Had the results of the semi-final voting been released before the final, then few would have predicted Dima Bilan’s victory. Finishing third was not a positive sign, but Dima managed to defy the odds to win the contest at his second attempt. How much the presentation of the song help is a matter for debate. In his first appearance in the contest, a dancer emerged from the piano on stage. This time, he used the talents of international ice-skater, Evgeni Plushenko, in his performance. Those interested in statistics would have noted with interest that Russia’s victory was the eighth time in a row that a country had won for the first time.
Due to the number of countries now taking part in the contest, holding one semi-final was no longer viable. To avoid the all nighter that would have been one semi-final, the EBU decided that there should be two. Press and delegates attending the contest now faced a marathon. In the days before there were semi-finals, rehearsals and preparations lasted one week. Now, with three shows to prepare for, a full two weeks was required to be ready.
The 2008 contest was the year of the novelty song. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia, , Ireland, Latvia and Spain all entered songs that were meant for entertainment rather than musical integrity, while some would argue that the Azeri and French songs were in that direction. Bosnia singer, Laka, had a performance that included his sister hanging out the washing and backing singers knitting. The Estonians had three dirty old men dancing in a manner worse than your uncle at a wedding, singing lyrics that made no sense, even to those who spoke any of the three languages used in the song. Ireland was represented by a turkey that was a big star in Irish TV begging Europe to vote for him. Latvia sent a gang of pirates and the Spanish elected a specially created character with his own dance to represent them.
Romanian singers, Nico and Vlad, won their national final, but not the hearts and good wishes of a lot of the public and press. Accusations of plagiarism abounded and there were also claims that Pe-o Margine De Lume had a public performance before the date permitted by the rules laid down by the EBU. Neither accusation could be proved and so no change was necessary or was made by national broadcaster, TVR.
Austria kept its promise of withdrawing from the contest, but debuts by Azerbaijan and San Marino boosted the number of countries to a new record 43.
In addition to Dima Bilan, Sweden’s Charlotte Perrilli, a former winner herself, was singing her second Eurovision entry.
In each semi-final, only the countries participating in that semi-final were allowed to vote. The five countries already in the final (the Big 4 plus hosts Serbia) were each allowed to vote in one of the semi-finals. The points system remained as it had been for over 30 years, 1-8, then 10 and 12 to the ten most popular songs in each country.
Zauvijek Volim Te
The Fire In Your Eyes
A Century Of Love
Elnur & Samir
Day After Day
Vrag Naj Vzame
Hold On Be Strong
Dustin the Turkey
Irelande Douze Pointes
Bosnia and Herzigovina
Your Heart Belongs To Me
Missä Miehet Ratsastaa
Nico & Vlad
Pe-o Margine De Lume
|Montenegro - Stefan Filipović - Zauvijek Volim Te (Montenegrin)
Music/Lyrics: Grigor Koprov/Ognen Nedelkovski
Zauvijek Volim Te has all the characteristics of Montenegro’s entry from 2007. That didn’t escape the semi-final either.
|Israel - Boaz - The Fire In Your Eyes (Hebrew/English)
Music/Lyrics: Dana International/Dana International, Shai Kerem
The distinctive sound of Hebrew may lead to feelings of déjà-vu, but that should not take anything away from Boaz’s very strong vocal and strong, anthemic ballad.
|Estonia - Kreisiraadio - Leto Svet (Serbian, Estonian, German)
Music/Lyrics: Priit Pajusaar, Glen Pilvre, Peeter Oja, Hannes Võrno, Tarmo Leinatamm/ Priit Pajusaar, Glen Pilvre, Peeter Oja, Hannes Võrno, Tarmo Leinatamm
The multi language song included lyrics in the language of the host nation. Three dodgy looking characters (including one straight out of a Harry Enfield ‘Scousers’ sketch) tried and failed to produce comedy. They just looked ridiculous as they marched around the stage. Even the introduction of ladies bearing little more than the flags they were holding couldn’t improve the appeal of this sub reggae number.
|Moldova - Geta Burlacu - A Century Of Love (English)
Music/Lyrics: Oleg Baraliuc/Viorica Demici
Laid back jazz was the order of the day for Moldova. Perhaps for moral support, perhaps to add a bit extra to the romantic style, Geta was joined on stage by her boyfriend.
|San Marino - Miodio - Complice (Italian)
Music/Lyrics: Francesco Sancisi/Nicola della Valle
It must have been tempting for the San Marinese to play safe and opt for an Italian style big ballad. Perhaps wanting to have their own identity, they sent a fine rock ballad.
|Belgium - Ishtar - O Julissi
Music/Lyrics: Michel Vangheluwe/Michel Vangheluwe
For the second time, Belgium’s was in a made up language. It’s a cheerful little ditty which could have been sung by a medieval minstrel in the court of a king.
|Azerbaijan - Elnur & Samir - Day After Day (English)
Music/Lyrics: Govher Hasanzadeh/Zahra Badalbeyli
Azerbaijan debuted with something out of the Rocky Horror Show. There is more drama and over the top acting than a Christmas episode of Eastenders, and more shouting too.
|Slovenia - Rebeka Dremelj - Vrag Naj Vzame (Slovenian)
Music/Lyrics: Josip Miani-Pipi/Amon
If ever presentation could be blamed for a song failing, this is it! Rebeka’s hugely enjoyable, up-tempo pop song was ruined by the bondage style stage show. A run-of-the-mill presentation would have seen Slovenia in the final. Finishing only one place out of the qualifying places, the phrase ‘if only’ comes to mind.
|Norway - Maria - Hold On Be Strong (English)
Music/Lyrics: Mira Craig/Mira Craig
Maria was one of the favourites, but after nine of the qualifiers had been announced ‘at random’ at the end of the semi-final, there was no sign of Norway. Cheers all round then, when the last computerised envelope said Norway, and Maria’s ballad about waiting for ‘the one’ rightly made it to the final.
|Poland - Isis Gee - For Life (English)
Music/Lyrics: Isis Gee/Isis Gee
Isis was striking to look at, although not necessarily for the right reasons! Her performance of a gentle ballad was competent, although a little automatic. Poland making it into the final was, strangely, both surprising and not unexpected.
|Ireland - Dustin the Turkey - Irelande Douze Pointes (English)
Music/Lyrics: Darren Smith, Simon Fine, Dustin The Turkey/Darren Smith, Simon Fine, Dustin The Turkey
Could the nation that gave us Johnny Logan, Linda Martin and Niamh Kavanagh really have sunk this low? Dustin was a very popular character on Irish TV, but the joke was never going to translate well as he gave reasons why everyone should vote for Ireland (“We’re sorry for Riverdance”). Funny if you are a native speaker, but childish to a foreigner.
|Andorra - Gisela - Casanova (English)
Music/Lyrics: Jordi Cubino/Jordi Cubino
A first appearance in the final for Andorra seemed unlikely, especially given the daft wasp antennae type headwear Gisela was sporting. As a song in its own right, it’s likeable; however, it has nothing about it to make it the favourite of enough people to give it sufficient points.
Bosnia and Herzigovina - Laka - Pokušaj (Bosnian)
Music/Lyrics: Elvir Lakovic Laka/Elvir Lakovic Laka
Oh to be a fly on the wall in the Laka household while he was growing up! He was joined on stage by his equally mad sister, who hung out the washing while he sang. The song goes where it wants to and is an acquired taste.
|Armenia - Sirusho - Qele, Qele (Armenian)
Music/Lyrics: H A der -Hovagimian/Sirusho
Despite a ropey performance in the semi-final, Sirusho, one of the big favourites going into the contest, made it into the final easily. The vocals in the final were much better and her very strong, up-tempo pop song deserved to do well.
|The Netherlands - Hind - Your Heart Belongs To Me (English)
Music/Lyrics: Hind Laroussi Tahiri, Tjeerd van Zanen & Bas van den Heuvel/Hind Laroussi Tahiri, Tjeerd van Zanen
Finally, it looked as if one of the contests longest serving participants might reach the final. It was one of the strongest songs in what was considered to be the weaker of the semi-finals. It didn’t quite happen for Hind and her African tinged, lively effort.
|Finland - Teräsbetoni - Missä Miehet Ratsastaa (Finnish)
Music/Lyrics: J. Ahola/J. Ahola
Perhaps not wanting to fix something that wasn’t broken, the Finns stuck to the rock formula that had proved successful for them two years previously. It was good, but maybe a bit laboured to have mass appeal.
|Romania - Nico & Vlad - Pe-o Margine De Lume (Romanian)
Music/Lyrics: Andrei Tudor/Andreea Andrei, Adina Şuteu
Having survived the plagiarism controversy when they won the Romanian final, Nico and Vlad took to the Belgrade stage with a rather dreary, lifeless and, at times, untidy ballad.
|Russia - Dima Bilan - Believe (English)
Music/Lyrics: Dima Bilan, Jim Beanz/Dima Bilan, Jim Beanz
Dima’s second entry was favourite with the bookies almost from the start. Like his first effort, Believe is very contemporary pop’ like his first effort, the presentation was much too gimmicky!
|Greece - Kalomira - Secret Combination (English)
Music/Lyrics: Konstantinos Pantzis/Poseidon Yannopoulos
The modern Greek pop sound was starting to become predictable as it was very much the style of most Greek entries at that time. Kalomira’s version is no more than acceptable.