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.
This Is My Life
Mor ve Ötesi
Nomads In The Night
Zemrën E Lamë Peng
Have Some Fun
Hasta la Vista
Pirates of the Sea
Wolves of the Sea
Kraljevi Ulice & 75 Cents
Deep Zone & Balthazar
DJ, Take Me Away
All Night Long
Peace Will Come
Tamara, Vrčak & Adrijan
Let Me Love You
Senhora Do Mar
|Iceland - Euroband - This Is My Life (English)
Music/Lyrics: Örlygur Smári/Paul Oscar, Peter Fenner
Possibly the most perfect harmonising ever heard on the Eurovision stage! Euroband seemed a certainty to climb out of their semi-final with such a strong pop/disco track, although voters have turned against this type of song in recent years. It was an up-to-date taste of contests past, and the taste was sweet.
|Sweden - Charlotte Perrelli - Hero (English)
Music/Lyrics: Fredrik Kempe, Bobby Ljunggren/ Fredrik Kempe, Bobby Ljunggren
Charlotte was expected to qualify for the final and she did…just! It is the kind of Swedish schlager that the fans love, but can be a bit hit or miss with the public at large.
|Turkey - Mor ve Ötesi - Deli (Turkish)
Music/Lyrics: Kerem Kabadayi, Burak Guven, Kerem, Özyegen, Harun Tekin/Kerem Kabadayi, Burak Guven, Kerem, Özyegen, Harun Tekin
Deli is a solid rock song with a spark of individualism about it. Their performance got the audience to their feet as they continued the lively start to the show.
|Ukraine - Ani Lorak - Shady Lady (English)
Music/Lyrics: Philip Kirkorov/Karen Kavaleryan
Ani gave a supremely confident performance of this near perfect pop song. It was always going to be a contender and so it proved, winning the second semi-final and finishing second in the main event.
|Lithuania - Jeronimas Milius - Nomads In The Night (English)
Music/Lyrics: Vytautas Diskevicius/Jeronimas Milius
The fortnight of rehearsals had clearly taken their toll on Jeronimas’ voice. He was one of the best singers of all those competing but didn’t have the opportunity to show it due to the strain his vocal chords were under. This was a real pity as his ballad is superb, but needed the big notes to be hit.
|Albania - Olta Boka - Zemrën E Lamë Peng (Albanian)
Music/Lyrics: Adrian Hila/Pandi Laço
Albania’s first five entries had established it as a country to watch for songs of quality, even if they weren’t potential winners. Zemrën E Lamë Peng is a western style ballad sung in Albanian to give it a local flavour.
|Switzerland - Paolo Meneguzzi - Era Stupendo (Italian)
Music/Lyrics: Vincenzo Incenzo, Paolo Meneguzzi/Vincenzo Incenzo, Paolo Meneguzzi
Paolo was already an established singer, having been in Italy’s Sanremo festival five times (including in 2008) prior to singing for his native country in Eurovision. Many expected his Italian style ballad to do well, but it couldn’t escape the semi-final.
|Czech Republic - Tereza Kerndlová - Have Some Fun (English)
Music/Lyrics: Stano Simor/Gordon Pogoda
Finishing last on its debut the year before with a rock song sung by a bunch of hairy, growling rockers, the Czech Republic went the other way and entered a pop song sung by a pretty girl. The tactic might have worked had the song not been lightweight and Tereza’s performance not been like a bad karaoke singer.
|Belarus - Ruslan Alehno - Hasta la Vista (English)
Music/Lyrics: Taras Demchuk/Eleonora Melnik
After it had won the Belarusian final, Hasta la Vista was given something of a makeover and was transformed from a pop to a soft rock song. It’s a strong effort and was highly thought of prior to rehearsals starting.
|Latvia - Pirates of the Sea - Wolves of the Sea (English)
Music/Lyrics: Jonas Liberg, Johan Sahlen, Claes Andreasson, Torbjorn Wassenius/Jonas Liberg, Johan Sahlen, Claes Andreasson, Torbjorn Wassenius
It was time for the children’s party when the Latvians bounded on to the stage. It was highly entertaining, but a daft way of trying to win the votes of adults.
|Croatia - Kraljevi Ulice & 75 Cents - Romanca (Croatian)
Music/Lyrics: Niran Hadzi Veljkovic Niran/Hadzi Veljkovic
Many feared that septuagenarian 75 Cents might not live to see the night of the contest. All fears were unfounded, and he lasted long enough to stroll around the stage like a grumpy grandparent, occasionally speaking during intervals in this Croatian café style song.
|Bulgaria - Deep Zone & Balthazar - DJ, Take Me Away (English)
Music/Lyrics: Dian Savov/Dian Savov
Take Me Away starts in hip-hop mode but moves into reggae territory when the vocal starts. The lyrics are repeated several times and wouldn’t have taken very long to learn. All in all, it’s messy and a waste of time.
|Denmark - Simon Mathew - All Night Long (English)
Music/Lyrics: Jacob Launbjerg, Svend Gudiksen, Nis Ogvad/Jacob Launbjerg, Svend Gudiksen, Nis Ogvad
While the melody and the arrangement aren’t obviously in that direction, Simon’s voice lends All Night Long a jazz feel. Looking a bit like a reject from a Hovis advert, his performance was strong and very confident.
|Georgia - Diana Gurtskaya - Peace Will Come (English)
Music/Lyrics: Kim Breitburg, Karen Kavaleryan/Kim Breitburg, Karen Kavaleryan
It seems Political Correctness has reached Eastern Europe. Georgia selected a blind singer with a song about desiring world peace. If this was a tactic, it failed, although it finished higher than it should in both the semi-final and the final.
|Hungary - Csézy - Candlelight (English)
Music/Lyrics: Viktor Rakonczai/Imre Mozsik
For the fourth year running, one of the best songs overall finished last in the semi-final. Csézy’s piano based ballad is abundant with class and sophistication.
|Malta - Morena - Vodka (English)
Music/Lyrics: Philip Vella, Gerard James Borg/Philip Vella, Gerard James Borg
The fast, impactful pace at the start drops slightly for the vocal, but picks up again for the chorus. It’s slightly untidy, but quite enjoyable.
|Cyprus - Evdokia Kadi - Femme Fatale (Greek)
Music/Lyrics: Nikos Evaggelou/Nikos Evaggelou
Imagine what you might hear at a Greek wedding, or a restaurant high in the hills of rural Cyprus, and you can imagine Femme Fatale. If it is memorable in any way, it’s for the wrong reasons.
|Macedonia - Tamara, Vrčak & Adrijan - Let Me Love You (English)
Music/Lyrics: Rade Vrčakovski/Rade Vrčakovski
The presentation was mercifully less flamboyant than it could have been. A mixture of hip-hop, pop and R ‘n’ B, it is maybe trying too hard to sound modern. The result is unimpressive, but it wasn’t too far from qualifying.
|Portugal - Vânia Fernandes - Senhora Do Mar (Negras Águas) (Portuguese)
Music/Lyrics: Andrej Babic/Carlos Coelho
When the Portuguese do a good ballad, they do it very well. It’s not quite Fado, more’s the pity, but it is a welcome return to the Portuguese sound after a few attempts at trying to sound less traditional.