Masters of Kitsch Ready For Eurovision Contest

LONDON -- La La La. Boom Bang-A-Bang. Ding-A-Dong. It's that time again.

The Eurovision song contest is a shameless celebration of pure kitsch with its tacky songs, camp singers and outrageous outfits that will culminate with a glitzy finale in the Serbian capital of Belgrade this year on May 24.

But however trite the lyrics get and however shamelessly East Europeans keep voting for each other, the annual mishmash of power ballads and bubblegum pop shows no sign of flagging.

"The more people knock and criticize it, the bigger Eurovision gets," says John Kennedy O'Connor, author of an official history of the contest.

"It is the biggest one ever this year with 43 countries compared to just seven in the first one in 1956. It is growing and growing," he said before flying out to Belgrade for Eurovision 2008.

Winning can even do wonders for a state's morale.

Marija Serifovic's victory at the 2007 contest caused an outpouring of national pride in Serbia, a country more used to rebuffs from Europe over its wartime past than to accolades.

Swedish quartet Abba were Eurovision's most famous winners, Ireland's Johnny Logan won it three times -- twice as a singer, once as a composer. Celine Dion won for Switzerland.

Spain triumphed in 1968 with a song using the word "La" 138 times -- and now it is ranked as a notorious winner.

A Spanish documentary claimed that British singer Cliff Richard was robbed of victory after Spanish dictator Francisco Franco fixed the vote.

Spanish TV executives were alleged to have traveled Europe promising to buy second-rate programs and concerts billing strange acts in return for votes.

The bane of 21st-century Eurovision is tactical voting -- but John Kennedy O'Connor insists that it is not political.

"With the Balkans, I genuinely don't think it is out of political allegiance, as 10 years ago they were trying to wipe each other off the planet," he said.

"Soviet satellite states now support each other and the Russians. You would have thought they would do the opposite and give the Russians a kicking."

Representing Russia at this year's contest will be Dima Bilan, who is returning to Eurovision after finishing second in 2006 in Athens.

Eurovision's official king of trivia says, "I take it all with a pinch of salt. I enjoy lots of the songs but about half I never want to hear again."

So who will triumph in Belgrade? It's time to place your bets.

He proudly boasted: "I get it right every year. I know who is going to win. This year it is between Ukraine, Russia and Ireland."