On Saturday night, most of Europe will be watching the finale of the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest. If you’re not familiar with this contest, it’s an annual song competition with countries in the European Broadcasting Union participating. This year, for its 60th anniversary, the contest is taking place in Vienna, Austria, because last year’s winner was Austria. Eurovision is a very popular: this year, an estimated 600 million viewers globally will be celebrating 60 years of singing.
How it works is each country selects a singer to represent them. What surprised me is that the representative doesn’t have to be a citizen of the country he’s singing for! Canadian singer Céline Dion (ever heard of her?) sang for Switzerland in 1988 with the song “Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi” (Don’t Leave without Me), for example. Her participation helped launch her international career, so I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say that we can think Eurovision for our chance to perform our own drunken renditions of “My Heart Will Go On” at karaoke. Merci, Eurovision!
Céline isn’t the only big timer to come from a Eurovision background. ABBA won for Switzerland in 1974 with “Waterloo.”
The competition has two semi-finals and a final. For each semi-final, the 10 countries with the highest scores will make the journey to the Eurovision host country. Regardless of where they place, there is a group of 5 countries known as the Big Five that automatically place into the finals because they’re the biggest financial contributors to the European Broadcasting Union. They are: France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK, and Australia. (Hey..that’s not 5. That’s 6! And Australia??). The previous year’s winner is also automatically in the final.
The winner is decided by 2 factors: a jury and public vote. Both are given 50%. This method can lead to a lot of geopolitical voting (which is interesting in and of itself).