Читать: Спасибо, Дима!
Belgrade was roaring before the Eurovision 2008 finals. Cars sped along the streets waving foreign flags and numerous languages flooded the streets. Eurovision's personnel might not have known much English before the event, but soon enough they were speaking fluently. Tickets were going like hot cakes with prices reaching 1,000 euro. Everyone wanted a seat at the finals.
Bets were waged in Belgrade after the second round of the semi-finals. According to the press polls, Portugal led the pack despite a rather snoozing performance. Israel and Sweden also held leading positions. Among their projected 5 leaders were Israel, Armenia, Greece, Portugal, Ukraine and Sweden with Russia in eighth.
However, KP learned that the press polls were slightly nonobjective. Some delegations were paying volunteers a whopping 700 euro just to make the list. The bookmakers' projections were a bit different. After Bilan made the front page of newspapers throughout Europe, he was called the main contender for first place with Ukraine and Georgia in second.
Bilan was one of the first to arrive at the Belgrade Arena. He managed to overcome his anxiety and headed confidently into the finals. The Russian team showed no outward signs of panic. Acclaimed figure skater and Olympic champion Evgeniy Plushchenko boasted a bright blue shiner under his eye. He had fallen accidentally at a rehearsal and injured his hand that he had sprained several days earlier. Plushchenko hardly moved his hand during the performance — resisting the pain like a true athlete.
"Don't worry, guys!" said producer Yana Rudkovskaya. "Russia just has to win!"
"I'm not worried," Plushchenko said with a wink. "We're a team. This is just like a sport. We'll go out there, do what we need to do and come away with a victory!"
Bilan's fiancee Lena Kuletskaya accompanied him to the arena. "Me, you, Lena, and Edwin Marton's girlfriend are all wearing white dresses," Rudkovskaya said.
Bilan's team received a lucky number at this year's competition. Bilan had number 24 in the finals. His birthday is Dec. 24, Eurovision's first contest was held on May 24, 1956 and this year's finals took place on May 24. It's no small wonder that "24" became the team's talisman. Bilan kept the number he had drawn when the lots were cast. Kuletskaya also held onto the number when she prepared for the final round of the contest. Crossing themselves, Bilan set off on the long road to victory.
"I just want to get the points we need and calm down," Bilan said. But he had no idea he would soon win Eurovision's Crystal Microphone, the competition's main prize, and soothe Russia's worry. Bilan, violinist Marton, Plushchenko and their entire crew made a spectacular performance. Envious competitors bit their tongues. Neck and neck with Greece, Russia held its breath during the first seconds of the voting.
"We did it!" Bilan said when it was clear Russia had come out on top.
"Thank you, Evgeniy," Russia thanked the Olympic champion.
"I just did my best that's all," he said.
"It's the Stradivarius!" Marton said laughingly. "It's the oldest participant at Eurovision 2008. It just had to win!"
As Russia's team had predicted, Bilan came away with another victory for the country.
An Inside Look
Dima Bilan: "The president was the first to pay his congratulations."
Bilan shares his impressions with KP
"Honestly, I thought I could win," Bilan said. "The most important thing is to believe. That's the only way. And I know all of Russia was cheering for our team. It's just like Evgeniy (ed. Plushchenko) said — we just had to win. Russia deserves it!"
Russia's on the rise after winning the UEFA Cup and the world hockey championship in the 100th anniversary of the sport. Russia desperately wanted to grab the top honors at Eurovision 2008 for the first time in the country's history.
"Who supported you here in Belgrade?" KP asked.
"All of Russia!" Bilan said. "First, I'd like to thank my parents, producer Yana Rudkovskaya, my fiancee Lena Kuletskaya, Russian and European press and especially Komsomolskaya Pravda. I'd like to personally thank Evgeniy Plushchenko and Edwin Marton. We've been friends for about two years, but that aside this trip was really a risky move for their careers. And I took a risk as well. They say you shouldn't take the same road twice (ed. Bilan participated in Eurovision 2006.)"
"We think Russia's song 'Believe' wasn't just the best, but even better than the Serbians' 'Prayer' last year..." KP said.
"I don't think so. My song isn't better. It's just different," Bilan said. "And like 'Prayer,' our song calls on people to believe. To believe in themselves and higher powers. The impossible is possible. I'm happy I've brought this win to Russia. I'll be waiting for you all next year in Moscow!"
"Who was the first to congratulate you on your victory?" KP asked.
"Our President Dmitry Medvedev," Bilan said. "As soon as it was clear we had won the phone rang. The president said that the entire country is proud and Russia was cheering for us. It was a short call — only four minutes. But I was really pleased. Now I'm a political figure (ed. Bilan laughed)."
Emergency Situations at Eurovision 2008
- Few people heard about the sound problems during Bilan's performance in the first semi-finals. The microphones of the Russian team's back vocals weren't working.
- Russia, Ukraine and Georgia couldn't agree with the operators. The cameras didn't tape important moments in the performance. As a result, Diana Gurstkaya was poorly filmed in the second semi-finals. The producers wanted a close-up of her disguise, which was meant to take viewers by surprise. But the long-shot ruined the intrigue.
- Russia argued with the operators four times. First they missed Plushchenko's pirouettes. Later Bilan sang in a suit that suddenly appeared to be torn. This seemed a bit strange for TV viewers, who didn't see that Bilan had intentionally ripped his shirt.
- The ice broke before the semi-finals. More precisely, someone broke the ice. The Russian team didn't think the ice would be left unguarded. Only thanks to Rudkovskaya's personal connections in the Czech Republic did Russia receive new ice on time. Decorations were kept under strict supervision after the incident of vandalism.
- After the second semi-finals, Belgrade newspapers wrote that the Ukrainian diva Ani Lorak and Swedish Charlotte Perelli had worn the same white dress. (ed. The dresses were similar, but actually slightly differed.) French commentator Jean Paul Gaultier took a spin on the situation when he said: "Anna's so beautiful she doesn't even need a dress."
- Russia and nearby countries Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia were struck by illness. Plushchenko injured his hand, Lorak caught a cold due to local air conditioners before the finals and an ambulance had to be called for Gurtskaya whose blood pressure dropped as a result of high anxiety.
- Rumor goes that Ruslan Alekhno's (Belarus) headphones broke. Consequently he couldn't hear himself singing because the crowd was screaming so loudly. But the song and performance were very interesting to say the least...
Just the Stats
- Bilan spent 1,000,000 euro preparing for Eurovision 2008, altlhough Plushchenko and Marton performed free.
- Lorak spent 500,000 euro on one performance alone. She spent another 200,000 euro on her dress.
- Rumor goes that the Azeri debutantes spent 7,000,000 euro on their promo-campaign. (ed. For example, huge banners promoting the team members were hung throughout Belgrade.)
- Bilan took 10 shirts to the event to rip. Marton took 50 pairs of gym shoes of various colors. Marton loves sports footwear and dresses according to his mood. He always needs a wide selection.
- A record number of countries participated — 43.
- Volunteers handed out 3,000,000 condoms to guests at the event. This year Eurovision promoted AIDS awareness.
- Belgrade Arena holds 25,000 people. The arena was only one-third full during the first semi-finals and one-half full during the second semi-finals. However, the arena was packed during the finals. An extra 2,000 people watched the TV broadcast outside. Tickets sold for up to 1,000 euro.
Читать: Спасибо, Дима!