Step one: believe in it. That’s how you write a song. And there’s nothing bigger than the power of belief at Eurovision, except perhaps for Eurovision expectation. Who will surprise? Who will flounder? Who will go for a Roman centurion in a hamster wheel? Who will get lewd with a saxophone?
But let’s be realistic: we were only ever here for Jessica Mauboy, who won through to the grand final on Friday morning Australian time after a triumphant return to Eurovision.
A behind-the-scenes documentary on SBS for her 2014 “interval act” performance, detailed the gruelling two-month lead-in for Eurovision: a rigorous regime of publicity, media calls, rehearsals and bump-ins. A global audience of 180 million. More than 1,600 people involved as crew behind the scenes as Jess went through no fewer than 12 full dress rehearsals. No wonder on the night she seemed both nervous, a touch overwhelmed and, frankly, exhausted.
So how would she fare four years on? It took quite a while to find out.
I’m an Alexander Rybak tragic, so there couldn’t be a better way to start semi-final two than having the 2009 Eurovision winner from Norway open the stage in Lisbon.
The raw, boyish charm that tugged at hearts from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic a decade ago is back, albeit replaced with a slightly more produced 2.0 version, but hell, at least the fiddle’s back, and the mood in the room is already electric.
A touch too Måns Zemerlöw? Perhaps. Damn that Swedish human Ken doll. Since 2015 it seems everybody is interacting with projected graphics these days. The lyrics are a touch twee, and sadly, I’m not sure we believe in it. Show me some frickin’ heart, Rybak.
Romania arrive, and they get decidedly creepy with a simple Star Wars meets Phantom of the Opera vibe. Sure, there was a costume reveal, but an all-white-clad entourage? Ugh, nul points.
Serbia arrives with capes (capes!) but sadly are no Turkey 2012, and San Marino bring robots, bless. Denmark are next, Il Divo with beards.
Russia’s Julia Samoylova arrives, beautiful and tugging at the heart-strings. Three acts to go.
DoReDoS from Moldova bring the tempo up if not the tuning with My Lucky Day, one of the top-five all-time toilet-urinal-sliding door acts Eurovision has seen. At least in recent years.
And now Waylon from the Netherlands is on – one act to go. If there’s a place that can do US country – think Steve Earle but 20 years later – in a way that instantly feels like your dad dancing at a wedding, then it’s Europe. (But in leopard print, obviously).
Thankfully for Jess and Australia, this wasn’t, as Guy Sebastian once told us, “one tough act to follow”.
And so, the moment we are all waiting for.
In a simple yet classic purple-blue dress with hint de sparkle, we start intimate. It’s Jess! Amid clean, simple staging the backing track emerges as an upbeat techno anthem. The nerves of four years ago are gone: Jess is really into this, you can see it in her eyes.
About halfway through a minor dance interlude, the music breaks, the anticipation builds, oh yes – and pyrotechnics! This is building nicely. It’s a straightforward classic pop number, but it’s building nicely.
Jess has got hold of this, she throws in some of her trademark big vocal flourishes.
There’s a saying in opera that you have to earn your finish and, as the music stops, there’s rapturous applause around the Altice Arena in Lisbon. Terrific from Jess, she really gave that everything she had and a sense of the genuine, warm, lovely person that she is came through.
A redemptive second showing – but will it be enough to go through? Oh Eurovision, once again the nervous waiting and expectation returns.
Then jubilation. She’s made it to the grand final. Congratulations, Jess. You rang true, and got through.
Step one, believe in it, that’s how you write a song.