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Wild Youth perform in the semi-final dress rehearsals. Alamy Stock Photo

Eurovision: Everything you need to know as Ireland's Wild Youth compete in the first semi-final

So who are the favourites this year? Who’s hosting it? Does Ireland have a shot?

LAST UPDATE | 9 May 2023

Daragh Brophy reports from Liverpool: 

IT’S THAT TIME of year again. 

The Eurovision Song Contest is under way in earnest this evening. 

The UK is hosting on behalf of Ukraine, who were runaway winners of last year’s contest in Italy. 

Rehearsals have been under way at the cavernous Liverpool Arena since the end of last month, and tonight the first semi-final has kicked off in front of around 6,000 fans at the venue.

So who are the favourites this year? Who’s hosting? How does the voting work? And do Ireland have a shot at the final? 

Here’s everything you need to know.

Why is it in Liverpool? 

Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra won last year in Italy following a politically-charged buildup to the event that saw Russia barred from competing and Ukraine’s original selection for the contest – Alina Pash – pulling out due to claims she had illegally entered Crimea in the years after Moscow’s 2014 invasion of the territory. 

The group, who as men of fighting age had to be given special dispensation to leave the country for Eurovision, had long been considered favourites to claim the top prize. (They later sold the trophy to raise funds for the Ukrainian army).

torino-pala-olimpico-may-10th12th14th-2022-kalush-orchestra-winners-of-the-2022-edition-representing-ukraine-celebrating-live-on-stage-for-the-66th-edition-of-the-eurovision-song-contest The Kalush Orchestra celebrate winning the contest in Turin last May. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

It’s typically the case that whichever country wins the Eurovision also wins the right to host it the following year. For obvious reasons, that’s not happening this time around; organisers the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) made the decision to seek another host country based on what it described as a ‘severe risk’ of attacks by aircraft or missiles in Ukraine.

The UK was named as host nation last July in part because its 2022 act, Sam Ryder, came second in the contest. The BBC is hosting in conjunction with the EBU, with support from Ukrainian public broadcaster UA:PBC and viewers can expect plenty of Ukrainian themes and touches throughout this week’s shows. 

Liverpool was finally chosen as the host city – beating Glasgow in a runoff – in October after an initial list of 20 host candidates was whittled down. 

What’s the venue like? 

The Liverpool Arena – also known for sponsorship reasons as the M&S Bank Arena – sits on the banks of the Mersey and typically plays host to large-scale sporting events and concerts. The likes of Paul McCartney and Beyoncé have played there. 

Originally known as the Echo Arena, it was opened in 2008 and has a maximum capacity of around 11,000 people.  

Due to the stage layout the maximum capacity for the nine Eurovision shows will be around 6,000. 

liverpool-uk-09th-may-2023-the-atmosphere-in-the-city-before-the-start-of-the-first-eurovision-semi-final-night-in-liverpool-united-kingdom-on-may-9-2023-photo-sanjin-strukicpixsell-credit-p Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Nine shows?  

Yes, in addition to the Grand Final and two televised semi-finals there are also six rehearsal and dress rehearsal shows that are open to the public.

The first evening preview show – for the first semi-final – took place last night. A second preview show took place this afternoon.

The whole process begins again tomorrow with a full run-through on Wednesday night, a second preview on Thursday afternoon and the second semi-final on Thursday. 

The evening preview of the final on Friday night is particularly important as that’s when the professional juries cast their votes. 

Again, then there’s a final preview show on the Saturday afternoon before the showpiece final on Saturday night. 

let-3-of-croatia-performs-during-a-dress-rehearsal-for-the-first-semifinal-for-the-eurovision-song-contest-at-the-ms-bank-arena-in-liverpool-england-monday-may-8-2023-ap-photomartin-meissner Croatia's Let 3 perform in last night's dress rehearsal. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

It’s a gruelling schedule for the crew, the hosts and the acts. By Saturday night most of the acts in the final will have already played to a near-full venue five times.

Tickets for all shows sold out in in minutes when they were released two months ago and a final trache that went on sale late last month were also quickly snapped up.

Around 3,000 tickets for the live shows were made available to displaced Ukrainians living in the UK.

Who’s competing for Ireland?

Dublin band Wild Youth were selected as Ireland’s act in a Late Late Show Eurosong special back in February.

The group were chosen by a combination of public vote and votes from both a national and international jury in a contest that was also notable for the presence of former Sex Pistols frontman John Lydon.

Hopes are high that, as a well-established live act, the four piece can break a particularly poor run of form in the contest. 

Ireland has only made it past the semi-finals once since 2013 – a far cry from the heady days of the 1990s when we managed to win the contest outright three years in a row. 

The Late Late Show / YouTube

The group will will take part in tonight’s semi-final, which is the heat that UK voters – often quite Irish-friendly – will not be allowed to vote in. Despite that potential negative, there’s been some buzz about the band after some of their pre-contest shows and bookies are giving pretty good odds on them making the final. 

Ireland are sixth in the running order tonight. 

And who are the favourites? 

Sweden’s Loreen – who won the contest in Azerbaijan back in 2012 with the dance anthem Euphoria – is back with another (possibly even better) floor-filler, Tattoo

A triumph in the final on Saturday would make her the first woman to win the contest twice. 

Finnish rapper Käärijä is another favourite. His slightly mad entry combines ballroom dancing and aggressive rap with the mid-90s stadium dance stylings of The Prodigy.

Eurovision Song Contest / YouTube

Both acts are competing tonight – as is another fancied act, Norway’s Alessandra, who will open the show with the rollocking Queen of the Kings. (Yes, the Scandinavians are good at Eurovision). 

Not necessarily tipped as winners, but well worth a look tonight are Croatia’s Let 3 with their bonkers stop-start anti-war earworm Mama SC. They’re on just after Wild Youth.

How does the voting work? 

There’s a change to the semi-final voting this year – the professional juries have been scrapped for the Tuesday and Thursday shows and the decision will be solely down to a public vote.

In another change, there’ll also be an opportunity for people in non-competing countries to have their say in a ‘rest of world’ vote. (More details on how to vote here).  

There are 15 acts in tonight’s show and 16 in Thursday’s. The top ten acts on each night qualify. Unlike the grand final, there’s no prolonged buildup to the announcement of the winners – the qualifiers are simply told who’ll be going through. 

There are six other acts who will go straight through to the final – last year’s winners Ukraine and the so-called ‘Big Five’ countries of the UK, France, Spain, Germany and Italy who always get a bye into the decider as they pay a greater share towards organising the contest each year. 

rita-ora-performs-during-a-dress-rehearsal-for-the-eurovision-song-contest-at-the-ms-bank-arena-in-liverpool-england-monday-may-8-2023-ap-photomartin-meissner Rita Ora performing during a dress rehearsal last night. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Voting in the final is a bit more complicated, with the score for each country coming from a combination of a jury and public vote. 

The jury vote is announced first, followed by the audience votes – and organisers have been tweaking the format in recent years to ensure there’s usually a pretty tense split-screen finish. 

Do the bands play live? 

Nope, given the quick turnaround between the acts that wouldn’t really be possible. The rules of the contest state that it’s forbidden to plug in instruments. However, the lead vocals must always be live.

And who is hosting? 

Singer Alesha Dixon and actor Hannah Waddington (of Ted Lasso fame) are presenting the semi-finals alongside Ukrainian alternative rock star Julia Sanina.

Graham Norton will join the presenting line-up for the final, splitting his time between on-stage duties and his usual bemused commentary. 

Marty Whelan will be doing his usual bemused commentary, as usual, on duty for RTÉ.

Anything else to know? 

A certain Irish turkey will be making a cameo appearance tonight. No, really.

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