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.
Nico & Vlad
Pe-o Margine De Lume
Zemrën E Lamë Peng
Bosnia and Herzigovina
The Fire In Your Eyes
Missä Miehet Ratsastaa
Kraljevi Ulice & 75 Cents
This Is My Life
Mor ve Ötesi
Senhora Do Mar
Pirates of the Sea
Wolves of the Sea
All Night Long
Peace Will Come
Elnur & Samir
Day After Day
Baila El Chiki Chiki
Jelena Tomašević feat. Bora Dugic
Hold On Be Strong
|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.
|United Kingdom - Andy Abraham - Even If (English)
Music/Lyrics: Andy Abraham, Andy Watkins, Paul Wilson/Andy Abraham, Andy Watkins, Paul Wilson
It was clear from the moment Andy won the British selection that the United Kingdom was heading for the bottom of the scoreboard, again! Andy is an excellent singer and he more than did his bit, but the funk/pop song just wasn’t even close to being good enough.
|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.
|Germany - No Angels - Disappear (English)
Music/Lyrics: Remee, Hanne Sorvaag, Thomas Troelsen/Remee, Hanne Sorvaag, Thomas Troelsen
At times, No Angels sounded like a gang of alley cats. They screeched their way through Disappear, a below average pop song that was always going to finish at the wrong end of the scoreboard.
|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.
|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.
|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.
|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.
|Croatia - Kraljevi Ulice & 75 Cents - Romanca (Croatian)
Music/Lyrics: Niran Hadzi Veljkovic Niran/Hadzi Veljkovic
|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.
|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.
|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.
|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.
|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.
|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.
|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.
|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.
|France - Sébastien Tellier - Divine (English)
Music/Lyrics: Sébastien Tellier/Sébastien Tellier, Amandine de la Richardière
Divine caused a bit of a storm in France as it became the first French entry to be completely in English without a word of French. Its style is 1980’s synth pop, but one look at the backing singers would make you forget all that. They were dressed identically to Sébastien, even to the extent of sporting long wigs and beards - yes, even the girls!
|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.
|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.
|Spain - Rodolfo Chikilicuatre - Baila El Chiki Chiki (Spanish)
Music/Lyrics: Rodolfo Chikilicuatre/Rodolfo Chikilicuatre
Of all the novelty songs in the 2008 contest, this is arguably the best. A hit on-line in the first part of the Spanish selection process, it is easy to sing along with despite being in Spanish, and the Rodolfo character is amusing.
|Serbia - Jelena Tomašević feat. Bora Dugic - Oro (Serbian)
Music/Lyrics: Zeljko Joksimovic/Dejan Ivanovic
The hosts made a strong case for winning again with a classically Serbian ballad. There could have been more lyrics rather than the use of nuna-nej, but that doesn’t detract from Oro’s overall beauty.
|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!
|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.