Dami Kills It And Things Gets Political: Junkee’s Eurovision 2016 Semi-Final Match Report

Our man on the ground thinks Australia might actually win this thing.

After a phenomenal performance at the semi finals last night, Australia’s Eurovision candidate Dami Im has moved up to pole position for the grand final. Our man on the ground, ABC sport reporter Adam Collins, reports here live from the Eurovision press room in Stockholm.

Reputations are earned far quicker than they’re shed, and Eurovision’s is well-established. Naff, kitsch nonsense with wind machines and sequins: it’s a glorious excuse for a Sunday night (or 5am) drinking game, but it’s not fair dinkum.

But, in plain sight, under the laser lights of a continent, that’s what Eurovision is perilously close to becoming. That’s the main takeaway from the two semi-finals that reduced the field to 26 ahead of Saturday night’s Grand Final in Stockholm: for better or worse, Eurovision’s kind of not shit anymore. There couldn’t be a better year for both the USA and China to be taking a live telecast for the first time, nor Justin Timberlake to be performing in the half-time show.

Sure, the chap representing Belarus sang naked alongside a wolf. Yep, Cyprus’ front man howled like a dog. And believe me when I report that one host joked about her vibrator and the other implied that he shagged half of Sweden. But the competition wasn’t afraid to give more time this year to heavier statements about European’s refugee crisis and LGBTI rights. Dami, who emigrated to Australia as a child from Korea, also told me that in a youth where she found it challenging to belong, fandom of Eurovision was somewhere she did.

There’s this unnerving sense of credibility about the week. For real.

There’s no better illustration of the more refined Eurovision experience in 2016 than Ukraine’s act. Jamala’s song, ‘1944’, a haunting track about a World War Two massacre, would usually stand no chance. Yet it continues to shorten with the bookies by the day, now into second-favourite position.

Belgium’s jaunty horns and synchronised dance collaboration was never in doubt for recognition, nor was Israel’s belt and braces ballad (with cut-off glitter gloves to boot). Serbia won the key change of the night, and Lithuania’s Danny Montell’s summersault after shedding his white leather jacket won’t be for nothing if he can land it on Saturday.

Georgia’s indie rock dancefloor filler may not win the trophy but will probably land a record deal, while Bulgaria’s enigmatic Poli Genova has the best all-round kit with flashing shoulder/knee pads and a Skrillex haircut.

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Introducing: the newest Avenger.

Denmark and Norway were on the wrong side of tonight’s ballot, missing out like other Scandinavian bloc members Finland and Iceland. This can only help Sweden as far as voting mechanics are concerned, who got a free pass to the final as this year’s host.

Of course Dami Im pulled off a perfect performance in the second eliminator and earned the loudest crowd roars of the night. She enters the Saturday night decider with as good a chance as any to raise the trophy Australia’s second time of asking.

There will be plenty of renewed hype around Australia after tonight, but Russia — who qualified on Tuesday — remain the firm favourite with Sergey Lazarev’s killer pop song straight from the How To Win Eurovision playbook. Politics looks to be his biggest hurdle.

With entendre aplenty and a cape-over-leotard outfit, Armenia were the next most impressive finalist from Tuesday, and Azerbaijan’s Samra showed real skills while singing into a John Laws-style golden microphone.

The Eurovision “big five” (i.e. the countries who throw in the most cash) make up the field for the final. France are the sleeper, slipping from second-favourite to further back in the field, but are very popular with long-time watchers, while Spain’s energy will get it plenty of votes. Oh, and get this: the UK won’t come last!

All this will make for a fascinating final. Will the voters of Europe follow suit with the music and back something from the top shelf? Can Australia pinch it? For more than the key changes alone, it’ll be worth setting the alarm for.

Adam Collins is travel and sport writer, cricket commentator for ABC’s Grandstand, ESPN and basically anyone else who’ll take him.