RADE (AFP) - The controversial Irish entry for this year's Eurovision song contest, a purple-beaked glove puppet called Dustin the Turkey, has already been plucked from the competition by unimpressed voters.
Dustin's gravelly-voiced rendition of "Irelande Douze Pointe," a high-tempo electronic song, never really took off and he was summarily dumped at the contest's first semi-final stage on Tuesday evening in the Serbian capital.
Speaking to reporters after the performance was booed by some in the massive Belgrade Arena, Dustin said he was "disappointed" and urged his fans to remain calm.
"We gave it a great performance. I am disgusted we didn't get through because I really thought we were good enough," said the unflappable puppet.
"I urge my fans across Europe to be dignified in defeat. I do not want street riots as I'm a peace-loving bird," said Dustin.
Choosing Dustin as the Emerald Isle's representative had ruffled a few Irish feathers when it was made, with some arguing that it was an insult to the Irish music industry.
"Irelande Douze Pointe" ("Ireland 12 points") is a parody on the continent-wide contest, which is often accused of selecting a winner for political reasons rather than artistic quality.
Sample lyrics include: "Shake your feathers and bop your beak, shake em to the west and to the east, wave Euro hands and Euro feet, wave em in the air to the funky beat, Irelande douze pointe"
A former Irish Eurovision winner, Dana Rosemary Scallon who came top in 1970 with "All Kinds of Everything" thought Ireland's turkey was misunderstood.
"I wasn't surprised. I was sorry for the turkey. The poor turkey was stuffed but I did say they are not going to understand our humour, they are not going to understand our Dustin and they didn't," she said.
Adding to the image of the contest as low-brow pop kitsch were Belgian entrants Ishtar, who were also culled in the semi-final thanks to their song "O Julissi" composed of entirely meaningless words.
Other nations that dropped out were Andorra, Armenia, Estonia, Moldova, Montenegro, The Netherlands, Poland, San Marino and Slovenia, to the disappointment of fans who had travelled from the former Yugoslav republic.
The countries going through to Saturday's final included favourites like Bosnia, Greece, Romania and Russia. The others were Armenia, Azerbaijan, Finland, Israel, Norway and Poland.
Bookmakers are tipping Russian pop singer Dima Bilan, who performs alongside Olympic figure skating champion Yevgeny Plushenko, to win Eurovision 2008 with his song "Believe."
The 53-year-old contest has a large following in former eastern bloc countries like Serbia hosts thanks to the victory last year of Marija Serifovic with her ballad "Molitva."
The event has turned into a sing-song battle between East and West in which many western European nations have in recent years been left languishing due to "bloc voting" among Balkan, Baltic and Scandinavian states. Dustin the Turkey first appeared on television in 1990 on a children's programme broadcast by Irish national broadcaster RTE.
But his irreverent style, marked by periodic belching and flatulence, boosted his popularity among adults. His six albums have flown off the shelves and he has appeared alongside several national stars, including Bob Geldof.
Another controversial contestant set to take the stage in Saturday's final is French electro-pop star Sebastien Tellier, who triggered a wave of outrage in France after he announced plans to sing in English.
In Thursday's second semi-final, another 10 countries will be selected to go through to the final where Britain, France, Germany, Spain and Serbia will be waiting for them.