LISBON, Portugal – The curtain goes up Saturday on the Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest.
The hugely popular international event is organized by the European Broadcasting Union, an alliance of public service broadcasters.
Here is a look at what the show is and how it works.
LISBON TAKES A BOW
Every year, more than 40 countries select, through national competitions, the act that each of them they will send to the Eurovision Song Contest. The host country is the winner of the previous year’s event.
Portugal won last year in Kyiv with an intimate solo ballad by Salvador Sobral, the country’s first victory since it started competing in 1964. The Altice Arena, a riverside concert venue in the capital, Lisbon, was chosen to host the 2018 competition.
Sobral, 28, had a heart transplant in December and has limited his activities, but he is expected to make a guest appearance at the Grand Final in a duet with legendary Brazilian musician Caetano Veloso.
This year saw the return to competition of Russia, a traditional favourite, after missing last year’s event amid a diplomatic spat with host Ukraine. But it was a short return: Russia’s contestant Julia Samoylova went out in the semifinals, while Ukraine singer Melovin advanced to the Grand Final.
The Eurovision Song Contest was widely rebuked last year for picking three men to host the show in Kyiv.
The organizers’ response for Lisbon: four female presenters.
The four are Daniela Ruah, who grew up in Portugal and is a star on the hit television show “NCIS: Los Angeles,” and three women known for their TV work in Portugal: Filomena Cautela, Silvia Alberto and Catarina Furtado.
ONES TO WATCH
Six countries automatically qualify for the Grand Final: the so-called “Big Five” of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the U. K., as well as the host country.
Two semifinals last week cut the overall field from 43 to the 26 who will compete on Saturday night.
The bookmakers’ favourites this year are: Israel’s Netta Barzilai, with her playful song “Toy”; Cypriot singer Eleni Foureira, with her fiery performance of “Fuego”; and France’s Madame Monsieur with the politically charged “Mercy,” about migrants who risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean on unsafe boats hoping for a better life in Europe.
Portuguese winner Sobral last year wore a casual jacket and shirt and gave a soulful, restrained performance that went against the show’s gaudy, Euro-pop orthodoxy. This year Claudia Pascoal also keeps things simple with “O Jardim” (“The Garden”).
History suggests the winner is unlikely to become a household name. Some have gone on to bigger things, however: ABBA, the Swedish winners in 1974; Spanish singer Julio Iglesias, who came out on top four years earlier; and Celine Dion of Switzerland in 1988.
WATCHING THE WALLET
The Eurovision Song Contest is famous for its excesses, especially in staging and costumes, but this year producers are keeping a close eye on their spending.
Goncalo Reis, head of host broadcaster Radiotelevisao Portuguesa, has promised this will be the most inexpensive Eurovision Song Contest of recent times. That has translated into fewer stage fireworks and elaborate props, allowing a greater focus on the music — just as Sobral urged when he was crowned winner.
With media companies feeling a financial pinch, Reis says RTP will spend around 20 million euros ($23.8 million) putting on the show, including security and other associated items. RTP will have to pay 4 million euros of that, with the rest coming from the EBU.
Reis reckons Portugal’s revenue from tourism and sponsorship deals will amount to more than the sum spent.
HOW TO WIN EUROVISION
After all the acts have performed, the tense, drawn-out collating of votes begins. The live coverage jumps to each participating country, where a jury and viewers award between one and a maximum 12 points to their favourite songs. Those votes are combined to give each country a single score.
The magic words: “douze points” (12 points) are like hitting a home run in baseball and elicit loud cheers from flag-waving supporters at the show.
No country can vote for its own contestant. By tradition, each announcement is made in English or French. Ending up with “nul points” (zero points) is deeply embarrassing.
Barring technical glitches, the winner should be crowned before midnight (2300 GMT).