The Radio Times logo

How do other countries pick their Eurovision Song Contest entry?

And could The UK's road to deux pois start by taking tips from abroad?

Published: Friday, 27th January 2017 at 3:09 pm

It’s now been 20 long years since the UK won the Eurovision Song Contest – two entire decades since Katrina and The Waves let Love Shine A Light in Dublin in 1997.


So, why haven’t we found a suitable song for Europe in all that time? Do we need to adopt a selection process from one our more successful Eurovision rivals? Is there a fail-safe system on the continent?

From drawn-out contests in the Balkans, to Scandinavian super selections, here’s your guide to how Eurovision nations find their contestants.

How unique is the British Eurovision: You Decide system?

Okay, how does our system actually work? Firstly, a selection of hopeful entrants are shortlisted by a panel of UK Eurovision Fan Club members alongside a few industry experts. And out of those six finalists, one will be picked on tonight's Eurovision: You Decide after a split vote between the public and another jury of music experts.

If this sounds slightly different from last year’s process it's because it is: our 2016 entry Joe and Jake were chosen by the public alone. And sorry for reminding you, but that didn’t work out too well: Joe and Jake came 24th in Stockholm with the song You're Not Alone – a tune that only made it to number 81 in the UK charts.

Interestingly – and don’t tell Farage about this – the new UK voting system is almost a carbon copy of the one you’ll see in Eastern Europe; the duet of voting between an expert panel and the public mirrors the system in the likes of Georgia, Lithuania, Hungary, Armenia and, very importantly, Russia, a country who co-holds the record for the most top five finishes in the 21st century (8, with Sweden).

And statistically, it’s a system most likely to find a champ: of the last 10 winners of the competition, six came from a split jury/public selection process.

However, there’s a reason why this hybrid public/jury system might not translate well in the UK: we’ve made it tiny. While we’re picking from a shortlist of six during Friday’s You Decide, Lithuania will soon be airing the fourth heat of their Eurovision selection competition, a process involving a whopping 51 shortlisted acts.

And Armenia’s hunt for a Eurovision finalist is even bigger: their competition airs on TV every week for three months. (And that's short by their standards: the last series of the Armenian X Factor went on for just over six months – twice as long as the UK show.)

Which countries trust the public to solely pick their contestant?

Much like the current political climate, there’s been a recent surge of power to the people across the Eurovision continent: this year, countries like Switzerland and Germany have changed their voting systems so it’s solely the public that votes from the final shortlist.

Why? Well, perhaps because it’s never been easier for the public to vote, with Germany collecting votes via a Eurovision app, and Latvia including Spotify streaming numbers in their voting count.

But, as all the British people who voted for Jake and Josh last year will tell you, ditching the collaboration with a jury of experts can backfire. Out of the past 10 winners, only one Eurovision champ made it through a public-only selection process: Germany’s Lena Meyer-Landrut in 2010.

Looks the Germans are hoping to recreate their success seven years ago with their Unser Song competition, the winner solely picked without a jury. And their moody black and white advert suggests the public are expected to take it all VERY seriously...

You could never get away with a Eurovision advert that dramatic in the UK. Even if ITV was broadcasting.

Don’t a lot of countries decide their contestants internally?

They do indeed. Belgium and The Netherlands are the biggest countries that leave industry experts to pick the nation's entry away from the public eye. Ireland, also, has a started up a tradition of recruiting popular figures in music and Louis Walsh to pick their entry.

Yes, this year The X Factor judge became the head of Irish Eurovision music, given the sole power to pick out the country’s contestant. His choice? Brendan Murray. And he sounds like this...

So what song will young Murray sing in the Kiev finals this year? Well, that’s down to Walsh again. But seeing as Walsh is the former manager of Johnny Logan, the only performer to have won the Eurovision Song Contest twice, the 20-year-old should be in safe hands.

However – stop reading now, Murray – statistically, internal selection is a largely tried and failed system. In the past 10 years, only one winner has been selected through this system: 2013’s Conchita Wurst from Austria.

Are there any other Eurovision selection systems?

Oh yes, we’ve not even touched on the greatest of them all: Sweden’s Melodifestivalen (literally "The Melody Festival"). Taking place almost every year since 1959, this massive music festival has fielded six Swedish winners and 18 top-five contestants at the Eurovision finals.

It’s one of the cultural highlights of Sweden’s year, with the final held in a 65,000 capacity arena. And last year over a third of the population tuned into every stage of the six-stage competition on TV, and a total of 36,711,512 votes were cast.

So, how’s it work? Melodifestivalen is basically a mini-Eurovision: initially votes come in from a small jury of experts from a variety of European countries (and Australia) – they allocate 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12 points to their top seven entries. And then those votes are combined with the public televoting result from the 11 regions of Sweden, revealed by the hosts in ascending order.

It’s exactly like the real Eurovision, except a Swedish person always wins instead of just mostly.

And you know we mentioned Melodifestivalen’s international jury of experts? Up until two years ago, representatives from the UK were part of it. That's right, a small number of our experts had a say in picking Sweden's Eurovision song.

You can see British composer Simon Proctor give the UK points in the 2015 Melodifestivalen at the 7.40 mark below…

So, here’s the big question: should the UK be more Swedish, book out Wembley and start a mega hunt for a Eurovision winner? Maybe not. Although the tickets for the Melodifestivalen final sell out as fast as Eurovision itself, seats for our Eurovision: You Decide – held in the 2,000 capacity Hammersmith Apollo – were still available on the day of show. So, by comparing the two arenas sizes proportional to the populations of each nation, we can estimate Sweden has more than 219 times the interest in their selection process than the UK.

But remember, although we’re not swept by Eurovision fever in the same way, there’s no reason our statistically-strong new voting system could sprout a sixth UK winner. Maybe, just maybe, 2017 is our year.

Just don't think too much about how the Euro public will react to Brexit, eh?


Eurovision: You Decide is on 7.30pm tonight, BBC2


Sponsored content