The Eurovision Song Contest is a big deal in the rest of the world, but not so much in the Americas. Elsewhere it’s one of the biggest television events of the year, but now, this year it’s being broadcast live for the first time in the United States on the Logo network. Meet me after the jump to find out what makes Logo so popular and how it’s been groomed for the States.
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 cannot 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, and this year on Logo. Now it’s broken down to three broadcasts, over the course of one week, two semi-finals (you can read about those semi-finals here and here) 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 sixty-first 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, Olivia Newton-John, Jedward, and even Engelbert Humperdinck, who competed at the ripe old age of 76.
Politics and Economics Get in the Way
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. Recent unrest between Ukraine and Russia has definitely colored the former’s entry into the contest this year. 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? Other nations are having similar problems, yet some nations participate while others drop out. It is a major consideration. If one can’t afford to build a stadium and to house and entertain several million people, one should definitely avoid winning Eurovision. After a few withdrawals, a total of forty-two nations competed in the contest this year.
The Logo network, known for its LGBT-positive programming, has taken up the gauntlet to broadcast Eurovision to the public for the first time. This feels right, as in the past Eurovision has been a platform for LGBT rights in Europe, been embraced by the worldwide community, and let’s be honest, Eurovision has been known for decades as a drag show from hell. This is not prime time ABC network programming. Logo host Carson Kressley himself referred to it as “American Idol” meets The Hunger Games with glitter.
Our hosts in the American broadcast are Kressley from “Queer Eye” and “Dancing with the Stars,” and Michelle Collins of “The View” and “Gossip Queens.” Certainly they are no Graham Norton, but they’ll do in a pinch. Notably, with Logo broadcasting the contest, there will be no streaming of the event to the United States. This makes it very difficult for folks who don’t have Logo on their cable systems to watch in the States. Already I hear protests, I wonder how it will affect ratings. As far as their performance on the broadcast, I really really wished that they’d shut up after about five minutes. They did do their research on the performers however and filled us in during the strange intros that are a Eurovision tradition. Very Rose Parade.
The Grand Final 2016
Favorites to win in the Grand Final include Australia, Belgium, Russia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Georgia, The Netherlands, and Armenia, but while they have all performed previously in the Semi-Finals and do again here, we have yet to see six other nations. Always, Italy, Spain, Germany, France, the UK, and last year’s winner, Sweden in this case, always go straight through to the Grand Final so this is the first time much of the world sees them.
Representing Italy, “No Degree of Separation” by Francesca Michielin is already a hit in Italy, using lots of the animation effects that seem to be in vogue this year, with a garden and forest growing around her, not a very good song though. Bulgaria brought the house down, but really they only served as an opening act for the homegrown talent of Sweden. “If I Were Sorry” by Frans was an okay song with corny lyrics, but the crowd loved him, but then again, it was his country.
Germany presented “Ghost” by Jamie-Lee, a halfhearted entry and she seemed to sleepwalk across the stage, very sleepy. France gave us “J’ai Cherche” by Amir as France continues their tradition of never singing completely in English, catchy but not great. The spectacular effects of Russia were followed by Spain with “Say Yay!” by Baraei. Frenetic dancing with a planned (?) fall framed a good dance tune. It was energetic, with interesting forearm jewelry, and had the crowd on its feet. The United Kingdom presented “You’re Not Alone” by Joe and Jake, two winners from “The Voice UK” who got together afterward. The song was very poppy, not a bad tune, but the UK never wins, just a fact of the competition.
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. Notably, the United States, although getting to see the contest for the first time on TV this year, cannot vote. Logo also was not allowed to broadcast the Justin Timberlake performance, which was kind of a royal suck.
As the votes began to come in from juries and audiences across the viewing world, Australia took an early and substantial lead. Ukraine had second at a distance, with the rest far behind. But that was only the jury votes, then they added the televotes from the people watching at home – definitely a dealbreaker for some nations, and not a sure thing for Australia even so far ahead. The tense reveal of the televotes did indeed change everything as Ukraine wins. “1944” by Jamala is the winner of the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest. Congratulations!