Israel's former victors kick off Eurovision Song Contest grand final in Tel Aviv

The 26 finalists, including the UK's Michael Rice, will perform for the coveted ‘douze' points.

The grand final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2019 has begun at the Expo Tel Aviv venue in Israel, with a performance by a cohort of the musical extravaganza’s former stars.

Israel’s Netta Barzilai and Dana International, both previous winners, were joined by Swedish champion Mans Zelmerlow for a performance of Omer Adam’s song Tel Aviv, during which the 26 finalists were introduced before taking their seats to one side of the stage.

Malta’s Michela Pace opened the show with her song Chameleon, dancing in front of shifting graphics showing an urban landscape.

Second was Albania’s Jonida Maliqi with Ktheju Tokes, a dramatic and slow-paced track with lyrics referencing the Kosovo War

Third in front of the audience was three-piece boy band Lake Malawi with their pop-rock song Friend Of A Friend. The performance saw the group from the Czech Republic pogo-ing around the stage.

Two semi-finals, numerous dress rehearsals and a week of press and audience events have led up to this point.

The finalists will perform for the international public vote, which will make up 50% of the total vote, with the other half determined by a professional jury in each participating country, who cast their votes during performances on Friday.

The Eurovision Song Contest trophy
The Eurovision Song Contest trophy (Thomas Hanses)

Speaking before the performance, the UK’s Michael Rice told the Press Association: “I’m so looking forward to tonight. I’m going to sing my heart out and give it my best shot.”

Earlier, fans daubed their cheeks with their nation’s colours and wrapped flags around their shoulders as they made their way to the arena.

Despite his song being chosen to open the evening, Israeli dance-pop artist Adam, 25, was not present for the event.

He had been invited to perform but declined because rehearsals fell during Shabbat, Israel’s day of rest.

Extra buses were also scheduled to carry the audience to the venue, compensating for there being no public transport between the Shabbat hours of Friday sundown and Saturday sundown.

The UK, as one of the “big five” countries, along with France, Germany, Italy and Spain, was assured a place in the grand final.

Rice will perform 16th, after Norway and before Iceland, whose techno-punk outfit Hatari are a favourite to win.

UK fans can vote over the phone, by text or via the Eurovision app, available on iOS, Android and Windows devices.

As per one of Eurovision’s most famous quirks, fans can vote up to 20 times but will be unable to select their own country’s entry.

BBC One’s coverage of the Eurovision Song Contest’s grand final is on Saturday from 8pm, led by Graham Norton.

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