After – let’s be honest – a shaky few years for us at the contest, the Essex-born singer-songwriter seems to have charmed Eurovision fans both around Europe and at home, which is no mean feat when you consider many Brits’ attitudes towards the contest of late.
This must be music to Sam’s ears, who has said changing people’s feeling towards Eurovision in the UK is one of his main aims by taking part.
“It’s not just about the three minutes on stage,” Sam tells HuffPost UK from Turin during some rare down-time in the lead-up to this year’s final. “That’s the grand finale at the end of everything.
“But the build-up is so long, so it’s more about what you do with that time, how you carry yourself and what your attitude is publicly. What are you standing for, what is your message that you’re trying to put out there? Regardless of winning, that’s the real stuff. That’s the real task when you sign up to do it.
“I think that’s where your eyes have got to be. Not, ‘I hope I don’t get nil points’ or ‘I hope I come at a certain place on the leaderboard’, it’s what you choose to do in the time leading up to it that’s going to change those attitudes.
“If we can do well in that regard, and change a certain attitude and try and tear some of that self-perpetuating negativity down, even just a little bit, surely that is the biggest win? That’s even more of a win than winning the contest.”
Eager as he is to be representing the UK, Sam freely admits he had his own reservations about getting involved, after two back-to-back last place finishes for us – including last year’s infamous nil points moment.
He recalls: “My initial reaction was that of a Eurovision fan. Like, ‘this is wicked, what an opportunity, I’d love to do this’. And then a split second later, that’s when the other voices come in, don’t they? Voices that are like, ‘yeah but what if you get nil points’ or ‘this might ruin your career’ or ‘you’ll never work again!’. That sort of stuff.”
Still, he insists, those feelings were short-lived.
“It’s important to remember that those thoughts are completely fabricated by yourself,” Sam continues. “No one else is saying those things, you are making them. You are bringing them to life in your mind.
“In regards to past experiences and focussing on that negativity, it’s so much better to look forward, and I firmly believe that a positive mindset can completely shift your experience of a situation that you’re in. My enthusiasm is greater than my fear of that scoreboard.”
And what of those cynics who argued that, after last year’s result, the UK should reconsider even taking part in Eurovision?
He says: “If people have a tired view of Eurovision, I would urge them not to put so much weight in your joy coming from where the UK or your country comes on the scoreboard.
“Put your attention and your focus into the time you spend with your family and loved ones watching this bonkersness unfold on TV in front of you, and having an absolute blast.”
“And if the scoring bothers you, turn it off and do the washing up afterwards,” he adds with a laugh. “That’s not what it’s all about. I bet everyone else goes out to restaurants or the cinema or the pub, and they don’t have to wait for a scoreboard before they leave and go home. Life isn’t about that. You can enjoy something despite that.”
Here’s what else Sam had to say as we asked him about all things Eurovision…
Were you always a fan of Eurovision, and has your opinion of it changed over time?
I’ve been a fan since I was a kid, hanging out with my mum and dad, my sisters and my grandad, sitting in my lounge and watching it every year. I’ve got such memories of joy, and in a way, they’re some of the warmest memories I have, actually. All getting together and doing stuff like that, they’re rare opportunities where you get to do that. And you carry that tradition on with your friends as you get older. The food gets worse, but the company is always good.
What’s your earliest memory of watching Eurovision at home?
It’s not necessarily the songs that I remember, it’s more the feeling of sitting with my family. There was always music in our house, my parents are massive music lovers, so of course, Eurovision would be on the telly every year. I have memories of togetherness and family time – and real joy.
What are your three all-time favourite Eurovision songs?
My favourite Eurovision moment was Lordi’s Hard Rock Hallelujah. I was just starting to learn the guitar around that time. And seeing them on stage, in their prosthetics and big platform shoes, bat wings and battleaxes, what’s not to like about that?
I’ve got to shout out Lucie Jones and Never Give Up On You, because she’s one of the best vocalists in the UK. Her technique and her pitch are incredible, and she’s a lovely human being. Also, Waterloo by ABBA, of course. Because it’s a belter.
Obviously besides yourself, who are you rooting for at Eurovision this year?
Everyone has taken that leap of bravery to play in front of 200 million people, and so everyone deserves respect, so it would feel a bit like bad manners to pick someone. Everyone is putting themselves on the line in some way, or battling some kind of nerves to get on that stage. Everyone has my admiration in that regard, and everyone is so lovely as well.
Why is Eurovision still so important?
I think it reminds us how important expression is, and the freedom to express yourself. How many people do you think feel afraid to express themselves freely? And Eurovision… it’s amazing, people just feel good in their own skin, and that’s inspiring. Or not even your own skin, it might be prosthetics, with regard to Lordi. But I think it’s so cool.
It’s so inclusive, I don’t think there’s a more accepting fanbase in the world than Eurovision, and I am so humbled and grateful to just be a little part of that story. I’ll never forget it.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Watch Sam Ryder performing live during this year’s Eurovision Song Contest final on Saturday 14 May at 8pm on BBC One. Watch the video for his song Space Man below: