I haven't got round to writing a Eurovision post so far this year, but that doesn't mean I haven't been keeping an eye on the national finals season - I managed to sit through most of the Latvian selection two or three weeks back, which I think should entitle me to some sort of medal. Suffice to say they chose the wrong song, and in any event the best performance of the night was the preview of the Swiss entry, which is never a great sign. It was exciting to see Niamh Kavanagh make an unlikely comeback for Ireland, but dismaying to see the song she's been given isn't a patch on In Your Eyes. What seems like an eternity ago (it must have been January) I also saw a Norwegian semi, and a bit of what I think was probably the Icelandic final. Bit sad to see that Maria Haukaas Storeng didn't quite make it in Norway, if only because her return to the Eurovision stage would probably just about have finished Keith Mills off, but admittedly the song wasn't as strong this time. What Norway ended up with instead is an intensely irritating entry, which even more intensely irritatingly probably has quite a good chance of winning. From the others I've heard, Denmark may provide Europe's only slender hope of salvation.
But it was the UK's turn tonight. And unfortunately, pretty much all the fears I'd expressed last year about the Your Country Needs You format proved to be justified. In a nutshell, those worries were - "this might work fine as a one-off with Andrew Lloyd-Webber, but what happens next year?" There simply wasn't any point in continuing with the same format unless a similarly big-name composer could be found - and Pete Waterman isn't it. By all accounts he's barely known in Europe.
That wouldn't have mattered if he'd come up with a knockout song capable of blowing the competition away, and if the auditions had produced a stellar assortment of undiscovered talent - but the exercise was a failure on both counts. Admittedly, Jade Ewen was the only really strong performer on the show last year, but one was all that was needed. As for Waterman's song...well, the most that can be said for it is that it might have finished about fourth in the Eurovision in 1985. It's obviously a competent composition, and few will absolutely loathe it, but the problem with the Eurovision voting system is that you don't get any points for being the least hated. Decent enough inoffensive songs have an uncanny habit of finishing last, especially when they're put forward by unpopular countries like the UK. It was slightly painful making the direct comparison between the three performances of That Sounds Good to Me and the rendition of Fairytale immediately afterwards, because it served to emphasise just how far short we've fallen of a potential winner yet again.
For what it's worth, I voted for Esma, but I think that was mainly because she won me over with her performance of This Time I Know It's For Real. On the strength of the performances of the actual entry, probably Josh was just about the right winner, but none of them inspired huge confidence.
What do all recent Eurovision winners have in common? They all came through conventional open national selections. (The only partial exception was Greece in 2005, when Elena Paparizou was pre-selected as the performer, but the public chose the song.) Hopefully the one silver lining of a seemingly inevitable dismal showing this year is that it might persuade the BBC to forget about quick fixes and instead go back to the hard graft of finding a range of quality songs for the public to choose from. It's an open question whether the performer should be pre-selected or not - the UK's experience in the 1990s suggests it can work either way. But the problem with pre-selecting a composer and giving him carte blanche is that you're at the mercy of one person's questionable idea of what makes a Eurovision winner, and there's no Plan B if it goes horribly wrong. The unveiling of the song tonight was such an anti-climax, because from that moment on there was no way back and no meaningful decision to be made.
I dare say if we have a conventional national final next year, I'll be straight back to spitting fury about someone like John Barrowman setting himself up as a Eurovision 'expert' on the basis of no discernible evidence, and on the back of that strongly steering the public towards voting for a disaster area of a song in preference to a potential winner (for the avoidance of doubt I'm talking about 2007!). But even that prospect seems like the lesser of two evils just at the moment. Graham Norton started the show by saying "last year the UK got serious about Eurovision". To which the response of Europe will surely be "so why did you stop?".
Final thought - ever since the wonder that was Yodel in the Canyon of Love way back in 1997, we have now had just one Scottish act perform in a UK Eurovision selection show (that was City Chix). No Scottish act has actually represented the UK since Scott Fitzgerald in 1988. As I observed last year, we don't even have to bother crying under-representation - the numbers speak for themselves. It seems that Eurovision mimics political reality - if Scotland ever wants to get anywhere in Europe, the only option is to go it alone...