OK, so what did I learn? Well most importantly I learnt a lot about friendship and what it takes to be a good friend (and also what traits I value in friendship). Secondly, I learnt that Finnish food isn't as bad as M. Chirac believes it is!!! We tried reindeer and I can tell you it's bloody good! Thirdly, I learnt that the Finns are a friendly, organised people, who are generally reserved (until Saturday night that is when I saw more drunks and more blatant drunkeness than I've ever seen in my life). Fourthly, I learnt that for right or wrong the Eastern European countries have become a major powerhouse in this Eurovision Contest.
The semi-final came and with great expectation we went to the Hartwall Areena wrapped in Andorran flags, convinced this was the year Andorra was certain to get out of the semis and make it to Saturday's event. I have to say that the semi-final was slickly presented and I can't find fault with the way the Finns presented the Contest. My only gripe was the empty seats given free to VIP's who failed to turn up.... this was bad, but at least it allowed us to move down and get a great view of the semi.
Watching all 28 semi-finalists perform, it was hard to pick the ten that would go through. It was possibly the strongest semi-final fielded so far... there wasn't one duff note and everyone really gave their all... We cheered hard for Andorra and given the reaction in the hall I was absolutely convinced they'd walk it.
Then came the announcements of the 10 qualifiers... Belarus (OK it was slick), FYR Macedonia (for the 4th year running and I really don't get this), Slovenia (yep she had a huge voice), Hungary (again yes, this was possibly the most credible song on offer), Georgia (well not my thing really, but a memorable show), Latvia (this was just bad opera to me), Serbia (not my thing, but she has an amazing voice), Bulgaria (this did sound massive in the arena), Turkey (again a great show and performance of a great RnB effort) and finally Moldova (yeh again she nailed this). So nothing from the west of Europe and no Andorra.
To say I was gutted would be an understatement. I was obviously in agreement to the rest of the audience due to the booing, which even drowned out the presenters. We chatted to the UK and Austrian commentators afterwards and both agreed with us that never has bloc voting been this extreme. On reflection, I can understand why 7 of the 10 qualified and I do believe that they were decent qualifiers, but FYR Macedonia, Georgia and Latvia? I just don't get it. How could they qualify over Andorra, Netherlands and Denmark? It's just odd and they way it came across was that the West is helpless against this blatant Eastern bloc voting.
This was backed up in the final, when the remaining Western countries competing:- Ireland, UK, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden and Finland found themselves in the last third of the scoreboard come the end of the night. Surely they weren't ALL so bad? Ireland and the UK I can agree with (the performances were shockingly bad), but Germany? Sweden? Finland? they rocked and were light years ahead of Romania's, Bosnia's and Latvia's attempts. I dunno, the EBU seriously needs to sort this out before the West just thinks enough is enough and pack their bags.
However, it takes more than Eastern bloc votes to give a good placing and the Western countries are also voting for the Eastern countries. The reason? On balance they send better songs. They have better, more original performances. They know how to put on a show. It means much more to an artist from Belarus or Armenia to compete in Eurovision than it does an artist from the UK or Norway. And this is also part of the problem. How do we in the west convince a generation of people who still consider the Eurovision to be a contest of schlager music that it no longer is this? Schlager has had it's day and that was proven so dramatically in the semi-final.
On balance the top ten in the final all deserved their place there. There isn't one duff song (save the Ukrainian effort, but even that is cleverly camp, unlike the UK's naff camp). There isn't one duff performance in that top ten:- Serbia, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Belarus, Greece, Armenia, Hungary and Moldova all nailed their performances and all deserve their top ten placings. There's no denying that bloc voting helps, but where was Bosnia, Slovenia, FYR Macedonia, Latvia, Georgia or Lithuania in this list? They were further down the table - proof that you need more than just having a lot of neighbours to do well at Eurovision. If all it took was having lots of neighbours, well Russia would win every year. Russia's never won. If Finland - a country never having got higher than 6th - can win in 2006, then surely all it takes for the West is to come up with a great song, a great act and a great performer. Sadly, the East just did this better than the West last Saturday night. The West still thinks of Eurovision as stuck in the past... the East see it as very much in the present and therefore they are always going to do better until the West realises this.
I'm still gutted for Andorra... they had a great song, a great performance and quite frankly, they were robbed. But, they got 12th place in the semi-final and were only 12 points behind qualifying. Similarly, Portugal shockingly came 11th in the semi - just 3 points behind qualifying - Portugal's best result for years. My advice to RTVA and also RTP.... don't give up. You were close this year and proof that with a little effort the West can do well. With a crap song you will always do bad - Montenegro (part of the former Yugoslavia) bombed big time in the semi-final.
All this talk of broadcasters withdrawing is bad sportsmanship in my opinion. Yes I agree that the EBU needs to look closely at the bloc voting (which is blatant) - especially in the semi-final where it is far more decisive I feel. But to simply have the Western broadcasters give up is bad taste. They just need to make more effort.
So... 2008... Belgrade here we come!
Download the winning song Molitva by Marija Šerifović below:-
Serbian version - http://www.box.net/shared/dpcrla3622
Serbian dance mix - http://www.box.net/shared/e28acoazpl
English version (Destiny) - http://www.box.net/shared/hlmtj58h0p
English dance mix (Destiny)- http://www.box.net/shared/catfao2fhl
Finnish version (Rukoilen) - http://www.box.net/shared/1poacxc847
Watch the winning performance below:-