With no Turkey again in this year’s Eurovision, millions of Turks across Europe may be struggling to find a reason to watch the annual TV song contest.
Fear not, there are at least three good reasons to tune in. First, support the contender from the country you are based in – in our case, UK entry Joe and Jake. Then there’s Turkish singer Serhat, who is representing San Marino, and Turkic singer Samra for Azerbaijan.
This year’s Eurovision takes place in the Swedish capital Stockholm. Next weekend’s final on May 14 is preceded by two semi-finals on May 10 and 12. Samra and Serhat will both be in action in the first one.
Turkey ‘on stage’ via Serhat
According to Hürriyet newspaper, 51-year-old Serhat Hacıpaşalıoğlu is the first Turk to represent another country at the Eurovision Song Contest.
In 2014, the former dentist-turned-showbiz presenter had a European hit with his French single Je M´adore, its success prompting an invitation from San Marino Radio Television manager Marco Vannuzzi for Serhat to represent the 24-mile long microstate.
“This year, even though Turkey is not joining the contest officially, it will be on the stage again through my existence. So I have double responsibility,” Serhat told the paper.
His Eurovision song I Didn’t Know is one of the competition’s rank outsiders with nonsensical lyrics – “I didn’t know / That you’re freezing the time / Just to make you all mine”.
What the song lacks in logic, Serhat makes up for in his impeccable dress-sense topped with a cool trilby hat. Not surprising given his Eurovision stylist and set designer is internationally renowned fashion designer Thierry Mugler, who has worked with pop stars such as Beyoncé and George Michael.
The Turkish crooner will be supported on stage by an army of sexy backing dancers, and he hopes the song’s soaring strings and infectious club beat will strike a chord with viewers.
Samra hoping for a ‘Miracle’ at Eurovision
Doing better with the bookies is Samra. Her song Miracle is tipped for a place in the finals and a top 10 finish.
The mid-tempo song was selected from 400 entries submitted to Azerbaijan this year and its 21-year-old vocalist Samra is already known to her home public.
She first tried out for Eurovision aged 16, reaching the national finals. The experience prompted her to study music at Azerbaijan State University of Culture and Arts. The gorgeous young singer has since appeared on various TV singing competitions including Turkey’s The Voice (O Ses Türkiye), where she reached the quarter-finals in 2015.
Azerbaijan has only been competing in Eurovision since 2008, but were winners in 2011 with Ell & Nikki’s ballad Running Scared. Samra will be hoping to emulate them with her powerful vocals and simple lyrics about a doomed relationship.
The bookies’ favourite and Britain
The current hot favourite for this year’s Eurovision is Russia’s Sergey Lazarev, already a huge pop star back home. His cheesy, dance-infused You Are The Only One is an upbeat pop song with a catchy chorus that has all the ingredients European audiences adore.
The UK’s entry in Stockholm, You’re Not Alone by Joe and Jake, has an automatic pass into the finals next Saturday. The duo, familiar to British audiences through their stints on The Voice, are predicted to achieve Britain’s best placing in the competition in years with their feel-good pop ditty and boyish good looks.
Our tip for glory: Barei’s Say Yay!. Spain’s entry is easily one of the best songs in the competition and so good in fact, we can see it becoming a big hit this summer.
Flag ban controversy
This year’s competition has been mired in controversy before a single note has been sung. Eurovision recently ruled that only flags from participating countries can be waved during the competition, provoking a huge outcry against the ban.
The backlash has forced the organisers to soften their rules, which will now allow regional flags, such as that of Wales, to be shown too. However, flags representing North Cyprus, Palestine and Kosovo remain prohibited.
A petition demanding the ban on the TRNC flag be revoked has attracted over 2,100 signatures so far.