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Last Updated: Friday, 20 May, 2005, 01:16 GMT 02:16 UK
Diva tactics in play at Eurovision
By Michael Osborn
BBC News entertainment reporter in Kiev

Angelica Agurbash of Belarus
Angelica Agurbash of Belarus lit up the arena

The 50th Eurovision Song Contest started with a bang in the Ukrainian capital, as 25 countries slugged it out for 10 places in Saturday's grand final.

Kiev's Sports Palace was transformed into a cavernous concert venue filled with flag-waving fans from across Europe.

The competition on stage was fierce, with many contestants employing elaborate tactics to win those all-important votes.

The semi-finals seemed dominated by women, who used all manner of devices to out-diva one another.

Overblown gimmickry

There were the voices, with power ballads courtesy of Israel (who got through) and Monaco (who didn't) - but the battle of the lungs was won by Dutch singer Glennis Grace, with shades of Whitney Houston. She didn't get through either, though.

Another Dutchwoman - representing Andorra - plumped for a subtle stage routine complete with scantily-clad male wood nymphs. However, this didn't give her success either.

The award for overblown gimmickry went to Angelica Agurbash from Belarus, who went through two costume changes flanked by disco-dancing attendants apparently from the court of Versailles - all in the space of three minutes.

Shiri Maimon of Israel
Shiri Maimon of Israel will be competing in Saturday's final

The performance from the star, well known across the former Soviet Union, lit up the arena. But she also failed to qualify, which was a huge disappointment for a very vocal contingent of Belarussian fans.

Huge surprise

A more contemporary offering from Romania and another female lead singer also made a visual impression, thanks to illuminating oil drums complete with welders' sparks - and hit the mark with Eurovision voters.

Second-timer Selma from Iceland turned up the heat with a perky dance routine to If I Had Your Love.

The fancied singer's failure to make the final was a huge surprise.

Andorra's Martie-an van de Wal
Hotelier Martie-an van de Wal represented Andorra

With a couple of girl bands - both from Estonia with one representing Switzerland - it seemed that the men were being outplayed in this qualifier. The Switzerland team got through to the final.

But then the Norwegians took to the stage.

Zipped into a silver cat suit and with huge glittering platforms to match, Wig Wam's lead singer brought glam rock to the Eurovision final and an appreciative auditorium. They got through.

Shock exit

And a rousing hand was saved for Ireland's Joe, one half of the country's duo Donna and Joe and the youngest man in the contest at 17.

But an enthusiastic routine was not enough to save the most successful Eurovision country from being cast into the wilderness.

This year's full-on folk onslaught made its presence felt in Kiev, with Hungary's well-received leather-slapping answer to Riverdance, and a rousing chorus from Croatia. Both were successful.

Ireland's Donna and Joe
Siblings Donna and Joe could not prevent Ireland's exit

The vote for the most popular tune in the house went to zany Moldova, whose drum-toting grandmother was surely one of the oldest contestants Eurovision has seen.

The former Soviet republic's contest debut got off to a flying start with a place in the grand final.

The semi-final victors - some of them unexpected - will do it all over again on Saturday, along with 14 other countries who went through to the final automatically and therefore have only one chance to woo Eurovision voters.

The grand final on Saturday will be shown on BBC One and broadcast on Radio 2 at 2000 BST.


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