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Last Updated: Sunday, 16 May, 2004, 09:56 GMT 10:56 UK
Turks deliver Eurovision delight
By Michael Osborn
BBC News Online correspondent in Istanbul

Bosnia-Herzegovina's Eurovision entry
Bosnia-Herzegovina's entry won votes from the Balkans
The Turkish hosts of this year's Eurovision Song Contest made the show their own with a riot of colour and an exotic dash of eastern promise.

Istanbul's Abdi Ipecki stadium is usually a sweaty basketball stadium, but was transformed into a stage fit for one of the biggest musical events in the world.

With an enthusiastic capacity crowd flying flags of many nations, the atmosphere was electric - clearly this contest was shaping up as a night to remember.

Last year's Turkish victor Sertab Erener set the stadium ablaze with a rousing rendition of her winning song, surrounded by a coterie of gold-dusted nymphs and then the magical whirling dervishes.

Presenters Meltem Cumbul and Korhan Abay followed the Eurovision tradition for elaborate costumes, indulging in cheesy banter and slightly stilted delivery.

But the crowd had turned out to see 24 live performances, cheer on their favourites and see who could live up to the big occasion.

Ukraine's Eurovision entry
Ukraine's leather-clad Ruslana won with Wild Dance
This year's contest turned out to be a melting pot of musical flavours, with many worthy of winning - and the others being relegated to musical also-rans.

The winning performance was enough to cause a riot in the stadium, with Ukraine's Ruslana packing a fur-clad, whip-cracking punch which bowled over the audience and Europe alike.

Serbia and Montenegro's captivating folk tune was the first that really drew a response from the stadium crowd, with an intense hush followed by a thunderous reception for singer Zeljko Joksimovic and a deserving runners-up spot.

Greece and Turkey were also huge crowd-pleasers in Istanbul, with Sakis Rouvas providing some great moves and a touch of deft undressing, and local heroes Athena sending the arena into a cacophony of chanting, clapping and pogoing - but it wasn't quite convincing enough for Eurovision voters.

The UK's James Fox inspired some patriotic flag-waving from the British camp, but the stadium seemed to find him just too gentle and easy-going and the do-or-die Eurovision vote left the Welshman languishing in the doldrums of 16th place.

There was little scandal this year - apart from the question of political voting, with the Balkans countries giving higher points to each other's entries. But this felt less acute at the actual arena than it did to viewers - though there were howls when Greece and Cyprus gave each other maximum points.

From this end without a British commentary in my ear, the voting made perfect sense - the Balkan countries have a common heritage and it made sense here in the stadium that they appreciate each other's music.

And when Eurovision fans get together, there is more sense of enjoying the songs and performances regardless of country - Britons were dancing to Sweden's entry, we cheered when Ukraine got maximum points - and even louder when the UK scraped together a few.

But there were also a few jeers for Belarus giving Slavic brothers Russia maximum points - when frankly it was a weak performance.

French Eurovision entry
France's Jonatan Cerrada led a trend for white suits

The Turks put on a riotously colourful and scintillating interval act which filled the stage and was a clever Anatolian take on Ireland's Riverdance.

Instead of being a time filler, this was true entertainment which won the unanimous approval of Abdi Ipecki's Eurovision devotees - quite unlike some of the competing songs. Experiencing Eurovision in the flesh is on occasion not to be forgotten and a million miles away from watching it on the small screen at home - even if it means missing Terry Wogan's legendary commentary.

Turkey's first contest was a huge success with few hitches, and will ensure Eurovision survives well beyond its 50th year in 2005 - in Kiev.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Jonny Dymond reports from Istanbul
"All voting was by European citizens over the telephone"



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