Czech Republic taking part in Eurovision for first time this year

The Czech Republic is this year taking part in the Eurovision song contest for the first time, with Czech TV launching a new competition on Friday to find the country's representative. In this programme we meet some of the entrants - and find out why several Czech stars said no to a chance to appear in front of hundreds of millions of TV viewers around the continent. And guess which Czech represented another country in the Eurovision back in 1968?

When Sweden's Abba won the 1974 Eurovision song contest it was the beginning of one of the most successful careers in modern music. Other famous Eurovision winners include Lulu and Celine Dion.

The Czech Republic has never taken part in Eurovision but one Czech has: Karel Gott, hugely popular in German-speaking countries, represented Austria with a song called Tausend Fenster. That was way back in 1968, twelve years after Eurovision began.

It has taken the Czech Republic itself over five decades to join up with Eurovision. The country's search for a representative begins on Friday, when public broadcaster Czech Television launches a programme called Euro Song.

Martin Krafl is the station's spokesman.

"There is actually no definite advice from the organisers as to how to do it. But Czech TV studied the complex of other contests in other European countries. We decided to hold a national contest and we invited ten interpreters with very different kinds of music. And viewers will decide who they like."

They will vote by SMS?

"Exactly. And they have a long time to vote. We start on February 23, so they can vote before the national contest and then during the programme on CT 1 on March 10 at 8 pm."

The ten entrants in Euro Song are mostly established pop stars. Unlike in some participating states, Czechs will not be asked to choose from songs by hitherto unknown artists.

Among those taking part is Samer Issa, who shot to fame after participating in the Czech version of Pop Idol.

"For me it's a great honour. It's a chance to show people what my new music is all about. My style is r'n'b. I have my own dancers and it's going to be a big show - I just want to make sure that it's lively and makes viewers happy."

"I think it's cool, it's interesting - and the show will be really colourful. You have pop artists like Helena Vondrackova, alongside great singers like Petr Kolar and even underground artists like Gipsy, who I love."

Gipsy himself says he really doesn't care that in some parts of Europe the Eurovision is regarded as old-fashioned and uncool.

"The Czech Republic is a country like other countries in Europe...and no matter what others think about it, I think we have some kind of music which is good - and it's time to let Europe know that we have good music here."

"Helena is the queen of Czech pop music, she speaks many languages, she sings wonderfully but and she also dances - she's really a show business person. We are really proud that she yes, because it was a very quick yes, she was really very happy about this offer. And we are quite sure that if Helena is chosen by the public she will be a wonderful representative of Czech pop music."

While Helena Vondrackova was quick to accept, a host of other Czech stars refused to take part in Euro Song. Among them: Krystof, Anna K and the extremely popular Aneta Langerova, who won Czech Pop Idol the year Samer Issa took part.

"For me Aneta is a brilliant singer, and I really like her as a personality and a person. But in terms of presenting yourself internationally, she's not the kind of person who could...actually she could represent the Czech Republic, but I don't know if her genre of music would appeal on the European stage."

Why does Martin Krafl think so many artists said no to a chance to take part in Eurovision?

"I'm afraid they were not sure if they can be successful on the European level. Some of them were also not sure if such a big contest, which is well-known in Europe but not here, because we didn't broadcast it yet in our history, could be a success here."

Given that Eurovision has no history in this country, will the concept catch on in the Czech Republic?

"We hope so. There were other contests in singing on Czech TV stations in the last few years. So we believe there will also be interest in music and songs this year too, and that this project will be interesting for our viewers."

If the winner of Euro Song wins the actual Eurovision in Helsinki this year, you, Czech TV, will have to organise the next Eurovision song contest. It's a really huge event - wouldn't you be slightly worried about winning and having to host it?

"Not at all. We would be very happy if this happens. We've done many big projects, like Star Dance or the Greatest Czech, we organise many sports events for other European countries and their public TV stations. So we have enough experience to manage this."

Czech TV will be among dozens of channels broadcasting the Eurovision final from Helsinki on May 12. If the Czech representative makes it through a semi-final a couple of days earlier, they will appear before hundreds of millions of TV viewers across the continent.

You can hear all the entrants in the Czech national competition at