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Kitsch costumes, frenzied fans and a cultural contest that has been drawing viewers from around the world for 66 years, the Eurovision Song Contest has become a grand celebration of music, mayhem, wild performances and everything in between.

As this year’s grand finale takes place on May 14, here’s a everything to know about Eurovision, the hot contenders of 2022 and how to watch it in the UAE.

What is it all about?

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Image Credit: AP

What once began by the European Broadcasting Union in 1956 with just seven countries, today, Eurovision has become a powerhouse, drawing viewers from across the world.

Every year, the previous year’s winning country gets to play host with Italy having won the honour of stage 2022’s main event, with Turin’s Pala Olimpico arena staging the final performances under the theme: The Sound of Beauty.

Starting out with 40 participants in its 66th edition of the contest, that number was whittled down to 20 best songs across two semi-finals that took place on May 10 and 12 courtesy of audience voting. These final 20 have the honour to perform at the grand finale, along with the Big Five (Germany, Spain, France, Italy and the UK).

How does the voting take place?

Votes are cast by music industry professionals and the public from each country - and out of fairness, nobody can vote for their own nation.

Blocs of nations have in the past often voted together, from the francophone countries France, Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg, to the Nordic and more recent central or eastern European blocs.

Almost 4,400 Eurovision fans affiliated to OGAE (An international organisation which consists of a network of 42 Eurovision Song Contest fan clubs across Europe and beyond) have already cast their ballots for their favourite songs in Turin - and Ukraine came in 11th, with repeat winner Sweden on top, followed by Italy and Spain.

The Ukrainian OGAE fans crowned Poland — a country that has taken in millions of Ukrainian refugees since the war began — followed by Spain, France, Norway and Sweden.

Who is hosting this year’s event?

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Hosts Alessandro Cattelan, Laura Pausini and Mika gesture during the first semi-final of the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest in Turin, Italy, May 10, 2022. REUTERS/Yara Nardi Image Credit: REUTERS

The Eurovision Song Contest will be hosted by three presenters: Laura Pausini, Alessandro Cattelan and Mika. Yes, the very same singer who had us all on our feet dancing to ‘Grace Kelly’.

Pausini is, right now, possibly the most highly regarded Italian recording artist in the world. In 2021 alone she won four Latin Grammys, a Grammy Award, a Golden Globe, and received a historic Oscars nod (for the first ever song sung entirely in Italian to be nominated) before performing ‘Io sì’ (Seen) at the 93rd Academy Awards.

Cattelan is arguably the most recognised face on Italian TV and is the creator and host of late shows, entertainment evenings and brand new formats. He is probably best known for hosting ‘Total Request Live’, ‘Le Iene’ and ‘The X Factor’ (Italy).

Meanwhile, Lebanese-British singer-songwriter Mika will complete his hosting duties before hitting the road for a North American tour.

Who are the hot favourites to win this year?

Ukraine: As hot favourites to win this year’s contest, Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra has made it to Turin, despite a war ravaging their country. Competing with their song ‘Stefania’, the group is ready to show the world that its blend of modern rap and classic Ukrainian folk music is a sure shot hit. Enjoying a flood of popular support and tipped by bookmakers to win the cult competition, ‘Stefania’ is almost a lullaby, addressed to a mother. With striking lyrics such as ‘I’ll always find my way home even if all the roads are destroyed’, the song has become “really close to the hearts of many Ukrainians”, frontman rapper Oleh Psiuk told AFP, who along with the band received special government authorisation to attend Eurovision.

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Kalush Orchestra. Image Credit: AFP

Italy: All eyes are on Mahmood and BLANCO as performers from the host country who won hearts with their passionate performance of ‘Brividi’. But Mahmood, who is returning to the contest after a second-place finish at Eurovision in Tel Aviv three years ago, also has the might of the Arab world backing him with this half-Italian, half-Egyptian singer wearing both heritages with price. Looking at the 2022 event as a fresh start, Mahmood is gunning to win. “I’m super-happy to be here again. It’s a great possibility to bring my story to a big stage. In 2019, I was just telling my own story of when I was a kid. With ‘Brividi’, it’s another story. You can say different things in a different way. This is a completely new experience singing with him [BLANCO], and I learn something from him every time we sing.” The romantic ballad ‘Brividi’ is sure to move the hardest heart.

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Mahmood and BLANCO. Image Credit: Reuters

UK: Having first found fame on TikTok covering hits during the lockdown, the UK’s Sam Ryder is in the number three spot as the artist likely to win the contest this year. The 32-year-old, from near Maldon in Essex, will represent the UK with his uplifting pop song ‘Space Man’. Speaking to the BBC ahead of the grand finale, Ryder said: “I’m just excited and grateful to have the [Eurovision] opportunity. I’ve got to be real, I didn’t have a clue it would be in my stars. ‘Space Man’ was written a year and a half ago, I never intended for it to be a Eurovision song.” He further added: “My personal goal for this is to sing with the same intention that I always sing with, and then come away with the joy that it has given me.” Awww.

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Sam Ryder Image Credit: AFP

Are there any other acts of note?

Glad you asked. Norway’s Subwoolfer, who perform their upbeat ‘Give That Wolf a Banana’ wearing cartoonish yellow wolf masks complete with white teeth, already has garnered a cult following.

Are there any more surprises?

Not really a surprise, but last year’s winners, Italy’s leather-clad glam band Maneskin, will perform at the finale with a new single, ‘Supermodel’. The band, comprising vocalist Damiano David, bassist Victoria De Angelis, guitarist Thomas Raggi, and drummer Ethan Torchio, first rose to prominence after finishing in second place in the 11th season of the Italian talent show ‘The X Factor’ in 2017.

Their international breakthrough came when the foursome won Sanremo in their native Italy in 2021, going on to represent their country at the Eurovision Song Contest that May with the song ‘Zitti E Buoni’.

Since then, Maneskin have enjoyed chart success all over the world with ‘I Wanna Be Your Slave’ and ‘Beggin’’, with the former reaching a peak of number 5 in the UK, and the latter climbing as high as number 13 in the US.

How to watch it in the UAE?

Head to the Eurovision Song Contest YouTube channel here and catch the show live at 11pm UAE time.

— With additional inputs from AFP and AP

The most iconic Eurovision song of all time…

ABBA skyrocketed into the spotlight in 1974, becoming the greatest success story to come out of Eurovision with the now-classic pop anthem, ‘Waterloo’. ABBA went on to become one of the best-selling bands in music history, selling 150 million records worldwide.