Idol vs. Eurovision

Over the past few years (before the era of Glee), my favorite show on TV was American Idol. I’d shame-facedly admit that I while I didn’t really find time to watch anything else on TV that I would almost always tune in to watch Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson critique up and coming pop singers.

Last year, I was beyond excited to learn that the top 10 included my second cousin, Siobhan Magnus. When Carrie Underwood took home the top honors a few years back, I went to one of the group concerts in Hartford with another second cousin—from Slovenia.

Slovenia, alas, is the reason my Idol viewing came to an end. After moving to Ljubljana for the year in late September, I quickly realized that my days of keeping up with American television were over. Sure, you could tune into many of the latest programs from the U.S. … but you had to not mind seeing repeats from 2009 or 2008.

Out of touch with the world of American musical reality shows, I only realized this week that the show’s season finale—which I used to look forward to very much, to put it mildly—was set to take off.

Of course, there was no interest in American Idol here in Slovenia. The show doesn’t air, and most countries have their own version of Idol, or another singing or talent competition anyways. I’ve heard talk that at one point Croatian Idol was of interest in Slovenia, and Slovenia’s Got Talent (Slovenija Ima Talent) draws in quite a few viewers. Last year, a grade school girl charmed the country with her big voice, singing American pop classics and winning the title.

But the real draw in much of Slovenia, and in much of Europe, is not the individual countries’ talent shows. Picture the nation-wide appeal of a talent show featuring only singers from Arkansas, for example. There’s no guarantee that such a show would be of any interest to someone in California or Maine.

And really—at least in terms of population and size—many of the countries in Europe are comparable to states in the U.S. With the advent of the European Union, they even sometimes function as a unit. At least in terms of television marketing, something that could reach out to all of Europe would be much more popular—and, indeed, is.

That show, of course, is the yearly Eurovision Song Contest. It’s been on the air since the mid-1950s and has given an international platform to acts like ABBA (which won in the 1970s for Sweden) and Celine Dion (who won in the 1980s for Switzerland).

This year, instead of tuning into an Idol finale, I watched part of the Eurovision contest.

The format is distinctly different. Instead of dragging itself out over a few months, it’s over within a few days.

Each of the 43 countries involved in the competition sends one singer or group to the telecast. (Yes, that means that in addition to countries you’d traditionally consider part of Europe, like Ireland and France, are joined by countries like Israel, which cause you to scratch your head as you try to figure out how, exactly, they were classified as part of Europe geographically.)

Over two days, the groups sing, and directly after the performances, the public votes in much the same way that Americans do for Idol: via phone or text message.

However, there is one catch. You can’t vote for your own country.

That just means that border countries (especially smaller ones) vote for each other. There’s been some talk that the so-called block voting can affect the results.

Either way, the votes are combined with judge’s scores for a final ranking in record time. Within the same broadcast where the singers perform, the results are announced. After a few days of semi-finals, the final competition is held on the weekend, ending the week of Eurovision.

Slovenia made it to the finals this year, but I can hardly remember what they sang, or who won this year. (After a quick look, it appears that Azerbaijan took the title this year for a song entitled “Running Scared.”)

That’s because, in the equivalent of an American Idol commercial break, it’s over. Another victor is crowned, doomed either to be forgotten immediately or to have the success of ABBA or Celine Dion.

This year’s stand-outs, in my mind, included a duo from Ireland called Jedward who hopped around the stage in honking red pleather get-ups and a group from Belarus, whose creative offering included the creative hook: “I love Belarus!”

After watching Eurovision, I got my fix of reality singing competitions for the year, albeit more efficiently than usual. In the end, I can’t say that I ended up missing Idol that much, after all.

Published this week by the Southbridge Evening News and other Stonebridge Press newspapers.

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