Ukraine takes the Eurovision Song Contest spotlight as the weirdest show on earth returns - CNN
May 13, 2022 2 mins, 27 secs
The continent's garish and much-loved singing competition returns in Turin, Italy on Saturday, but only one group is commanding the spotlight in the build-up: Ukraine's Kalush Orchestra.

The folk-rap group are runaway favorites in the betting markets and their presence at the tournament has captured the imagination of fans from every competing country.

"As we speak, our country and our culture is under threat.

But we want to show that we are alive, Ukrainian culture is alive, it is unique, diverse, and beautiful," Oleg Psyuk, the band's front man, told CNN.

"This is our way to be useful to our country," he said.

At first sight, the six-piece group seem to slot in comfortably with dozens of their more eccentric Eurovision brethren.

They were unveiled as the country's entry on February 22, two days before Russian troops invaded Ukraine.

"All members of the group are somehow involved in the defense of the country," Psyuk told CNN via email.

Eurovision is notoriously difficult to predict, given its point system relies both on jury verdicts and public voting from dozens of countries, but Kalush seem a safe bet to take this year's crown.

A Ukrainian victory would mean the country had the right to host next year's contest -- but it is far from certain that such an event would be possible in Ukraine next May.

Psyuk, though, is optimistic.

a rebuilt, prosperous, happy country."

The frontrunners

Kalush Orchestra are joining a typically ragtag group of national competitors at this year's contest, and while they are the clear favorites to triumph, a number of other artists have managed to get Europe talking in the build-up.

Italy could clinch the crown for a second consecutive year if hometown heroes Mahmood and Blanco deliver.

Initially invited in 2015 to mark the show's 60th anniversary, Australia continue to rock up each year, boxed wine in hand, awkwardly laughing along at Europe's inside jokes and hoping to clinch a victory for the hardcore fans who wake up in the early hours to watch the show back home.

To be fair to Australia, they give it their all -- and this year's competitor Sheldon Riley's aptly named track "Not the Same" is expected to turn in a respectable finish.

And the popularity of Eurovision in the southern hemisphere is testament to its growing strength, even in its seventh decade.

A US knock-off -- something called the "American Song Contest," which Europeans look at with the same suspicious scowl they wear when handling own-brand mayonnaise in a discount store -- recently concluded stateside, and a 2020 Netflix film starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams introduced new demographics to the feverishly followed competition.

Eurovision, for all its oddities, maintains a special place in the cultural calendar.

But winning would be uniquely significant for Kalush Orchestra, and it's hard to imagine a more popular victor in the tournament's history.

"For us, the victory would mean appreciation of Ukrainian music, its uniqueness and beauty," Psyuk told CNN.

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