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The end of a decade: Riga 2003

24 December 2009 at 16:21 CET

If it wasn't for Portugal rejecting the invitation to take part in the 2002 Eurovision Song Contest, Latvia would not even have participated in Tallinn. But they did, and Marie N took victory by surprise with the up-tempo latin tune I Wanna. After the excitement, Latvian broadcaster LTV realized the enormous task they were given. Behind the scenes, it was one of the most challenging runnings of the contest this decade. Executive Producer Arvids Babris saw himself being replaced by Brigitta Rozenbrika, who in the end produced the show with help of Swedish broadcaster SVT and Estonian broadcaster ETV. The Latvians managed very well in the end. The 48th running of the Eurovision Song Contest took place on 24 May 2003 at the Skonto Hall in Riga.

After the Estonians had success with the theme they picked, the Latvians chose the 2003 Eurovision Song Contest to be a Magical Rendez-vous. The Latvian costlines modeled for the logo of the event, which consisted of a number of circulair shapes.

The show

SVT brought in an enormous technical crew of some 80 people, and it was Swedish-Serbian director Sven Stojanovic who was in charge in the OB-van. He would do the job again in 2005 and 2008. The television show opened with a clay animation of Planet Latvia and the appearance of Renars Kaupers and Marie N, hosts of the show. Kaupers represented Latvia at the contest in 2000 with his band Brainstorm, Marie N won the competition for Latvia the year before. The opening of the show also featured a film about Riga and Latvia, and video link-ups with 1956 winner Lys Assia from Cyprus, with Elton John from Vienna and with the crew of the International Space Station, wishing all the contestants the best of luck.

For the first time since many years, the contestants themselves played a central role in the postcard videos that introduced the respective entries.

Sarah Yuen supervised the contest on behalf of the European Broadcasting Union for the first and last time.


The contestants

Originally, 25 countries were supposed to take part in Riga, but Ukraine was added to the list last minute. It would be the country's debute at the contest, and they had a clear goal of taking part once, winning it once and hosting it once. And that was exactly how it went as Ruslana would win the contest one year later, giving Ukraine the right to host the 2005 contest. But in 2003, Ukraine was by no means amongst the favourites.

Contestant-wise, 2003 was a remarkable year. Austria sent Alf Poier, a well-known comedian, with an awkward song promoting individualism. He was joined on stage by a number of cardboard characters. Russia appointed the world famous duo t.A.T.u. to represent them in Riga. The two girls, still pretending to be lesbian, announced to kiss on stage, but didn't after the EBU threatened to disqualify them. Belgium sent Urban Trad with the song Sanomi, which was sung in a fictious language.

Russia topped the polls, but they had tough competition of Belgium and Turkey during the voting. The last points, given by Slovenia, determined the winner; Sertab Erener from Turkey finished first, Belgium and Russia finishing second and third respectively with only 2 and 3 points less. Host country Latvia, represented by the trio F.L.Y. finished third last, the United Kingdom even finished last with zero points. The duo Jemini sang out of tune for a significant part of their performance.


The controversies

Alf Poier from Austria and the duo t.A.T.u from Russia were controversies on their own. Also the organisational problems of Latvian broadcaster LTV became headlines. 

The development

For the first time ever, the green room was located right behind the stage on an enormous construction. After all 26 songs were performed, the green room was unveiled and the audience in the hall could actually see the contestants as the points came in.

Tomorrow, will look back at the 2004 Eurovision Song Contest, which took place in Istanbul.