Things are hotting up in Moscow. Was it me, or were the Russians letting themselves go a bit more in the second semi-final? Instead of opening with what seemed like a boring episode of Jackanory, we had dancing bears and matrioshka dolls. This is more like it.
I’ve never heard Eurovision winners search as “Ding Ding Dong” played Russian-style with cossack dancers leaping around. And there was a man with the biggest balalaika you ever did see.
Still, the line-up of schlock and frocks – Latvia’s song about traffic was car-crash pop – provided few shocks and the 10 songs that got through to the final were mostly worthy qualifiers. Though the cheese-tastic Dutch entry should have qualified.
So it was bye-bye to Serbia, which featured a Eurovision staple, big hair. Their entry, apparently about a shoe, had more than a hint of madness about it, and Madness with some shaven-headed nutty boys cavorting around. The fact that Slovenia’s violinfest, sounding remarkably like the theme from UK hospital drama Casualty, got knocked out was less shocking than the lead singer wearing a plain beige dress. Yes, beige for Eurovision! Even Graham Norton commented on this fashion faux pas.
But the second semi was all about big hitters Norway and Greece, and where they would fall in Saturday’s running order. Norway’s “Fairytale” has been the hot favourite even before it won the Norwegian final – largely thanks to acrobatic backing dancers, the ubiquitous violins and an Eastern European sound. Belarus-born Alexander Rybak apparently has a cutesy appeal – though Mr Norton called him ‘cocky’. But Norway will perform 20th out of 25 – a good draw and a little too close to the UK (23rd) for comfort.
Greece wasn’t quite so lucky, getting the eighth spot. Still, Greek Adonis Sakis, making his second bid for Eurovision victory after coming 3rd in 2004, will get plenty of votes (probably douze points from the UK on past form) as he leaps off and stands astride what looks like a giant stapler. The uptempo song is nothing special but Sakis sells it, right down to the Greek flag on the stapler at the end.
I noticed that Ukraine – the one with giant hamster wheels, Roman centurions in scanty silver loincloths and everything but the kitchen sink – also displayed their national flag. Now this is a disturbing trend. Along with mentioning the name of your country in your song (yes, that’s you, Moldova) I think there should be a 50-point deduction for jingoism.
So, still to be seen by the viewing public are the Big Four who automatically get into the final by virtue of stumping up a large proportion of money (and this year the Russians have spent £30 million), plus hosts Russia, who, with a lacklustre entry, clearly don’t want to win again.
Germany has a bouncy swing number “Miss Kiss Kiss Bang,” featuring burlesque dancer Dita Von Tease; France offers big star Patricia Kaas with a moody, Piaf-ish ballad that could do well; Spain sings last with a lively dance-athon that would be a better opener for the show than the Lithuanian number that has drawn the first spot.
And then there’s Jade Ewen for the UK, singing “It’s My Time,” accompanied at the piano by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Reaction to rehearsals has been excellent and Jade has been a great draw. UK fans are beside themselves with excitement that this year we can really hold our heads high.
Finally, the nicest moment of the BBC3 coverage came not through anyone on the vast Olympisky Arena stage but a marriage proposal. A gay marriage proposal at that. Via commentator Paddy O’Connell, Stephen from Liverpool asked for the hand of boyfriend Jamie on air – and was accepted. Good luck guys. How appropriate for Eurovision!
Mark Cook (watching Eurovision since 1967)
Mark Cook is a journalist and theatre critic for the Guardian Guide and The Big Issue
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