How the contest is set up – semifinal nights

One of the many things that makes the Eurovision Song Contest so much more exciting than the American versions of IDOL, X-FACTOR or THE VOICE is the sense of immediacy. The songs are performed, there is a bit of interval entertainment while the votes are coming in, voting points are totaled up, the winner is chosen and performs a “victory lap” reprise of their winning entry to thunderous applause and a shower of golden confetti. Simple, exciting and effective!

The two semifinal nights (Tuesday and Thursday of Eurovision week) winnow down the 40-plus entries to a manageable 25 or 26 for the final night. This final is made up of an automatic qualification for the last year’s winner, automatic qualification for the “big five” (United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany and Spain, the original founders of the contest and principal financiers of the event), and 10 qualifiers from each of the two semifinals.

Before 2008, there was one semifinal. In one of the myriad scandals that make people love/hate the contest, in 2007 every song that qualified from the single semifinal represented an entry from Eastern Europe. The West was FURIOUS! To make the contest more equitable and mitigate the problem of “neighborly voting” (where former Yugoslav republics, former Soviet states, Baltic republics, or Nordic countries would supposedly skew the results by voting for their friends) a two semi system was ushered in for 2008. The suspect neighborly voting blocs were split up among the two nights, and the problem of the Western countries not qualifying or winning the final contest was immediately solved… so far!

The semifinal nights’ results do not reveal the number of points (to retain suspense for the finals). Those nights the 18 or 19 entries are performed, voted on, and then the 10 songs that proceed to final night are named, in no particular order. Immediately after, in a ceremony streamed online but not part of the tv broadcast, the 10 entries draw numbers out of a glass “fishbowl” that determine their places in the final running order.

That matter of the running order is WILDLY important to the Eurofans, with certain places in the running achieving an almost magical significance of good or bad luck. But that is a subject for another post…

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