Eurovision Song Contest

2008

Host country: Serbia
Won by: Russia - Believe by Dima Bilan
UK entry: Even If by Andy Abraham
Full Results: eurovision.tv

Ireland is the most successful Eurovision country of all time, with seven wins overall from the likes of Dana, Johnny Logan and Linda Martin. So it is rather surprising that it was Ireland who submitted what was possibly the most controversial Eurovision entry yet - the first puppet ever to compete in the 53-year history of the show. Eschewing the usual ballad in favour of a singing turkey generated far more interest in the contest in Ireland than in previous years. But some felt that Dustin the Turkey's song, 'Irelande, Douze Points', broke Eurovision rules by 'bringing the contest into disrepute', indirectly poking fun at former contestants and directly at a certain UK commentator.

Despite most of the pre-contest publicity focusing on the turkey, in the end, all the fuss proved to be over nothing. Dustin impressed neither the audience in the Belgrade Arena, where he was greeted by booing, nor the voters at home, and it is with great relief that he failed to make it past the semi-finals. Imagine if he had won the whole thing - the 2009 contest may well have ended up resembling The Muppet Show! (Or perhaps it does already...)

Dustin's entry was not the only joke song in the contest, however. Most bizarre was the Bosnian-Herzegovinan entry which involved a lunatic, a washing line and four brides doing some knitting. Almost as incomphrensible was Rodolfo Chikilicuatre, this year's joke entry for Spain,which ridiculously came in 16th. Latvia, meanwhile, entered a bunch of pirates, and Croatia employed the services of a 75 year-old rapper and scratcher as their gimmick.

In spite of concerns that novelty acts such as these are helping to devalue the contest and making it harder to attract credible musicians, France also raised eyebrows by actually attracting a credible musician. The electro-pop producer Sebastien Tellier has worked with the likes of Air and Daft Punk, but perhaps is best known for his epic track 'La Ritournelle'. His Eurovision entry, 'Divine', was controversially the first ever French entry to be sung almost entirely in English. Despite actually trying for once, France will be disappointed to still only finish in joint 18th place. Whether Monsieur Tellier emerged from the contest with his credibility intact is unclear.

None of these came anywhere close to winning - victory instead went to Dima Bilan, who previously competed for Russia in 2006, and had plenty of support from the other former Soviet republics. Another former entrant Charlotte Perelli, who won for Sweden in 1999 under the name Charlotte Nilsson, agreed to spend the first thirty seconds or so in black-and-white.

Once the songs were over, viewers were treated to not the most spectacular interval act of all time - it's not every Saturday night that British television viewers get to endure, sorry, enjoy the music from a Serbian weddings and funerals band. Were there actually any viewers left when it was over? In fact, many British viewers only switch on to watch the voting anyway.

Eurovision 2008 saw yet another change in format - almost all entrants now had to go through one of two semi-finals, with only the host country and the Big Four guaranteed a place in the Grand Final on Saturday night. This change was partly due to the ever-increasing of countries taking part - now up to 43, with San Marino and Azerbaijan making their debuts - but also to avoid a repeat of the controversy that surrounded the outcome of the 2007 contest where no Western European country managed to progress from the qualifying round.

For 2008 then, entries were divided between the two semi-finals on the basis of both geographical position and past voting patterns. The nine entries with the highest number of phone votes from each semi made it to the final, with the tenth entrant being the one with the highest jury vote of all the countries not already qualified - just to complicate things a little further.

This was all intended to help ensure a fairer mix of countries in the final - so did it work? Scandinavia did very well out of the new format, with Norway, Finland, Denmark, Iceland and Sweden all progressing to the final (the latter 'saved' by the jury vote), as did Portugal, who hadn't been seen on a Saturday night since 2003; however, other stalwarts such as Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands once again failed to make it past the semi-finals.

But when it came to the scoring, it made little difference. With all 43 countries once again eligible to vote, it was no surprise that all the usual bloc voting patterns were very much in evidence. Russia won comfortably, while the UK's entry, by no means a bad song by former dustman Andy Abraham, finished joint bottom (with Germany and Poland). Just how can a competent, if not outstanding, performance from Andy be beaten fairly and squarely into last place by tosh from the likes of Latvia, Azerbaijan and Bosnia-Herzegovina?

"This is no longer a music contest" was Terry Wogan's answer, ending his commentary on a distinctly downbeat note. Doubtless Eurovision fans across Western and Central Europe are feeling similarly disillusioned, as their countries repeatedly score badly or fail to qualify at all. How long before the traditional Eurovision countries lose interest completely and start pulling out for good? Would 2008 be seen as the turning point - the beginning of the end for the Eurovision Song Contest?


2009

Host country: Russia
Won by: Norway - Fairytale by Alexander Rybak
UK entry: My Time by Jade Ewen
Full Results: eurovision.tv

"Music is back at the forefront of the Eurovision Song Contest" declared the BBC's new commentator Graham Norton at the end of the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest, as Norway cruised to victory and the United Kingdom finished in the top five for the first time since 2002.

The results of the Eurovision Song Contest over the past few years have come into much criticism for bloc voting, which had reached such a level that a number of participating broadcasters complained to the EBU that there was little point taking part when certain countries had an unfair advantage, making it apparently impossible to ever win again. Terry Wogan, for one, had tired of predictable voting patterns so much that he stood down after commentating for BBC television and radio for over 35 years.

And so to counter the effects of neighbourly and diaspora voting, the EBU took the radical step of reintroducing national juries, with each country’s scores to be split 50/50 between the jury vote and televoting. Each jury had to be made up of five music industry professionals, with no connection to their home entry, with the aim that they would be able to offer a more balanced, objective view, and help to offset the more biased televoting.

In the main, it worked. Although most of the usual voting patterns were still in evidence, the edge had been taken off them, to the effect that four out of the top five scorers were western, or 'traditional' Eurovision countries. This is no doubt in part due to the jury effect, but also due to the fact that several countries had decided to start taking their Eurovision selection process more seriously this year.

The UK, for example, radically overhauled its selection process in an attempt to bring to an end a six year run of poor results. The BBC drafted in Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber to write the UK's entry, with lyrics by US songwriter Diane Warren, with Jade Ewen picked to represent the UK in the series 'Your Country Needs You'. To add gravitas, Lord Lloyd Webber appeared on stage playing piano, and it seems the gamble paid off, with the UK scoring 173 points in the end - although had the results been up to the juries only, it would have moved up to 223 points and third place, proving the view that this type of song is favoured more by juries than the viewers.

At the other end of the scale, it seems that comedy songs had largely gone out of favour this year. The only two entries that could probably be described as joke entries both failed to make it past the semi-finals - Serbia who entered a man with an afro singing a song about a shoe, while the Czech Republic continued their run of bad luck with Gypsy.cz, featuring a small man with a moustache dressed in a superhero outfit, who became only the second entry ever to score 'nul points' in the semi-final. The Czech Republic have so far had the least successful debut in the history of the contest, notching up just ten points over their first three years of participation.

Unfortunately a number of other countries continued to make it through the semi-finals which, unlike the final, continued with 100% televoting (albeit with the 'wildcard', i.e. the entry that receives the highest jury vote of those entries not qualified by televoting, also qualifies). In particular, Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Belgium were finding themselves repeatedly failing to qualify for the final, while Andorra had, in six years of participating in the semi-finals, still yet to appear in the final even once.

However there is no doubt that the same song would have won the contest regardless of the voting system used. Norway were the pre-contest favourites, represented by 23 year-old Alexander Rybak with his self-penned song 'Fairytale', a catchy, some would say annoying, ditty which easily stood out from the other 41 entries. Its final tally of 387 points is by far the highest score ever seen at Eurovision, but it still isn't the most successful song in the history of the contest - that honour remains with Brotherhood of Man, which scored 80.3% of the available votes in 1976.


2010

Host country: Norway
Won by: Germany - Satellite by Lena
UK entry: That Sounds Good to Me by Josh Dubovie
Full Results: eurovision.tv

For the first time since 1997, Eurovision victory in 2010 went to one of the members of the 'Big Four'. Nineteen year-old Lena Meyer-Landrut took Eurovision glory to Germany for the first time since Nicole's 'A Little Peace' in 1982. It could be argued, however, that her song 'Satellite' had something of an unfair advantage, having already been a chart hit across Europe and hence already familiar to much of the voting public.

In spite of this, Lena's entry, although very much a clear-cut win with 246 points, was not as much of a runaway winner as Alexander Rybak the previous year, who scored 387 points, including no fewer than 16 'douze points'. Lena scored top marks only nine times, and not every country voted for Germany at all. Although it was a clear win for Germany, after the first two countries had voted it looked as if Denmark would be cruising to victory, having received both of the first two 'douze points'. They eventually finished fourth.

Second place went to Turkish rock band maNga, 76 points behind Germany. Again, although unheard of in the UK, they were well-known in some parts of the continent and won two awards in the 2009 MTV Europe Music Awards, and so such a high placing is probably not unsurprising.

Not so popular with the audience in Oslo's Telenor Arena were Russia, who received booing both when they progressed from the semi-final, and again during the voting in the final each time they were awarded high marks. Russia appeared to be doing their level best not to win the contest this year by entering an unusually maudlin song by Eurovision standards - yet still finished in eleventh position with 90 points. Even more bafflingly, France were just one place behind with 82 points, despite entering what amounted to little more than a football chant with the continual repetition of the phrase 'Allez Ola Ole!'.

After a run of disappointing results, Ireland decided it was time to roll out the big guns and bring back Niamh Kavanagh, who brought victory to Ireland in 1993. Despite progressing from the semi-final, Niamh's hopes of becoming the next Johnny Logan were dashed when she finished in an undeserving 23rd place - two places higher than the United Kingdom. 2010 saw a return to recent form for the UK - the Pete Waterman-penned entry 'That Sounds Good to Me' clearly didn't sound good to most of the national juries and voting public, and ended in bottom place with just 10 points.


Next page: 2011-2013


Text copyright © Robert Williams, images copyright © the respective broadcasters