Semolina. So here we are again, with the second half of the qualifying from Moscow. After a man with an enormous balalaika and some accordionists with stuck-on beards reinterpreted classic winning songs (along with a line of men in bearsuits), the decidedly scary hosts were back to introduce tonight’s nineteen hopefuls.
First up were Croatia, a duet between a man looking like a cross between Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams, and a woman looking like Lauren Laverne. Their combined vocal talent was considerably less than the sum of those parts. Once the rest of Europe had taken its fingers out of its ears, it was time for Ireland, who instead of sending a turkey instead sent the Nolans trying to be the Bangles. Latvia had a song about a traffic jam that was more of a car-crash, performed by a failed punk who appeared to have taken fashion tips from Ricky Wilson circa 2005. Serbia had also pressed the wacky button, although their offering (a growling man with finger-in-socket hair, with Nick Cotton from Eastenders on accordion) was good-bad rather than bad-bad.
Poland’s answer to Leona Lewis was on next, but her power-balladeering was about to pale in comparison with the night’s big draw, Alexander Rybak representing Norway with his Fairytale. I have it on authority that, despite the object of the song’s affections being female, Alexander has been getting very familiar with last year’s winner Dima Bilan. Cheekbones to die for as well. Ahem, anyway. Cyprus gave us a young girl on a revolving light box, whilst Slovakia actually made Croatia sound bearable with their tonally-challenged couple. If Denmark’s entry sounded a lot like Ronan Keating, that’s probably because it was written by the man himself. It might as well have been performed by him (after all, transnational representation is nothing new in Eurovision). Instead we had Brinck, a Ronan clone. A “Clonan”, maybe. Or maybe not.
Slovenia’s singer stayed behind a screen for most of the song, and her emergence hardly created waves in the audience. Hungary sent John Barrowman dressed like Mr Motivator, but things then picked up with two more of the big favourites. First were Azerbaijan, with an efficient nth variation on the 2003 Turkey formula, then Greece represented by 2004 runner-up Sakis Rouvas. Whilst Cyprus’s Christina Metaxa’s light box just revolved, Sakis had clearly got an upgrade, as his functioned as a conveyor belt and a giant stapler. The song that denied Sakis the win 5 years ago was Wild Dances, and Moldova produced a carbon copy of this. Sandwiched by these entries was a Lithuanian in a hat impersonating Justin Timberlake.
Best attempt to out-weird Tuesday night’s Bulgarian entry came from Albania, who gave the audience a girl in a ra-ra skirt being molested by a man in a turquoise gimp suit. Although the kink factor in that performance was as nothing compared with Ukraine, who went all out to recreate the video for Relax with a cosmetically-enhanced dominatrix in an S&M parlour with man-slaves in giant hamster wheels. Anyone flicking past might have thought they’d hit upon one of the adult-only subscription channels instead. By way of contrast, Estonia had a Bat For Lashes lookalike with an Estonian-language ballad, before the Netherlands rounded things off with a trio of camp hairdressers and Divine. Their upbeat Eurodisco was resolutely old Eurovision, but perhaps none the worse for that.
The UK had been able to vote in the first semi-final, but not tonight – and the usual paranoia meant Paddy O’Connell and Sarah Cawood reiterating several gazillion times the fact that any attempt to vote would be a waste of money. Mr and Mrs Big Hair then made their final appearance (they mercifully won’t be hosting the final on Saturday night) and then pratted about with the magic button to reveal the winners. Astonishingly, Croatia went through, Azerbaijan and Ukraine less of a surprise. Lithuania, Albania and Moldova saw a continued former Eastern bloc resurgence, before Denmark and Clonan were announced as through. Estonia followed, leaving just two places, with big favourites Norway and Greece as yet unannounced. But then they were, Alexander and Sakis squeaking through and the line-up completed.
So, the final 25 have been decided, and on Saturday night at 8pm (BST) it’ll be the big one. Graham Norton will be commentating, Jade is on 23rd out of the 25 (although hopefully that won’t be her final position on the scoreboard), and there’s a one in five chance that we’ll be off to Scandinavia this year…