Most folks look at me with a blank stare when I mention Eurovision. When I try to explain it, they say, ‘Oh that’s “American Idol,”‘ yeah, not. Eurovision predates it by about fifty years. Yeah, take that, “American Idol,” or “Pop Idol,” or whatever you want to call it. Eurovision did it first. And seriously, with all of the ratings problems “American Idol” has been having this season, they might want to take a look at what makes Eurovision so popular.
What is the Eurovision Song Contest?
Held once a year, in the nation of the previous year’s winner, this is a music and entertainment phenomenon. Between forty and fifty nations, mostly in Europe, some from Western Asia and a few from the Middle East, enter an original song performed by an artist or group representing that nation. They are each given three minutes, with a maximum of six performers to do the song during a continent-wide live broadcast.
At the end of the performances, all of the citizens of the nations involved call a special phone number to vote for the song they liked the most. The catch is you can not vote for your own nation’s entry. This last rule makes it a bit tricky, and a little bit more fair. The winner earns bragging rights for their nation as well as the honor of hosting the event the next year. That last part brings millions to the country helping the economy and building their tourism budget.
Currently it is the most watched program in Europe, this year pulling in over half a billion viewers, and who knows how many more worldwide through streaming live on the internet. Now it’s broken down to three broadcasts, over the course of one week, two semi-finals and a grand final with twenty-six participants. Eurovision is big. But big is what Eurovision is about, big, crazy, and loud.
This entertainment extravaganza has been happening since 1956, started by the then-fledgling European Broadcasting Union. An international song contest broadcast live throughout all of Europe was considered the perfect concept for the network, and has gone on from there. The ambitious project is now celebrating its fifty-seventh year and has become a tradition.
While almost unknown (except to the cool people) in the United States, some of the winners and participants over the years may be familiar. They include ABBA, Julio Iglesias, Celine Dion, Cliff Richard, Katrina and the Waves, Lordi, Johnny Logan, Brotherhood of Man, Jedward, and believe it or not, this year, Engelbert Humperdinck, at the ripe old age of 76.
The Semi-Finals 2012
This year’s Eurovision Song Contest took place in Baku, Azerbaijan just days ago. Azerbaijan won last year with their entry “Running Scared” in Dusseldorf, Germany, thus winning the right to host this year. Most of Europe has been on hand via television this past week for the Semi-Finals on Tuesday and Thursday leading up to the Grand Final Saturday.
The two Semi-Finals serve to whittle the forty-two competitors down to twenty-six for the Grand Final. This year, a year where most of the really good songs and acts got through to the Final, is marked by those who actually didn’t. Those include the token rocker this year from Slovakia, as well as cheesy sweet ‘beautiful song‘ from Latvia, and “The Social Network Song,” formerly “The Facebook Song,” from San Marino, which notably had to be altered as no advertising is allowed in the competition.
The world being what it is, and nations having their own laws and policies different from their neighbors, sometimes politics gets involved. There have been years when nations didn’t compete because Israel was involved, or when Jordan blacked out Israel’s entry on the broadcast. It gets very nasty some years when nations are at war with each other. Let’s just say the break up of the Soviet Union made for some interesting years.
This year, the First Semi-Final was marred by protests within the hosting country itself, Azerbaijan. You can read about that here. Although it’s frowned upon, and Eurovision wants to be a symbol of European unity, it is frequently used as a platform for various movements.
Another frequent worry is money. Greece is effectively bankrupt. Can they afford to win? Spain is also having similar problems, yet this year both nations participated while others dropped out. It is a major consideration. If one can’t afford to build a stadium and house and entertain several million people, one should avoid winning Eurovision.
What you have to understand about Eurovision is that it’s crazy, full on insane. I compared it earlier to “American Idol,” well, it is like “AI,” just “American Idol” on acid. Crazy costumes, bizarre dancing, a touch of each nation’s own ethnic flavor, all mixed up with crazed dance and pop music – that’s what Eurovision is. I have heard it described sometimes as a drag show from hell. What’s funny, and scary, is that sometimes it is exactly that – a drag show from hell. And it’s damned entertaining.
This year’s Final started with the UK’s offering. Despite all the hubbub about his age, and his career being long over, Engelbert Humperdinck impressed us all with a wonderful performance. Of course the sad part is so many of the other acts were much better.
There were many impressive performances in this year’s Final including dance tunes from France, Greece, Turkey and Ukraine. There was also much support for the fondly nicknamed Russian Grannies from Russia and second time competitors Jedward from Ireland. All of the performances can be seen at the Eurovison website if you care to explore the wild world of the ESC.
Once the performances end, the voting begins. As I said, it’s done by phone, or text, and there’s also a jury that votes beforehand, but the show, the last half-hour or so of the show is taken up by each nation’s host or representative giving the stats of how their nation voted. Sometimes their mangling of the English language is hilarious, sometimes not.
In recent years the real hilarity has come from BBC host Graham Norton who has been almost demonic in his commentary. He’s funny most times, but when he gets mad and bitter as he did this year when UK came in second to last place, a petty twelve points compared to the winner’s 372 points. Yeah, Norton was in prime form this year.
The winner this year was Sweden’s entry, “Euphoria” by Loreen. Much like one of my favorites, Germany, this performance was all about presentation. The song, reminiscent of Madonna’s “Ray of Light,” was accentuated by excellent choreography and direction. To look good is to be good. Unlike many years, I was pretty happy with this year’s winner. Here’s to the next ESC in Stockholm.