With less than two weeks remaining before the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest begins, Israel has emerged as the favorite in the massive televised music competition.

Israel is represented this year by singer Netta Barzilai, better known simply as Netta. Her entry into the competition, “Toy,” was released on March 11 and was quickly pegged as one of the songs to beat in this year’s contest.

Song Contest Enters 63rd Year

If you’re not familiar with Eurovision, the competition dates back to 1956, and features acts from the member countries of the European Broadcasting Union (along with Australia, which has been invited to participate since 2015). While most winners of the contest have been lesser-known acts that never achieved global stardom, a few winning acts have used it as a springboard to stardom, including Celine Dion and ABBA.

Eurovision is traditionally hosted by the nation that won the contest the previous year. For 2018, that means that Portugal takes on the hosting duties, with the competition set to take place at the Altice Arena in Lisbon beginning on May 8.

The host and the so-called “Big Five” – France, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Italy – automatically qualify for the final, which will take place on May 12. Other countries will participate in one of two semifinal shows on May 8 and May 10, with 10 nations qualifying out of each night.

The 26 finalists will then perform once more to determine a winner. Every country involved in the finals will vote on the top 10 songs – they cannot vote for their own nation’s song – with both a special jury and a public vote awarding points independently in each nation (12 points for the top song, 10 for second, eight for third, down to one point for the 10th place song). The song with the most total points is declared the winner.

Early Indications Give Israel the Edge

This year, Israel looks to have the song to beat. Toy has already been viewed more than 16 million times on YouTube, and has dominated the voting of OGAE, an international organization of Eurovision fan clubs.

Those signs were enough for William Hill to make Israel a 6/4 favorite to walk away with this year’s title. That’s well ahead of second choice Bulgaria (6/1), which is represented by Equinox with the song “Bones.”

That’s not to say there won’t be some stiff competition out there. France’s entry, “Mercy” by Madame Monsieur, has been gaining momentum as of late. The song, which is about the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, has earned extensive attention this week after the baby that inspired it was found in a refugee camp in Sardinia.

William Hill now lists France at 8/1 to win the competition, and the head of their delegation thinks they have a real shot at winning the contest.

“I think we have an extremely strong entry this year,” said French Eurovision Delegation Head Edoardo Grassi in an interview with Nice Martin. “Not only because of the power of the song’s message of fraternity and inclusion, but above all because there has been a real enthusiasm for the French bid over the last three years.”

Other nations that oddsmakers believe might have potential winners on their hands include the Czech Republic (9/1), Australia (10/1), and Estonia (12/1).

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