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Eurovision 2016 from Austin

Have you heard of the international song competition that took place last Saturday night? It featured 43 European countries and had roughly 180 million views. This was its 61st year running. If you live in the U.S., it’s likely you’re not sure what I’m talking about right now… it’s a little competition called Eurovision.

Originally designed in May of 1956 to test the limits of live television broadcast technology between seven countries, the contest has grown into the elaborate affair it is today. I’m pretty sure they’ve got the live technology part down cold. The music, however, is up for debate. Each participating country enters an original song produced and performed by people from that country. Most of the songs are pop, although there are always a couple wild cards thrown in, perhaps some traditional folk or hard rock. This competition is actually how the Swedish band ABBA was discovered back in 1974.

An elaborate set of rules dictates participation in two semi-finals, and then a final, which always takes place on a Saturday evening in mid-May. The winning country of the previous year hosts the contest, and this year that country was Sweden. So naturally, the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce hosted a viewing party here in Austin. A giant screen projected the live broadcast with somewhat confused American announcers talking over the European-based hosts between songs. I’m not sure why Eurovision isn’t bigger in the States – although this year was a break-through in that Justin Timberlake performed.

Once all of the participants have finished their acts, it’s time for the voting. Each country has a panel of judges who select their favorite 11 countries using a point system. In the old days, each country went through their entire 11-country list. Now they only announce their top choice – but it still goes on for ages. Each country’s panel representative who announces these point awards are often hilariously perfect portrayals of their country and go on and on with all the formalities of thanking the hosts and complementing them on what a beautiful event it has been. At some points, you think it’s a joke, but they’re serious, however cheesy they may seem to be. There’s audience voting as well, which counts for half of the total.

This year, the suspenseful lead-up put Ukraine at the top – hurra! Australia came second (although it’s still unclear not sure why they’re participating in this “European” competition). And Russia came in third.

I will admit that, although I was rooting for Sweden (and even wore the viking hat to prove it), this year’s Swedish song was quite boring… guess they won’t be hosting for another Eurovision for awhile. Next stop: Kiev!

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