How does the Eurovision Song Contest work?

It might be Europe's biggest party but if you're entering the Eurovision Song Contest you have to play by the rules.

eurovision 2021

Good news music fans – Eurovision is back following the one year break that was forced to happen due to the COVID global pandemic – something that saw events cancelled all over the world.

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While we are not fully out of the pandemic woods yet, we are happy to confirm that Eurovision 2021 will be going ahead and many of the acts that were lined up to perform in 2020 will be taking to the stage for 2021.

But if you are new to Eurovision, or you need a reminder after the year off, and you want to know the ins and outs of how the contest works, and how a winner is chosen, read on for all you need to know!

How many countries can compete in Eurovision?

As you may have noticed, Eurovision isn’t just a ‘European’ Song Contest. That’s because it’s open to active members of the European Broadcasting Union, which is an alliance of public service broadcasters (like the BBC in the UK and RTE in Ireland) from across Europe and its neighbouring countries.

Around 43 countries enter the Eurovision Song Contest each year, and they’re each entitled to enter one song. This year, however, only 39 countries are competing, with several nations pulling out of the contest – still, 39 is a decent number!

Still, if all 39 of them competed on one night the competition would run on into the early hours, so the powers that be have set up two Semi-Finals to whittle the numbers down to just 26.

How do the Eurovision semi-finals work?

Only six nations are guaranteed an automatic place in the final. The ‘Big Five’ – Spain, France, Italy, the UK and Germany – as well as the host nation (Israel this year) all have a free pass to the final, while everyone else has to battle it out to make it to the stage on Saturday night.

The other countries compete in two semi-finals – the aptly name Semi-Final One and Semi-Final Two – with 20 places up for grabs.

And why do the Big 5 always get a spot in Eurovision?

Well, they pay the most money to keep the contest going so it’d be a bit odd if they weren’t always in the running now, wouldn’t it?

Anything goes on the Eurovision stage though, right?

Wrong. There are actually rather strict rules about what the contestants can and can’t do.

For example, no more than six people are allowed on stage per entry and their songs must not last a second longer than three minutes.

You can sing in absolutely any language you want, but you’ve got to sing live because miming is banned.

How to vote in the Eurovision Song Contest

After all songs have been performed, viewers can vote for their favourites online via the BBC Eurovision page – it will appear as an option on the main page as soon as the voting opens.

You will need to register for a BBC account to vote, but if you have ever watched anything on iPlayer then you will have already done that. Just in case though, you can do it here.

When the voting does open, the acts will be listed in performance order and you vote for one act at a time. You can only vote three times online so make sure you have chosen the right acts!

In the past, there has only been a fifteen-minute window to get your votes in and while we have not had it confirmed this year, we suspect that the time limit will remain the same.

Previously, the voting was done primarily over the phone with each act being given a number to call to vote. The BBC Eurovision page only mentions online voting currently but we will keep our ears to the ground to find out whether phone voting will be an option for people in 2021.

Here are the official BBC guidelines for UK voters:

When the vote is open, it will appear at the top of the Eurovision homepage. If you can’t see it, try refreshing the page.

The songs will be listed as in the running order in the show. You can then select your favourite clicking the name of the artist or their picture so that it changes from black to red and a small tick appears to the right of their names. Votes must be cast one at a time and you can change your vote before you submit but once you have submitted your vote it cannot be changed.

How does the Eurovision voting system work?

Eurovision was originally judged by juries before being opened to the public for a televote. However, when people started getting worked up about political ‘bloc voting’ – that’s the idea that certain countries were all just voting for each other – they introduced a new dual system.

The juries from each country award 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10 and 12 points to their favourite songs, and reveal those jury scores through their national spokesperson in the usual time-consuming yet exciting way.

Viewers from each country also vote, with points from 1-12 awarded to the most popular acts amongst the viewers. Then, all the results from each country’s public votes will be combined to give one overall Eurovision viewer score per song.

These scores will be revealed in reverse order: the country that received the least amount of votes from the public will be awarded their points first – which will not be the UK this year we can feel it! (See how many times the UK has won Eurovision before.)

This means that winner of the contest is only revealed at the very last minute. Exciting, eh?

Spokespersons from each country read out the jury results – those all-important douze points – during the live show.

Then the Eurovision 2019 presenters will read out the results of the European public vote, beginning with the county that received the lowest number of votes and finishing with the country that received the highest.

Viewers in all the competing countries – including those who were knocked out in the semi-finals – can vote up to 20 times for the songs of their choice, but they can’t vote for their own country.

The country with the highest number of votes wins the competition and gets to host it the next year.

What happens if there’s a tie?

If there is a tie between two or more songs in the combined ranking between public votes and the jury votes, the song that obtains a better ranking from the public vote is deemed the winner.

What happens if Australia wins Eurovision?

Don’t worry, the show won’t go Down Under. But what happens if Australia wins Eurovision

The Aussie delegation will be asked to select a European country to host next year’s show on their behalf.

Their first choice is likely to be Germany. However, if they decline, the UK could host next year’s show.

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The Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final is on Saturday 22nd May, from 8pm on BBC One. If you’re looking for something else to watch, check out our TV Guide.