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Every year on a certain Saturday night in May, something quite unique happens in Europe. Millions of people turn on their TVs and prepare to watch their nation compete. But this is no ordinary international competition. It has no footballs, athletes or fast cars. This is a contest based on something much more important: finding the perfect pop song.
What is the Eurovision Song Contest?
In short, the Eurovision is an enormous, televised concert which is full of fireworks, wonderful dancing, lots of colours and shiny clothes. Oh, and pop songs, of course! Each participating country sends a singer or group to perform a song live at the Eurovision semi-final. From these performances, 26 are chosen for the Saturday-night Grand Final.
Which countries participate?
Most of the participating countries are within Europe or are nearby (e.g. Israel, Azerbaijan, etc.). However, due to the popularity of the competition with TV viewers in Australia, this country has been included since 2015.
How do they choose the winner?
After the performances at the Grand Final, each country votes for the best song. TV viewers can vote using their mobile phones, but each country also has an official jury who decide 50 per cent of the votes. Obviously, it is not permitted to vote for your own country. In the end, the song with the most votes wins. The winning country will then host the Eurovision the following year.
What is the origin of the competition?
Although it might seem like a normal TV talent show like The X-Factor or The Voice, the Eurovision has quite historical origins. The Second World War ended in 1945, leaving Europe very divided. In the 1950s, the European Broadcasting Union started to think of an event which would both entertain and unite Europeans. This led to the first European song contest in 1956. It happened in Switzerland and included just seven countries. Decades later, it has grown into an enormous international event with hundreds of millions of viewers.
What are the rules?
The competition's central rule is that each song needs to be a maximum of three minutes. This is shorter than most commercial pop songs, but the organisers decided that this limit was necessary so that the entire Grand Final (including voting) can happen within three hours. While performing the song, there is another rule that the maximum number of people on the stage is six. This includes the singer(s), musicians and dancers. Songs can be in any language, even though most countries choose to sing in English.
Are there any Eurovision stars?
The competition has certainly had some success stories. The Swedish super-group ABBA won the Eurovision in 1974 and then became huge stars with hits like 'Dancing Queen' and 'Mamma Mia'. In 1988, Céline Dion won for Switzerland before finding world fame with songs like 'My Heart Will Go On' from the film Titanic. In 2006, Finnish rockers Lordi won the competition and captured the world’s imagination with their metal music and monster suits. Other winning songs which became international hits were the electro-hit 'Euphoria' by Swedish singer Loreen (2012) and 'Heroes' by another Swede, Måns Zelmerlöw (2015).
The popularity of the Eurovision has grown more and more each year. Outside of Europe and Australia, the Grand Final is now also watched by viewers in the USA and many other countries. Organisations in certain countries like China and Qatar have even expressed an interest in participating in the competition. So, who knows? Perhaps international unity will finally be achieved not through governments but through three-minute pop songs.