Except for 2005 (when Helena Paparizou’s My Number One was prequalified thanks to Greece’s 2004 result) and 2010 (when Big Five member Germany’s Lena won with Satellite) every Eurovison winner since 2004 has qualified from its semi-final. This is true whether there was one or two semi-finals.
However, not every Grand Final winner won its semi-final. How then might a delegation maximally upgrade its midweek performance on the weekend?
It’s rather simple: double your points, or come closest to doing so.
What it was like
There are three significant blocs at the Eurovision:
- Scandinavian: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland (and sometimes Estonia)
- Yugosphere: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia (and sometimes Switzerland)
- Russosphere: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Latvia, Estonia, (and sometimes Israel).
Artists selected for the Contest often appear on television broadcasts across these blocs. I recall being in Sarajevo one summer and it seemed every third song on the radio was a Eurovision entry from former Yugoslav republics. Similarly on travels through the Baltic states I have encountered numerous Russosphere Eurovision alumni marketing concert tours.
Our semi-final system was created to mitigate an over-representation of entries from voting blocs qualifying for the Grand Final at the expense of less aligned countries: there was a perception that entry quality was not necessarily driving results.
While some critics have viewed these as neighbourly “stitch-ups”, in reality this phenomenon more often reflects a common cultural sphere, shared language, historical or political ties, or how some musical styles resonate across regions. It’s not conspiracy, it’s affinity.
Regardless, smaller countries were feeling hopeless; deep pocketed Western European broadcasters were rumbling about walking away.
So we got pots.
There are now six pots each year, though only three of them are focused on large blocs. Half of each pot is randomly assigned a semi-final, which flattens the ability of bloc members to lift each other above non-bloc entries towards Grand Final qualification. The re-integration of jury voting has further flattened this, since jurors are given specific criteria to assess each entry and provide a rank order of all competing entries in each show. And we’ve had better Contests as result: since 2008, several non-bloc entries have won.
Regardless, each of the blocs gets at least one entry in the Grand Final top five–sometimes more. Once that happens, if you can inspire the other half of your pot to support you as much—or more—in the Grand Final, you can effectively double your score.
Now, this applies to all entries and most years: the song that comes closest to doubling (or better) their semi-final scores—in terms of public and juries—wins. Duncan Lawrence did it in 2019, without being in a bloc. Ditto the Sobrals in 2017. But a review of the top 5 from each of the Grand Finals using our current scoring method is instructive:
In 2016 the Russophone bloc managed two in the top five, the Scandi bloc one. In 2017 we count *Bulgaria in the Russophone bloc because their representative grew up in Russia and Russia themselves did not participate. Also in 2017 Moldova’s artists were from Transnistria and they celebrated by flying to Moscow and appearing on Russian television. Sweden again made the top five. In 2019 one entry from each bloc finished in the top five.
As you can see, 2018 is the only year where no bloc entries made the top five. Interestingly, most of the Russophone bloc entries failed to progress from their semi-finals. Only Ukraine, Moldova and Estonia did (and all ended up in the televote top 10 of the Grand Final). Sweden, Denmark and Finland appeared on Saturday with the first two in the top 10 (and Finland second from the bottom. But 2018 also featured a relatively low points per delegation ratio for winners Israel.
Something that might happen again this year.
Who to watch
Aside from enjoying the awesomeness of the Eurovision, which entries coming out of the semi-finals appear to have good chances for doubling up?
- Russophone: Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova,
- Scandi: Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Finland
- Yugo: Serbia
If the Russophone bloc follows tradition, with other members propping up Russia followed by Ukraine, it might come down to how well either can bring in votes (televote and jury) from those who were only able to vote on Thursday night. However, with Armenia having withdrawn and Belarus having been disqualified, there is a 96 point ceiling within the bloc.
Unusually Iceland is fancied to top the Scandi bloc’s scorecards. If 10 Years manages to sweep the jury and televote douze points from the other members, Dadi could start out with 96 points himself.
Serbia is the only ex-Yugoslav republic in this year’s Grand Final, which means they have three very reliable (Croatia, North Macedonia and Switzerland) and one relatively reliable (Slovenia) bloc mates. If everything lines up perfectly for Hurricane that’s 120 points on offer—but that would include the Swiss public and jury ranking them first (the traffic within this bloc is most reliable towards Serbia, rather than from Serbia to other bloc members). So perhaps 96-108 points is a more realistic range.
The most wins
Duncan Laurence won with 498 points with two more (41 in total) than we have in Rotterdam. Removing 48 points from his total makes 450 a reasonable target for victory. So starting off with 100 points is a major advantage.
If you also have broad enough appeal outside your bloc.