one, two, three and four.
Before 2008, ten countries were pre-qualified for the final in addition to the big spenders. Nice for them but clearly the current system is better. Just because you are good one year does not guarantee that you deserve a place in the final also the next year. Thanks to that system we had to sit through horrors like "Loca" and "Together We Are One" on a Saturday.
Another advantage of the current system is that no prediction made before Friday morning - the day before the final - is anything but advanced guessing. Not until then do we know what the competition really looks like. And that is so very exciting.
Since we don't have the running order for these songs as yet, here are the big five alphabetically and then Portugal last.
Madame Monsieur / Mercy
One of the many songs in this lineup that actually has something to say. The message can be seen as an accusing finger towards rich Europe refusing to lend a hand and help people in need. Beautifully understated and presenting its drama between the lines instead of using fireworks and pyro. Heavily dependent on its spot in the running order and what will come before and after but if everything turns out right, it could be France's best placing for many years.
No, that would be a surprise if so. On a good day it could possibly make its way into top five and become an international radio hit.
My grade: 4/5
Michael Schulte / You Let Me Walk Alone
Another really emotional effort, this time about losing a parent. Is this the Sobral effect, that the ESC suddenly seems to attract singers and songs that sound more sincere after some years of more streamlined music designed for other purposes? Michael Schulte is likeable and has a good voice and knows how to pull on the heartstrings. Unbearable for some, wonderful for others.
No, hardly. But Germany is maybe not in need of a victory as much as they need to steer clear of that dreaded last place they flirted with so massively for the last few years. That should be mission completed.
My grade: 3/5
Ermal Meta & Fabrizio Moro / Non mi avete fatto niente
As I child I usually struggled to embrace the Italian entries and look at me now. For the third year in a row, Italy is my personal favourite with this very engaging duet about the violence surrounding us all and how everything must still be worthwhile. Meta and Moro deliver for dear life with aggressive conviction and the Sanremo winner illustrates that the Italian team are still very keen of showing how seriously they take their presence in the ESC these days.
Yes, this one must be in with a chance. A favourable spot in the running order and the points could start ticking in.
My grade: 5/5
Amaia & Alfred / Tu canción
You know it must be a good year when even Spain shaped up. Seriously bitten by the Sobral bug, this updated equivalent of Sergio & Estíbaliz provide a hyper-romantic and soothing ballad about falling in love. Icky sweet and yet adorable unless you are completely immune to young love. A bit old-fashioned and maybe a bit too similar to last year's winner to go all the way but it sure is a great improvement on recent Spanish entries.
No, unless all the planets and stars line up the right way. This year is so hard to predict anyway.
My grade: 3/5
SuRie / Storm
Every time I hear this song my inner vision paints an image of a group of people sitting around a table. They have been told they must write a song together and nobody can eat or sleep or leave until it is ready. So they all put in bits and pieces until they have a melody and a lyric that doesn't mean anything to anyone but still it is a song, so they are free to go. Poor SuRie is a lovely performer and would have deserved something meaningful to sing instead of this bleak and poor songwriting exercise.
No. Au contraire - this is the most likely candidate for last place in the final. Possible nul-pointer. Who on earth would vote for this? And why?
My grade: 1/5
Cláudia Pascoal / O jardim
Something clearly clicked into place last year, and Portugal is delivering another piece of something that is totally their own thing. The live vocals and sound mix need improvement from the Portuguese final - compare to the fabulous studio version - but this is a charming and introverted slice of pop. Let's hope Portugal stays on this more contemporary track forever.
No. RTP can sleep easy. Maybe this song won't even break into the top 15, but who cares? It is a brave effort by a very likeable performer. On home ground you can do what you want - you already won.
My grade: 4/5
So who will be the winner of the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest? No idea. I am avoiding the rehearsal clips as I want as much of a surprise as only possible as the live shows go on air. Ask me again on May 11th, and I will give you my most educated guess.
But a tough battle between the likes of Israel, Czech republic, Italy and France would be nice. Throw in Finland and Sweden for the fun of it. Maybe I am right and Belgium is a dark horse waiting in the wings. And then Alexander Rybak comes in and wins it all?
I have a feeling this will be a very entertaining year. Fasten seatbelts.