Exclusive – All the Eurovision 2021 COVID changes from social distancing to recorded backing vocals

Eurovision Communications lead Dave Goodman talks RadioTimes.com through all the changes that have been put in place to ensure the 2021 series goes ahead.

eurovision 2021

The Eurovision Song Contest returns this week, kicking off with the Eurovision 2021 semi-finals on May 18th and May 20th before the Eurovision 2021 final on May 22nd.

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While we can expect all the usual when it comes to biggest song competition of the year as the 39 Eurovision 2021 entries take to the stage and perform for the title, Eurovision 2021 will be slightly different this year, following the pandemic.

This year, we’re told to expect lots of “augmented reality” with the Song Contest “attempting something never seen before” according to Eurovision communications lead Dave Goodman.

And after the show was cancelled last year due to coronavirus, lots of contingency plans and COVID changes have been put in place to ensure the smooth running of the event.

Here’s everything you need to know.

Social distancing and masks

In order to ensure the safety of all contestants performing and everyone working behind the scenes on the 2021 show, strict social distancing measures will be followed at all times.

Goodman said: “We’ve put a health and safety protocol in place for all attendees, which is very strict with everyone having to wear masks and socially distance, amongst other things, regular testing. We really hope to be able to deliver three fantastic live shows that look as near as possible like the Eurovision that people know and love.

“Everyone who was accredited has to sign up to that protocol, that’s from the press who are coming and we’re having 500. It’s a limited number; we normally could welcome 1,500 on site, to the artists to the delegations.”

Backing vocals to be recorded on tape

Eurovision DuncanLaurence
Eurovision Duncan Laurence
Getty Images

We’re used to seeing live bands and back-up singers on stage during Eurovision, but this year contestants have been given the option to have their backing vocals recorded on tape to minimise the number of people on stage all at once.

“This year we’ve got another change in that we’re allowing backing vocals to be performed on tape on the backing track. Now partly that’s because we wanted to reduce the number of people who needed to travel for the event, but partly it’s also because you have more opportunity to change the sound if you’re allowed to have backing vocals on the backing track,” he said.

“The lead vocals have to be live, that won’t change, but the fact that we’ve got backing vocals recorded, for instance Iceland this year have got a choir of 1,000 on their backing track, and that just creates a whole new experience. It creates more opportunities for the artists and an experience for the audience.”

Contestants must stay in designated hotels in Rotterdam and cannot leave 

In between rehearsals, contestants must return to their hotels and must not leave unless they’re exercising.

“All the delegations have to stay in designated hotels. They have to travel in event transport and they cannot go outside unless they’re exercising. They can only remain within the hotel environment, and the arena environment so all these things have sort of been brought in to ensure, as best we can, that we minimise the risks,” Goodman revealed.

Less people on site

For this year’s Eurovision, all contestants have been asked to reduce the number of backing dancers or members in their entourage who would usually join them for the show.

Goodman explained: “We’ve asked all the delegations to reduce the number of people that they would normally bring to a maximum of 20 people, and some lower than that. So we’re doing everything we can to minimise the number of people that are on site as well that have to be there.”

Regular COVID testing

As well as having to social distance and wear masks while in public, Goodman says all the contestants are tested regularly to make sure they’re fit to perform and prevent the spread of the virus.

“Testing will be every 48 hours,” he said. “You can only enter the arena if you have a negative test. The testing will be saliva tests, which are very quick, so therefore we can get a lot of people through, and should they prove inconclusive, then there will be a further antigen test following that.”

Portugal's Eurovision 2021 entry The Black Mamba
Portugal’s Eurovision 2021 entry The Black Mamba

But, what if a contestant tests positive or comes into contact with someone who has tested positive?

“Well if someone tests positive, they have to go into isolation,” Goodman explained. “Everyone will be treated differently and will be assessed depending on the situation, but we have those contingencies to make sure that there will be a performance whether it be the recording that’s done in their home country, or the recording of the rehearsal depending on the situation, and of course if the artist can rejoin the production they will.

“If they miss the semi-final for example and they qualify for the final, that will also be looked at on a case-by-case basis. It really does depend on the situation, and the circumstances at the time but there’s planning being made for that to make sure that there’s continuity throughout the whole production.”

All 39 countries will video record their performances

You may already know that Australia‘s Eurovision 2021 entry Montaigne will not be flying to Rotterdam this year for the competition, but will instead be appearing on the show virtually.

“We’ve asked every delegation this year to record what we call a live on tape recording, so it’s a recording of their song. Should they not be able to travel as Australia cannot, that will be used in the competition so nobody misses out,” Goodman explained.

Australia's Eurovision 2021 entry Montaigne
Australia’s Eurovision 2021 entry Montaigne

“If someone has to quarantine or cannot participate in Rotterdam, we can use their live on tape, so no one will not be able to compete because of the circumstances this year. That is not so much an innovation, but it’s a contingency because we were determined to make sure that we had a competition this year.”

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The Eurovision Song contest 2021 will air across the BBC. Check out the full list of previous Eurovision winners here. If you’re looking for something to watch tonight, check out our TV Guide.