World of Chig   

Eurovision - the final dress rehearsal - live!

14:10 Serbian time (13:10 BST)

I'm in the media centre, in one of the many 'working areas'. It's basically a room full of PCs, 72 of 'em! Only seven of them are occupied, which means I've secured a plum seat by the widescreen TV, which is transmitting the third and final dress rehersal for tonight's show, live from the Beogradska Arena, twelve minutes' walk through a housing estate.

The show has just started, so I'll try and comment on it as it unfolds, as well as blogging my top 5 songs and adding some photos. This could be a busy two hours!

The opening:

Rather understated after the theatricality of the semi-finals, but also surprisingly provocative, in a gender-bending way. For a country that's not exactly hot on homosexuality and gender issues - we've had offical warnings - it's rather brave and I applaud RTS for doing it.

Marija sings last year's winner a capella, then in the dance mix, then part of another song. She then introduces the hosts. There is no more to it (and the interval act later is pretty straightforward as well).

The hosts are pretty terrible. For once, I think the French (by Zeljko) is better than the English though. Well done to him for that. As usual, the script is cringingly crap and horribly stilted. Don't bother listening to them at your party. They say nothing interesting in the whole show, and nothing funny either.

01 Romania

Brilliant as ever. It's not an energetic start, but they are superb and I could sit and stare at Vlad all day.

02 United Kingdom

Believe it or not, I have seen 42 of the 43 countries live on stage. The one I haven't seen is the UK! This is because of the rehearsal schedule and some woefully slow custonmer service while getting a pizza yesterday, which meant I couldn't get to the arena in time for the first dress rehearsal. (The essay on Serbia's understanding of customer service may follow another day. Many people here will want to contribute.) We heard Andy Abraham's last notes and applause as we were going through the metal detectors on the way in! It wasn't meant to be.

Our postcard is quite funny. Try to read it. Good lord, what is Andy wearing? A silver fringed blue jacket from Butlin's? He's very smiley, the sound mix sounds right, strong vocals. The hunky male backing singer from Eurovision - Your Decision is back, many will be pleased to hear. Lovely colourful stage. "We love you", Andy shouts to the crowd at the end. It's a good, energetic performance of a completely unmemorable song. The poor lamb. I hope he's ready for the voting.

03 Albania

It started. It lasted three minutes. It ended. Previous experience taught me to include this in my predictions on Thursday, which proved correct, and I like the fact that the Albanian song made it to the final, as she has had to endure booing at rehearsals from some sections of the local audience because of the K word which we're not advised to mention, so fans have countered it with cheering, to support the poor girl. She's only 17 and she's not a politician, so I wish people would leave her alone.

04 Germany

Insipid, uninteresting and a hot favourite amongst us media types here and the bookies - for last place tonight. I never need to hear this again. The one who has been ill all week with a virus is now back. That's the most interesting thing I can say. They should have picked Carolin Fortenbacher and they wouldn't be in this pickle; they'd be in the top ten. Schade.

05 Armenia

She's not the best vocalist on display (and far from awful), but her limitations don't seem to matter anyway with this, as it's full of energy and the dancers have a good routine. Would have been a hotter favourite if she'd secured a later draw.

06 Bosnia & Herzegovina

Every moment of this is brilliant and I would love it to win. UK, vote for this! It has an immediate impact, it's funny and fascinating. A Russian man just asked me if I like this, as I was singing along (in my best Bosnian). He said "They're freaks". Yes, that's why I love them.

Break: 45 seconds from in front of city hall, where I can see there is now a screen, but the flowerbeds are going to get trampled. Obviously there's no one there now, so some woman just read out a script, with all the feeling that only a technician could manage. I imagine you'll be more excited later (if the BBC shows this bit).

07 Israel

This has shot up in my estimation and I completely understand how it made Tuesday's top ten. He's a pocket-sized hunk and there's not one of his five backing boys who has been anywhere near the ugly stick. His voice, which was grating on me at first, now seems fine. I love the freeform dance that the boys do at one point. It really works, because they look like they're having fun, and it lends a lighter touch to Dana International's otherwise serious-sounding song. Final shot: what a bunch of beauties! Also, Boaz is one of the few artists who has been spotted in 'our' Euroclub, so I respect him for that.

08 Finland

They know what they're doing and they do it well. This is the advantage of having a group represent you (as all the music is recorded anyway, so only the vocalist has to do anything. And the drummer. Have you tried miming drumming?) Odds on this winning have apparently come in from 150-1 to 12-1.

In other news, there are five of us currently in this press room. I know everyone here and we're all Brits. How strange.

09 Croatia

Another faultless performance from the group and the singer. The old geezer, who gets all the press coverage, doesn't actually do much and when he does, he shouts. I have no idea how this will do. It could win on novelty value alone, or just get a mid-table position with Balkan votes. Then again, Terry Wogan might encourage his TOGS to vote for it.

10 Poland

Isis Teeth delivers again, but although this has now grown on me, this is one I would happily have seen not qualify from Tuesday. I don't know why I dislike it, but it doesn't move me. She's too slick and the song is too smooth, with no interesting bits. Can't fault her singing though.

One of the best postcards, with umbrellas and some catchy music, leads up to...

11 Iceland

The favourite of The Gays, and it's easy to see why, even if I have criticised it for being old-fashioned and cliched. When I saw this in the hall earlier in the week, I thought Regina must have been sick, as only Fridrik was on stage, but I just hadn't realised how late she somes into the song. As someone said to me, they have really learnt how to perform this for TV, not the audience in the hall. The singing is perfect and this will get your party going! Eurobandid are Eurovision fans who make a living performing Eurovision songs as a Eurovision tribute act. It would be beyond surreal if they won Eurovision and then someone else could be a tribute act to them.

12 Turkey

The other proper band in the final, after Finland. I love it to pieces now. When only positions 12 and 13 were left in the draw on Thursday night, the Turkish singer said he wanted number 13, but he drew 12 instead, leaving unlucky 13 to Portugal, and it is unlucky, because now we have a break.

Break: The hosts are back, linking to the green room hosts, Kristina and Bane. I think they won a contest on Serbian TV to do this job. They're both funny and sexy and should have been the hosts in the hall as they're much better. They seem to understand how corny some of their script is and they're taking the piss out of themselves. You may not get to see this if you have ad breaks.

13 Portugal

Last out of the hat on Thursday, so the position after the break may have killed off its chances, but there's no doubting that this is now being widely seen as a deserving potential winner. I have succumbed to its charms, but it took a while for the tune to lodge in my head. It's flawlesly presented and if the Big Balkan Ballad vote is going anywhere, it may as well come here. Funny thing is, it IS a Balkan ballad, co-written by Andre Babic, who has popped up on backing vocals for more ex-Yugoslav Eurovision acts than I've had hot dinners. This is top two with Ukraine here in the media centre.

14 Latvia

My favourite activity of the last 48 hours has been talking to people about their reaction to Thursday's qualifiers and waiting for them to pull a sniffy face when they say, "But Latvia?" and then watch their disgusted reaction when I say it's one of my favourites. Some people are so bloody serious, they've forgotten how to have fun and don't get the joy of catchy, costume-based pop music. I have fond memories of Adam Ant when I see this and I would be overjoyed for it to win, if only because it would annoy so many people (and Riga was brilliant, so I'd love to go back).

15 Sweden

Catface is flat again. Why does no one notice this? I haven't heard her sing these opening verses well yet in several performances and rehearsals. Her stretched to buggery face terrifies me and I suspect lots of people won't vote for someone who looks so weird, no matter how much they like the song.

Omens: In 1999, Charlotte won from position 15, on the Saturday after Man United won the European Cup on the Wednesday. Can she do the same again? (No. I think Denmark may even beat her to the top Scandinavian position.)

Talking of which...

16 Denmark

"What a day for a daydream.." What song is that? (It's The Lovin' Spoonful, if I may answer my own question.) The intro always reminds me of it. I hate the fact that this is a lowest common denominator song that anyone can sing along with after half a chorus (and half a pint), which Simon sells very well indeed. But there's no progression in the song, it's just pub rock at its most basic. Please let a proper song or at least an interesting performance win, not this plodder.

17 Georgia

Dark horse alert! Dark horse alert! If ever a song has improved from the grainy video of a national final to the Eurovision stage, this is it. I can see this winning, because it has a peace theme with widespread appeal and the stage gimmick of the night. The transition from the dark side to the peaceful side is extremely well done. It has to be seen to be believed. I have a feeling it was inspired by this couple's act:

18 Ukraine

I would like to buy one of the men packaged in Ani's boxes. Sacha, Bogdan and the other two are just fantastic in this. The hook in this song is the head nodding. I have taken to doing it whenever I hear the tune (which is my text message alert, so that's quite often). Another perfect performance. If a pop song wins tonight, I hope it's this one.

The hosts return for a moment. My hotel roommate Dermot has just sat down next to me so I don't know what they said.

19 France

All the backing singers are dressed as Monsieur Tellier himself. Quite funny. "Mon amour chante en francais," he sings in the breakdown, which is just a tease to the folk back home (including the government arts minister) who criticised him for the song being in English.

This has the funniest false ending - it really did get cheered in the rehearsal yesterday as people thought it was over. Not today though. There are some intentionally bad camera angles (I have now decided they must be intentional) in this, but I'm not sure if people will get the joke.

20 Azerbaijan

The first time I've seen the finished version of this on a TV screen. The sheer theatricality of this must have put it through from Tuesday night. The funny thing is, there are billboards advertising this entry all over Belgrade; you can't get away from them. They also headlined the official party, which is odd. It will be interesting to see if Serbia gives it a lot of points. It's certainly a lot better than it was. They've tidied it up rather well.

21 Greece

As Kalomira starts off being carried on some kind of pole by the dancers, I find myself glad that Cyprus and their 'carrying the singer on the table' didn't get through as well (not that there was ever a chance). Big UK points for this, but I don't see it as a winner. It's too repetitive and doesn't really mean very much.

22 Spain

Keep an eye on the woman in the pink who can't quite get the dance moves. (It's intentional.) She's quite funny. The rest I can take or leave. Will Europe get the joke? Top ten or a hopeless failure. I'll go with the former.

23 Serbia

A simple and dramatic presentation and a possible winner. The home crowd cheers wildly after the third line of this. It seems innocuous, 'Don't forget my name', but apparently it's seen as an oblique reference to keeping hold of the place that begins with 'K' that we're not allowed to mention here. There's a reference later in the song to St. Vitus's Day, which apparently means another story related to the K place. Clever how they sneaked it through, isn't it?

24 Russia

The man with the empty eyes is back. The histrionics will hopefully put people off, but the presence of a real life champion ice-skater (Yevgeny Pluschenko) is good and works well in these Eastern parts, if yesterday's rehearsal reaction is anything to go by. I just can't afford 240 pounds per night for a week in Moscow (or a final that starts at 23:00 for that matter!)

25 Norway

I probably can't afford Oslo either, but nothing would give me more pleasure than to see this simple, catchy song take the prize, if only to shut up the pathetic 'Eastern conspiracy' whingers. It's slick and looks great. The male backing singer on the right with no hair is the same one who has done many previous Norwegian Eurovision performances and even tried to enter as a soloist. He's rather tasty, but I can't remember his name. Anyone? This is a lovely way to end.

We now see the scoreboard. It's nothing unusual or fancy; they've gone for the basic look.

Now a 'living legend' is due on to start the voting. Tonight it will be a basketball star who I've never heard of. I saw him yesterday and he is a giant. Today though, he's not here, so a stage hand is playing him. From the moment Serbia won last year, I had assumed that Novak Jokovic would play this role, but they shot their bolt by using him on Tuesday. It's because the French Open starts soon, so the tennis star couldn't do today. I'm guessing the basketball star won't be demanding a standing ovation, like Lys Assia did on Thursday, the cheeky Frau.

The reprise is shown now, in performance order (not reversed). Then some other business (we were chatting), then the reprise again, with shorter clips. Even if France improves tonight, the clip in the reprise is terrible, because it's already edited from last night's rehearsal. It sounds awful. They are doomed.

More crap banter from Will-ko and Grace-ko. They count down to the end of the voting in Serbian. Pray that they have no more than 15 seconds to fill, because they can't ad lib to save their lives. They count down in Serbian, should you wish to join in.

Interval act: Goran Bregovic and his Orchestra

This is the real deal. It's exactly what I hoped for and expected from a Serbian-hosted final. A band "for weddings and funerals". Serbians must have the best funerals in the world. How could you be sad listening to this joy? The Russian journalist has just come back and said he thinks Goran Bregovic is the winner of Eurovision as this is better than all the other songs. He was certainly popular in the arena yesterday. Locals were up and dancing near me. It was fab.

My new Russian friend thinks we should send Amy Winehouse to Eurovision. He couldn't remember her name, but he mimed her hair. Brilliant.

The interval band does three songs, then back to the hosts, then over to the green room hosts. They are now imitating Spain, Russia and France. Very funny, but I don't know if they'll show this on the BBC.

They're practicing the voting now, with live links to the 43 spokespersons and fictitious votes which are usually planned to give a 25-way tie at the end. Carrie Grant does her bit efficiently.

The hosts have the wrong name for the Moldovan spokesperson. He politely points out that he's called Vitaly. He's a cutie too.

As ever, there are some real timewasters amongst this lot. Just give us the bloomin' points!

OMG! French spokesperson! Hunk! Look out for the French votes. Swoon! Who is he?
OMG! Norway's isn't bad either.

After 20 countries, there's a break in the voting as it clearly isn't taking long enough. We get Kristina and Bane again. He's getting more hunky in every link. I think it's the stubble growing.

The leading three countries are shown now; 1st Poland, 2nd Turkey and 3rd Portugal in this fictitious line-up.

OMG! Slovenia also has a hunk giving the points.

At the end of the fake voting, it's not a tie. Germany have won! They've clearly taken the most ridiculous scenario possible. Some stagehands pretending to be Germany come down to the stage. Thankfully, they don't do a reprise. Credits roll. The end.

So much for posting my top five. I need a loo and drink break. Bye for now!

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