Sing your heart out, Europe: the Eurovision Song Contest

Every year, European countries get together to show off their country’s musical skills through the Eurovision Song Competition.

All of Europe votes for any country except their own, and the winner takes all. Eurovision is a way of uniting Europe all the way from Iceland to Israel and Norway to Malta each year.

The Eurovision Song Contest began in 1956 as a way to unite worn-torn Europe and practise international broadcasting. The European Broadcasting System was inspired by the composer’s competition, Festival della Canzone Italiana, the Italian Song Festival, which started in 1951 and took place in San Remo, Italy. Ironically, San Remo is where I worked for a summer teaching English. In the Italian Song Festival, composers created two arrangements of their entry song to be preformed by two interpreters (a singer or band) and a winning composer is chosen.

Eurovision’s first year involved only seven countries submitting two songs each. Switzerland won.

Since then, each country has been allowed to submit only one song and the entries have come from upwards of 43 countries. The country selects its entry song however they want (usually by live television performances and phone voting).

The songs are performed in one of two semi-final rounds and the winners move on to the final. In the semi-final and final rounds, anyone in Europe can vote for any song EXCEPT that of their country. Half the points are based on those votes and the other half come from 5-person panels in each country (they also cannot vote for their country’s song). The traditional lines of Europe are extended as far east as Azerbaijan and Israel, countries most people wouldn’t normally classify as European.

The 2011 winner was Ell/Nikki from Azerbaijan singing Running Scared. If nothing else, this will sure teach a lot of people where Azerbaijan is (head to the very north east corner of Turkey, then go east past Armenia and you’ll hit Azerbaijan – if you get to the Caspian Sea, you’re too far east, if you arrive in Iran you’re too far south, and if you enter Russia or Georgia, you’re too far north). Azerbaijan’s win allowed the oil-rich country to host Eurovision in 2012 (and the rest of the world to learn more about the country).

The winner from 2010 was Lena, the German entry, singing Satellite. Lena was a university student who enjoyed composing and performing. She’d never taken voice lessons, but she obviously had a lot of natural talent. While competing for the spot, Lena continued university and took her exams. She was chosen from 4,500 German applicants to represent her country in the Oslo-hosted Eurovision 2010 contest.

Eurovision is where the good, the bad and the entertaining meet. Sometimes groups win because they’re good musicians, sometimes because they’re good entertainers.

For a perfect example, check out Ukraine’s 2007 entry, Verka Serduchka singing Dancing Lasha Tumbai, which came in second (a little silver goes a long way!) and 2009’s winning song Fairytale, performed by Alexander Rybak from Norway.

The contest has brought fame to many artists, whether they were the winners or not. In 1958, Italy’s Domenico Mudungo came in third with his hit Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (In the Blue, Painted Blue), popularly known as Volare (To Fly). Julio Iglesias came in 4th for Spain in 1970 with the song Gwendolyne. Most famously, Swedish group ABBA broke into the music scene winning Eurovision with Waterloo in 1974 and Céline Dion brought the second win for Switzerland in 1988 with Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi (Don’t Leave Without Me).

Needless to say, Eurovision has created many stars over the years and has brought Europe together. Every country has the opportunity to be represented and no one can vote for their own country’s song. It’s an interesting contest to follow while travelling in Europe, just be sure to cheer for the country you are in, or at least not for their direct competition.

Here are some of my favorite entries from 2011:
Italy, Raphael Gualazzi, Madness of Love, 2nd place in Final
Ireland, Jedward, Lipstick, 8th place in Final
Serbia, Nina, Čaroban, 14th place in Final
Romania, Hotel FM, Change, 17th place in Final
Switzerland, Anna Rossinelli, In Love For A While, 25th place in Final
Belgium, Witloof Bay, With Love Baby, 11th place in Semi-Final
Turkey, Yüksek Sadakat, Live It Up, 13th place in Semi-Final
Macedonia, Vlatko Ilievski, Rusinka, 16th place in Semi-Final

Here are some of my favorite entries from 2010:
Germany, Lena, Satellite, Winner in Final
Romania, Paula Seling & Ovi, Playing With Fire, 3rd place in Final
Azerbaijan, Safura, Drip-Drop, 5th place in Final
Greece, Giorgios Alkaios & Friends, OPA!, 8th place in Final
Serbia, Milan Stanković, Ovo Je Balkan, 13th place in Final
Albania, Juliana Pasha, It’s All About You, 16th place in Final
Finland, Finland, Kuunkuiskaajat, Työlki Ellää, 11th place in Semi-Final
Lithuania, InCulto, Eastern European Funk, 12th place in Semi-Final

Read more about my travels in Europe here.

10 thoughts on “Sing your heart out, Europe: the Eurovision Song Contest

  1. Oh: News just in…
    ‘On 16 May 2011, it was announced that a special concert complex for Eurovision 2012 is to be built in the centre of Baku.’ (read it on Wikipedia for ESC2012). Amazing!


  2. It was the most difficult ticket-buying experience ever. I knew the date that tickets would go on sale and the time. I sat on the website, refreshing and refreshing (along with millions of others). It took four hours to get into the site. So much e-traffic trying the same. I managed to buy 4 tickets! Oh, I was so happy.

    Is 12 months long enough to build something? I’m not sure. If they have a huge hanger or something for planes they could fit it out with seating, staging, etc,.. It’ll be interesting to see how they approach it.

    I’ve just found out that a friend’s husband works in Baku. He might be able to get tickets. I may go there next year after all. Who knows……


  3. Great article. You sum it up well.
    I loved Eurovision this year. Being there in Dusseldorf with the 35,000 people was incredible. I was lucky enough to get tickets for the final.
    Have you been before to the live final? I am not sure that I will get to Baku for next year’s.


    • Wow. That would be awesome to be in Dusseldorf during EuroVision. How was it seeing the final live??? 🙂 I haven’t been to the final.

      Last year, I was in Europe when it was going on (in Greece when they picked their country’s song and in Albania with some German tourists when the winner was announced- they got an sms from a friend telling them Germany won!) but I didn’t make it to the final in Oslo.

      Maybe Baku next year. 🙂 That would be awesome! Neighboring Georgia sounds great to visit, too! 🙂 I wonder how many Europeans will make the trek out there.


      • I can’t explain how good it was being at the final. I was in my element. As for next year….. Baku just doesn’t have a venue anywhere near the size. 7,000 people is the max that the possible venue holds. Not enough time to build something? Maybe a quick temporary conversion? They’ll have to get cracking with it now though. I think I’ll give it a miss and wait for it to come west again. It was my 4th final. Great fun!!!!!


      • Hmmm… maybe they’ll have performances in different venues or have one with live performances and others with live telecasts…. or they’ll just build something! 🙂 I guess we’ll find out. 🙂

        How did you get the ticket to the final?


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