My Experience at the EuroVision 2002 Song Contest -- Tallinn, Estonia
In the spring of 2000, I came across a television show on German television that fascinated me. It was a Europe-wide talent show where acts from numerous countries competing. The judging was done by telephone vote independent conducted by the participating nations, announced by video teleconference to the studio audience. The audience cheered, booed, and waved flags as each nation announced the results -- tallied on a big board.
I was absolutely hooked. It was the Eurovision 2000 Song Contest I witnessed, and afterwards I decided to do some research on it, because I'd never heard of it. It sounded so intriguing that when the opportunity arose to actually attend the event in 2002 in the nascent country of Estonia, I jumped on it.
What is the Eurovision Song Contest, you ask? It is not a single contest, but a real Finals. Run by the European Broadcasting Union, a conglomeration of national broadcasting forums, the Contest showcases the winners of local and national competitions -- one each from 24 different nations. Most of the winners don't reach prominence over in the states, but those that do have done extraordinarily well (Celine Dion, and ABBA were winners -- the latter's 1974 entry "Waterloo" continues to be the most-celebrated Eurovision product).
The Contest provides a chance for new talent to prove themselves and launch their career, while using the universal language of music to bring all Europeans together for one night. Acts from larger countries may have other venues to display their talents, but for those coming from smaller countries such as Malta, the Baltics, Cyprus, etc., Eurovision may provide the only chance they get to play on a large stage.
It's a high-pressure event, in part because the Finals are a LIVE television broadcast! Each act only gets to play one three-minute song (three minutes, one second too long and the act is DQ'ed!). The interval between songs is precisely one minute, and the acts are unannounced. Instead, Estonian television produces their own interval -- which was a series of thematic spots combining fairy tales and Estonian history/culture). The show was emceed, but they served primarily to introduce the show and manage the vote counting.
For Estonia, hosting the Contest Finals was a significant emotional event -- the first time a major international event has been held in the country. It was a significant windfall for the tourist industry there, and consumed so much of the nation's attention that the local press whined that it overtook more 'pressing' matters like readying for NATO and EU entry! Be that as it may, Tallinn proved itself up to the task, welcoming visitors from all over to the Old Town and putting on a world-class show. Town Hall Square was very crowded with thousands upon thousands watching the show live on a big screen!
Meanwhile, the electricity inside the auditorium was fantastic! Excellent warm-up acts ran a full hour before the show, and the people around me (mostly Finns) were very busy talking about the various acts and who they thought would win. Many of them attended the rehearsals, whereas I entered blind. I could tell which ones were eagerly anticipated versus those that weren't (the approach of the latter category was when the people around me scrambled to the bar or bathroom).
All twenty-four contestants absolutely did their best -- I saw or heard no real 'mistakes' and only a couple of songs struck me as bizarre or silly. However, there were some very clear patterns that emerged between those that electrified the audience versus those cheered mainly by their own countrymen:
I made notes on a sheet of paper to keep the twenty-four entries straight (by the eighth song, I realized that I'd forgotten what the first one sounded like!). I used a comparatively 10-point system, starting with a '5' for Cyprus, the first entry, and comparing and revising from there.
The musical portion of the show lasted two full hours, and were followed by a grace period to allow the viewers to register their telephonic votes (you could not vote for the country from whence you come -- that's the rule). And then came the announcements, which lasted the third hour of the show.
Here's how it works: The viewers in each country phone in for the song they like the most. The votes are tallied and the top ten are selected. These top ten are awarded points -- with first place getting 12, second place getting 10, and third through tenth are awarded 8 through 1 point. The total tally from all 24 countries determine the winner. So, since Cyprus performed first, they voted first. By teleconference to Cyprus, a Cypriot announcer gave the vote in reverse order and in a standardized format ... "<country>, 1 point", then echoed in English and French by the emcees back in Tallinn. "<country>, 2 point", and so on until the top vote getter (earning the highly desired 12 points) is announced.
My opinion only -- this was a great voting system, because it clearly overcome the obvious biases and voting blocks that existed. In other words, it assumes that people will tend to vote for their neighboring countries, but by applying the law of averages, the best ones would likely appear somewhere on everyone's scoresheets, bubbling up to the top. That's exactly what happened: while Scandinavians voted for other Scandinavians, southern Europeans voted for other southern Europeans, etc., the entries that were universally received were tallied everywhere.
It was clear after the first four tallies that it was a showdown between Malta (a hopeful and intelligent love song from a talented young soloist) and Latvia (a fun and energetic song coupled with an exciting and complicated dance routine). But as the votes kept coming, the Latvians edged further and further away. Still, it came down to the last vote before victory could be declared: Latvia was the winner by 12 points over Malta. Estonia, UK, and France (all female soloists, I might add) finished in a virtual dead heat for third through fifth, but far distant from the top two.
The tradition of the Song Contest is that the winner hosts the event the following year. Estonia won it in 2001 in Copenhagen (since Denmark won it in 2000 as I watched). So, this means that Riga will host the event next year. Hmmmmm, I wonder if I can get a ticket?
Click here to access the official Eurovision Song Contest website (browser will open in New Window).
Attended EuroVision on 25 May 2002 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin