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The Eurovision Song Contest is one of the longest continuously running television shows in the world, and has been held yearly since 1956. Since its inaugural pageant in the 1950s, the Eurovision contest has become one of the most widely watched television programs in the world, and, despite continual criticism over the quality of music, is believed to have an audience of between 100 and 600 million viewers per year.
In the aftermath of World War II, members of the European Broadcasting Union thought it would be a fun and community-building experience to hold a music competition for the best new song from one of the member nations. From its inception, it was meant to be a television broadcast, utilizing the new TV technology that was sweeping the globe. The first Eurovision Song Contest had participants from seven countries: France, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Since then, more than 50 countries have competed at least once, including the new 2008 competitors, San Marino and Azerbaijan.
Through local and national contests, each nation chooses one song to be performed at the Eurovision Song Contest. The methods for selection vary from country to country, some using traditional judging standards while others allow citizens to vote for their favorite. The international competition has grown so large since the beginning of the 21st century, they have also begun holding a semi-final round, to narrow the number of songs performed at the final judging.
Judging in the finals is traditionally done by scoring a song between 1-12, with nations not being allowed a vote for their own country’s entry. Recently, the individual countries have begun allowing tele-voting, or voting by regular phone or text message. This new trend continues the competition’s legacy of incorporating new technology into the broadcast whenever possible. The winner of the contest is awarded acclaim and a trophy, and the winning nation almost always hosts the next competition.
Probably the most successful group ever to win the Eurovision Song Contest is the sensationally popular Swedish band, ABBA. In 1974, the group stormed to first place with their song “Waterloo,” before quickly rocketing to stardom on the international stage. However, the contest is consistently criticized for featuring extremely poor and somewhat hokey music, and ABBA remains a solitary success story for post-competition success.
Regardless of the future careers of winners and the good-natured jokes at the expense of the venerable competition, the Eurovision Song Contest remains an incredibly popular event throughout Europe. Host nations traditionally hold Eurovision Week prior to the competition, filled with lavish parties and local activities. The goals of the original founders are unquestionably fulfilled in the modern show, where diverse countries work beautifully to create both friendly competition and a sense of connection between very different lands.