greece, favourites Russia and plucky little San Marino duke it out tonight at the Globe Arena.

Ireland will be up against (amongst others) Poland, Denmark, Belgium and Australia in Thursday night’s contest.

The top ten from each night’s selection go through to join the Eurovision ‘big five’ plus hosts Sweden in the final.

Who are the ‘big five’? That doesn’t seem fair…

The UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy. They always have automatic places in the decider, as they pony-up most of the money for the event every year.

ev2 The 'big five' - already in the final. Source: Eurovision.tv

And… what was that about Australia?

Yes… The European Broadcasting Union has always had a pretty broad interpretation of what constitutes ‘European’ when it comes to the Song Contest. Israel takes part, for instance. And Azerbaijan won in 2011.

As it was the 60th anniversary of the contest last year, Australia were invited to take part as a wildcard entry.

After finishing a respectable fifth, the antipodeans are being invited back – but they’ll have to fight their way out of the semi-finals this time around.

eur1 Australia - rarely mistaken for a European country. Source: Google Maps

And who’s tipped to win?

Former teen star Sergey Lazarev is favourite to clinch the overall prize for Russia this year, with the catchy ‘You Are The Only One’.

Lazarev is a huge star in his own country – and while Russian performances have been met with an icy reception in the past due to the country’s record on LGBT rights, Ukraine and other issues, he’s still tipped to win it this weekend.

Keep an eye out also for the entries from Ukraine, France and Malta. The UK are in with a shout too – our nearest neighbours have sent ‘Joe and Jake’ (they’re like a less Jedwardy Jedward) and their entry’s been pretty well received…

So who’s in the commentary box this year?

As usual, Marty Whelan’s got the week’s festivities covered for RTÉ. Graham Norton is back on duty for the Beeb.

Expect the occasional reminiscence about the late Terry Wogan from both men (even if the producer of this year’s contest is no fan).

As Norton explained to the BBC, he’s planning a special tribute of his own to the broadcasting great during the ninth song.

“For those who aren’t aware song number nine is famous because Sir Terry always warned me not to have anything to drink until that point,” the chat show host said.

During song number nine this year the host country Sweden will be performing and I will be encouraging everyone to raise a glass.

What’s the deal with the new voting system?

The results should be a good deal more exciting than in recent years, organisers are hoping.

As before, each country’s scores will be made up of 50% of a public vote and 50% of a jury vote.

But in a break with the recent format, the votes will now be split: each country’s jury vote will be announced first, and votes from viewers in all countries will be combined – to be revealed at a final announcement.

Confused?

Here’s a video explainer…

Source: Eurovision Song Contest/YouTube

And… when is it on?

The first semi-final airs tonight on RTÉ One at 8pm, with the second semi airing at the same time on Thursday.

The big finish is this Saturday at 8pm.

And if you need an extra reason to tune in – the half-time show this year will be performed by Justin Timberlake.

He’s debuting a new song for the occasion – called Cry Me a Riverdance (just kidding – he’ll be singing Can’t Stop the Feeling)…

Source: justintimberlakeVEVO/YouTube

Read: Romania has been disqualified from the Eurovision

Read: The boss of this year’s Eurovision says Terry Wogan ‘spoiled’ the contest

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