Eurovision 101: An Introduction

The Eurovision Song Contest has been around for over 60 years, but Eurovision in New Zealand is still covered in a veil of mystery. Here’s a quick guide to the biggest music competition in the world — a guilty pleasure for some, a reason to get up at 7AM for others.

Eurovision 101

The Eurovision Song Contest is an annual singing competition among members of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). Each country submits a song to be performed live on television and then votes for other countries’ songs to determine the most popular tune. Started in 1956, it was originally set up as a way to bring the EBU nations together after the devastation of World War II. The idea was to “rally the countries of Europe round a light entertainment programme.” It’s now one of the longest-running television programs in history, anywhere.

Entering Eurovision

Qualification for Eurovision is determined by two semi-finals, since there are now more countries that wish to participate than there is time to air every performance. However, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Spain have qualified for the final automatically every year since 2000 as the “Big Four.” Italy was controversially added to the list of automatically qualified countries in 2010 to form the “Big Five.” 42 countries participated in Eurovision 2017: it’s no small affair!

Performing at Eurovision

All vocals must be performed live. No promoting brands (The Facebook Song was changed to The Social Network Song in 2012). No overly political statements, gestures or swearing on stage or in any Eurovision-related area including media centre and backstage. Songs cannot be longer than three minutes. A maximum of six people on stage. No live animals. Contestants must be over 16. You can sing in any language of your choice. Songs performed must not have been commercially released before September of the year before the contest in any form. Jon Ola “Take It Away” Sand, the Executive Supervisor of the Contest, will find you if you break any of these rules.

Voting in Eurovision

Voting is complex and is split equally between each country’s “professional jury” (a panel of industry figures nominated by each country to vote “professionally” on each entry) and the everyday voter, like you and me. Juries vote separately to the viewer at home who can vote by calling in, by sending a text or by using the Eurovision app. Voting on a winner is always a controversial process, as old alliances, grudges against neighbours, and current political tensions can factor into each country’s decision. Countries cannot vote for themselves, sorry!

In the final, the jury votes are presented by a representative from each country who is beamed into the broadcast live via satellite. Every country has 10 votes. Countries award 1 to 8 points and then 10 and 12 points to their favourite songs. The live crosses are often messy and are pretty much the best part of the whole show: don’t miss it.

After the jury votes are announced, the hosts of the show will announce the total number of points awarded to each country from the televotes compiled from across Europe, beginning with the country or countries that received no points and moving all the way thru to the country that received the most. The idea is that the winner is not known until the very last second of the process, keeping the suspense high! (Presenting the votes like this is a recent change, since Stockholm in 2016: watch the last moment of voting from 2016.)

There’s the potential for the dreaded nil points – nothing from televotes and nothing from the juries. With so many points on offer it’s a major feat to achieve 0, but it does happen. Keep an eye on the other end of the results table for some extra tension!

Winning Eurovision

The country that wins the competition hosts next year’s contest. (Often, countries incapable of financing the event sometimes send particularly ridiculous acts to Eurovision. so as to avoid winning but still be part of the show.) Next year, Eurovision will take place in Portugal, because this year’s winner Salvador Sobral was Portuguese. That’s how it moves around Europe, if you win, your country gets to host it the next year.

Eurovision Success Stories

Some acts got their start on Eurovision, others were established and used the event as a career move. ABBA, Sandie Shaw, Bucks Fizz, Celine Dion, Tatu, Gina G, Lulu, Conchita, Lordi, Brotherhood of Man, Katrina and the Waves, Bonnie Tyler, Englebert Humperdinck and Olivia Newton-John. Can you believe it?

Ireland has won 7 times, Sweden 6 and Luxembourg, France, and the United Kingdom 5 times.

Least successful countries: Nul points! Norway have come last 11 times, but have also won three times.


Eurovision history is complex and convoluted, but the outcome is also fantastic and mind-bending. An introduction to Eurovision is met with raised eyebrows and confused stares, but once is never enough, and soon enough you’ll be part of a gaggle of fierce fans around the world.