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Last Updated: Friday, 23 May, 2003, 05:21 GMT 06:21 UK
Eurovision's varied line-up

By Michael Osborn
BBC News Online

This year's Eurovision Song Contest in Latvia is the biggest in the event's long history and will see 26 countries from every corner of the continent flex their musical muscle in a bid to waltz off with that coveted prize.

The line-up for Riga is especially rich and varied. There are plenty of songs to watch out for because they have a chance of glory - or are prime candidates to heap shame on their country.

The United Kingdom's hopes this year rest on chirpy Liverpudlian duo Jemini, with a safe disco number well-suited to Eurovision. If they put in a strong, glitzy performance on the big night, they should avoid embarrassment.

On paper the British pair face an uphill struggle against some great competition.

 Sertab Erener
Voting victim? Turkey's Sertab Erener
Russia is the runaway favourite, simply because its entrants are none other than infamous chart-topping teenagers Tatu, who promise scandal and surprise on the night.

But they've plumped for a Russian language song which is a disadvantage, and their ability to come up with the live goods on the night remains to be seen.

Turkey's entrant is experienced diva Sertab Erener, and her song is sultry, infectious and very sophisticated. It may be too rich for some tastes, and the Turks could be scuppered by Eurovision's infamous voting system.

Bosnia-Herzegovina usually has plenty of allies to throw votes its way, while its good entry is a disco thumper from Mija Martina, with the promise of scantily clad male dancers to lure Eurovision's key "pink" vote.

Spain is looking for its first Eurovision triumph since 1969, and has its best chance yet in the shape of national Pop Idol winner Beth, whose song should stand out.

 Mickey Harte
Irish hopeful: Mickey Harte
Seven-time winner Ireland can never be discounted, but Mickey Harte's tune does not impress and fails the cheesiness test.

Of the precious few male Eurovision hopefuls, Norway's baby-faced, blond entrant Jostein Hasselgard has the best chance, with a strong ballad sang from his piano stool. If slow songs are in this year, he can keep his fingers crossed.

Ukraine's first-ever entry from Olexander Ponomaryov sounds woefully old-fashioned, but Eurovision's grey vote could yet save him.

Host nation Latvia is bound to be in the running, as singing at home is a major advantage. Handsome trio FLY's tune is not a bad effort.

This year, there is one song that is a distinct candidate for the gruesome "nul points". Austria has decided to field a comic Alf Poier who dresses as a cat and growls some nonsense about animals.

Alf Poier
Austria's joker: Alf Poier
A Celtic folk combo singing an imaginary language from Belgium also sounds like a recipe for Eurovision humiliation. But it's remarkably tuneful and Urban Trad could be the surprise package in Riga.

Iceland has fielded a strong entry in Birgitta - but performing first at Eurovision is a disaster. The Netherlands' bouncy number from Esther Hart will reel in the votes too.

France seems to have entered the same moody Gallic ballad for years and couldn't care less about winning, while Germany's shock-haired performer, Lou, might have won in about 1984.

Eurovision is all about the performance on the night and the unpredictability of the voting system. There is every chance that a pre-contest no-hoper will come from nowhere to grab the prize. All will be revealed in Riga...


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