Interview: Eurovision Semi Final hosts Rylan Clark-Neal and Scott Mills

The biggest music extravaganza on the planet returns this May as the Eurovision Song Contest, one of the longest-running and most-watched non-sporting events in the world, is broadcast live from Lisbon across the BBC.

The Portuguese capital will play host to the competition for the first time in history following the country's first victory at the 2017 contest in Kyiv, with the song Amar pelos dois, performed by Salvador Sobral.

This year marks the 63rd edition of the competition, with a total of 43 countries competing in the contest, including two semi-finals that will be broadcast on BBC Four, and the Grand Final which will be broadcast on BBC One and BBC Radio 2.

Once again BBC Four will have the semi's on, and this year's hosts Rylan Clark-Neal and Scott Mills tell us more...

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Rylan

As a self-confessed Eurovision super fan - what is it that you love about Eurovision?

I just love the fact that it’s the world coming together and it’s always got a good message behind it. Even though it’s a competition and its got competition elements to it, everyone that I’ve met who’s competing seems more bothered about competing rather than winning and that’s really nice because even though they all want to win it doesn’t feel as though people are against each other. It feels like everyone is together having the same experience.

Do you have any all-time favourite acts?

I love Sertab Erener with Everyway That I Can - that was an absolute tune. I think Sweden’s Måns Zelmerlöw and Loreen were also amazing. Oh god - there’s so many that I could list off!

On to our act for this year - what do you think to SuRie and her song Storm?

I tell you what, when I did You Decide that was the song for me from the second she started singing it and when I was at the London Eurovision Party recently I spoke to SuRie again and she’s a lovely girl and I’m looking forward to spending time with her in Lisbon. I met a few other entries who were unknowingly humming along to Storm - and if other countries are subconsciously singing our song then we have a good song!

Have you listened to all of the songs yet? Which of this year’s acts do you like?

I really like Benjamin from Sweden with Dance You Off, and Equinox from Bulgaria with Bones - and they were really great to interview at the London Eurovision Party. And Ari from Iceland was also a great interview - I go off who’s a really great interview as that gives me hope of what their performances will be like!

Have you ever been to Lisbon before?

I’ve filmed previously just outside of Lisbon and I love the culture there and I really like it but I’ve never spent time in the main city which is where we’ll be for Eurovision. I’m excited to see the city and the nightlife that Lisbon has to offer!

What are you looking forward to about the semis?

I’m looking forward to having a laugh and some fun and being a bit cheeky as well as seeing what people bring to the stage. And, also I’m going to feel for the people who don’t qualify - as it’s got to be awful to have got this far and performed at the semis and not get through to the final - that would be really, really hard.

Where will you be for the final?

For the final I will be in Lisbon in the arena having the night of my life - I am staying! I cannot go to Eurovision and not stay for the final! I’m looking forward to cheering SuRie on from the front.

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Scott Mills

You described Eurovision as the highlight of your year - what is it about Eurovision?

I think the reason I enjoy it so much is because it’s kind of like an escapism, you get to go away for a whole week to a place you’ve likely never been to before. For example, last year we were in Kyiv in Ukraine and I had such a great time spending a whole week in a bubble of joy. The only thing you hear about is Eurovision the whole time, it’s such a happy place, everybody gets on and there are people from loads of different countries and backgrounds but everyone has something in common because they all love Eurovision. I think that’s why it’s still going strong 60 plus years on.

Do you have any advice for Rylan, your new commentator for 2018?

He’s already messaged me saying: "You need to look after me!" It’s really hard to explain Eurovision to somebody that’s never been before, you just have to go and soak it all up. The thing is that it’s not just the final, there’s a whole week in the lead up with a red carpet, there’s Euro Village where all the fans hang out and then there’s Euroclub - where all the music in the club is from Eurovision and some of the acts perform. Rylan will love it, it’s right up his street as he’s a massive Eurovision fan. He was on the panel for You Decide, so he’s got the knowledge and it’ll be a dream come true for him.

Have you ever been to Lisbon before?

I haven’t, it’s one of those places that seems to crop up everywhere at the moment as the city to go to in the papers and online, it looks proper cool. I’ve wanted to go there on a weekend break, but it’s even more exciting that I get to go for Eurovision. The EBU who run Eurovision, their promotional videos of Lisbon look stunning. The arena there holds 20,000 people and it’s right next to the beach, so it’s going to be a good one. I can’t wait.

On to our act for this year - what do you think of SuRie and her song Storm?

I think that on the night of You Decide, it was definitely the best performance and best song. I know SuRie from before, as she’s been a backing singer for Belgium. So when I saw her at You Decide, it was a 'fancy seeing you here' moment! She’s brilliant and hilarious; I know she’ll do a good job as she’s such a strong performer. The song is probably the most Eurovision friendly song the United Kingdom’s had in years; it’s got all the ingredients of a classic Eurovision song.

What’s your perfect Eurovision Song Contest act or song?

My recommendation for this year, which is tipped to be the winner (although that doesn’t mean it will), is Israel’s entry, Toy by Netta. It’s a really catchy song and I’m very excited to meet her. I think my all-time perfect Eurovision song is Euphoria by Loreen for Sweden. It was such a great performance and it changed people’s perception of Eurovision, as there’s been a misconception that everything’s a joke and isn’t going to do well. When Loreen became a United Kingdom top five hit I think it made people sit up and listen to Eurovision as a more serious thing.

Any favourite all time Eurovision acts?

There’s always some characters! Lordi with Hard Rock Hallelujah was great. Buranovskiye Babushki with Party For Everybody were my personal favourite. They were Russia’s entry in 2012 and they had six old ladies on stage with a massive oven baking bread. It was a highlight because it was just so weird.

Have you listened to all of the songs yet? Which of this year’s acts do you like?

I have listened to most of the songs, I would say my favourites are Israel’s Toy by Netta and Australia’s Jessica Mauboy with We Got Love. Australia have only been in Eurovision for the last three years, but they always send a good act and good song meaning usually they end up in the top five or close to winning. They actually send pop stars that are quite respected and well known in Australia, so this year’s entry is no different - it’s actually a really good pop song, I’ve listened to it a lot and I think it’s got a really strong chance and is already a hit in Australia. They bring their game and put effort in, it pays off.

Do you have any inside gossip you can share with us?

It’s a bit early for that, as I haven’t met all the acts yet! I know that Eurovision fans are very excited about Saara Aalto, who many will know from The X Factor in 2016, she’s the entry for Finland this year with Monsters. I’ve heard that she’s going to do a ridiculous performance, probably involving some monsters, which everybody is very excited about.

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Semi Finals

BBC Four, Tuesday 8 May, 8pm

In semi-final one, the first group of countries will compete for a place in Saturday’s Grand Final.

The 19 countries competing are: Azerbaijan, Iceland, Albania, Belgium, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Israel, Belarus, Estonia, Bulgaria, FYR Macedonia, Croatia, Austria, Greece, Finland, Armenia, Switzerland, Ireland, and Cyprus.

Viewers in the United Kingdom are able to vote in this semi-final once all of the acts have performed.

BBC Four, Thursday 10 May, 8pm

The second semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2016 will feature 18 different acts taking to the stage in the hope of securing a place in Saturday’s Grand Final.

Competing this evening are: Norway, Romania, Serbia, San Marino, Denmark, Russia, Moldova, The Netherlands, Australia, Georgia, Poland, Malta, Hungary, Latvia, Sweden, Montenegro, Slovenia and Ukraine.

As well as all of the musical action from the arena Scott Mills and Rylan Clark-Neal will be out and about exploring the host country Lisbon meeting the contestants.