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Melodifestivalen: Clamp eases into final

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11:14 CET+01:00
Shirley Clamp performs the song 'Att älskar dig' in the 2005 MelodifestivalenMelodifestivalen, Sweden's annual song contest, is beginning to resemble the Olympics. It dominates the calendar of a certain type of pop artist, who practices and prepares rigorously for each phase of the marathon competition.

First you have to qualify for the line up by getting past the dreaded SVT selection panel. Then there are four heats held on consecutive Saturdays in various towns and cities round the country.

The best two contestants from each heat, according to telephone votes from the public, qualify for the Stockholm final. And like in some Olympic sports, the best of the rest get a second chance to qualify in an additional heat.

Exhausted? You will be come 12th March.

And of course, the public seem to get just as worked up about the whole thing as their sports counterparts. Everyone has an opinion, as GP found out before Saturday's opener:

"We've been getting ready for this for a long time," laughed Caroline and Gunilla, 30.

"I reckon it's going to be Shirley Clamp," said Marita, 56, whilst Cecilia also "had her fingers crossed" for last year's silver medal sensation.

"I listen mostly to heavy metal, so I hope Nordman come out on top," said Eric, 31, getting into the spirit of things.

Finally, it's worth pointing out that no Olympics these days is complete without a good drugs story...

Step forward onto the podium, Nordman, the winners of Saturday's first heat at Gothenburg's Scandinavium arena. We all like a good comeback and so the folk-pop duo have proved popular victors.

Håkan Hemlin and Mats Wester formed one of Sweden's most successful groups in the 1990s, selling over a million cd's, before Hemlin's drug abuse led to the break up of the group. Hemlin also experienced a spell behind bars, before arriving back on the scene in spectacular fashion on Saturday - their first public offering for seven years. Their winning song was the appropriately entitled "Ödet var min väg" (Fate was my path).

"This is the best kick of all," said a stunned Hemlin afterwards.

The other automatic qualification spot was predictably filled by voluptuous red-headed songbird and pre-show favourite, Shirley Clamp, with "Att älska dig" (Loving you). Clamp was an unknown this time last year and shocked the Melodifestivalen cognoscenti by battling all the way to a second place in the big final. She's maintained her popularity with the public and her solid performance came as no surprise.

"I prefer being the underdog. (Being the favourite) has been both flattering and tough," Clamp told reporters afterwards.

Perennially popular housewives' choice, Alcazar, were surprisingly beaten into third place and must undergo the humiliation of trying to qualify through the side door in the 'second chance' heat. The disco demons performed the slightly self-regarding "Alcastar" (Alcastar) and seemed taken aback by the snub from the voting public:

"Maybe the Swedish people need more time to understand us. Or to absorb the song," said a downbeat Andreas Lundstedt. The Local suggests Alcazar need an Alka Seltzer...

Next Saturday, the spotlight moves to Linköping. How will the Swedish public respond to foreign contestants, Danish veteran Sanne Samuelsson and Arje Saijonmaa from Finland? Will Ainbusk favourite Josefin Nilsson enjoy success in her first Melodifestival? And are newcomers Bodies Without Organs (big in Ukraine) as bad as their name suggests? We can't wait to find out.

Sources: Göteborgs Posten, SVT

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