Ukraine takes the Eurovision Song Contest spotlight as the weirdest show on earth returns

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London (CNN)It tells you plentifulness astir the Eurovision Song Contest that Norway's participants -- 2 grown men successful wolf costumes who sing astir bananas and the imminent depletion of their grandparents -- are flying comparatively nether the radar this year.

The continent's garish and much-loved singing contention returns successful Turin, Italy connected Saturday, but lone 1 radical is commanding the spotlight successful the build-up: Ukraine's Kalush Orchestra.

The folk-rap radical are runaway favorites successful the betting markets and their beingness astatine the tourney has captured the imaginativeness of fans from each competing country.

    "As we speak, our state and our civilization is nether threat. But we privation to amusement that we are alive, Ukrainian civilization is alive, it is unique, diverse, and beautiful," Oleg Psyuk, the band's beforehand man, told CNN.

      Kalush Orchestra performing during rehearsals.

      "This is our mode to beryllium utile to our country," helium said.

      At archetypal sight, the six-piece radical look to slot successful comfortably with dozens of their much eccentric Eurovision brethren.

      Most members deterioration elaborate national dress, with rapper Psyuk besides sporting a pinkish bucket hat. One subordinate is truthful submerged by patterned embroidery that lone his rima is visible, portion the group's treble bassist comes dressed arsenic a shot of yarn.

        But getting Kalush Orchestra to the Eurovision signifier took immoderate doing, and their travel is profoundly interwoven with the warfare astatine home.

        The set initially finished 2nd successful Ukraine's nationalist enactment competition, but they were elevated aft it emerged the victor had antecedently traveled to Russian-annexed Crimea. They were unveiled arsenic the country's introduction connected February 22, 2 days earlier Russian troops invaded Ukraine.

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        "All members of the radical are someway progressive successful the defence of the country," Psyuk told CNN via email.

        One member, Vlad Kurochka, joined the territorial defence and is warring connected the beforehand line, meaning a precocious replacement was needed for the contest. Psyuk, meanwhile, volunteers to find internally displaced Ukrainians structure and organizes the proscription of nutrient and medicines.

        The backdrop of struggle analyzable preparations for Eurovision. The radical were forced to rehearse virtually until they were yet capable to conscionable successful Lviv aft weeks of war.

        And their opus has taken connected caller meaning. "Stefania," sung successful Ukrainian, is simply a tribute to Psyuk's mother, who inactive lives successful the occidental metropolis of Kalush from which the set takes its name. "On immoderate days determination are rockets flying implicit people's houses and it is similar a lottery -- nary 1 knows wherever it volition hit," Psyuk told CNN.

        Organizers banned Russia from the contention successful February, 24 hours aft an initial, wide criticized determination to let it to instrumentality part. The European Broadcasting Union concluded that the country's beingness "would bring the contention into disrepute."

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        Belarus, which aided Moscow's invasion, had already been suspended owed to the suppression of media state successful the country.

        Kalush, meanwhile, sailed done Tuesday's semifinal and elicited chaotic cheers from the assemblage erstwhile they came onstage. Eurovision is notoriously hard to predict, fixed its constituent strategy relies some connected assemblage verdicts and nationalist voting from dozens of countries, but Kalush look a harmless stake to instrumentality this year's crown.

        A Ukrainian triumph would mean the state had the close to big adjacent year's contention -- but it is acold from definite that specified an lawsuit would beryllium imaginable successful Ukraine adjacent May.

        Psyuk, though, is optimistic. "We judge successful our opus ... it has go a opus astir the motherland," helium said.

        "If it turns retired that we volition win, Eurovision 2023 volition beryllium held successful Ukraine. In a new, integral Ukraine ... a rebuilt, prosperous, blessed country."

        Norway's electro duo Subwoolfer volition  beryllium  facing disconnected  with Ukraine and dozens of different   hopefuls.

        The frontrunners

        Kalush Orchestra are joining a typically ragtag radical of nationalist competitors astatine this year's contest, and portion they are the wide favorites to triumph, a fig of different artists person managed to get Europe talking successful the build-up.

        Italy could clinch the crown for a 2nd consecutive twelvemonth if hometown heroes Mahmood and Blanco deliver. Both are palmy artists successful the country; present they're joining forces to emulate Maneskin, the punk rockers who won successful an upset past year.

        Subwoolfer, Norway's enigmatic electro duo, person besides attracted buzz with their introduction "Give That Wolf a Banana."

        The brace assertion they were formed connected the satellite 4.5 cardinal years agone and ne'er region their yellowish canine masks. They astir intimately lucifer a TikTok-ified Daft Punk, had the legendary French brace hired David Lynch arsenic their creator manager and deed the kids' parties circuit.

        Less "out there" are entries from Sweden, Poland and Greece -- each 3 person brought ballads to the array that are definite to involvement the nationalist juries.

        And present are immoderate words this seasoned Eurovision newsman ne'er thought he'd type: The United Kingdom mightiness triumph this year.

        Sam Ryder, pictured present  rehearsing successful  Turin, represents the UK's champion  accidental  of winning the contention   successful  a generation.

        That's close -- the federation that has, successful the past decade, sent what remains of Bonnie Tyler and Engelbert Humperdinck to vie with Europe's up-and-comers has reluctantly accepted that modernity is not conscionable a passing fad, turning to a TikTok sensation successful a play for Europe's under-65 demographic.

        Sam Ryder's "Space Man" is an unusually beardown British introduction that takes inspiration from Elton John and Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie, and immoderate bookmakers springiness lone Ukraine amended likelihood to win.

        But the way relies heavy connected the singular vocal acrobatics that helped Ryder spell viral during the aboriginal days of the pandemic -- truthful helium can't spend an off-night if he's to interruption the UK's 25-year Eurovision curse.

        The champion (and worst) of the rest

        Italy is hoping to enactment connected a amusement connected Saturday night, to people the archetypal post-Covid Eurovision successful beforehand of a afloat audience. The 2020 variation was canceled, and past year's took spot with assemblage restrictions.

        That contention marked the merchandise of 2 years' worthy of suppressed weirdness, and the code of this contention is somewhat much accepted by comparison. But this is inactive Eurovision, and it is inactive weird -- truthful casual viewers tuning successful exclusively to shingle their heads and tut won't beryllium fto down.

        Already eliminated are Latvia, whose environmentally conscious anthem "Eat Your Salad" began with the enactment "I don't devour meat, I devour veggies and p*ssy." Organizers unsurprisingly asked them to skip implicit the feline allusions, and successful doing truthful wiped distant the song's lone absorbing feature.

        Konstrakta opines connected  the value  of hydration to the hairsbreadth  of Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.

        Serbia's Konstrakta begins her entry, "In Corpore Sano," with the question keeping america each up astatine night: "What could beryllium the concealed of Meghan Markle's steadfast hair?" Then she benignant of conscionable ... keeps going with that theme. "What could it be?" Konstrakta sings successful her autochthonal tongue. "I deliberation it's each astir the heavy hydration."

        Last year, the landlocked micronation of San Marino inexplicably included Flo Rida successful their song, and past forced the bemused rapper to beryllium and ticker arsenic the radical of Europe successively shrugged astatine his waning prima power, dumping the state to a fourth-from-bottom finish.

        This year, Achille Lauro -- a antheral who takes his signifier sanction from a famously hijacked cruise vessel -- picks up the mantle for the smallest state successful the competition. With a tattooed, androgynous aesthetic and lyrics that liken his bosom to a enactment toy, Lauro is astir apt the atrocious lad of Eurovision 2022. (Though he's inactive got a mode to spell to bushed past year's winners, who were yet cleared of taking cocaine connected aerial pursuing a viral video that sparked an probe by organizers.)

        Other agelong shots worthy your clip see Stefan, Estonia's reply to Johnny Cash. He's played up the Western taxable successful his euphony video, and though his Eastwoodian credentials widen astir arsenic acold arsenic being capable to deterioration a poncho and look somberly into the mediate distance, his throaty vocals and catchy chorus could occupation the frontrunners.

        Albanian entrant Ronela Hajati arrives for the contest's opening   ceremony.

        And past determination are party-crashers Australia. Initially invited successful 2015 to people the show's 60th anniversary, Australia proceed to stone up each year, boxed vino successful hand, awkwardly laughing on astatine Europe's wrong jokes and hoping to clinch a triumph for the hardcore fans who aftermath up successful the aboriginal hours to ticker the amusement backmost home.

        To beryllium just to Australia, they springiness it their each -- and this year's rival Sheldon Riley's aptly named way "Not the Same" is expected to crook successful a respectable finish.

        And the popularity of Eurovision successful the confederate hemisphere is testament to its increasing strength, adjacent successful its seventh decade.

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        A US knock-off -- thing called the "American Song Contest," which Europeans look astatine with the aforesaid suspicious scowl they deterioration erstwhile handling own-brand mayonnaise successful a discount store -- precocious concluded stateside, and a 2020 Netflix movie starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams introduced caller demographics to the feverishly followed competition.

        Eurovision, for each its oddities, maintains a peculiar spot successful the taste calendar. But winning would beryllium uniquely important for Kalush Orchestra, and it's hard to ideate a much fashionable victor successful the tournament's history.

          "For us, the triumph would mean appreciation of Ukrainian music, its uniqueness and beauty," Psyuk told CNN. "The triumph would besides assistance the tone of Ukrainian people, who (have) not had immoderate interruption (for) joyousness for much than 2 months."

          Eurovision airs astatine 9 p.m. section clip (3 p.m. ET) connected Saturday, and it's disposable connected Peacock for US viewers.

          CNN's Xiaofei Xu contributed reporting.

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