The Eurovision Song Contest - Europe's annual parade of dodgy pop, which launched the careers of Abba and Celine Dion (not to mention Dana and Dana International, the Israeli transvestite) - has undergone a revolution.
From this year, a new "World Cup"-style song contest - drafted in as part of EU enlargement celebrations by organisers, the European Broadcasting Union - will run over two nights, enabling more countries than ever before to take part. The new rules mean that in future, any of the EBU's 71 members (many of which, such as Dubai and Jordan, aren't actually in Europe) can take part in Eurovision, if they really want to.
The new format is part of a major image overhaul for the contest, which will be 50 years old next year. This year's "senior" Eurovision, which takes place next month in Istanbul, will see 22 countries, including Monaco, Andorra and Albania, compete in a live televised semi-final on 12 May. The 10 top-scoring songs from that competition will go on to join the nine highest-scoring nations from last year's contest and permanent Eurovision fixtures - Britain, Germany, France and Spain - in yet another live broadcast three days later, on 15 May.
Last year 150 million viewers worldwide watched as UK entrant Jemini's out-of-tune performance scored "nul points". This year the hopes of the nation rest on a former Fame Academy entrant, James Fox.
And Eurovision organisers don't appear to be worried that five long hours of Europop and dire dance routines will result in a mass switch-off. "At the end of the day, Eurovision is still an entertainment classic," maintained an EBU spokesperson. Hm.
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