Since 1993, a country had to finish outside the bottom seven to qualify for the next contest. The EBU experimented with a new system in 1996. All countries had to submit their songs for a pre-selection round. The songs were listened to (not watched) by juries in each country and 23 made it to Oslo. It was a strange way of selecting the songs and there was bound to be controversy. Those in the know were tipping Germany’s Blauer Planet sung by Leon to win the whole thing, but shockwaves reverberated through Europe when news broke that Leon did not even get through the pre-selection round. Delhusa Gjon from Hungary can also count himself unlucky not to go to Oslo. The experiment didn’t last long and relegation was brought back to determine the participants for the 1997 contest.
A new touch was added to the usual postcard introduction for each song. A member of the Government of each country appeared at the end of the film to wish the act good luck.
The scoreboard was given an overhaul. The traditional on stage scoreboard visible to all was replaced by a virtual scoreboard seen only on television screens. Even presenter Ingvild had to have a screen in front of her so she knew what was going on while she was calling in the votes.
While the scoreboard was innovative, the result was familiar, with Ireland surprising many (well, everyone really) by winning for the fourth time in five years.
While the scoring system remained the same as it had been for years, with each country awarding points from 1-8, then 10 and 12, it was to be the last year that juries were exclusively used. The following year would see the introduction, at least in part, of televoting.
NRK gave the stage a Norwegian feel with a set that was designed to look like an oil rig. The oil rig idea didn’t stop there. The theme included the members of the orchestra wearing hard hats during the show, an idea that was quickly dropped when the producers realised just how silly that looked in practice.
Constantinos, Sebnem Paker and Maarja-Liis Ilus would all be seen again in other contests. In fact, Sebnem and Maarja-Liis couldn’t wait and entered again the following year. Elisabeth Andreasson and Marianna Efstratiou were old hands by now at the Eurovision game. Elisabeth was singing her fourth song in the contest. Lúcia Moniz went on to be Colin Firth’s love interest in the film Love Actually.
Just A Little Bit
Ay, Qué Deseo!
O Meu Coração Não Tem Cor
Mono Gia Mas
In A Woman's Heart
Weil's Dr Guat Got
Mon Coeur L'aime
Emis Forame To Himona Anixiatika
Ivo Linna and Maarja-Liis Ilus
Dan Ar Braz et l'Héritage des Celtes
Dan Najlepših Sanj
Maxine and Franklin Brown
De Eerste Keer
Lisa del Bo
Liefde Is Een Kaartspel
Niin Kaunis On Taivas
Chce Znac Swój Grzech
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Za Na u Ljubav
Kým Nás Má
One More Time
|Turkey - Sebnem Paker - Besinçi Mevsim (Turkish)
Music/Lyrics: Levent Coker/Selma Cuhaci
Conductor: Levent Coker
In her first of two successive contest appearances, Sebnem sang a laid back, smooth Turkish song, ably assisted by a violin and an accordion.
|United Kingdom - Gina G - Just A Little Bit (English)
Music/Lyrics: Simon Tauber, Steve Rodway/Simon Tauber, Steve Rodway
Conductor: Ernie Dunstall
Wearing a dress made by her Gran, Australian born Gina injected a bit of life early in the show. Easily the most contemporary song for years, it could be argued that the international success of the song provided a springboard for a more modern look and feel to contests in the future.
|Spain - Antonio Carbonell - Ay, Qué Deseo! (Spanish)
Conductor: Eduardo Leiva
For many, this is one of the surprising qualifiers for the 1996 contest. It doesn’t get much more Spanish than this; a strong voice dominating a Flamenco rhythm.
|Portugal - Lúcia Moniz - O Meu Coração Não Tem Cor (Portuguese)
Music/Lyrics: Pedro Osório/Jose Fanha
Conductor: Pedro Osório
Portugal’s entry is just as ethnic as the Spanish song which preceded it, but is more digestible. Lucia was never seen without a smile on her face around Oslo, and her performance was suitably chirpy. She would be seen soon afterwards as Colin Firth’s intended in the romantic comedy, Love Actually.
|Cyprus - Constantinos - Mono Gia Mas (Greek)
Music/Lyrics: Andreas Georgiallis/Rodoulla Papalambrianou
Conductor: Stavros Lantsias
This is the first of Constantinos’ four (although he’s still trying for more!) appearances. It’s a tender ballad which he sang from the heart.
|Malta - Miriam Christine - In A Woman's Heart (English)
Music/Lyrics: Paul Abela/Alfred Sant
Conductor: Paul Abela
The tune is a happy one, but the lyric - about a relationship gone wrong - isn’t. Her performance was merry and the song is one of the best from the small island.
|Croatia - Maja Blagdan - Sveta Ljubav (Croatian)
Music/Lyrics: Zrinko Tutic/Zrinko Tutic
Conductor: Alan Bejlinski
Maja brought her experience to bear as she filled the stage on her own for her performance of her big Croatian ballad. Some of the big notes were challenging, but she was up to the task.
|Austria - George Nußbaumer - Weil's Dr Guat Got (Voralbergian)
Music/Lyrics: George Nußbaumer/George Nußbaumer, Michael W Krausz
Conductor: Michael W Krausz
The Austrian song is in the minority Voralbergian language, the only time it has been heard in Eurovision. The song is a very cheerful gospel number that had them clapping in the aisles.
|Switzerland - Cathy Leander - Mon Coeur L'aime (French)
Music/Lyrics: Regis Mounir/Regis Mounir
Conductor: Rui Reis
Switzerland’s song is an under-rated ballad that deserved a higher placing. Kathy’s voice reflected the nature of the lyric as she yearns for someone she can’t have.
|Greece - Marianna Efstratiou - Emis Forame To Himona Anixiatika (Greek)
Music/Lyrics: Costas Bigalis/Iro Trigoni
Conductor: Michalis Rozakis
Percussion instruments provide an interesting intro and gave a sense of anticipation of what may follow. What does follow is an upbeat, flowing tune which Marianne performs very well.
Estonia - Ivo Linna and Maarja-Liis Ilus - Kaelakee Hääl (Estonian)
Music/Lyrics: Prit Pajusaar/Kaari Sillamaa
Conductor: Tarmo Leinatamm
At first glance, a young Maarja-Liis and a not so young Ivo might seem an odd combination for a duet. However, it is suitable given the lyrics; a young girl uncertain in the world and the voice of experience giving advice.
|Norway - Elisabeth Andreasson - I Evighet (Norwegian)
Music/Lyrics: Torhild Nigar/Torhild Higar
Conductor: Frode Thingnaes
Rumoured to be one of the songs rejected by NRK for the 1991 national final that never was, I Evighet is a lilting, flute inspired ballad. With Elisabeth at the microphone, it was always going to be up there at the end
|France - Dan Ar Braz et l'Héritage des Celtes - Diwanit Bugale (Breton)
Music/Lyrics: Dan Ar Braz/Dan Ar Braz
Conductor: Fiachra Trench
Although his song is in Breton, Dan employed the services of two British ladies for the main vocals. Diwanit Bugale is a gentle lullaby that was never going to win, but wasn’t destined to finish last either.
|Slovenia - Regina - Dan Najlepših Sanj (Slovenian)
Music/Lyrics: Aleksander Kogoj/Aleksander Kogoj
Conductor: Jozé Privsek
Regina’s dress was made by an old lady she met in a rural Slovenian village who offered it to her to wear in Oslo. The clarinet dominates the instrumental parts.
|The Netherlands - Maxine and Franklin Brown - De Eerste Keer (Dutch)
Music/Lyrics: Piet Souer/Peter van Asten
Conductor: Dick Bakker
There is an abundance of na-na-na's at the beginning, but don’t let that put you off! After that, the song develops into a likeable, mid-tempo song that stays in the memory. Little Maxine may well have needed physiotherapy for her neck, such was the height difference in height between herself and Franklin.
|Belgium - Lisa del Bo - Liefde Is Een Kaartspel (Flemish)
Music/Lyrics: John Terra/Daniel Dittmar
Conductor: Bob Porter
As with their Dutch neighbours before them, there are na-na-na’s aplenty at the start. Despite the dodgy opening, the overall effect of the song is pure, unashamed, unadulterated feel good fun!
|Ireland - Eimear Quinn - The Voice (English)
Music/Lyrics: Brendan Graham/Brendan Graham
Conductor: Noel Kelehan
What a shock! No-one predicted yet another Irish win. It was written by the man who had written Ireland’s 1994 winner. It’s a very Irish folk song. When asked who or what ‘The Voice’ belonged to, Brendan said it was up to the listener to decide. Had the current televoting system been in place, Eimear would have been nowhere near the top of the scoreboard. Definitely a case of the luck of the Irish!
|Finland - Jasmine - Niin Kaunis On Taivas (Finnish)
Music/Lyrics: Timo Niemi/Timo Niemi
Conductor: Olli Ahvenlahti
Jasmine’s stylists had given her a formal look, which was inappropriate and looked odd! A casual approach for her gentle folk song would have been more in line with Jasmine’s youth and bubbly personality, and would have distracted less from a very pleasant tune.
|Iceland - Anna Mjöll - Sjúbídú (Icelandic)
Music/Lyrics: Anna Mjöll Olafsdottir, Olafur Gaukur/Anna Mjöll Olafsdottir, Olafur Gaukur
Conductor: Olafur Gaukur
Jazz loving Anna Mjöll sung a tribute to the genre and its most famous exponents. It’s very laid back and relaxing.
|Poland - Kasia Kowalska - Chce Znac Swój Grzech (Polish)
Music/Lyrics: Robert Amirian/Kasia Kowalska
Conductor: Wiesiek Pieregorolka
There is drama by the bucket load in Kasia’s song and performance. Strong piano and short bursts of strings are to the fore in the arrangement.
|Bosnia and Herzegovina - Amila Glamocak - Za Na u Ljubav (Bosnian)
Music/Lyrics: Adrian Bajramoviv, Sinan Alimanovic/Adrian Bajramoviv, Sinan Alimanovic
Conductor: Sinan Alimanovic
After Poland came another song full of passion, if not too much excitement. Za Nasu Ljubav never quite takes off.
|Slovakia - Marcel Palonder - Kým Nás Má (Slovakian)
Music/Lyrics: Juraj Burian/Juraj Burian
Conductor: Juraj Burian
Like the Bosnian song before it, the Slovakian song struggles to get going and it is difficult to stop one’s mind wandering to other things before the end.
|Sweden - One More Time - Den Vilda (Swedish)
Music/Lyrics: Peter Grönvall/Nanne Grönvall
Conductor: Anders Berglund
This was one of the favourites going into the contest. In fact, it was revealed afterwards that it had won the pre-selection round. It’s a haunting piece of music, not unlike the type of song that has brought Enya big hits.
So, those are the songs that made it, but what about the ones that didn't? Did they get what they deserved or were any of them denied a rightful place in Oslo?
|Denmark - Dorthe Andersen & Martin Loft - Kun Med Dig (Danish)
Music/Lyrics: Jascha Richter/Keld Heick
As the songs were heard in alphabetical order, the Danish song would have been the sixth to fall on the ears of the listening juries. There was not a chance that it would stand out enough to qualify. it’s a ballad that fails to get off the ground and fails to hold ones attention for long enough.
|Germany - Leon - Blauer Planet (German)
Music/Lyrics: Hanne Haller/Hanne Haller
The failure of Germany to qualify left NRK with less money to spend, as Germany is one of the biggest financial contributors to the EBU. Its omission is one of the biggest mysteries in the history of the contest. There is lots of energy and pace which combine with a very contemporary sound to create a song that many fans can still sing many years later.
|Hungary - Delhusa Gjon - Fortuna (Hungarian)
Music/Lyrics: Delhusa Gjon/Delhusa Gjon
A real travelogue from the Hungarians! Almost every capital city in Europe gets a mention and why not? It worked for the Irish in 1990 so why not now? Unfortunately, it didn’t! Even so, it would have been worthy of a place in the final line up. Delhusa’s at times big ballad is strong enough not to need a live performance to enhance it, although it does sound better in Hungarian than English. He can feel aggrieved at not qualifying, far worse songs made it through.
|Israel - Galit Bell - Shalom Olam (Hebrew)
Music/Lyrics: Doron VitenBerg/Eyal Madani
The mistake the Israelis made was to submit the live version of the audio for the pre-selection. Galit sounded as if she was stretching her voice too much and the up-tempo song sounds messy. Maybe the studio version would have impressed more.
|Macedonia - Kaliopi Gril - Samo Ti (Macedonian)
Music/Lyrics: Kaliopi Gril/Kaliopi Gril
Here is one that would have benefited from a live performance. It would have given Kaliopi the chance to put across the emotion her voice portrays. From the audio, she could come across to some as simply screeching aimlessly. That is unfair as there is clearly emotion behind the vocal.
|Romania - Monica Anghel & Sincron - Ruga Pentru Pacea Lumii (Romanian)
It is possible to feel sorry for the Romanians being forced to stay at home. Theirs is a strong ballad which Monica would have given full justice to given the opportunity to perform it live.
|Russia - Andrej Kosinskij - Ja, Eto Ja (Russian)
Music/Lyrics: Andrej Kosinskij/Nikolaj Denisov
Andrej sounds very like Mick Hucknall and the song is not a million miles away from something you would find on a Simply Red album. It is jazzy in feel and no-one can be surprised that he didn’t need to book a flight to Norway.