Nobody does it better at the Junior Eurovision Song Contest than Georgia.
You probably know that Georgia has won the competition three times since their debut in 2007. That’s 3 wins out of 12. More impressive though is that this is backed up by two 2nd places, and a modal average of 4th place. With only one song ever placing outside the top 10 (and that was 111th) Georgia are to Junior Eurovision what Sweden are to the main Song Contest; consistent, professional and extremely successful.
What is particularly striking though isn’t the success on the scoreboard, but the amazing acts from Georgia on stage, parallel to nobody else in Junior Eurovision. Each year they bring acts that are such powerful, iconic and creative characters that possess a spellbinding combination of charisma and perfection to the stage. From bumblebees through princesses to brash Lady Gaga pop, each act is crafted in a way that few countries can compete with the joyous display on stage.
It’s a Junior Eurovision culture so successful and so different to anything anybody else can offer.
In the run up to Junior Eurovision this year I took a long detour to visit the country of Georgia. Somewhere in-between the fresh-flowing pomegranate juice and the abundant khachapuri, I managed to speak to some of the most important people in Georgian Junior Eurovision history. The aim – to discover their secret.
Success In One Contest, Failure In The Other
To kick-start my fact-finding mission, I reached out to Georgian broadcaster GPB. Georgia became an EBU active member in 2004, after the Rose Revolution the previous year led to a more pro-European regime and the country moved sharply towards European institutions.
I’m invited to have an interview with Natia Mshvenieradze, the Georgian Head of Delegation, up at the broadcaster’s headquarters. On the way up to her office we pass row after row of stale office doors that inspire little of that magical Georgian creativity.
That is until you reach the Eurovision office plastered in stickers and #ShineBright logos on the door.
Inside Georgian Eurovision HQ (Photo: Ben Robertson, ESC Insight)
Opening the door reveals a delight of colour with walls covered in huge posters and photos of almost each one of their acts from the Eurovision Song Contest and Junior Eurovision. The bookshelves are covered in DVD’s, CD’s and promo material from year’s gone by. The biggest Eurovision fans would be proud of this collection.
Me and Natia started our interview discussing this glorious office. It has been the Eurovision office since the country’s debut, and the diversity of faces on the wall is huge. Junior has the bumblebees, but the adult contest has ethno-jazz bands, Britpop rockers and romantic duets. There isn’t a country as diverse in either Song Contest as Georgia.
“To be honest,” starts Natia, “we always have tried to bring something new.”
The problem is though that none of these new concepts has brought Georgia close to the same success. Georgia may have seven qualifications from their 12 Eurovision Song Contest attempts, but the closest they arguably came was with ‘Waterfall‘ in 2013. It wasn’t Georgia’s highest placing (that was 9th), but did succeed in picking up a Marcel Bezençon Press Award (which yes, is on display in that office).
They are the emperors of Junior Eurovision, but the Joe Bloggs of the adult competition.
Despite only 12 attempts, in some respects speaking to Natia shows that they have already admitted some defeat in their quest for a first Eurovision victory.
“To be honest every year Georgia tries to bring something new. We are a small country. There is less chance to be a winner and be successful than other countries because of the voting system. We usually receive very good points from jury but not from televote.
“Last year’s we decided to bring to Europe and other people our Georgian language. It was not successful. It was difficult to understand. The reason we brought the Georgian language song is that as we can’t win and that we haven’t been successful for the last years let’s bring what we have and teach Europeans our language. Even if just one European learns just one Georgian word from our song then that is success.”
Head of Delegation Natia Mschvenieradze (Photo: Ben Robertson, ESC Insight)
It’s always a shame to hear a broadcaster look at the Eurovision voting system in despair, but they have tried to make changes to find the required spark. The biggest one in recent years has been the collaboration with Georgian Idol, which now chooses the singer for Eurovision. This has led to more interest and viewing figures in the country than the previous internal selections. Now in its second year, the broadcaster has also moved the competition forward to a December climax. This leaves time after the winner is selected to find the song right for them.
There is no requirement next year that the song must be in Georgian or English, and it will be up to the artist to choose.
One Man Behind All The Success
Junior Eurovision has gone through a similar transformation. It began with a National Final process that lasted from 2007 to 2011. However a problem emerged. The same composer kept on winning the competition, Giga Kukhianidze. From 2012 to 2017 he had the exclusive opportunity to write and produce the Georgian Junior Eurovision acts, and became Assistant Head of Delegation.
His last two entries in 2016 and 2017 were huge successes, one won and one second place just three points behind the eventual winner from Russia. However Natia explains that there was “a bit of anger towards public television” towards using the same composer.
“Junior Eurovision is not very very popular in Georgia compared to Malta or Poland. But step by step it is becoming more popular. Ratings have got higher and higher, more since the selection has become a part of the public, with Idol or Ranina (the Junior Eurovision selection format, a three month mission to find a singer).”
Part of this success in the ratings is also the start time. The 1600 CET start time means Junior Eurovision is now starting through Sunday primetime at 1900.
Success isn’t always measured in results, but in perception. For the Georgian public broadcaster a higher viewing population and more people engaging in the selection process is a big win. Georgi had five appearances on TV, scoring maximum points each show, before he reached the Ranina final.
But Giga Kukhianidze did not take part in the song selection process for Georgi, despite the call for songs and his previous success. From my time at the broadcaster it appeared clear that his involvement was by far the largest correlating factor to Georgia’s success.
So I tracked him down.
We eventually met the composer at his recording studio across in the Vake suburb of Tbilisi. The studio itself was hidden away in a secret courtyard off the busy road, down a graffiti-laden concrete tunnel with foam insulation ripped off drainpipes in desperate need of some TLC. I had to ring to check I was in the correct place.
Indeed I was, and the studio itself was bright, clean and smart. All of Giga’s accreditations from previous contests were on display as well as the CD’s of each of his Junior Eurovision acts. From what I can see the recording setup looks as professional as anything else I’ve witnessed. This was a little Eurovision oasis amidst the concrete jungle outside.
I had to ask the difficult question. Why are you no longer involved in Georgia’s Junior Eurovision? After all, nothing stops him sending his songs to the winning act of Ranina.
“It was a tough decision to make to not continue working with them. Junior Eurovision has its own disadvantages and advantages. Yes it is all the fun, but there are such limitations. It has to be appropriate to the child, and creativity is limited. Junior was done.
“Now I want to work with more mature projects, even though I still love working with kids.
“I want to do more…I want to do the actual Eurovision.”
Giga had certainly reached the heights of Junior Eurovision involvement in his last co-operation in 2017. The 2017 competition was in Tbilisi, and his roles included writing all the music for not just the Georgian act, but also the opening and interval acts of the show. It was the pinnacle of ten years of Georgia in Junior Eurovision.
The idea of sending a song to an Idol winner also doesn’t interest Giga.
“I don’t want to take part in the project because of the process of the selection. You need to take someone super trained, and not risk a beginner going on the stage.
“I am only interested in going to Eurovision if no one says anything, if I get control in the creative process, like it has been with Junior Eurovision.
“The bread only needs one baker.”
With a show like Idol, these demands are unlikely to be met. You don’t have control of who the winning act is, and you inevitably end up with many hands in the pot trying to find the correct solution.
I’m talking to Giga through a translator, who chips in with the line, “he’s a perfectionist”. To be honest, there isn’t anybody who would know that perfectionist trait than that translator. Her name is Iru Khechanovi and she has won Junior Eurovision.
I Discover The Georgian Secret
Iru was only 10 when she was selected to be part of the five piece group Candy that was hand picked by Giga from different studios around Georgia. The interview quickly turns to focus on her experience and I discuss the process of how their winning entry ‘Candy Music’ came to be.
“For Candy, we were five little girls. Giga asked us what is the theme that you want to sing about. We had homework to do research and I was thinking what is the best song for me and what would people want to listen to. We came to candy and thought every little girl loves candy!
We then thought about some sentences and some text ideas and some costumes with pink and we took part in that part of the process. I was proud because it’s mainly his job but he always asks his entrants for inspiration.”
That is step one of creating a Giga Junior Eurovision entry, working with the children to create the theme they want to portray on stage. Step two is the songwriting process, where Giga takes those ideas to create a reality. Giga continues.
“It’s not an easy job. I would always think for days and weeks with a locked door thinking about the theme of the song. I have to think also about the other countries and what they will think about it, and how our song will stand out. It’s not only about the song and its quality, but also the style of the design that had to be different from the other countries.”
Step three is then when the designers and choreographers come in. Even if the song itself is something the children are comfortable with, there is still the difficult decisions to make it appropriate on stage. Iru explains that she got to see all the designs and try all the fabrics and materials. The only uncomfortable feature was the huge wigs Candy wore for the music video, with ‘thousands’ of pins keeping them in place.
Step four, the final step is practice, practice, practice. Iru tells me that preparations start six months before Junior Eurovision itself and intensify as the time approaches.
“Every day there is a rehearsal for at least seven or eight hours. At times we would actually live in the studio. We also had another dance studio and dance for hours before having vocal lessons and harmonisations.
We would jump up and down the stairs, singing, so that you can balance the choreography and singing at the same time without running out of breath.”
“We also have lots of psychological tests with Giga and we would sit here in the studio and he would give us these tests with ‘What would you do if….” That process was very hard but he is the master of this.”
Giga Kikhianidze and Iru Khechanovi together at his recording studio (Photo: Ben Robertson, ESC Insight)
I’ve been asking each of these three people about what the secret is behind Georgia’s success. Natia thought it might be the ‘talent in the depths of Georgian culture’. Giga thought somewhat that Georgia had ‘got lucky’ that their acts stood out so successfully. Iru though, she knows the secret.
The secret is hard work, dedication, and perfection. 7 to 8 hours a day makes 50 hours in one week. 1000 hours of practice for just three minutes on stage.
I can say with full confidence that acts from the majority of countries competing in Poland will not have been dedicating such effort to their performances. It is little wonder that I’ve been mesmerised by the ability of Georgian acts and their millimetre-perfection and note-perfect harmonies. For sure, Georgia has proud musical tradition, and has certainly got lucky to have the right songs at the right time. But Georgian acts do put in such hard work into each act, and that hard work pays off on the scoreboard.
Is it too much for a 10-year-old or younger? Giga thinks not.
“It’s nothing for a 10 year old to take, but it depends on the person. If that person willing to do it amd is dedicated to do it. It is about special people, not every kid can do this.
“But you have to teach in a fun way, not stress out the children, not keep saying it’s a big scary competition.”
And Giga is right. We do need to make Junior Eurovision accessible and fun, but the reality is not everybody can step on the Eurovision stage, Junior or otherwise. Representing your country is a big challenge.
If anything, it’s the aftermath that’s tough to live with. Winning Junior Eurovision meant the girls from Candy were super busy post-2011. Iru mentions ‘stress’ and ‘time’ as factors that mean not all of them are pursuing music currently.
Where Does Everybody Go From Here?
For the Georgian broadcaster, they are heading to Poland with a polished act as usual. However we can note that, because of the Ranina selection process, Giorgi Rostiashvili only has only had weeks to perfect and polish his song rather than months.
I think if Giorgi manages to equal the eighth place Georgia received last year, the broadcaster would be satisfied. After all the show is more about viewing figures and reach than ever before. Especially with online voting, which is an extra barrier to a small country like Georgia.
For Giga, it seems that something would need to change for him to be part of the Eurovision bubble again soon. Giga is still working with many of Georgia’s Junior Eurovision alumni, and albums are promised soon. Georgia has a history of selecting acts internally, but another collaboration would not currently be a popular move considering the current Idol co-operation.
You may think that Iru, now 18, would be the perfect candidate for Idol. So did she, and she auditioned to take part last year. Iru got through the auditions but stumbled out before the televised rounds.
“For me, when I won Eurovision, I feel I have the hints of what they are looking for, you get it after working so hard. I don’t know if they understand what the Eurovision needs. I liked Oto’s song, but was it suitable for Eurovision, did people understand what it was about? It’s an emotional song for us Georgian and talks about our history. We would cry when we listen to it, but for Eurovision?”
Iru believes she is ready for the Eurovision Song Contest, and she has the perfect act ready. She wants to present a sassy, more mature and uptempo her for a new audience.
The composer and creative director…Giga, of course. Someone she describes as her ‘biggest friend and advisor’.
A Final Thought
Georgia is the most successful country in Junior Eurovision history and each year brings quality to the stage. There are many parts to the puzzle – the bizarre characters on stage to the beautiful compositions that match them perfectly are key. Also vital is a broadcaster that takes Junior Eurovision just as seriously as its older sibling and loves that it’s now primetime viewing on their main channel.
I knew all of this before I came to Tbilisi. What I didn’t know about was the effort and dedication it takes to be a Junior Eurovision star in Georgia.
Everyone knows and understands the ‘Eurovision’ in Junior Eurovision, but what about ‘Junior’, and when is an artist or a song junior enough?
The Junior Eurovision Song Contest is bound by the age limit of performers. Through the history of the Contest it has changed. but has settled on 9 to 14 for the last few years. As fans listen to the songs, they are not just judging if the music is good or not good. They are judging a secondary factor which is the appropriateness of the song for the age range of the competition.
This is no science. The differences between 9 year olds and 14 year olds are far more vast than the simple five year difference suggests. Efi Gjika, Albania’s entrant last year, was world’s away from the artistry that Belarus’ Daniel Yastremski offered last year.
As a general rule, few songs are criticised for being too youthful but many are criticised for being too grown-up.
ESCUnited’s Zach Kerr wrote an editorial on the topic following Roksana Węgiel’s victory in Minsk last year. He argues that, as the requirement for songwriters to be under 16 has been removed, so too has the youthful nature of the songs.
It has evolved into a show that lines up children to sing song after song with lyrics that may be far too much older than their age and maturity…a lot of these acts seem to either try too hard to sound too adult…and it comes off a bit fake and posed
Zach isn’t alone in having this mentality that some Junior Eurovision acts sound ‘too adult’. I want to look at this in more depth. Using data, I’m going to look at what sound Junior Eurovision should be going for and to try and analyse the misconceptions many people have about what makes a Junior song ’Junior’.
Two Juries, Two Different Rooms
The first piece of evidence that I wish to present comes from Junior Eurovision itself. We have to go back a few years, but there was one example where Junior Eurovision used a voting system where we could divide jurors by their age.
After the 2016 competition I wrote a piece on ESC Insight called ‘Learning From A New Voting System‘. The 2016 competition was 100 percent jury, but the decision was split by traditional adult juries in each country, child juries in each country, and an expert jury watching in the arena itself. The two juries in each participating country watched the show in different rooms and had different results.
The results that came out were surprising to many people. The adult jury gave much more love to the winner ‘Mzeo’ but also proportionally gave far more points to the heavily choreographed acts from the Netherlands and Belarus. Before the competition the thought was that the latter of these would do better with child voters, and that the acts were designed to appeal to children.
In fact the songs that relatively did best with the child juries were those from two of the most technical songs in the competition representing Russia and Malta. Again, this was expected to be the other way around.
As adults, I can argue that we are more cautious in looking for a song that fits our preconceived notion of if a song is ’Junior’ enough or not. That concept appears very different for those from the actual age range itself.
Sadly for the purposes of this article and statistical heaven, the EBU changed the voting system the following year, with the Kids’ Jury being replaced by the online vote.
However in 2019 a country not competing in Junior Eurovision created a voting system that also split voters by aged, and published the data to prove this further.
Välkommen till Sverige
It is Sweden’s SVT and their behemoth Melodifestivalen. This year had a transformational change to its voting system. 87.5 percent of the points available in each show were decided by use of the Melodifestivalen smartphone app, where viewers vote up to five times for each of the entries. I explained more about how the app works in this piece from January.
The caveat for 2019 is that when you sign in to the app, you need to give your age. Your age puts you into one of 7 different groups, the youngest being from 3 to 9 years old, and the oldest being over 75. Each age represents a different ’voting bloc’ and the highest scoring song in each bloc gets the coveted ’douze points’. The aim from Swedish broadcaster SVT is to find a song that ’all of Sweden’ supports.
The two age groups I plan to focus on are the 3-9 and the 10-15 age ranges. I want to use the difference between these two results as a proxy to assess how different the opinions are between the age limits of Junior Eurovision.
The following table is a table of relative ranking difference of each of the 28 songs in the 2019 Melodifestivalen qualifiers. A positive score of +2 means that the song was ranked two places higher from the 3-9 bloc than the 10-15 bloc. A negative score of -3 means the song was ranked three places higher from the 10-15 bloc than the 3-9 bloc. Basically, the more positive the song is the higher the performance was relatively ranked by the younger bloc.
For further data analysis, songs in bold received the top score from the 3-9 bloc, and songs in italics got the top score from the 10-15 bloc.
Låt skiten brinna
I Do Me
Army Of Us
Not With Me
Ashes to Ashes
Mina Fyra Årstider
Nakna i Regnet
Too Late For Love
On My Own
I Love It
Kärleken Finns Kvar
Who I Am
Om om och om igen
There is much agreement between the two blocs. There are seven songs that take part in each Melodifestivalen heat, and none of these songs have a difference spanning more than half the field. However, the total relative ranking difference is 26 places. The relative difference between the 3-9 bloc and 10-15 is larger than any other difference between any other adjacent age category.
It is little surprise that Dolly Style with the song ’Habibi’ is top of this list. Dolly Style are a group with a huge following of loyal young supporters and they picked up the top score from the 3-9 age group, but few points elsewhere. Generally speaking the 3-9 bloc shows success for plenty of uptempo pop songs in different styles, but I accept the relative success of ’Låt skiten brinna’ is an anomoly in this regard.
On the other end of the spectrum we have Jon Henrik Fjällgren’s ’Norrsken (Goeksegh)’ as a big relative favourite amongst the 10-15 year olds. It is somewhat harder to group together common traits here, but the songs at the bottom of this table offer less conventional song structures than those at the top.
Both age groups agreed that Wiktoria’s ’Not With Me’ and Bishara’s ’On My Own’ should have won their respective heats. Older voters supported the bigger vocals and emotion in ’Who I Am’ and ’Hold You’ compared to the bops of ’Habibi’ and ’I Do Me’.
If I drop this back into a Junior Eurovision context, this is where similarities lie with the results I pointed out from 2016. The older bloc of 10 to 15-year-olds voted like the child juries in Junior Eurovision. The younger bloc of 3 to 9-year-olds votes similarly to the adult juries.
The conclusion here is that, when adult juries try to think about ’what is a suitable Junior entry’, adult juries impression of Junior is way younger than the taste of most of the competitors.
Six Weeks Of Melodifestivalen Competition
12 of the 28 songs reached the Melodifestivalen final. In the final there were some wild swings in the voting in this age group compared to the what the previous table suggested.
The following table shows the relative ranking difference from the 12 songs competiting in the Melodifestivalen final.
Relative Ranking Difference
I Do Me
On My Own
Ashes To Ashes
Too Late For Love
Not With Me
These results are incredibly surprising. Jon Henrik Fjällgren’s song ranked 5th place amongst the 3-9 year old age group in its heat, but in the final of Melodifestivalen moved up to 3rd place. Wiktoria won the 1st heat, but was ranked down with tenth with the same voting group in the final – all the while Mohombi, who qualified in the same heat as Wiktoria, was ranked 2nd in the final.
The results are all over the place compared to the heats. I can see a trend that shows the 10 to 15-year-old group has voted for more technical songs (’Not With Me’, ’Hold You’, ’Too Late For Love’) but I can’t get away from the fact that there are also huge differences.
Let me offer two possible explanations for the differences. Firstly the voting in the heats could be determined more by the relative love of other acts. Dolly Style’s presence in the same semi final as Jon Henrik could have resulted in huge swings in the votes had the girl group not been taking part.
The second explanation could be to do with the huge presence Melodifestivalen has. Through February and March it is an inescapable force on TV, radio, but also the after-school clubs and classrooms. Is there anything in the idea of adults reinforcing the stereotypes of what children would like? Was Mohombi given extra interview slots with the children’s TV channel? Was ’Hello’ played on repeat across preschools from Luleå to Lund?
All possible. And I fully accept that one could use this data to disagree with my previous point – that at Junior Eurovision adult jurors are thinking too young when it comes to what Junior Eurovision should be. I think the point still stands. I think there’s a different point to make here. That point being that it’s actually really hard to accurately predict how the tiniest of Melodifestivalen voters will vote. The 10-15 year old range alters less from heat to final, and I would conclude is a more accurate indicator of taste.
So, What Makes a Junior Eurovision Song ‘Junior’?
What the Melodifestivalen app quite clearly shows is that there is a huge difference in taste between the two youngest voting blocs, bigger than any other voting group. There is the most youthful group from 3 to 9 years old, liking bright pop songs with dance routines and the older 10 to 15 year old bloc voting more for technical songs and impressive artisty.
Which group is the most Junior? If you ask adults to judge our data most likely they will judge Junior Eurovision most like it is aimed for the 3 to 9 year old group.
I would argue this is the wrong way of judging Junior Eurovision. Most of the competitors are in the older category, with this year, with only Russia’s Tatyana Mezhentseva aged 9. Back in 2016, the EBU revealed that the target audience for Junior Eurovision was a teenage audience – 13 to 16 year olds. Nowadays a more general ‘young children and their families’ is used by the EBU. A loose term, but as 9 to 14 year olds compete I’d argue making a show for them to be proud of has to be aim number 1.
To me, what makes a song junior is exactly the same as what makes a song adult. A captivating lyric, a powerful hook, a passionate performer. Zach Kerr from ESC United commented about how it felt the song was trying too hard, and ended up sounding fake. That can happen with all music, but I strongly object to attributing that to age.
Being a young person is difficult, and growing up is different for each one. When I’m watching and judging Junior Eurovision I am looking for acts that can do so confident in who they are, with the voice they have and the artist they are. Not my impression of what it should or should not be.
We all need to do the same, because frankly speaking, we are pretty terrible judges of young people’s actual taste.
It’s been six months since Michael Rice was awarded last place at the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv, Israel but that result hasn’t squashed his ambition. Now he returns with his new release, Somebody.
For quite some time now Michael has been teasing on his Facebook page that a new song was on its way. Finally today, the song gets its full debut and the initial reactions on social media are very positive.
There is no doubt that Michael is an excellent singer, having already proven his vocal abilities by winning the All Together Now competition in the United Kingdom, which led to him being selected as the United Kingdom’s Eurovision entrant in 2019 with the song Bigger Than Us.
Michael describes Somebody as being a very personal song to him. In the simple lyric video he performs in a white polo top, while grey and red smoke bellow around him. The song is a powerful ballad which starts quiet and simple before bursting out into an anthemic ballad.
Take a listen to the song in the video below and see what you think.
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She brought Replay to Tel Aviv for Cyprus at the Eurovision Song Contest 2019 and now Tamta returns with a new song and video called Sex With Your Ex.
Tamta has has a long string of hits in Greece, but this year she represented Cyprus with the song Replay which reached number 2 in the Greek charts. The song finished 13th in the Eurovision Song Contest this year with 109 points.
Since then Tamta has promoted the song all over Europe and it is only now that she has gotten round to release new music.
The video for the new song Sex With Your Ex was directed by Renata Raksha while the sultry R&B style song was written by Roel Henricus Rats, Marcia Thadea, Angele Sondeijker, Ben Cassorla and Alexandra Veltri.
In the video Tamta is joined by four female dancers gyrating along to the music in the rain in a studio.Up to that point Tamta poses for the camera in a variety of costumes showcasing the fashion icon that she is. The video starts with a red background and Tamta and her dancers are all in white ready to go.
In a silver coat it looks as if Tamta is enjoying the streets of Miami. Depending on your opinion the song is way too short at just over 2 minutes long.
Take a look below and see if this video will be on Replay for you for a while.
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Tonight Estonian Television (ERR) previewed the second set of twelve acts who will compete in the semi finals of Eesti Laul 2020. Eesti Laul is used to choose the Estonian representative for the Eurovision Song Contest.
The first semi final will be broadcast on 13 February 2020, with the second semi final shown on 15 February 2020. The final of Eesti Laul will consist of twelve competitors, six chosen from each semi final and will be broadcast on 29 February 2020.
The second set of acts competing in the semi finals are:
1. Synne Valtri feat Valiharf – Majakad
2. Anett X Fredi – Write About Me
3. Inga – Right Time
4. German and Violina – Heart Winder
5. Viinerid – Kapa Kohi -La
6. Revals – Kirjutan Romaani
See alsoEstonia: The first twelve semi finalists for Eesti Laul 2020 have been revealed
7. Merilin Malk – ,Miljon Sammu
8. Jennifer Cohen – Ping Pong
9. Janet – Hingelind
10. Egert Milder – Georgia On My Mind
11. Inger – Only Dream
12. Uudo Sepp – Im Sorry I Messed Up
Estonia In The Eurovision Song Contest
Following a relatively good run at the contest Ruffus with Eighties Coming Back placed 21st in 2003 placing Estonia outside of the Top 20 since their debut in 1994. Worse was to come with the introduction of the semi finals in 2004 when Estonia failed to qualify for the finals for five years in a row,
Urban Symphony broke the unlucky streak in 2009 when Randajad placed 6th. Ott Le[land equalled that position in 2012 with Kuula.
In the last seven years Estonia have failed to qualify three times, yet has also ended up in the Top 10 twice with Elina Born and Stig Rasta with Goodbye To Yesterday in 2015 and Elina Nechayeva with La Forza in 2018.
Last year Victor Crone placed 20th with the song Storm.
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As of 2019, fifty-two countries have participated in the Eurovision Song Contest at least once, with around 40 to 43 appearing each year in the current format. As a community, we generally root for as full a house as possible – after all, more countries means more songs for us to enjoy. Not to mention the opportunity for fans around the world to wave their home flag on the big night, whether they’re in Iceland or Australia, Switzerland or San Marino.
However there is an inevitable ebb and flow to participations for a variety of reasons, ranging from financial difficulties and low ratings to political issues that go far beyond the Song Contest. Rotterdam 2020 looks set to be no exception – with Hungary and Montenegro are both absent from the list of participating broadcasters.
Hungary have enjoyed great success at Eurovision in recent years, including a top 5 placing for András Kállay-Saunders in 2014.
Falling Out Of Love
In Montenegro’s case, the reasons for a break are stated as financial. Despite annual tabloid grumblings, the Eurovision Song Contest is extremely cost effective television for wealthy Western broadcasters. For smaller participants like Montenegro, the funding is a much larger percentage of the annual budget and could arguably spent more efficiently on local productions. Having missed out on qualification four years in a row, the investment also starts looking a little harder to justify. Since North Macedonia’s resurgence in Tel Aviv, Montenegro are now on the longest streak of non-qualifications in the entire lineup of regular participants, and they’re one of only two countries never to have finished in the top ten – the other being San Marino.
For Hungary, the picture is more complex. They’ve been one of the most consistent qualifiers of the past decade – 2019 marked the first time since their 2011 comeback that they missed out on a place in the Grand Final.
However, local interest has reportedly been waning, while the Song Contest’s liberal values and the successes of LGBTQ+ performers such as Conchita and Duncan Laurence are increasingly at odds with the conservative politics of Hungary’s controversial right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. It may well be that, like Turkey before them, Hungary’s sense of national identity – at least as espoused by their political leaders – no longer squares with what Eurovision represents.
Coming Home: Who Has Benefited From A Break?
Sadly, sometimes a break from the Eurovision family really does turn into a long-term exit. Famously, five-time winners Luxembourg have been absent since 1993, while Turkey and Slovakia exited in 2012 and haven’t been seen since. However, other countries have taken a year or two out and emerged revitalised, with greater focus and improved results.
The semi-final system hit Austria hard in the mid 00s, and a succession of poor results saw them first take a year out in 2006, then a further three year absence from 2008-2010. At the time, ORF programme director Wolfgang Lorenz stated “ORF has no desire to send more talent out of Austria to a competition where they have no chances…Should the situation change, we’ll be happy to take part again“.
Possibly encouraged by two consecutive western wins in 2009 and 2010, and the introduction of the jury system to neutralise the effect of diaspora and bloc voting, Austria returned in 2011 with a renewed energy. They were immediately rewarded with their first qualification since 2004, and while two Semi Final knockouts followed, there was a notable willingness to try new things that culminated in Conchita’s victory in 2014. They have since scored three more Grand Final appearances since they hosted in 2015, including a jury win and overall third place finish for Cesar Sampson in Lisbon 2018.
Part of a wave of Eastern and South European nations entering the rapidly expanding Contest in the mid-00s, Bulgaria had one of the most dismal qualification records of any country by the end of their first decade – qualifying just once out of nine attempts from 2005 to 2013.
A two year hiatus from 2014-2015 was blamed on financial troubles, but whatever the reason, they used the time to build a strong team and test their resources on the far more affordable Junior Eurovision Song Contest, which they hosted successfully in 2015. This undoubtedly helped to renew interest in the adult Contest too, and they made a stunning comeback with Poli Genova’s fourth-placed If Love Was a Crime in 2016, followed by a runner up for Kristian Kostov’s Beautiful Mess in 2017. Further internal financial strife kept them out in 2019, but only for a year. The pressure is on as the Bulgarian flag will be back on the Eurovision stage in Rotterdam.
Czech Republic belatedly joined the Contest in 2007, long after most of their immediate Central European neighbours had already tested the waters to varying degrees of success. In their first three years they scored a grand total of ten points – nine of which they received in 2008.
Perhaps understandably, they concluded that their time was better spent elsewhere, and they were absent for five years before returning with a new team and a fresh direction in 2015. Despite their best shoe-flinging efforts, Marta Jandová & Václav Noid Bárta couldn’t quite get over the qualification threshold that year, but it was still their best result by a long way. The next year, they were rewarded with their first ever finals appearance, and two years after that they cracked the top ten with Mikolas Josef’s catchy hit Lie to Me.
A Eurovision powerhouse from the Contest’s inception, Italy took a few breaks in the 80s and 90s, citing low interest among Italian viewers – who preferred their homegrown Sanremo Festival, which of course inspired the Eurovision format in the first place. From 1998 to 2010 they took their longest hiatus, with many fans doubting they’d ever be tempted back into the fold.
However, in 2011 Italy did return, and in grand style – instantly scoring second place with Raphael Gualazzi’s Madness of Love. Since then, they’ve been one of the most consistently successful countries in the Contest, successfully using the San Remo format to send forward-thinking hits from major domestic stars to Eurovision. With another podium finish in 2019 and a routine presence in the upper reaches of the scoreboard, a third victory for Italy feels increasingly likely in the near future.
When Portugal took a step back in 2016 – their second break after also absenting themselves in 2013 – they promised to use the time to regroup and come back stronger than ever. They could not have been more true to their word. A thorough makeover of their long-established national selection Festival da Canção shifted the focus to high profile, industry recognised songwriters, resulting in the emerging talent Luisa Sobral penning a touching jazz ballad for her brother Salvador to perform. The rest is history…
Party For Everybody…
Sometimes it just takes a change of team, or of political direction, or simply a year or two off to regroup and re-strategise. The joy of Eurovision is that the door is always open. Unless of course you’re from Kazakhstan, but that’s a whole other post…