Curtain rises for Eurovision

Curtain rises for Eurovision
By Sibel Utku Bila

The Age
May 16, 2004

Istanbul – Two dozen nations are set to battle for the crown in
Eurovision, the pan-continental song fest which attracts millions of
viewers worldwide despite the much-derided quality of its music.

The 49-year-old event, strongly ritualised by many and mocked
by others, this year offers a variety of attractions ranging from
whirling dervishes and dancers akin to leather-clad hobbits, to an
abundance of ethnic tunes and theatrical floorshows.

The contest is taking place amid heavy police presence, prompted by
several massive al-Qaeda-linked suicide bombings that hit the host city
Istanbul, Turkey’s biggest metropolis, last November, and in March.

About 2000 officers, some special forces armed with automatic rifles,
were on duty at the venue, a police official said. Traffic in the
vicinity was restricted.

Eurovision this year attracted a record number of 36 entries, with
Eastern Europeans making a particular effort to prove themselves on
the pan-continental music arena.

The increased interest forced organisers to hold a semi-final on
Wednesday, in which 12 countries were knocked out.

The winner will be chosen by the audiences of participant countries
through tele-voting, which, organisers say, will make Eurovision 2004
the biggest tele-voting event in television history.

The show, to be watched by an estimated 100 million people, will
also be broadcast in Armenia, Australia, Kosovo, Puerto Rico and the
United States.

Tipped as a hot favourite is Greek heartthrob Sakis Rouvas, whose
number Shake It comes complete with an explosive dance spectacle
involving stripping dancers.

He is expected to face a strong challenge from Ukraine’s Ruslana,
a charismatic brunette who wears leather costumes reminiscent of
the Lord of the Rings and performs a stompy dance inspired by ethnic
traditions in the Carpathian mountains.

The songs of Albania, Belgium, Cyprus, Malta, Serbia and Montenegro
and Sweden have also received warm receptions from audiences during

Also closely watched will be James Fox, who is seeking to restore
Britain’s Eurovision pride following the dreaded nil points with
which his country’s entry was humiliated last year.

For Turkey, the gala event is seen as a unique publicity opportunity
to boost its image in the eyes of a European public often skeptical
over the Muslim nation’s bid to join the European Union.

They hosts are eager to convey messages of religious and cultural
tolerance – the title of the contest is “Under the same sky” and the
stage design is reminiscent of Istanbul’s world-famous monuments such
as the Hagia Sophia church and the Blue Mosque.

Even though Eurovision has marked the onset of several outstanding
careers including those of Abba and Celine Dion, it is mostly
associated with music of questionable merits, bizarre costumes and
last but not least, political bias in the voting.

Cyprus and Greece, for instance, would traditionally award their
respective entries with the maximum points, while countries from the
Baltics, the Balkans and Scandinavia would often extend a helping
hand to neighbours.

And the zero points Britain received last year, many believe, was
Europe’s punishment for Britain’s support for the US-led occupation
of Iraq.

Turkey won the right to host the show when one of its top pop divas,
Sertab Erener, came first in last year’s contest in Riga, after
decades of disappointment for the Muslim nation.

The Eurovision Grand Final will screen on SBS tonight (Sunday) at 7.30.