In the past, songs that did well won a place in the final, while songs that did badly were relegated to skip the next year. The exception being the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Spain which are guaranteed a place in the final due to their contributions into making the EBU and the Eurovision event possible.
It was decided that this may not have been very fair, given that the process for the selection of which countries were allowed and which weren't was effectively "behind closed doors", so now we have a semi-final, held on the Wednesday before to main contest.
Ten places are reserved in the main contest, and all of the 'lesser' countries get to battle it out live for a chance of being one of the ten. The televote takes place during an interval act, however unlike the main contest the semi-final results are not disclosed, only who has made it to the final - the presenters are handed ten envelopes containing cards of the winning countries, and these they open in a random order. The order the countries are unveiled determines which of the ten spots that country will take.
The final takes place on a Saturday evening (European time) typically in the middle of May. The songs selected for the final are performed, and then Europe televotes for the songs they liked - the only restriction being that you cannot vote for your own country!
Following an interval act of some sort (the popular Riverdance began life as a Eurovision interval act back in 1994) we then move on to the voting. This, as we call on every country in the contest whether they competed in the final or not, takes longer than the songs, although recent modifications (having the points awards from 1 to 7 automatically shown) have sped things up. A lot of people find this part of the contest tedious, but it is every bit as interesting. You can have lengthy discussions about "political voting" (will Greece and Cyprus ever not give each other 12 points?) or about "how can they vote for that! the whole country is insane!" or simply follow the rise and fall of the song you thought should win it. Often, the winner is fairly obvious by the halfway point, but sometimes life isn't that easy...
The fact of political voting is a favourite whinge among Eurovision critics. A text recently on ITV teletext said that "we [the UK] don't stand a hope in hell as everybody else hates us". Between you and me I'd take a close look at the countries foreign policy instead of just saying "they hate us", but never mind.
The huge problem here is that the accumulated results of past years absolutely prove that it is a big fix and everybody's in it for themselves. The Balkans vote for each other. The Scandanavian countries vote for each other. And nobody votes for the United Kingdom because they're sucking up to Dubyah and waging war on some poor defenceless Iraqis. It's all political, it's a fix.
Likewise, the accumulated results of past years absolutely disprove that it is faked and fixed. Sure, you will get the Balkans and the Scandanavians and Greece/Cyprus awarding higher points to fellow countries. Perhaps that is something to do with a shared culture? Swedish is one of the official languages in Finland. Many people in Norway understand Swedish. So a song in Swedish will probably make sense in these countries.
Likewise - Greece and Cyprus. Similar culture, same language.
In 2006, Lordi won, to the frenzied screams of people accusing them of satan worship and goodness knows what other garbage. Doesn't sound like a fix to me. In 2005 Greece one, with a song sung by a J.Lo wannabe. And it was down to slightly more than the expected '12' from Cyprus. In 2004 The Ukraine won with a psychotic take on Xena the Warrior Princess..
It comes down to the old polician's game. The data set is wide and varied and includes loads of variants. Thus it is not unduly difficult to massage the figures to prove your point.
The only problem, it isn't hard to massage them the other way to disprove that point.
Consider the voting to be a big lump of playdough that you can squeeze into all sorts of cute shapes. And as for the political voting? There may have been a truth to it in the days of the national juries, however these days it is either a countrywide conspiracy exercised by the televote, or it is a plain old conspiracy theory.
I go on about this point as it crops up every year.
Active members of the EBU (that's most of Europe, as well as Russia, Israel, Georgia, etc which are not politically a part of Europe) are required to broadcast the competition live without any alterations if they participate, but they may insert short advert breaks if they're stingy (the German channel ARD1 "Das Erste" shows adverts, but manages to show the contest end to end without cutting to publicity - they're a role model).
The entirety of Europe then, country by country, holds a telephone vote ("televote") or, in some countries, voting by SMS on a mobile/portable/cellular phone. These votes are then tallied and used for the announcement of which country each assigns points to.
How this works, each 'country' is called upon to give points to the entrants. They give 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, and 12 points - according to the popularity of a song as decided by the televote. Note we skip eight to ten to twelve.
Apart from the very rare screw-up for various technical reasons, there has been no big outcry over the use of viewer voting.It is forbidden to mess with the broadcast. There are very few technical hitches now that satellite links and television equipment is reliable. The last intended messing with the contest is that Lebanon did not intend to show the Israeli entry in the 2006 competition (as the country's law does not permit the recognition of the state of Israel) and so the EBU booted them out of the competition for this.
This is somewhat in contrast to 2007 in which many high-profile British television programmes from "Blue Peter" to "Ant & Dec" (some quiz programme? I never watched...) not to mention those late-night phone-to-win competitions that plagued the ITV channels for a while, all reporting irregularities such as impossible-to-guess answers, continuing to accept (and charge for) calls after the vote had finished, and also the old "grab a studio intern and make her the token winner" routine. It got so bad that as I write this addition to this page (2007/12/12), ITV is routinely broadcasting an advert offering to refund moeny to those affected by the fall-out of this.
There are still phone-to-vote shows (like "Strictly Come Dancing" or "The X-Factor") and there are still late-night 'interactive play' shows and those who call in despite on-screen displays saying that the average rate of calls is 300-500 a minute, this being after the presenter has waffled for 2-3 minutes without a single call. You do the maths.
Thankfully, however, the Song Contest has managed to escape the negative stigma that is associated with a number of televote programmes; but more and more British viewers are starting to believe in the rigged "political vote" theory as Sir Terry Wogan (aka that senile cantankerous crustie) seems to be single-handedly pushing the theory on to the British viewers, despite the fact that over recent years the British songs just didn't measure up, and how can we British viewers be expected to enjoy the full benefit of the performance when Sir Terry feels it is acceptable to actually talk during some of the performances?
This, obviously, does not count for past winners who either shine like the Logans, do okay but only the once like Carola, or crash and burn into total obscurity - the notable exception being the girl from Malta who is Eurovision to that country.
In any event, don't expect it to sound like your favourite hit radio station. And don't expect to see Avril Lavigne representing Switzerland. (shame, but Avril's got Geeky-Girlfriend-In-The-Way issues)
To my knowledge there has been no song presented in the mother of all made up languages - Esperanto. Likewise: Hobbit, Elvish, and Klingon are not really considered for Eurovision entries - though between you and me I would wet myself laughing if Lordi came on during the introduction to the 2007 contest and gave a fine performance of their song... in Klingon.
Most of the announcements are in English, however important things - this includes the voting - are in French and English both; the primary languages of the EU.
Apparently Jonathan King (yes, that Jonathan King) credits himself with implementing this change to the contest. He takes one of the last televised bastions of live orchestral music and gives it the TOTP treatment. B*st*rd!!!
In fact, completely as an aside, can you name me a regular proper as-live musical performance with actual instruments and not just singing to a backing track on British TV (FTA only)? I can - it's Jools Holland's programme. Now, here's the hard part: Name me another...
The music is an integral part of a song. As the emphasis is on 'live', and not a carefully crafted music vid... bring back the orchestra, please!
(If I was in charge of hosting a Eurovision, I'd have an orchestra present)
Within this, we have three categories, which I'll discuss in turn. I'll give six examples of what I'm talking about, from the 2004-2007 contests (as I have pictures of these). I'm sure you'll soon be able to quote loads more examples!
The less weird:
And, the weird, which is plentiful:
Not forgetting those who attempt to redefine what it means to be camp:
But campness has always been a part of things. Buck's Fizz were a bit camp. Abba based a very successful career upon it.
And as for Iceland, oh look, Iceland again. It must be those long winter nights and one-beer-per-town alcohol prices...