The 48th Eurovision Song Contest, which is to take place in the Latvian capital of Riga on May 24, 2003. For the second time in a row the event is being hosted by a member of the ex-Soviet bloc, after the winsome Marie N won a close victory in Tallinn with a song borrowed from Carmen Miranda and a stage act inspired by Victor/Victoria.
Marie, in fact, is one of the show's presenters this year, alongside Renars Kaupers, the lead singer of Latvian rock band BrainStorm. Kaupers' boys provided Latvia's début entry in 2000, coming away with a perfectly respectable third place after voters across Europe warmed to his rubber legs, seventies-revival dress sense and a guitarist whose idea of fashion extended only as far as a Manchester United shirt.
The Latvian state broadcaster, unoriginally named LTV, has gone out of its way to show Latvia off to an estimated hundred million viewers, hoping to emulate the success of last year's Estonian organisers who managed, if nothing else, to enable Western European viewers to point their country out on a map for the first time. Short 'postcards' to be broadcast between the songs will show the 26 entrants - the largest number in Eurovision history - enjoying the Baltic delights of Riga, and Latvian hoteliers have rubbed their hands in glee at the prospect of several thousand Eurovision enthusiasts descending on their city for a wet weekend in May.
Elaborate choreography, hymns to European integration and a tad more girl-on-girl action seem certain to be the order of the day, with the bookmakers' favourites naturally being the Russian pseudo-schoolgirls Tatu, already the subject of predictable scandal during rehearsal week.
- Iceland: Birgitta Haukdal, Open Your Heart (8th)
An anthemic, strings-laden ballad along the lines of Andreas Jonsson's European smash Glorious which promised to be one of the contest's strongest opening numbers for some years. Slightly reworked by the Icelanders at the last minute when similarities were pointed out between Open Your Heart and Richard Marx's Right Here Waiting For You.
- Austria: Alf Poier, Weil der Mensch zählt (6th)
One of Austria's favourite stand-up comics, Poier has made himself the darling of the Riga press pack after a series of surreal press conferences. His entry itself was in much the same vein, a comedy song about the animal kingdom which is, supposedly, hilarious. As long as you can speak German.
- Ireland: Mickey Harte, We've Got The World Tonight (11th)
Ireland now selects its Eurovision performer through the reality show You're A Star, Éire's version of the Fame Academy format. Toting his emerald guitar, Mickey found himself one of Riga's dark horses, with a chorus straight from the Olsen Brothers' winner three years ago, Fly On The Wings Of Love.
- Turkey: Sertab Erener, Every Way That I Can (1st)
The Turkish vibe seems one of Europop's hottest tickets right now, and Tarkan's hit Simarik has done the rounds of the continental singles charts before being covered by soap starlet Holly Valance as Kiss Kiss. Every Way That I Can is more of the same, and Sertab - an anagrammatist's dream - ruffled Turkish feathers with a steamy video set inside a harem. Had her ambitious dance routine go wrong in Riga, though, she risked finding herself looking more like a giant maypole.
- Malta: Lynn Chircop, To Dream Again (24th)
The tiny island is convinced it's overdue a Eurovision win, and regularly offers to host the contest whenever it seems a fellow broadcaster might be unable to manage. They're showing up, as ever, with a saccharine ballad, and a TV-presenter singer who looked as if she normally works as an Air Malta stewardess. After her disappointing finish in 24th, she turned on a Maltese dignitary during the flight home for sending her to promote the song around Europe instead of producing a video.
- Bosnia and Herzegovina: Mija Martina, Ne brini (16th)
Mija Martina, a 19-year-old Bosnian Croat, appears to owe rather a lot to Croatia's leading pop star Severina, who would have made much more of a kitschy Balkan belter like this. Whether or not she would make it through her three - three - key changes unscathed remained undetermined.
- Portugal: Rita Guerra, Deixa-me sonhar (22nd)
Rita has something of a blonde Salma Hayek about her - although turned up more reminiscent of Shakira on the night - and almost certainly the voice of the contest too. Nonetheless, it proved ten years too late for a classy ballad in Portuguese, and La Guerra failed to better Portugal's series of lacklustre results.
- Croatia: Claudia, Više nisam tvoja (15th)
Last year Croatia fell just shy of the top ten with a Britney Spears impression, and the Croatian public who selected Više nisam tvoja from a field of twenty-four seemed to think that the same thing, only performed by a 17-year-old trainee hairdresser, will manage to do better. Claudia could not be dissuaded from wearing a pink and white polka dot bikini, probably the most atrocious outfit to have been seen in Riga since the fall of Gorbachev.
- Cyprus: Stelios Konstantas, Feeling Alive (20th)
Nothing to do with the Bee Gees, but a cheesy Mediterranean uptempo number which will be inescapable in Larnaca harbour this summer if you're especially unfortunate. Moody Stelios might have won the approval of Eurovision's gay following, or anyone else with a penchant for David Arquette.
- Germany: Lou, Let's Get Happy (11th)
The campest Eurodisco imaginable, performed by a woman reminiscent of Anne Robinson on speed. The songwriter, Ralph Siegel, has been Germany's premier Schmaltzmeister for nearly three decades, but reached new heights with this particular earworm, where the chorus runs: Let's get happy and let's be gay. Be afraid, be very afraid.
- Russia: Tatu, Ne ver', ne bojsia (3rd)
No introduction needed for the Tatushkas, who must have been Russia's obvious choice of representative - especially as the decision's made by a channel called Pervyi Kanal. Ne ver' was as close to their latest release Not Gonna Get Us as makes no difference.
Needless to say, all manner of speculation surrounded their appearance, and the contest organisers made clear that they risk disqualification should they 'bring the contest into disrepute'. There's a thirty-second instrumental in their song, long enough to snatch a lesbian kiss or two, or even - as one rumour suggests - conduct a fake wedding with a backing vocalist dressed as a Russian Orthodox priest. Ultimately, the girls failed to deliver in either department.
- Spain: Beth, Dime (8th)
Uptempo Hispano-pop which would have been among the favourites if not for Beth's week of messy rehearsals and missed notes. A proud Catalan, she's the winner of Spain's Operación Triunfo show, now in its second season of breaking Spanish viewing records and inspiring similar fame academies across the continent. And Dime is two syllables, for those across the pond.
- Israel: Lior Narkis, Words For Love (19th)
Cheesier yet than Germany or Cyprus, which is a state it's hard to reach. Lior was surrounded by so many female dancers that one would almost imagine he was overcompensating, and they undid their school blouses at a crucial moment to reveal I love you in different languages screen-printed on their vests. It takes more than that this year, dear.
- The Netherlands: Esther Hart, One More Night (13th)
Half Anastacia and half gospel, One More Night is the annual Dutch disco entry, but performed with panache and an unassuming favourite for the top five. Esther turned down the chance to appear in the British preselection, Song For Europe, to represent the Netherlands, and is unlikely to harbour regrets.
- United Kingdom: Jemini, Cry Baby (26th)
Their typo, not ours. Tipped to come home with Britain's worst result ever, even though the duo are graduates of Paul McCartney's Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, Jemini fulfilled expectations in this regard at least, achieving the infamous nul points. Britain loves a plucky loser, though, and Chris and Gemma were guaranteed a lifelong berth on nostalgia TV.
- Ukraine: Oleksandr Ponomaryov, Hasta La Vista (14th)
Specially composed for the Ukrainian King of Pop by Zvika Pick, the Israeli responsible for Dana International's winner Diva. Catchier than one might think, although any pretence of Ukrainian relevance was doubtful, and the audience - if not Oleks - were likely to be distracted by the turquoise-clad contortionist who forms part of the routine.
- Greece: Mando, Never Let You Go (17th)
An unfancied ballad from one of Eurovision's greatest underachievers, given the strength of Greece's domestic pop scene. Strangely enough, one of Mando's biggest hits happened to be a duet with Turkish entrant Sertab Erener.
- Norway: Jostein Hasselgard, I'm Not Afraid To Move On (4th)
An old-fashioned man-at-a-piano ballad that clearly pleased the more traditional viewers, assuming any of them made it past Alf Poier, Sertab and Tatu. Luke Skywalker lookalike Jostein, by all accounts, turned in some of the most accomplished rehearsals of the week, and put up a strong challenge to this year's choreography-led contest.
- France: Louisa Baillechel, Monts et merveilles (18th)
French entries tend to take their inspiration from the rest of the Francophone world, and this year is no exception: imagine Natacha Atlas trying her hand at chanson. Not counted among the favourites, presumably for a reason.
- Poland: Ich Troje, Keine Grenzen - żadnych granic (7th)
Poland are joining the European Union at last, and they'd like us all to know it. Ich Troje's bilingual effort, a large-scale duet which wouldn't disgrace Andrew Lloyd Webber and was performed in Polish and German, originally came accompanied with a big-budget video set around the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
- Latvia: FLY, Hello From Mars (24th)
The host nation had nurtured high hopes for this entry, performed by a supergroup of Latvia's three twentysomething megastars. The title surely explained the outer space-themed set, which surrounded every singer with visuals of assorted planets, galaxies and so forth, and seemed to place a virtual starship emerging from between Oleksandr Ponomaryov's legs.
- Belgium: Urban Trad, Sanomi (2nd)
Vaguely Celtic, and performed in an imaginary language, which is one way to keep both the Flemings and the Walloons happy. One of the band members was unceremoniously ejected when Belgian security services informed the prime minister, no less, that she had been a member of the far-right Flemish nationalist party Vlaams Blok. Quickly replacing her with a girl from Spanish Galicia, Urban Trad finished runners-up after one of the closest Eurovision votes to date.
- Estonia: Ruffus, Eighties Coming Back (21st)
Despite its title, Eighties Coming Back was a traditional rhythm and blues number that wouldn't feel out of place in the early 1960s. Neither, apparently, would Ruffus have done, if reports of their lead singer's alleged homophobic comments were to be believed.
- Romania: Nicola, Don't Break My Heart (10th)
Romania might sound the least likely possibility to bring Eurovision its first drum and bass entry, but they haven't quite cracked the formula yet. Nicola, who's taken part in every Romanian preselection to date, could equally be her country's answer to Scottish breakfast TV princess Lorraine Kelly, and was attended by the most overdone choreography of the night: two costume changes per dancer, and an elaborate routine involving giant vinyl records in the colours of the Romanian flag.
- Sweden: Fame, Give Me Your Love (5th)
Yet more reality-show graduates: Jessica and Magnus appeared on last year's Fame Factory in Sweden, and somehow brought their slice of much-diluted ABBA through a field of 32 in Sweden's much-loved Melodifestivalen.
- Slovenia: Karmen Stavec, Nananana (23rd)
Spherically chested Karmen lost out on Eurovision last year to a group of three transvestites dressed as air hostesses, and has been a woman on a mission ever since. Nananana is old-fashioned schlager and proud of it, but won't have given her lyricist too much trouble.