Spain

Nick: I liked this. In spite of obvious problems with the earpiece, the stage and virtually everything, there's most of an excellent performance already plain to see. He starts at stage front strumming a guitar, then obviously realizes "I won a casting show... I'm strumming a guitar... I don't want to be compared with Mickey Joe Harte... better give it to one of my lovely assistants to dispose of as she sees fit." It's going to be a great start to the show if you ask me, even though most of my surrounding reporters think he was holding back. He's supposed to hold back. It's only the first rehearsal for heaven's sake!

Phil: Ramon is Lovely!! However there were problems with his mics and his levels. He was either holding back SEVERLY or he can not perform and the nerves got him. I'm thinking that he was holding back, although...... He did look good on Stage , Ramon , his 2 girls, 2 lads ( who do show their chests) and a man that hits some drums and things. He moves around the stage and does the moves that he does in the Spanish Final , but without attack on this performance - though he is lush!!

Michelle: Well, either Ramon was holding something back or he isn't as good as the song. Cannot decide which. I'll leave it for you, dear reader, to decide for yourself come Saturday night. I do like the drumming at the start of the second verse !

Austria

Phil: They only had one sound check but THAT is plenty. They cant sing live - they look wooden - stuck on one side of the stage and then walk slowly to the middle and then back again - they forgot the words of their own song and me and royD and Nick sung and could be TieBreak... cos lets face it, we could go better than them!! The 3 backing singers are on the other side of the stage and can sing better than the lads... this is DIRE with a capital SHITE!!

Nick: After nearly fifty years in the contest, Austria have hit on a winning formula. You take a song with a semi serious message. You sing it in three different keys, none of which bear much relation to the backing track. You do embarrassing dance moves, while looking like you've been hit by the ugly stick many many time. It worked for Alf Poier and it can work for Tie Break too, in the opinion of this humble correspondent.

Michelle: Austria are just boring and stupid, since they cannot remembrer their words and have no idea how to display passion.

We think there may be angst in the Austrian camp. They only managed to get through two camera runthroughs in their 40 minutes which was actually an hour and five minutes. They were eventually led from the stage... not exactly kicking and screaming, but they didn't look happy. I don't think the technical problems were their fault and they may have good reason to be a bit peeved.

Norway

Nick: Knut's getting into it. Brief false start in the soundcheck as he forgot the first line, but he's well into his stride after only one camera run through. The set is mainly starry night with the occasional anagram of a rainbow shooting across the screen and it looks nice. Meanwhile, Knut starts with the backing singers, then wanders over to the front of the stage, and a couple of minutes later they join him. It's all well presented, I'm not sure that I like him picking up his mic stand though as that kind of thing should be restricted to Lena Philipsson (who, by the by, we're told has a sore throat and is really going to rehearse this week and do absolutely nothing else. Fair enough). We're liking Knut here.

Phil: After the toss that is Austria - the fabulous Kunt eeer Knut has actually done rather well. The backdrop is black with a rainbow going across it. All you backing singer freaks will be please to hear that a Bald Norwegian has, once again, made an appearance. The song is, in contrast with the last 2 , song very well and he remembers the words!!! The backers are standing on the right and come to join Knut in the middle of the stage at the end and he looks directly into the camera!! They will, quite possibly, wear black - but Knut was dressed in camoflage today!! lovely (!) Vocally powerful - the general feeling is that it should get top 10 this year if he holds it together - which he should!!

Michelle: Not sure about the backing singers moving nearer and nearer dear Knut as he gets higher and higher. But he can really sing and after Austria, there is only relief.......

France

Nick: It looks like the French performance is going to earn all of today's fork awards. We haven't even seen a performance yet, but my good friend Mr. Phil Colclough has his camera at the ready because otherwise you won't believe us. This is a lovely lovely song, performed beautifully, and yet I always thought it was a little unmemorable. It is no longer unmemorable. It has a big pink plastic globe hanging from the rafters, which is deflating even as we watch. It has a stilt walker who looks like serious injury is imminent at any second. It has Jonatan Cerrada singing extremely sweetly and well. My learned colleagues are unconvinced by my assertion that this is going to win with 35 x 12 points. However, when have I *ever* steered you wrong (apart from saying that Sertab Erener definitely wouldn't win and Sanomi would come last?)

Michelle: We're all in various stages of incredulity. That is all of us. The French do not know a good thing when they have it - great song, great singer, great video. And what do they do ? They add a couple of pink globes - pink and someone who looks like I would in stilettos, except she is on stilts. OK, now let's see what they do with it all. There will be pictures to follow..........but not from me because I'm writing this up. The backing singers are connected to one of the globes and are doing something with their arms.Now they are moving. The lady on stilts just isn't working. It just detracts from what is a bloody good song. French executives realise that they have more money than artistic sense. Not impressed FR3, not impressed at all.

Jonathan gave a reasonably good press conference. And Marie Myriam was there too and she sang a bit. NOBODY asked why they have that stage set up. There was praise but no probing. I include myself in that lack of probing......

Phil: It IS the BBC ONE Logo that we loved so much!! - Young Mr Jonaton has had a song ruined by a circus performance - first of all his 4 backing singers were attached to the globe - then they were not attached to the globe - then they were on a podium - then they weren't - apparently they had technical problems ( his voice being a major one - one suspects!!) - but hey - you cant have everything. He is very small in real life and is dwarfed by the Stilt walker ( who is female)... I'm sensing you don't believe me do you./..... you just wait!!! His voice cracked on more than one occasion and overall it is a good song LOOKING bad... France 3 - NO!

Germany

Nick: There's a certain amount of difference of opinion going on here. I like Max. No-one else around here does. Admittedly he could use a haircut... specifically any haircut. But he sits on a bar stool on the stage which we can now see from an unusually high vantage point and looks really great for this one. It's a really nice relaxed performance... I wonder if he could use a bit of standing up and walking to the stage on his big naiiiiiiiiiiiight moment towards the end of the song, but I'm happy with this. He's exposed in the draw though. He might be after Re-Union and before Ruslana which would be pretty disastrous all round. Except for Ruslana, obviously.

Michelle: Max "sounds like a cat being strangled." Not my words but very good ones indeed.. It passed me by in a knd of neutral sortofway. I don't think the Germans are going to trouble the scoreboard. They'll be grateful that they pay too much money to be relegated after next Saturday, I swear!

Phil: Despite Julie's urging that Max is good - he is not!!! He screeches - he LOOKS like a 50-year-old man strangling a decent song - Stefan is playing guitar which lifts Max from 24th to approx 20th - that's as good as he will be... He is that bad - and those of us who are here have said as much - and not just me - virtually everyone i have spoken to has said the same... He missed the notes he was supposed to get - he IS bad!!

Belgium

Nick: Actually, although I had a few doubts, Xandee really rather rocks in my opinion. As you'd expect for a fan fave, it's popular among the assembled members of the *cough* press including our good selves. Much as you'd expect really. It could use a few more Peter the Estonian Drummers, it hasn't really got one although there's a kind of Peter The Estonian Drummer Lite stood in the background. I like these people and I want to go to Brussels next year because it's a nice easy trip and contains a statue of a little boy peeing in a fountain. So please do remember to vote Xandee on the 15th.

Phil: From the stupid to the Brilliant - Xandee is the female Deen - with more talent than you can shake Ruslana's didgeridoo at - she bounces on stage and it IS three minutes of High NRG music. She did get a huge cheer from the press corps of Europe ( well.....) - but she will get the high scores - vocally excellent and foot perfect in choreography - she is quite possibly going to come 2nd behind Ruslana. There are six on stage - her and two dancers centre - two backers on the podium behind her and a drummer on the right Podium - it looks good and it IS good!! It might not win - it depends who is around it in the draw!

Michelle: Now, this was more like it - Xandee can dance and sing at the same time. She really does well although there are some deluded fools who think that this means she can still win. Admittedly, we have to see Ruslana safely into final, but if that is a given, which it should be, then I don't really think anyone can touch her in my book.

Russia

Nick: In the past few years, the second song after the commercial break has been a bit of a cursed position. Malene was terrible and came last, and then in 2003 Jemini famously were terrible and came last. From what I have seen so far, very little is going to change this year. She sounds worse live than she did in studio, she's throwing some wonderful tATuesque strops on stage, there's a certain amount of ill-advised choreography and I can feel a Jemini moment coming on. Welcome to the bottom of the scoreboard, please enjoy your stay.

Michelle: What a mess ! Lots of unnecessary acrobatics except for a lift off the side of the stage which just looks like fun. But she cannot sing and dance together. She hasn't been trained to and it's a shame as I still think that this is a good song. It would seem to be a theme running through all of today.

Iceland

Nick: All alone on a high gantry with no-one anywhere nearby... but that's enough about me. Jonsi's all alone on the stage but unlike some people he owns it. He wanders around, he knows exactly how to express sincerity by pointing, I'm firly sure he looked at me at least once and frankly - although it's not a song I rate particularly highly as a song - this guy sells it to me. Tentative thumbs up here... but it *is* still all a bit miserable, isn't it?

Michelle: Almost missed Jonsi due to my specs falling down. it's pleasant enough but I fear Europe will be depressed by it.

Ireland

Nick: Umm, I'm rather at a loss to say anything witty or clever here. It's not a song that I particularly like, there's nothing very imaginative about the staging - he stands centre set, Final Four are lined up in a row a few yards behind him, but Chris sings perfectly well, he seems to connect with the crowd and (presumably) the camera reasonably well and it does have a certain charm to it. Gut feeling is that the comparison with Jonsi is going to work against him... the draw order has done him no favours. But it's a perfectly respectable contemporary Irish ballad for those who like that kind of thing, and there are plenty of people out there who do.

Michelle: He is a competent singer, this Chris Doran but that is all that can be said. The song plods, it is just too country for words and if Bryan McFadden wants to make a living, he'd better relocate the family to Nashville because I think this kind of song will go down well there.

Poland

Nick: I dunno. This song is made to last for about two minutes, and although it's a little bit repetitive it's entertaining with it. Trouble is, it really does just go on too long and loses its way by the end. On stage we have the singer, the yodeller, a three-man brass section and there's plenty of visual interest, the stage hs got flames coming out of a "sea of fire", it's a nice change of pace and yet... it doesn't quite work, at least for me. It won't come last - but it sure as heck won't come first either.

Michelle: Poland livened things up a bit - lots of haillalaing and bum wiggling and things like that. But not enough to keep us there for three goes at it. James is on in a minute so look out for more soon !!

United Kingdom

Nick: Soundcheck seemed a bit hesitant, and the response to the first camera rehearsal surprisingly cool as well - what we like to refer to as a warm round of indifference. Not entirely sure what the problem is, really... or maybe I am. There are a few moments in the song where a lighting rig makes photos impossible, so they will be few and far between I'm afraid. The guitar is on the backing track - more obvious than with most that there's no live music for this song except the vocals. The stage seems particularly dark for much of the time, and I can't really see anything in the staging that gives the song any kind of "lift" at the necessary moments. It's good, in the immortal words of Roy Walker, but I'm not sure that it's right. [EDIT] Well, a lot better at the second attempt. The four backers have now decamped up to the top stage leaving James alone on the main one - all are now with fixed mics. There's a lighting flare on all the "HOLD ON"'s which is probably very effective on TV, but I wouldn't mind seeing some emphasis on the "Now that I've FOUND that someone", which again is one of the strongest points of the song and could use something happening to highlight it. Not too bad now.

Michelle:  The boy is on stage and your team is standing by, fingers over keyboard...and the camera button! Soundcheck - well, he needed two of these. But he sounds very good indeed. Take 1 (Camera rehearsal ) - Backing singers move to one side of the stage with mike stands. James out the front with his guitar. It took a very long time for them to get to this stage - James and Co walked offstage at one point. But boy, was it worth the wait !! OK, so there is a suspicion that he isn't going at it at full pelt, but that is just common sense. I do like his voice though. Second go - Just as good. No better, no worse. The backing singers do some small movements, but nothing that you'd say makes a difference other than making them feel like they are part of the act. Third go - Yup, methinks the boy can do good. IF YOU'RE READING THIS AND CAN VOTE FOR THE UK, DO SO. But not if it's between us and Ruslana.

Turkey

Nick: The home team are on stage, and surprise surprise the press seats are busy. I think what we may be looking at here come Saturday is what we in the trade refer to as A Moment. Speaking of a moment, I'll tell you in a moment what they sound like!

Michelle: There are lots of Turkish people here now and that might have to do with the fact that we are in Istanbul ( what do you mean you didn't know?) Or it could mean Athena are rehearsing. Or both! The soundcheck HAS got everyone clapping and whooping - even your team ! Flags are waving, people are on their feet dancing in the seats. I daren't even guess what the Saturday night crowd will be like at this point. If anything the camera rehearsal has got everyone going more - from the stage and out ! It's just infectious ! It's very likely that this is the song to give Ruslana a run for her money. it depends, do the voters want to choose a full blown stage show or a feelgood song ? It gets the foot tapping,the heart pumping and just makes you feel up !

Nick: Yep. That was quite good. I have photographs which you will get in a couple of hours time which give you some flavour of just how quite good that was. The stage looks - as you'd expect - at its absolute best. Athena ooze energy without actually seeming as intimidating as in some of the publicity shots... it's a far more accessible piece of gnarliness than I thought it might be. The crowd - even in this context - do a lot of the work for them. When it's a crowd of several thousand next Saturday, I intend to be officially scared.

One to watch and a STRONG each-way bet if you ask me. If Ruslana gets that slot 21 between James Fox and this lot then it will be the best ten minutes that Eurovision has ever produced, and with a Lena Philipsson just around the corner to follow. What more can a man ask for?

Romania

Nick: Difficult to judge much on what we saw of Romania's rehearsal, which was about 5 seconds of vocal limbering up which scared me because the sound system cut in all loudy like. We happened to notice en route from the building that the backdrop had gone all starry with raining pink hearts on it. Then we left and got a taxi home which I'm starting to get the hang of now.

Sweden

Nick: We have nothing to say on the subject of Lena Philipsson's rehearsal, except that the meal we were having at the hotel restaurant at much the same time was absolutely delicious. I make no apologies for this as I hadn't eaten a THING for 24 hours and frankly I'm here and you're not. Now, having said that, I'm willing to fake a review if you really want me to.

She sounded OK, obviously holding back a bit in the circumstances but the show looks pretty good on this stage and it's only the first rehearsal, in all fairness. The backing singers seemed to help the show, which was no bad thing.