Charlotte Perrelli could make song contest history
By Michael Osborn
Entertainment reporter, BBC News
Sweden's Eurovision entry has emerged as the favourite to win this year's contest in a Europe-wide BBC vote.
Charlotte Perrelli, who won the event in 1999, was the convincing victor with her song Hero, ahead of Ukraine, Switzerland and host nation Serbia.
The United Kingdom's Andy Abraham polled only enough votes to finish in 33rd place in a field of 43 songs.
One Eurovision fan from each country chose their Top 10 songs ahead of tonight's first semi-final in Belgrade.
Their choices were awarded Eurovision-style points, with one point for 10th place, up to a maximum of 12 points for their favourite songs.
The points were combined to create the final standings, from 1st to 43rd place. Montenegro came last with just two points.
The Swedish star finished 62 points clear of Ukraine's Ani Lorak, and was awarded maximum points by several fans from all parts of Europe.
Perrelli - who won Eurovision in 1999 as Charlotte Nilsson - would secure Sweden's fifth win if successful, and become the first woman to win two contests.
Ireland's Johnny Logan is the only singer to have won twice in the competition's 53-year history, in 1980 and 1987.
For the first time this year, two semi-finals are being staged - and most of the 43 competing countries will have to fight for a place in the final.
The only automatic finalists are the host nation and last year's winner Serbia, plus the UK, France, Germany and Spain - the biggest financial contributors to the event.
Nineteen countries will take part in both Tuesday and Thursday's semi-finals, with a public vote determining nine qualifiers from each pool.
A jury will choose one more country in each semi-final to pass into the 25-strong grand final.
The biggest change to the contest since 2004 has partly been made to accommodate the growing numbers of song contest participants.
But organisers have responded to severe criticisms of the 2007 semi-final, which resulted in only eastern European countries making the final cut.
Paddy O'Connell reports from Belgrade on the new voting system
Semi-finalists have been divided into two groups based on their usual voting preferences in a bid to lessen the impact of "neighbourly" voting.
Traditional voting allies Greece and Cyprus have been split up, the former Yugoslav, Baltic and Scandinavian countries have been separated, while the UK will not be able to vote for Ireland.
The UK has been given voting rights in Thursday's semi final, while both preliminary competitions are being screened on BBC Three.
Organisers hope a broader range of countries will contest the final.
The outcome, however, will rest solely on public voting, as in previous years.
The Eurovision Song Contest semi-finals take place on 20 and 22 May and will be shown on BBC Three at 2000 BST.
The grand final is on 24 May and will be screened on BBC One from 2000 BST.