Preamble: Welcome, welcome, one and all, to the 56th Eurovision Number Contest. That’s right, this year the songs are being relegated to a secondary concern, as fate, the stars, and the Rule of 14 will, we are assured, determine the fate of the trophy.
And that trophy has, by the unholy power of the 14, already been earmarked for the UK’s favourite sons, Blue.
Some of you may already know that, because Blue are placed 14th in the running order, and the Contest itself is taking place on the 14th that victory is almost certainly in the bag. But that’s not all. Had you recalled that this is the 14th Contest since the UK last won, with Katrina and her immaculately permed Waves?
The certainty grows ever stronger as we investigate further. That’s three 14s already, and what do we have if we have three 14s? That’s right, we get 42 – long ago identified as the Answer to the great Question of Life, the Universe and Continent wide singing competitions.
And still there’s more. This is the 56th Contest, right? Well, deduct all our 14s so far and what do we get? That’s right, another 14.
It’s in the bag, people.
It has to be. Let’s face it, anything that means we don’t have to rely on the quality of the song.
Here we go, live from Dusseldorf. I must say that, although I’ve been a dedicated Eurovision watcher since 1971, this is only the second opening I’ve seen in in three decades, having specialised in tuning in in time to watch the voting, without having to listen to the songs.
Apparently, the traditional opening is the previous year’s winner, but as Lena, the German songstress who did so well in 2010, is representing her country again, she’s too busy to perform now. As if she doesn’t want to sing her song twice tonight.
So, after some embarrassing messing about with our hostess Anka (dark hair, red dress, turned up nose) singing live to a handily placed guitar wielded by host Stefan, short-cropped but with a decidedly non-Germanic goatee, our Stefan stalks off to show off – first guitar, then drums in a rockabilly rendition of the successful “Satellite”.
Presumably attracted by the sounds of mutilation, Lena breaks her concentration and sidles out to sing a chorus or two.
Fittingly, on the day Manchester teams won both League and Cup, Eurovision is taking place in a football stadium. We are treated to a ninety second film showed the transformation being conducted almost as fast as Javier Hernandez can chase a loose ball.
First half: Not that there’s ever a political element to this thing, but they’re about to open up the telephone votes. So, eyes down get those votes working for all those songs you haven’t heard yet. Except, naturally, for your own country – the one song with which you might already be familiar. Wonder how you’re going to choose?
Preceding each song is a little link, some high-speed footage of a native of the next country to perform, who lives and works in Germany, a neat, dare I say it, interesting theme, utterly wasted by the brevity of the film itself.
First up is Paradise Oskar, the Finnish entry. We’re going for a cute smarmy guy in suspiciously Val Doonican-like shirt, with guitar. Oskar is, apparently, going out to save out planet, a sentiment that draws roars from the terraces, though he seems to be intending to save our planet with some da da dums. Wonder what George Monbiot makes of that?
Straight into Bosnia Herzogovina, represented by the rather more mature Dino Merlin, writer of national anthems and the like.
He looks like a rejuvenated Bruce Forsyth and is accompanied by a hippy-dippy woman young enough to be his daughter, trilling merrily away at a front-of-stage electric piano. There are lots of oh-wow-wows to negotiate, which suggests that this is going to be a year of phonetic choruses.
Meanwhile, the Bosnian Bez lurches all round the giant circular stage, waving an unused trumpet. Eurovision meets Madchester?
There’s no let up, in fact there’s hardly time for Graham Norton to say much at all over the link vids. This one is of a Dane living in Germany, to prelude Denmark’s representative band, A Friend in London.
A proper four-piece, with guitars and drums and a lead singer hoping to steal someone else’s thunder by having vertical hair. They also have a hidden symphonic synthesizer and, oh listen, some ethereal backing oh-ohs.
It’s not much of a song, all modern pop ballad, souped up by the lead singer doing a training lap of the stage. Can’t see what boots he’s wearing. Could he stand up to a Paul Scholes sliding tackle? I think not.
Evelina Sisenko is next, charged with carrying the weight of Lithuania on her young but sturdy shoulders, though most eyes will be directed to the other two weights she’s carrying slightly lower down (hey, can’t sexists watch Eurovision too?).
It’s just her, a bloke with a piano and a cloud of dry ice which, in the absence of any other plausible source, seems to be issuing from under the hem of her floor-length dress. Can’t anyone sing a passionate ballad without risking coughing their guts up?
Norton threatens us now with four entries of pure pop, starting with Hungary’s Kati Wolf and her retro-pop. Kati (pronounced catty) is tall, blonde, slim and wearing an extremely short skirt in some rich blue material. This proves to be a godsend whilst she struggles with something that Stock, Aitken and Waterman would have rejected in 1989 (even for Sonja: had this crept near a Kylie session it would have been hunted down by weasels).
Kati, despite her slimness, can also be described as statuesque, in the sense that, despite the beat, she doesn’t actually move about a lot.
But Catty is but the prelude to the Irish entry, and you know who they are. It’s Jedward time.
Norton predicts we will end up smiling: oh good, I love a challenge.
Hmm. Starts off with the boys flat on their back, but rapidly deteriorates as they stand up and start to gesticulate in choreographed fashion. The oh-ohs are back, having taken the last two songs off to gargle. Funny, with their built up shoulders to match their built-up hair, why, I do believe I am experiencing absolutely no motion near the corners of my mouth. Maybe if one of them had slipped when they did their somersault?
Sweden plan on offering us ‘sugary pop’ in the shape of Eric Saade, which at least cheers me up. Sweden have a track record in this sort of thing, don’t they?
Well, the 1980’s Eurodisco-beat isn’t a promising start, nor is young Mr Saade. He says he’ll be popular. Maybe with the easily fooled, who are drawn to greaser-cute boys in red leather jackets, but not in this house, kid.
The male dancers bouncing around him are doing nothing to distinguish this piece from many dozen other boy band tracks. They do surround him at one point with a glass cage but foolishly they forget the front wall, so he gets out again.
Back to the young woman approach from Estonia, though Getter Jaani has decided to go for a much more modest skirt length, spreading like a bell, over opaque tights.
Unfortunately, that leaves more time to listen to the song. Hmm. Now she’s leading her crew of superfluous dancers around the stage, smiling like a demented five year old, against the backdrop of a set that would look in proportion if she were still five. The dementia didn’t wear off.
Our ‘pure pop’ quartet concludes with the Greek entry, about which it’s going to be difficult to avoid the use of the word bankrupt. Lucas Yorkis (ftg Stereo Mike – a Grecian rapper) takes the risky step of not only singing in Greek but of singing to a stereotypically Grecian melody – barely discernible over the beat.
Apparently Lucas comes from the same village as Anthony Costa of Blue, but has decided to go for the young George Michael as his model.
Did someone changed the meaning of the word ‘pop’ when I was out of the room?
Russia next, and Alexei Vorobjov, who plans to change his name to Alex Sparrow, a choice that Graham Norton employs in advance. Alexei/Alex goes for the Fonzie look, with light brown hair that has presumably been styled outside the mother country.
If you’re wondering why I’m saying nothing about the song, you obviously aren’t listening to it yourself.
Ten down and not a single disaster heard yet. The voting may have to carry a large share of the entertainment burden this year.
France are favourite with the bookies for a song that Graham describes as ‘like nothing else’. Amoury Vassili, the world’s youngest tenor, offers nothing but his voice, and his bedraggled locks, but what comes out of his gob is a fine display of singing, and much the best thing to date. It has nothing to so with song and everything to do with singing, and if that’s what we’re voting for tonight, Amoury has it wrapped up.
Couldn’t this have been on before Jedward, and we could have gone home then?
Welcome back, Italy, back after – ooh, spooky – 14 years absence. Could there be an upset in the offing from Raphael Gualazzi? Numbers can be fickle, you know.
Well, if he’s going to start pretending to be Jamie Cullum, probably not, but this is considerably more sophisticated than anything we’ve had before. Apart from young Amoury, of course.
Y’know, apart from the screechy bits, if you close one ear you could just about hear Ol’ Blue Eyes singing this.
Phew, after that non-stop rush to almost halfway, we’re given a breather in the green room with Dino Moulin chatting to our other hostess, Judit, wrapped in silver bacofoil. Judit seems uncommonly impressed by the fact that Dino’s jacket is fifteen years old – almost as old as her.
Back to the hurly burly with Swiss Maid Anna Rossinelli. Anna doesn’t seem to mind being 13th out, but then she does have her bass-playing boyfriend onstage to protect her. Again, that’s no doubt the reason why her rich red sparkly dress comes down almost to her knees, when the tweeness of the song and it’s nah nah nah nahs might be better off for something more distracting.
At last it’s the numerologists of Blue and their optimistic ‘I can’ (Sir Andrew likes his subtle messages, doesn’t he?) Let’s sit back and listen, shall we?
Let’s see: four members of Blue, four videos of them joining in, two backing singers – surely they could have found four more on stage. Just for the number. Wich is merely dull, though sung fairly well.
Moldovan Zdob si Zdub is a refreshing blast from the past, all silly hats, silly lyrics and the bonus of a unicycling Kate Bush look-alike dressed like a Christmas tree fairy. Everybody’s squatting all over the place, as if trying to rest their groins on the ground while standing up. If this is an ancient Moldovan custom, Norton’s not letting on.
Daftness, sheer daftness. Douze points for chutzpah.
Next it’s the Champion, Lena, who is the German living in Germany of the link-vid. There she is, standing there in al black whilst dancers in silver spermatozoa body suits wave their arms about in the background. The song is taking a long time to get past the slow intro, but finally it starts gathering pace. If we’re lucky, it’ll add a tune next. Ok, maybe not, but there’s some fine ta-ta-tas, and an answering la-la-la, whilst Lena complains or celebrates being taken by a stranger, it’s difficult to tell.
The home crowd liked it best so far.
Hotel FM, led by a Geordie called Dave, are on for Romania next, which ought to mean incomprehensible mangling of the enforced English. Instead we get very clear vocals on something that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in Candlewick Green’s cabaret set in 1974.
Hate to break it to you, Dave, but this song is going to do nothing to change the world.
On to the Austrian offering, with an a capella intro from Nadine Beiller. She has asymmetrical hair and much better legs than Phil Oakey, crammed into a tight black dress rather shorter than those usually favoured in the Human League.
Not that she can move her legs, which rather belies what is supposed to be a moving ballad. On the other hand, she rates dix points for her enthusiastic wagging of her left hand.
During the latter half of this song, a group of generously proportioned women wearing long black dresses advance upon the singer chanting “Night! Night!” I have no idea why.
On to Azerbaijan, and Ell and Nikki, a boy-girl duo dressed in white, who continue the night’s dominant lyrical theme by starting with the oh-oh-ohs. He: scruffy article unshaven since Thursday She: wearing an asymmetrical dress with the long side round the back, just to make her look less blatant than the backing singers. The song: Running on Scared. As well they might be.
Song 20 is the Slovenian entry. They’re getting younger all the evening. Maja Keuc is only 19 years old and is the Christina Aguilera of Slovenia, which is evidenced by her fingerless black leather gloves and thigh high boots with four inch platforms.
Christina Aguilera is evidently much less interesting than she’d like to be thought to be. I’ve seen more outrage from Alex Jones on the One Show
Just five to go now and Judit is smarming up to Amoury in the green room, and showing him a considerable length of leg. He’s not just favourite for the trophy, it seems.
Over to Iceland and Sjonni’s Friends, named for the songwriter, who unexpectedly died in January. The band aren’t a band but six of Sjonni’s mates, playing together to honour their old mucker. Aww. Sjonni’s song is pleasant, lightweight, and mainly distinguishable for sounding like an out-take from the 1971 Contest. My first ever Eurovision, back in the days when songs, or rather songwriters, counted. Go on, Sjonni, you show them!
Winners usually come from the last five, so that’s got to favour Spain’s Lucia Perez, another bubbly, bouncy, short-skirted young miss. The last time Spain won Eurovision, Franco fixed it for them. Lucia is determined to do it for Democracy and Constitutional Monarchy.
It’s typically Spanish pop, and she can sing. But maybe they should have got Amaral to write the song for her?
Lucia got the same slot as Lena last year, a break denied the Ukraine, who have sent us a Mika-impersonator, Mika Newton, accompanied by a sand-painter who won Ukraine’s Got Talent.
This Mika both looks and sings better than the one we have to suffer, though she’s got feathered shoulders – something to do with the song being called Angel?
She’s also wearing one of those twin length skirts – a floor dragger not quite meeting round the front, indeed sweeping ever further back as she emotes her way to a rather pleasant micro.
The sand painter was good, I thought.
Nina of Serbia has the job of keeping up her country’s short but successful career. It’s a Sixties throwback, in style, short hair and tights, and so’s the song. Slow it down slightly and it could make a decent filler track for a Dusty Springfield album. Mind you, it’s the first thing all night that’s actually sounded like a real pop song.
Last, and may we desperately hope not least, come Georgia, offering contemporary rock, by Eldrine.
The fully-PVC-clothed singer is in fact the best looking woman in the competition, but the music is a clear attempt to subvert the Contest by pulling a Lordi. Lightweight metal, judicious amounts of screaming, looking different-but-relatively-normal: douze points for the singer, nul points for the rest. Least, certainly.
And those are the songs folks. You have another fifteen minutes to vote for anybody except us, as hosts Anka and Stefan remind us, from behind new costumes.
In keeping with the traditions of the venue, I’m nipping off for a bit of grub. What’s it to be, salmonella burger or gristle-and-potato pie?
Unlike the majority of you, I like Graham Norton on Eurovision far more than Terry Wogan. It’s not that I am one of only about a dozen people in this country immune of the blarney, though this much is true. It’s more that I got fed up, around 2001, of Wogan saying the exact same things every year.
In fact, I firmly believe Wogan retired from Eurovision in 1994, and the BBC had been using the tape of his last commentary ever since, in the sure and certain knowledge that no-one would notice.
I also got very peeved those years when the interval entertainment was something home-grown, different and interesting, except that Wogan talked all over it
This year we are offered some Germanic sub-ska shouter and Norton stays silent. Gah!
It’s voting time! Or it will be when Anka and Stefan stop discussing Stefan’s first word on this Earth, though surely it must have been more interesting than anything he’s said tonight. Judit and her bacofoil are relegated to the green room. Given that Stefan has now lumped Anka over his shoulder and is carrying her up the steps, Judit may be thankful she drew the shot straw.
The Green Room consists of millions of spaceship pods behind an electronic screen, revealed over Stefan and his fuzz guitar. How futuristic. Presumably in the day they double as executive boxes, although they don’t usually place them behind a goal.
Forty countries to vote, 25 to take their chances. This is the fun bit.
Russia are up first, a smarmy sod under a sleazy panama. UK start with an immediate 4, but the 12 is Azerbaijan’s. Off to Sofia where Maria and her unfeasibly long hair reserve their biggy for us! UK’s first douze since pre-history! Already outscored last year.
Dutch Mandy, blue-eyed, blonde-haired, offers douze to Denmark. Rafaella Carra, whom men of a certain age will recall wistfully, temporarily puts Blue on top, but gives Italy’s top mark to Romania.
Off to a smiling plank from Cyprus, who gives twelve to Greece (cries of ‘no’). We’re currently joint second.
A visibly drunk woman from The Ukraine votes the straight east European ticket, up to Georgia of all places, whilst Finland’s stately blonde Milf, standing against an industrial estate gives ten to Jedward but their 12 to Hungary.
The douze is bouncing about a bit but it’s not coming near favourites France. A Norwegian Milnf pronounces for Finland, dropping us to 4th, whilst a dark-eyed Armenian beauty prefers the Ukraine. UK is dropping all the time after that early douze.
The Macedonian Sian Lloyd sends the top mark to Bosnia. Sweden are still on top as an Icelandic ice goddess too poor to afford cloth for both shoulders favours Denmark.
Slovakian Maria looks good enough to eat and knows it. The Ukraine accept her favour with gratitude, and go top.
Speaking of the One Show, it’s Alex Jones. Nothing for us of course but we’ve voted for Moldova, Switzerland and 12 points for… Jedward?
A prim Danish woman applies her dominatrices favour to… bloody Jedward again. Maybe she’s a masochist instead?
An Austrian lady of ‘a certain age’ jilts Germany in favour of Bosnia, and a blonde Pole who can’t afford cloth for either shoulder teases us with excessive halts before nominating Lithuania. Even the patient Anka got pissed off with her.
A Swedish boy displays over-confidence and over-obnoxiousness in bigging up Ireland (I am refusing to mention the boys’ name). We are afflicted by a moody, singing San Marinan who also makes a meal of dropping the big one in Italy’s jazzy lap.
UK are dropping, very slowly, but dropping
An overexcited German maiden, lacking only armsful of Steins, sends her home support to Austria – quel surprise.
It’s Azerbaijan in the lead but they’re voting now, with a former winner anxious to remind us she existed. Their bounty is for the Ukraine, but the three they’ve given Sweden puts young Eric on top.
An extremely annoying Slovene sings his country’s votes, very badly, up to Bosnia.
Phew; 21 votes down and Anka’s very excited, which is more than anyone else can say. It’s over to Judit in the sanity of the green capsules, with leader Eric from Sweden who only wants to go to the toilet. Funny he should say that.
Break over, back to the whirlwind and off to Turkey and the smirkingly sincere senior citizen who likes Georgia, Bosnia and Azerbaijan (who else?) in ascending order. He’s followed by a nice lady from Switzerland who keeps it brief and professional in voting for perennially neutral Bosnia…
It’s a Sarah Jessica Parker lookalike next, offering Greece’s bounty to favourites France, now wilting sadly down the right hand end of the scoreboard.
Miss Georgia 1994 makes a meal of her part in confirming 12 for Lithuania but doesn’t explain why, whilst Cyril in France, posing in front of the inevitable Eiffel Tower, donates douze to our dear friends of Spain, previously last.
A Serbian with only one red shoulder giggles her way to full marks to Bosnia. Now firmly in contention. Six points separate the top 4.
The Croatian woman gives her eye-shadow’s backing to Slovenia, leaving UK perilously low on the left, whilst a Belarusan in red overalls offers her country’s wonders to Georgia, of all countries.
To Romania and a buxom brunette with the by-now-to- be-expected one-shoulder bare, shrugging towards Moldova. Thank God it’s not Ireland.
They’re cheering in Albania where a voluble yellow polo shirt pushes the fortunes of Italy, who now join the cats in the top 5.
Malta offers a classy red dress to give 12 points to Azerbaijan, who have now opened a 26 point lead – better than two juries, whilst a smiling Portuguese lady with spaghetti straps blows a fanfare to Spain! Constitutional Monarchy rules!
Buxom Hungary boasts a push-up bra under pink tulle which distracts from a douze to lowly Iceland and a Lithuanian who knows exactly how handsome he is bestows his assets on Georgia. Azerbaijan are pulling away by now, four juries clear with eight to go.
A very nice Bosnian with died red hair (good job too) offers her heart to her Slovenian neighbours, but now it’s our Irish cousins, who’ve got to give us 12, please! No, only six, the bog-trotters prefer to give their maximum to bloody Denmark!
In Spain, a handsome señorita smoulders in favour of Italy, who have now climbed into second, but a plainly superior Israeli speaking profuse German (suck-up!) hands a Middle eastern twelve to Sweden
Four juries left. A beatifically blonde Estonian clearly enjoyed Sweden but their points leave Azerbaijan needing eight to win, but a puppy-fattish Moldovan ends it all – 10 for Azerbaijan, 12 for Romania.
Azerbaijan can’t be caught but we still have a blonde Belgian in penultimate place, chucking their 12 to France, leaving the last rites to be performed by Latvia and a pilled out blonde keeping the UK on the left hand side of the board with our first 100 points in I don’t know when, but the last 12 is for the surprise star of Italy, taking second place with the last kick of the game.
But it’s Ell and Nikki for this year, and since Nikki lives in London, we can claim a share of the win. We’re not gonna get any closer…
The Azerbaijani pair do all the usual celebratory things; falling to their knees in awe of the crowd. Holding their mouths to keep the vomit in, not dropping the glass trophy. Nikki adjusts her straps in a manner that suggests she’s about to share even more of herself with Europe, and then it’s the replay of “Running Scared”.
It’s still terribly dull, but she’s got good legs, so we’ll call the final result a score draw. And that was good enough for United.
If you’re wondering what happened to the numerological certainty of Blue’s triumphal parade, and how we’re going to fare in 2012, when we are no longer protected by the rule of 14, you should bear this in mind: there was never any Rule of 14 to begin with. Don’t be so bloody daft, next year.