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In 2007, Malta, the Mediterranean island which holds the Contest so very close to its bosom, was in crisis. After finishing second in Kyiv in 2005, the Maltese had slipped and slid to the opposite end of the scoreboard for the return leg in Athens, when Fabrizio Faniello earned just a single, solitary point from the kind-hearted Albanian jury for his slightly squeaky performance of I Do. It was akin to Brazil finishing last in its qualifying group for the World Cup, the latest Harry Potter book not topping the bestseller lists and Ken Barlow not straying from Deidre when a slinky middle-aged saucebucket crosses his path.
Luckily, they had plans in Valletta. Plans they appeared to have had simmering on the back burner for years. When the shortlist for Malta's Song For Europe was announced and the songs dripped themselves dripped onto the web, one song in particular caused the pricking up of ears. That song was Vertigo, performed by one Olivia Lewis, a woman who had failed to represent Malta at the Contest on 11 previous occasions. Yes, that's right. Eleven previous occasions.
For Olivia, it was twelfth time lucky at the national final stage. But by the time she got to Helsinki, she probably wished she'd stumbled at the starting blocks for yet another year.
Two countries were regularly touted as the winners of the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest in the run-up to the final in Helsinki; Serbia (who did indeed win the thing) and Switzerland (who did indeed didn't). The man letting down Team S was one DJ Bobo, a dance act which even octogenarian Lys Assia, the Swiss winner of the very first Contest in 1956, touted as the man who could bring the Eurovision trophy back to its birthplace for the first time in 19 years. Not long after Lys' endorsement, Bobo was indeed given the go-go to develop a song for Helsinki. Although I have to be honest, beyond his involvement with the Contest, he has never crossed my pop radar so I could never work out what all the fuss was about.
There was palpable excitment on the night Bobo's song, Vampires Are Alive, was released on the web and it went straight to the not-quite-top of most of the fan polls and soon found itself at number three in the Swiss charts.
The bookies had this as a sure fire top-five finisher and fans across Europe were preparing themselves for a tussle at the top of the scoreboard with Bobo right in there among it.
Then the rehearsals started.
By 2005, the unthinkable had happened to Ireland. The nation which could have won the Contest by a mile in the '90s if the singer had just turned up on stage, coughed down the mic, then walked back to the green room, was in dire melodic straits. Relegated in 2002, their return in 2003 almosts saw them back in the Top 10, only for them to plummet once more in 2004, winding up very nearly at the bottom of the scoreboard. This meant the unthinkable; Ireland would have to qualify from the semi-final the following year.
The selection format which Irish telly, RTE, had used in the post-relegation period was a show called You're A Star, where unknowns got the chance to be matched up with a song from an established composer.
When Donna & Joe came through as the winners of the third series of You're A Star, it was clear that the law of diminishing returns meant this particular format was doomed as a way of choosing a song for Eurovision.
Aah, Monaco. The country that made a Eurovision comeback and nobody really noticed. From 1980 to 2003 the country which won the 1971 Eurovision was entirely absent from the Contest of Song. But after 25 years of non-participation, something stirred in the principality and the decision was made for Monte Carlo to get songy again. Unfortunately, that decision was made just as Eurovision split into a qualifying round and a Saturday night final.
In 2004 and 2005 the Monacans sent wishy-washy ballads which were never going to have the televoters lunging for the phone. But then 2006 rolled around and TV MC tried a different tack. They went absolutely coco-nuts.
Belarus began its Eurovision history in 2004, the same year the semi-final system was introduced, meaning its fortunes have always been in the hands of those tuning in a few days before the bona fide Contest itself. In its seven attempts thus far, only two of its songs have joined the saturday night line-up (2006 and 2010) but hopes were high in 2005 that the second Belarussian track cast into Eurovision's whirlpool of chance would actually come up with the big potatoes on the scoreboard in the ultimate final shake-up.
But as that song is being mentioned in Semi-Despatched, then you'll know it didn't come up to scratch.
Eurovision fans know that Andorra has been entering the Contest since 2004. Andorrans know that their country has been entering the Eurovision Song Contest since 2004. Sadly, many people outside of the tiny principality in the Pyrenees are unaware that Andorra enters the competition as they have yet to progress from the semi-final phase. That's despite the fact they have sent some stuff through for the televoters' consideration which belies the fact the country ranks 194th in the list of the world's most populous nations and its 84,000-ish inhabitants (around a fifth of the number of people who live in Liverpool) means, in all honesty, its music industry is never going to set the Grammys alight.
But just like equally tiny Luxembourg did all those years ago, the Andorrans aren't just at the Contest for the free buffet. They haven't had anywhere near the success of the Grand Duchy - but 2007 marked the year when Europe nearly, oh, so nearly... saw Andorra make the final of the Eurovision Song Contest. With a little help from a lad from Guildford.
Apologies for the poor quality video clip, it seems the good folk at YouTube don't enjoy hosting Silvia either. We're staying with 2006 for this third instalment of Semi-Despatched - and a song which was the first at the Contest to be performed by a fictitious character. It had a lot going for it, the last slot on stage in the draw, a funky stage presentation and lots of pre-Contest controversy. Unfortunately, it was the latter which may have cost Silv her Saturday slot.
Good morning BBaBers! The weekend nears, our next adventure in Eurovisionland doesn't, so what better time to introduce you to Boom Bang a Blog's newest series of ESC-related shennanigans which will both inform and educate?
Not quite on the same scale as A Bluffer's Guide to Eurovision, welcome to Semi-Despatched. From today, BBaB will be taking a look at those songs and performances which had to go through the Contest's semi-final phase, first introduced in 2004.
With so many countries now taking part each year, it's a sobering thought that over the past seven Contests, 107 songs have failed to make it to the Saturday night final. That's just under 10 per cent of all the songs ever entered into the Eurovision Song Contest since it began in 1956. Some of these fallers at the first hurdle include favourites to win the entire event, as well as some who were never expected to make it past this first sift.
Over the coming months, Boom Bang a Blog can't promise it can bring you every single song which failed to make it from the semi. We'll try and cover as many as we can, however - and we'll start today at the ideal spot. The beginning.
Seven years. That's how long it took me to make a comeback at the Eurovision Song Contest. Not on the stage you understand. I like to think I'm more aware of my vocal shortcomings than some of the people who have strutted their stuff on that voluminous set over the years, the type who have given their personality and outfit more attention than their harmonic range. I'm talking about being a member of the not-so-silent majority, that flag waving mass which you see carefully arranged in front of the scenery each year and whom the director cuts to if you're waving the national colours of the country which has just finished performing.
I had been part of that select group just once before, at the Skonto Hall in Riga in 2003. It was an amazing night - which saw Turkey score its first ever win and the UK its maiden wooden spoon, both accomplishments secured in style of some description. I knew I'd go back to Eurovision one day - I just didn't know when.