The Eurovision Song Contest ultimate guide - from most successful nations, to what ‘nil point’ means

Sinead Butler
Friday 21 May 2021 22:52

This year the contest will take place in Rotterdam, The Netherlands

(ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

It’s glitzy, camp and eccentric, and we missed it dearly last year, but Eurovision is back!

Last year’s contest was cancelled for the first time in its 65-year history due to the pandemic.

But fear not - the competition’s grand final will be returning to our screens this Saturday, where 26 countries will battle it out to take the iconic glass microphone trophy, and for their country to host the following year’s contest.

Although, Eurovision remains very popular, with over 184 million viewers worldwide watching the show in 2019, the contest isn’t too familiar with Americans.

So, this the ultimate Eurovision guide for those who are unfamiliar with the European musical sensation and want to learn all about the historic contest, just in time for this year’s final in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

What is the Eurovision Song Contest?

All participants stand on stage during the final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

(Getty Images)

The Eurovision Song Contest is an international singing competition created and organised by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU).

Each country participating in the contest submits an entry that will be performed on live TV and radio.

Competing countries will also cast votes or the other countries’ songs in order to determine the winner of the contest.

When was the first contest held?

Lys Assia representing Switzerland won the very first Eurovision Song Contest

(Getty Images)

The first Eurovision Song Contest was held 65 years ago back in 1956.

This makes Eurovision the longest-running annual international televised music competition and one of the world’s longest-running television programmes.

Switzerland was the first country to host the competition, in the city of Lugano, where seven countries took part (Switzerland, France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Luxembourg).

The host country won the first contest, with Swiss singer Lys Assia and her song Refrain.

What country has won the contest the most?

Ireland has won the most at the Eurovision Song contest with an impressive seven wins over the past decades.

Their winners include:

  • Dana, All Kinds of Everything (1970)
  • Jonny Logan, What’s Another Year (1980)
  • Jonny Logan, Hold Me Now (1987)
  • Linda Martin, Why Me (1992)
  • Niamh Kavanagh, In Your Eyes, (1993)
  • Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan, Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids (1994)
  • Eimear Quinn, The Voice, 1996

Other countries that closely follow behind include: Sweden (6), France (5), Luxembourg (5), The Netherlands (5), and the United Kingdom (5).

The map below shows every single winning country over the past six decades.

View more

Which act has had the most success as a result of Eurovision?

This question can be answered with just four letters... ABBA.

The Swedish pop group won the contest in 1974 with their performance of their upbeat song Waterloo, which soon became the band’s first major hit.

The quartet went on to become one of the most commercially successful acts in history of pop music, with an estimated 385 million record sales worldwide.

A musical titled after their classic song Mamma Mia! was created, including in all their greatest hits throughout, and was later turned into a hit movie starring Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan.

There’s no doubt, that ABBA is Eurovision’s best export to date.

How does the voting work?

The winner of the Eurovision Song Contest is chosen through two Semi-Finals and a Grand Final, the Eurovision website says.

Traditionally, six countries are automatically pre-qualified for the Grand Final. The so-called “Big 5” — France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom — and the host country.

The remaining countries will take part in one of the two Semi-Finals.

From each Semi-Final, the best 10 will proceed to the Grand Final. This brings the total number of Grand Final participants to 26.

After all songs have been performed, each country will give two sets of 1 to 8, 10 and 12 points; one set given by a jury of five music industry professionals, and one set given by viewers at home.

Viewers can vote by telephone, SMS and through the official app.

Out of fairness, you cannot vote for your own country.

How well does the UK do in the contest?

James Newman is the UK’s entry this year and is hoping to change the country’s fortune in the contest

(AFP via Getty Images)

The UK used to be a shining light at Eurovision, after all, they have won five times.

But it seems that the country’s winning ways have dimmed in recent years.

Overall, the UK has finished in the top half of the competition only three times so far this century: 2002 (when the country was represented by Jessica Garlick), 2009 (Jade Ewen) and 2011 (Blue).

Finishing close to last, and sometimes in last place, has increasingly become the norm. Since 2000 the UK has ended the contest in one of the bottom three positions on nine separate occasions.

It has also finished in a humiliating last place a total of four times: 2003 (Jemini), 2008 (Andy Abraham), 2010 (Josh Dubovie) and 2019 (Michael Rice).

This is not quite as bad as Finland, who since the start of the contest in 1956 has come last in the final a record nine times.

This year’s entry, James Newman will be hoping to end a dismal run of form for the United Kingdom when he takes to the stage of the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday.

If James Newman manages to finish in the top half of this year’s competition, he will at least have ended the country’s decade-long run of poor results since Blue managed a respectable 11th place in 2011.

And if by some chance he wins the final, not only would this be the first UK win in a generation, it would also mean the UK gets to host the contest next year – for a record ninth time.

Who is the current favourite to win?

The Italian rockers are the current frontrunners

(Getty Images)

As it currently stands, Italy is the favourite to win this year’s competition at 2/1.

Their entry is a rock group called Måneskin, who are hoping to bring some edge to the contest.

France is second favourite at the moment at 3/1, their entry is Barbara Prav, with the song Voila, sung entirely in the French language.

Other countries to keep and eye out on include, Malta at 6/1, Switzerland at 7/1 and Ukraine at 8/1.

What does ‘nil point’ mean?

“Nil point” is famous catchphrase from the Eurovision Song Contest and the term refers to any entry in the competition that fails to earn a single point in the voting.

If an act gets nil point then it means that the song failed to make the top ten most popular songs in any country, which is rare under the current system of preference voting.

To date, there have been 36 victims of nil point in the finals, with Norway and Austria being the most unlucky, having both each scored nil point four times since the contest began.

Who is hosting the contest this year?

(ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

The Netherlands are hosting the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest this year, in the city of Rotterdam.

They were supposed to host the contest in 2020, but it had to be cancelled for the first time ever, due to the coronavirus pandemic and so was rescheduled to take place this year instead.

Their 2019 entry, Duncan Laurence won the contest held in Israel with his song, Arcade.

Four native hosts were be leading the coverage:

  • Chantal Janzen - Dutch actress
  • Jan Smit - Dutch singer and TV presenter
  • Nikkie De Jager - social media influencer and YouTuber
  • Edsilia Rombley - Dutch singer, TV presenter and former member of Dutch girl group Dignity.

What is the running order?

The running order for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest is as follows:

  1. Cyprus / Elena Tsagrinou - El Diablo
  2. Albania / Anxhela Peristeri - Karma
  3. Israel /Eden Alene - Set Me Free
  4. Belgium /Hooverphonic - The Wrong Place
  5. Russia / Manizha - Russian Woman
  6. Malta / Destiny - Je Me Casse
  7. Portugal/ The Black Mamba - Love Is On My Side
  8. Serbia/ Hurricane - Loco Loco
  9. United Kingdom / James Newman - Embers
  10. Greece / Stefania - Last Dance
  11. Switzerland/ Gjon's Tears - Tout l'Univers
  12. Iceland/ Da∂i Freyr og Gagnamagni∂ - 10 Years
  13. Spain/ Blas Cantó - Voy A Querdarme
  14. Moldova / Natalia Gordienko - SUGAR
  15. Germany / Jendrik - I Don't Feel Hate
  16. Finland / Blind Channel - Dark Side
  17. Bulgaria / Victoria - Growing Up is Getting Old
  18. Lithuania / The Roop - Discoteque
  19. Ukraine / Go_A - Shum
  20. France /Barbara Pravi - Voilà
  21. Azerbaijan / Efendi - Mata Hari
  22. Norway / TIX - Fallen Angel
  23. The Netherlands (Hosts) / Jeangu Macrooy - Birth of a New Age
  24. Italy/Måneskin - Zitti E Buoni
  25. Sweden / Tusse - Voices
  26. San Marino / Senhit - Adrenalina

Where can US audiences watch the final?

Good news for our friends across the pond.

For the first time, US audiences will be able to watch the contest via a streaming service, with Peacock getting the rights to both the 2021 and 2022 competitions.

This includes the first semifinals on 18 May, the second semifinals on 20 May and the finals on 22 May.

Happy Eurovision!