By Mark Savage
Entertainment reporter, BBC News, in Helsinki
Musicians from 42 countries were in Finland for the 52nd Eurovision Song Contest, which was won by Marija Serifovic of Serbia.
The BBC's Mark Savage has been reporting from Helsinki on the atmosphere at one of the world's biggest and most colourful music events.
SUNDAY 13 MAY 1230 LOCAL TIME (1030 BST)
Well, the Eurovision carnival has wrapped up for another year.
Dissections of last night's performances took place over breakfast at the hotel, with the Serbian delegation still delighted at their victory.
Marija Serifovic, a 23-year-old from Serbia, was the Eurovision winner
Others were in a more philosophical mood.
There was a brief moment of excitement as Scooch appeared in full costume in the hotel lobby - but it turned out to be a Finnair crew checking in after an early morning flight.
Many Eurovision veterans say the voting process needs to be refined next year, but no-one has a constructive alternative to the current system.
In the cold light of day, it's clear that Serbia picked up high scores from around Europe - and probably would have won even if its Balkan neighbours hadn't lent a helping hand.
But, while Marija Serifovic embarks on a winner's tour, the UK delegation is going home to lick its wounds - again.
It's five years since we managed to break the top 10, but Jessica Garlick's third place success showed that the "big four" sponsors of the Eurovision - France, Germany, Spain and the UK - can still make an impact.
Perhaps a more traditional song can guide us to victory in Belgrade next May.
SUNDAY 13 MAY 0345 LOCAL TIME (0145 BST)
Natalie has just got back from interviewing Scooch, and they weren't downhearted at all. Here's what they had to say.
Russ: "We're Scooch - Maltese favourites!"
Natalie: "We love Malta! And maltesers!"
Russ: "Where are you going on holiday next year, Caz?"
Russ: "Where are you going Natalie?"
Russ: "Me too!"
Dour-faced Serbian spoilsport Marija Serifovic was much more serious at the winner's press conference - revealing how it was God's plan for her to win, and praising voters for choosing songcraft over showbiz glamour.
Perhaps she's right. Maybe I've been too harsh on the song.
But have you noticed that Serbia has borders with more countries than any other nation in the Eurovision?
SUNDAY 13 MAY 0110 LOCAL TIME (2310 BST)
For the life of me, I do not know who was voting for Serbia and their bizarre liturgical dancing.
Perhaps it was a clerical error.
BBC Radio 1's Natalie Jamieson has drawn the short straw and has to head off to interview Scooch on behalf of the BBC.
They came joint second-last and I don't envy her that job one little bit.
See you in Belgrade next year.
SATURDAY 12 MAY 2350 LOCAL TIME (2150 BST)
Well, the acts have all strutted their stuff on the Eurovision stage. If the reaction in Helsinki is anything to go by, Ukraine are the clear winners. We'll find out in about half an hour.
SATURDAY 12 MAY 2200 LOCAL TIME (2000 BST)
We're all set - the BBC's reporting and production team, from left to right, are: Helen Fawkes, Paul Henley, Natalie Jamieson, me, Betty Redondo and James Earl.
Here we go!
SATURDAY 12 MAY 2130 LOCAL TIME (1930 BST)
Well, it's half an hour until the whole shebang kicks off.
I don't want to spoil any surprises, but if you're recording the programme to watch tomorrow, fast-forward through Bosnia, Macedonia and Armenia.
Bosnia-Herzegovinan act Maria will be singing Nameless River
You won't be missing anything you couldn't recreate at home by putting your mum in a purple frock and telling her to shout "bananas" at the dog.
Secretly, I'm hoping Scooch do well. Having met them several times over the last week, I've been won over by their enthusiasm and, let's be honest, their song.
But Germany have got to win. I put a tenner on them when the odds were 66/1.
SATURDAY 12 MAY 1945 LOCAL TIME (1745 BST)
Here in the press centre, you're never more than a minute away from a debate
about who's going to win Eurovision.
One name that keeps coming up is Latvia's six-piece tenor vocal group, Bonaparti.lv. In fact, several of my colleagues have just placed an obscenely large bet on them to win...
"Our song is catchy and it stands out," say Latvian act Bonaparti.lv
As one of the 10 acts put through from Thursday's semi-final, Bonaparti have been rehearsing their performance since last week, and they're beginning to get bored.
Gathered together for an interview, three of the singers feign sleep, letting "Italian-born, Latvian by choice" Roberto Miloni do most of the talking.
Perhaps they are just reserving their energy for tonight's showdown.
"It will be hard work but, like Napoleon, we are generals," says Miloni. "We can't be tired, we need to be ready".
"Our song is catchy and it stands out in relation to the others," pipes up Andreas Abelite, recently voted Latvia's sexiest man by the country's leading gay magazine.
"We simply go out on stage with a smile and the emotion of love. There are no pyrotechnics, just the fire from our voices."
SATURDAY 12 MAY 1800 LOCAL TIME (1600 BST)
It's not just Eurovision which has got Finland talking this weekend.
Earlier today, the country went up against Russia in the semi-finals of the ice hockey World Cup.
It was an important battle: Moscow conquered the country in 1809 and ruled it for more than a century, engendering a fierce rivalry that exists to this day.
Fans have begun gathering to watch the show on big TV screens
Against the odds, Finland won the match 2-1, beating Russia on home soil. But the locals aren't expecting a double victory today.
The party line is that Hanna Pakarinen's Eurovision entry (Leave Me Alone - a soft rock ballad performed, for no good reason, in a ballgown) is good enough to make the top 10, but not strong enough to win.
Nonetheless, Finn fans have started to congregate on the steps of the city's Senate - where they can follow tonight's contest on big screens dotted around the square.
"We simply had to come and sample the atmosphere," one told me. "After all, it could be another 45 years before we win again."
SATURDAY 12 MAY 1500 LOCAL TIME (1300 BST)
Ukraine's Verka Serduchka is hotly tipped to win tonight in Helsinki.
Verka Serduchka has a special message for the UK
The drag queen, played by comedian Andriy Danylkohas, has one of the more energetic stage routines, and has been driving the crowd crazy during dress rehearsals.
Personally, I don't see the attraction. Serduchka reminds me of nothing more than Les Dawson trying to sing Gina G.
Anyway, one of my colleagues in BBC Radio has spoken to the star, who wanted us to pass on the following message.
"Hello England, I am Verka Serduchka. I love you!
"Elton John! The Beatles! Madonna!"
No, me neither.
SATURDAY 12 MAY 1200 LOCAL TIME (1000 BST)
For the past four months, Ola Melzig has devoted his life to the Eurovision.
He's the production manager for Spectra Stage Event and Technologies, which means he's responsible for the lighting in the show and running the mammoth video wall which dominates this year's set.
Ola Melzig has kept an online diary of his work for the show
Backstage in his office, he's set up home with a sofa, a "sadly underused" PS3 and two, yes two, espresso machines.
"We've been in Helsinki for four weeks but I started travelling back and forth in January for pre-production," the affable Swede tells me.
Throughout the process, Melzig has kept an online diary (www.eurovisiondiary.com) which tells of the trials and tribulations of setting up such a massive show.
At the start of the week, things were still a bit hairy - as Melzig discovered the underfoot video screens were generating too much heat. This made the fog effects heat up, resulting in several acts being lost in a murky mist.
But, despite the occasional hiccup, he says "surprisingly little has gone wrong".
"Although one day the stage guys put a drum kit in the wrong place and a lighting rig landed on it and smashed it."
With innumerable rehearsals and run-throughs, Melzig is probably more familiar with the 42 Eurovision songs than anyone, but he claims not to have a favourite.
"Without noticing, you force yourself to love the songs because you'd go mental if you didn't like them.
"But the Ukraine is fantastic because it's so fun, the UK is fantastic because it's so gay, and I love Finland because they're so hardcore."
FRIDAY 11 MAY 1900 LOCAL TIME (1700BST)
Georgia's representative, Sopho, has just dropped by the press centre
for a chat (she's the one with the make-up, in case you're having trouble
distinguishing between us).
At 20 years old, she's the youngest singer in this year's competition -
but she sailed through the qualifying round to make it into the finals,
despite the fact that Georgia has never entered the competition before.
The BBC's Mark Savage meets Georgian singer Sopho
"I really appreciate all the support the European countries provided
for me. Thank you for putting me through," she told me through her interpreter.
"You should see what's going on in Georgia's capital right now," she
tells me with wide eyes.
"Thousands of people are on the street supporting me and
this has very symbolic value.
"This is our future - it's important that all of Europe knows that our country is looking forward to getting united with all of Europe."
But I wasn't interested in Sopho's messages of political harmony.
No, I wanted to know if she was worried about those dancers with the swords.
"I'm not afraid at all! They're professional dancers and I trust that
they're not going to hurt me."
So there you go.
FRIDAY 11 MAY 1630 LOCAL TIME (1430 BST)
Our Eurovision voting analyst didn't perform too well last night - only
five of the 10 countries he predicted would get through to tomorrow's final
actually made the grade.
Without the aid of a sophisticated computer model, I managed to guess
But Derek Gatherer's analysis of Eurovision voting trends still makes
He says 82% of countries now engage in vote exchanges. In fact, the
only Eurovision participants who can claim a clean slate are Israel,
Switzerland, Hungary and France.
"People are making a political point," says Gatherer, "and the practice
has been steadily increasing since the introduction of phone voting in the
The worst culprits are the countries that make up the so-called "Balkan
bloc", which centres around Croatia, Serbia and FYR Macedonia.
Coincidentally, the latter two were both promoted to the final after
last night's phone vote.
But Gatherer says the political votes aren't strong enough to influence
the winning song.
"Last year, Finland were strongly backed by their friends," he says,
"but their act was very distinctive".
"But the last time there was a winner who wasn't part of a voting bloc
was Israel in 1998."
FRIDAY 11 MAY 1600 LOCAL TIME (1400 BST)
I've just come back from the first full dress rehearsal for Saturday's big Eurovision showdown, and the atmosphere was electric.
Unlike last night's semi-final, the Hartwall Arena was packed to the rafters, and the crowd were dancing around like Sandy Shaw's proverbial Puppet On A String.
Scooch are facing an uphill battle to win over the crowd
The best reactions were reserved for Sweden's glam rock dandies, The Ark and Ukraine's grotesque drag queen Verka Seduchka.
Unfortunately, the crowd sat still, arms folded and scowls painted across their faces during Scooch's routine. One of the UK fans who's travelled over to Helsinki texted me as the band traipsed off stage: "Kill Me Now".
What have we done to anger the rest of Europe so?
For the last couple of years we've put our poor performances down to the war in Iraq, but Tony Blair resigned yesterday and it still isn't good enough.
Maybe next year we should write a song called "Look, we're really quite sorry about all that stuff we did" and see if that sorts things out.
FRIDAY 11 MAY 0900 LOCAL TIME (0700 BST)
After the excitement of last night's semi-final, I managed to have a look through some of the e-mails you've been sending.
The semi-finals gave everyone a taste of the big day
Mark Campbell-Howes wrote: "I'm travelling to Helsinki tomorrow for the weekend but I haven't managed to secure tickets for the main event.
"Do you know if there are there any plans to show the contest on big screens in the city centre?"
Yes, Mark, there are. Helsinki's Senate Square is playing host to a huge screen filled with Eurovision broadcasts. Some of Finland's top acts will also be playing on stage in the square.
Meanwhile, Ken Edwards has written in to suggest I visit the Storyville Jazz Bar in downtown Helsinki when I need a break from all this Europop. Thanks Ken! I expect to be there in, oooh, five or 10 minutes.
Keep the e-mails coming - just use the form at the bottom of this page!
THURSDAY 10 MAY 2100 LOCAL TIME (1900 BST)
I'm about to go to the Helsinki Hartwall Arena to watch the semi-finals. To many fans, this is as important as the main event - and the ticket prices reflect it. It costs 130 Euros (about £88) to get a seat for the three-hour extravaganza.
Rehearsals have been held at the arena since 3 May
One person who'll be paying close attention is academic Derek Gatherer. For the past couple of years, he's been studying Eurovision voting patterns, and says the semi-finals are the place where block voting has the biggest influence.
Derek has used a computer model to predict the ten acts who will make it through from tonight's contest to Saturday's final. If you're watching the proceedings on BBC Three, here's what to expect:
- Latvia - Bonaparti.lv
- Albania - Frederik Ndoci
- Croatia - Dragonfly featuring Dado Topic
- Denmark - DQ
- Hungary - Magdi Ruzsa
- Malta - Olivia Lewis
- Moldova - Natalia Barbu
- Norway - Guri Schanke
- Serbia - Marija Serifovic
- Turkey - Kenan Dogulu
I'll speak to Derek again after tonight's contest - and tell you a little bit more about his views on how certain countries affect the results by voting for their neighbours.
THURSDAY 10 MAY 1445 LOCAL TIME (1245 BST)
"You're from England?" inquired my taxi driver on the way from Helsinki's Vantaa airport. "Your song is a joke." I do hope this doesn't become a regular conversational gambit...
For now, I've decided to hide away from any other potential Eurocritics by hanging out in the press centre at the Hartwall Arena.
I'm actually a bit late to the party - rehearsals started seven days ago and reporters from the more fervent Eurovision nations have been following the proceedings ever since.
The media representatives all hard at work
In all, there are about 1,600 media representatives here in Helsinki, and many of them are sitting around the hall on beanbags, sipping coffee and watching the dress rehearsals for tonight's semi-final.
After every song a small but enthusiastic cheer erupts from a different corner of the room.
Don't they have work to do?
As an aside - several seasoned Euro hacks warned me that the Eurovision attracts a fair share of fans in search of "someone to spend the weekend with".
I'm no prude, but I had no idea the mating rituals would start before I even got here.
At seven o'clock this morning a rather flustered young woman was ushered to the head of my check-in queue at Heathrow by a security officer.
"Because you're late?" inquired the man whose place she had taken, "or because you're good-looking?"
"I think it's a bit of both."
THURSDAY 10 MAY 1400 LOCAL TIME (1200 BST)
Tonight's semi-finals are a big deal. 28 countries perform, but only 10 get through to the main event on Saturday.
Before I left, I caught up with Paddy O'Connell, who presents the semi-finals on BBC Three.
He's a passionate advocate for the Eurovision, and says the contest is a stark reminder that Europe isn't all about "men in suits and arguments over fish quotas".
O'Connell hosts the BBC coverage of the semi-final from 2000BST
"Europe is about the different clothes, the different food and the foreign girls and boys we fall in love with," he says.
"It's hotter, it's colder, it's a vibrant continent.
"For me, Eurovision is a relief from wanging on about European food mountains and everything else.
"It's probably not a true representation of Europe either - it's sort of about women in big dresses and suspect drag acts in sequins.
"But there are British people who can sing all the songs in Swedish. It belies everything we're told about the language barrier."
THURSDAY 10 MAY 0800 LOCAL TIME (0600 BST)
As I sit waiting for the taxi to take me to Heathrow, I'm contemplating what's in store once I reach Helsinki.
All the Eurovision veterans I've spoken to tell me the event is "a unique experience" but I don't know why they keep twitching like that.
What I do know is that there are a breathtaking 42 acts vying for Eurovision glory this year - and I'm going to have to listen to all of them at least once.
My iPod is stuffed full of the entries, and early favourites include Georgia (like Bjork with a more outlandish dress sense) and Sweden (T-Rex by way of the Rocky Horror Picture Show). But that could all change before Saturday's final.
Along the way, I'll be interviewing both the hopefuls and the hopeless - and (fingers crossed) spending some time in the commentary booth with Sir Terry Wogan.
If you've got any burning questions you want answered, or any Eurovision recommendations, drop me a line using the form below.
See you in Helsinki!