Well here we are at another year. Number 51, and a year of dubious quality at that, a year of such bad songs that it even surprised me, someone whose aural taste buds have been given one hell of a hammering from years of Eurosong methyolated spirit.

So who is impressing at the rehearsal stage? Tina Karol, Lordi, Texas Lightning, Hari Mata Hari, Christine Gulbrandsen, Carola, even Daz & Brian Kennedy. Severina is a fantastic woman. Silvia is tearing up the contest, Anna Vissi is getting special treatment, and no-one is 100% sure who is going to win. I'm going out on the largest ever limb this year, and suggest you put money on orcs. But get money on before Thursday evening. And I'll say nothing more.

Information on the Eurovision Song Contest Singers and Songs for this year can be found by clicking on a flag. You can also find my ill-informed comments, and in a completely made-up exclusive, you can also discover the contestant's favourite UK children's cartoon characters. What a fabricated coup!

Albania Andorra Armenia Belarus Belgium Bosnia
Bulgaria Croatia Cyprus Denmark Estonia Finland
France FYROM Germany Greece Iceland Ireland
Israel Latvia Lithuania Malta Moldova Monaco
Netherlands Norway Poland Portugal Romania Russia
Slovenia Spain Sweden Switzerland Turkey UK
After last year's roaring success where at least 144 Brits watched the semi final on BBC3, there will be 2 shows again, a semi and a final itself. They will be on...drum roll... Thursday the 18th if May, followed by the big final on Saturday the 20th of May. 14 countries make it straight through to the final, and 10 more will join them from the semi. 

If the nations are in Red, then they are automatically through to the final on Saturday       
If they are in Black, then they will need to justify their inclusion by getting through the knock-out Thursday marathon.

The major change this year is the way the votes will be given. After a spate of sleeping sickness sped through Europe last year around 23:00pm CET, it has been decided that the first 1-7 points will now not be read out by the national spokesperson. In order to stop people waking up on the sofas at 1am feeling grumpy and ruining their Sunday, votes will only be read out for points 8,10,& 12. It is expected that this will cut down on the voting process, and put a smile on everyone's face. On the other hand, it will allow more time for the presenters to wow us with their variety act, which is not a positive development.

Like last year, the winner and the nine top scoring countries from the previous competition will be granted an automatic spot in the Saturday final, meaning Croatia, Denmark, Israel, Latvia, Malta, Moldova, Norway, Romania, & Switzerland all get into the final with Greece on May 21. They will be joined by France, Germany, Spain and Britain, or the "Big 4".
These four, which usually top Eurovision viewing figures, are also "officially" the biggest contributors to the budget of the EBU, which represents 71 public service broadcasters covering every European country and more besides. The new rules save Britain from another exclusion in 2006, after we didn't score enough points to qualify directly in Kiev.
If you are really hungry for the minutiae then why not take an arse-numbing look at the Official Rules for 2005 (pdf document) by pressing here (the 2006 rules are not available I'm afraid).

Or a slightly more brief trawl can be found at this year's official site (which by the way is a noticeable improvement over previous years), namely http://www.eurovision.tv/

The two hosts who will playfully toy with each others affections this year are.. Sakis Rouvas, who came third in 2004 for Greece after singing a dog of a song as well as he possbily could, plus employing a nifty back flip in the process...and Maria Menounos, an American & TV personality of Greek ancestry (she played the role of Sexy Nurse in ‘The Fantastic Four’, attracting the attention of a group of astronauts, no less). She is four years younger than me...I've got used to professional footballers being younger than me, but when Euroosng presenters follow suit, it's really time to start worrying.

Expect broken vowels from the man, and short-tempered professionalism from the woman. If the draw is anything to go by, he may have the odd problem with saying French numbers, as well as the French for the UK (they asked the cameramen, and then after failing to get an answer just didn't bother at all, undoubtedly to the eternal chagrin of the francophiles). And talking of the draw, here it is...

Semi Final Draw - Thursday 18th May
1 Armenia 7 Belgium 13 Russia 19 Portugal
2 Bulgaria 8 Ireland 14 Turkey 20 Sweden
3 Slovenia 9 Cyprus 15 Ukraine 21 Estonia
4 Andorra 10 Monaco 16 Finland 22 Bosnia & Herzegovina
5 Belarus 11 FYROM 17 Netherlands 23 Iceland
6 Albania 12 Poland 18 Lithuania  
Final Draw - Saturday 20th May
1 Switzerland 7 Malta 13 Bosnia & Herzegovina 19 France
2 Moldova 8 Germany 14 Lithuania 20 Croatia
3 Israel 9 Denmark 15 United Kingdom 21 Ireland
4 Latvia 10 Russia 16 Greece 22 Sweden
5 Norway 11 FYROM 17 Finland 23 Turkey
6 Spain 12 Romania 18 Ukraine 24 Armenia

The draw for the final included the fourteen countries who are already assured places, with ten open slots for those who score well in the Wednesday evening qualification heat. At the end of the show on May 19, a shortened version of the results will see the ten qualifiers named and linked to open spaces for the Saturday evening show. The ten qualifiers names will be in envelopes, the hosts will name the country that will take each remaining slot in the final order.
As for the semi final, there will be no spokesperson for televoting purposes for each country, and neither will there be a full rundown of the scoring, oh and neither will the songs be much kop either.
The handful of UK viewers, will get to know the order of the countries positioned from 11th to 22nd, and the total individual results of the semi final will be presented online after the Final.
The dress rehearsals for the Final will continue as in previous years.

Another development this year was another draw made in March to determine which order the votes will be given. Previously this was done according to way the host broadcasters were listed alphabetically, and so the Ukraine would have given the final votes every year until the sun burns out. However now, an annual draw hopes to mix it up a bit, and below, for the purposes of providing a comprehensive, yet dull service, is it...

The Order in which countries will give their votes
1 Slovenia 11 Serbia & Montenegro* 21 Russia 31 Iceland
2 Andorra 12 Norway 22 Poland 32 Monaco
3 Romania 13 Estonia 23 United Kingdom 33 Israel
4 Denmark 14 Ireland 24 Armenia 34 Albania
5 Latvia 15 Malta 25 France 35 Greece
6 Portugal 16 Lithuania 26 Belarus 36 Bulgaria
7 Sweden 17 Cyprus 27 Germany 37 FYROM
8 Finland 18 Netherlands 28 Spain 38 Turkey
9 Belgium 19 Switzerland 29 Moldova   
10 Croatia 20 Ukraine 30 Bosnia & Herzegovina
* Although Serbia & Montenegro have pulled out of this year's contest, they are still able to vote, as they had already paid their subscription fee in full and were unable to get a refund.