Page last updated at 07:07 GMT, Friday, 16 May 2008 08:07 UK

Comedy clutters Eurosong line-up

By Michael Osborn
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

The starting line-up for this year's Eurovision Song Contest in Belgrade is the biggest on record, with 43 competing countries.

The event, now in its 53rd year, regularly throws up some surprises, a little controversy - and plenty of colour.

A puppet with an axe to grind, a song in a made-up language and a former winner bidding to make Eurovision history are among 2008's notable offerings.


Dustin the turkey
GIMMICKRY

Vania Fernandes
SONGSTRESSES

Laka
ECCENTRICITY
Paolo Meneguzzi
THE ITALIAN JOB

Jeronimas Milius
ROCK OPERA

Charlotte Perrelli
OLD HANDS

COMIC GIMMICKRY

Ireland's song is a departure from their previous efforts

After dominating Eurovision with a record-breaking string of winning ballads, Ireland slumped to last place in 2007.

They have responded by sending children's TV puppet Dustin the Turkey to Serbia, with a hi-energy song that hints at why Ireland feels they have lost their song contest sparkle.

"Give us another chance," pleads the gravel-voiced bird, who then reels off the names of several eastern European countries in a bid to grab their votes.

Spain is another country to have fallen on hard times in recent years, and turned to MySpace to help choose their 2008 hopeful.

Baila El Chiki Chiki is an infectious Reggaeton tune, but performer Rodolfo Chikilicuatre's Elvis bouffant, big glasses and plastic toy guitar suggest he's not taking it too seriously.

Latvia's Pirates of the Sea
Oo-aaar me hearties - Latvia's Pirates

Latvia has taken to the ocean with its song Wolves of The Sea, a disco-charged sea shanty performed by three singers in full pirate drag - but apparently without a parrot to complete with look.

Neighbour Estonia is also fielding a tongue-in-cheek entry, with comedy act Kreisiraadio - consisting of three slightly overweight middle-aged men - singing nonsense lyrics including "potatoes, beans, onions, lobster - that's enough".

Recent contests have seen one stand-out comic entry scoring highly, but the "funny" entry field will be crowded in Belgrade.

SERIOUS SONGSTRESSES

Marija Serifovic's triumph in 2007 was a long overdue victory for a serious song of substance over a perky pop tune and frivolous dance routine.

Portugal is hoping for a long-awaited first success

And sure enough, some of the Serb's female successors will attempt to emulate her recipe for victory in Belgrade, including Portugal.

Sung by Portuguese X Factor winner Vania Fernandes, Senhora do Mar (Lady of the Sea) is a dramatic, Latin-tinged song of love and loss.

With a uniform set of backing singers and a largely static performance, the similarities to Serifovic's captivating display are striking.

But it's not all doom and gloom with the balladeering ladies, as Hungary's elegant singer Csezy sings of the warmth of love by candlelight as good old-fashioned romance returns to Eurovision.

Love with a folksy feel comes courtesy of host nation Serbia and female soloist Jelena Tomasevic, complete with a chorus of "nuna nuna ney".

ECCENTRICITY

Belgium's lyrics make no obvious sense

Eurovision has a history of throwing up baffling performances, and this year has its distinct oddities.

Belgium, a country that has only enjoyed one triumph, is sending the song O Julissi, which is composed entirely of meaningless words, which makes no lyrical sense even to performers Ishtar.

The six musicians, who sing, provide harmonies and play a clutch of instruments, released an album of songs based on music dating back to medieval times.

But the Belgians have a good track record with songs performed in made-up languages - Urban Trad did the same in 2003 and finished second.

Bosnia-Hercegovina has performed well with earnest and polished folk ballads for the past two years, but is turning the tables by sending offbeat rock-pop star Laka to neighbouring Serbia.

Bosnian singer Laka
Laka and his feathered friend
The debut performance of his song Pokusaj (Try) on Bosnian TV saw him croon to a rooster, while his shock-haired sidekick and sister Mirela careered around the stage at top speed in a baffling but endearing show.

The chicken will not be appearing on stage in Belgrade - Eurovision forbids the use of live animals.

And in a recent interview, Laka claimed that the bird had made a tasty meal.

THE ITALIAN JOB

Italy, an original member of the Eurovision family from its early days in the 1950s, quietly moved into the shadows a decade ago and has not taken part since.

They are absent once again in 2008, but there will be a considerable Italian feel to this year's musical proceedings.

San Marino is the contest's smallest nation

San Marino has decided to make its debut in the contest.

Italian Eurovision fans are greeting the move with glee, even setting up a Facebook group to support the entry.

Five-piece Miodio - consisting of two Sanmarinese and three Italians - will hope their soft rock song Complice propels their tiny country to great things.

But if San Marino struggles, Switzerland has opted to bring an Italian feel to the contest for the first time in eight years, with local singer Paolo Meneguzzi and his tune Era Stupdeno (It Was Wonderful).

And if the Swiss fail to make an impression, Romania's entry has a verse and final chorus in Italian.

Pop-opera duo Nico and Vlad Mirtia must be hoping to emulate the success of countryman Mihai Traistariu, who belted out a chorus in Italian in 2006 and finished a creditable fourth.

ROCK OPERA

Last year's contest in Helsinki was rock-rich thanks to the legacy of 2006 monster winners Lordi - this outing it comes with a theatrical twist.

Azerbaijan, making its debut in Belgrade, is pinning its hopes on male duo Elnur and Samir with what can only be described as an outlandish slice of rock theatre.

Day After Day kicks off with a startling falsetto and pans out into a fight between good and evil, with Elnur taking on the mantle of a fluffy-winged angel while Samir is the devil incarnate.

Azerbaijan's effort pits good against evil

The country put on a huge show to select its first participants and will be hoping Europe is in the mood for an outlandish display.

Lithuania, which has yet to win Eurovision, has plumped for raven-tressed and heavily-eyelined male singer Jeronimas Milius, who warbled his way through Nomads In The Night to win the ticket to Serbia.

Milius says he wants to become a world-famous metal singer, while his song could have come straight from a goth musical on the Vilnius stage.

And with both Turkey and Finland fielding rock groups at this year's event, the influence of Lordi is still alive and well.

OLD HANDS

Charlotte Perrelli triumphed in Sweden's Melodifestivalen competition

The singer who landed Sweden's last Eurovision victory in 1999 is returning in an attempt to capture another slice of glory - and a place in the history books.

Charlotte Nilsson triumphed with the Abba-esque Take Me To Your Heaven nine years ago, and is back as Charlotte Perrelli with a more uplifting chunk of Scandinavian pop.

If she wins in Belgrade, the star will become the first female to win twice and only the second singer to do so since Ireland's Johnny Logan scored the double in 1980 and 1987.

Charlotte Nilsson
The Swedish star revels in her 1999 victory
In 2006, another former Swedish winner, Carola, returned after her triumph in 1991 - but had to be content with fifth place.

Russia's singer Dima Bilan is also making a comeback just two years after he settled for second place behind Finland's Lordi, this time with an R&B ballad that features US producer Timbaland on the credits.

At the Russian national finals in which Bilan beat 26 rivals, his impassioned interpretation had some members of the audience in tears.

The semi-finals of the Eurovision Song Contest take place on 20 and 22 May and will be screened on BBC Three from 2000 BST.

The grand final is held on 24 May and is on BBC One at 2000 BST.


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