If you're in America that is. If you're in Europe you've seen it as the main story for the last week. I'm talking of the Eurovision Song Contest which was Tuesday, Thursday, & Saturday of this past week. And this year was extraordinary. For those that haven't seen Eurovision, here's what you missed - an amazing set of songs, incredibly talented performers, and the largest flashmob every (I think).
How large an event is this? 125 million people watched it making it the most watched show in Europe. How important is this? Azerbaijan has reportedly spent a million dollars both providing the singer Safura direct help like Beyonce's choreographer as well as marketing her performance. With a win would come not just a ton of free publicity for Azerbaijan but they would get to host next year.
Eurovision is sort-of a American Idol combined with the Olympics. Each of the 39 participating countries sends one group to the contest. First off, they can send anyone. That means the groups range from teenagers (Lena from Germany, who won, just graduated from High School) just getting started to experienced professionals (Niamh Kavanagh from Ireland who won the contest in '93). The only limits are that the song must be new and under 3 minutes.
The voting system is so complex it makes the U.S. Presidential primary seem simple by comparison (explained below). But each country has an identical number of votes so Cyprus counts as much as Germany. 34 countries go through a semi-final that reduces them to 20 while 5 countries go straight to the final. Each country decides how to pick their entry. Most have contests within their countries, but some use other systems. They most unusual this year was Cyprus which hired individuals, most from England, to create a group for their entry.
Ok, so why do 125 million people tune in to this. Well first off, no one knows what kind of song will win. Last year the winner was a classical trained violinist from Norway sounding a bit like Charley Daniels - and he won with the highest total votes ever. This year again a number of the expected top finishers ended up in the middle. So you watch the entire contest with no idea who will win.
Second, the level of talent is amazing. Countries are sending their best. Well, occasionally a country sends a group so bad you wonder - what were they thinking. And one person's "great" is another person's tacky stage show or overwrought rendition.
Third, it's a decent variety of music. Yes there's a lot of pop of various types, but also hard rock, ballads, folk and some that defy categorization. I have no idea how to define the song from Serbia - but it is really fun to listen to. The variety makes it a lot more entertaining, and makes it much harder to say one group is "better" than another. There were 4 performers I wanted to win - because they were all the best for the type of song they sung.
More below, but first what I think were the top four songs.
1. Romania - Paula Seling & Ovi - Playing With Fire
This is not so much a song with a stage show as it is two people flirting with each other via a song. Different, fun, and very well done.
2. Belarus - 3+2 - Butterflies
This is a beautiful song that lifts you up, and then up more, and then more. There were a number of songs that were uplifting but I thought this was the best one by far. And beautiful voices.
3. Belgium - Tom Dice - Me and My Guitar
Every other artist has accompaniment, maybe just background instruments or chorus, but something. But Tom stands up there with his guitar - and sings. And it's beautiful and moving.
4. Portugal - Filipa Azevedo - Hadias assim
There were a number of superb female vocalists. I liked Filipa the best, but they were all superb.
So on to the voting. Each country computes half their votes from calling in - and each person can vote up to 20 times. The other half comes from a professional jury of music professionals in that country. And none of them can vote for their own country. The votes are totaled up, and then the country with the most votes receives 12 votes, the next 10, and then 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, & 1. The voting is incredibly political - just take a look at where most of Russia's votes came from (ex-soviet states, that have large Russian populations). Part of that is people favoring a neighbor they know all things being equal, but part is also people finding the vote number in the country next door and calling that to vote for their own country.
34 of the countries are split into two groups of 17. Each group had a semi-final vote (one Tuesday, one Thursday) that reduced each to the top 10 in each group. This followed the above voting system - but the vote totals are not released. So you know who finished in the top 10, but not in what order or by how much (to keep all in suspense for the final). Then on Saturday those 20 are joined with 5 additional countries (England, France, Germany, & Spain always and Norway because they won last year).
1 Place - Germany - Lena - Satellite
Oh, and can anyone tell me why something that has all of Europe glued to their TV, that clearly would appeal to a large cross-section of the audience in America - is not shown on TV here?
Originally posted at Windward Wrocks - Eurovision