A Guide to Deciding Which National Finals to Watch

During the 2012 national finals for Malta and Moldova and the Sanremo Festival, we saw a lot of tweets from people complaining about the length of the finals and threatening to never watch one of these shows again.

For the past three years, we at EuroLemurs have spent many, many hours watching national finals. So we present to you this guide to which national finals you should watch and which ones to avoid.

Even with three years of data, however, we admit that this guide is not quite perfect. For example, some countries bounce between big shows and internal selections. And despite all the hours we’ve devoted to tracking down the live streams, there are still shows we never really caught live: I don’t think we ever knew when Azerbaijan’s shows ever aired, so we end up depending on YouTube a lot. Still, we hope this will be a useful guide for new or casual ESC fans.

We rated each final across three categories: quality of songs, quality of show presentation, and length of final. Each category was rated from a low 1 to a high 3. These ratings were totaled; the highest possible score is 9 points, the lowest possible score is 3 points.  Only countries that had national finals in at least two out of the three past years were rated.  Two coders independently made ratings, and in instances when the ratings did not agree the ratings were discussed and reconciled.

Must See for All Fans
Iceland (9 points out of 9)
Ireland (9)
Denmark (8)
Estonia (8)
Germany (8)
Norway (8)
Romania (8)
Russia (8)
Serbia (8)
Sweden (8)

Iceland and Ireland are our two countries with perfect scores. Those of you who are Jedward haters may find this debatable. But the format of Ireland’s selection show is great: the songs are presented on RTE’s The Late Late Show, and host Ryan Tubridy interviews the judges (which include RTE Eurovision commentator Marty Whelan) and either the songwriters (2010) or the artists mentors (2011-12) as if they were just guests on the talk show. Speaking of the mentoring, having industry insiders guide along the potential performers and songwriters is a terrific idea, tempered only by, again, what you think of Jedward. The running time of the Irish national final is under 2 hours.

Iceland is the best of the multishow format, in which the number of songs are whittled through a set of semifinals and presented in a final show. Other countries do this format (particularly the Fenno-Scandinavian countries), but we found that we just like Iceland the best. A little less flashy then Norway and Sweden, but a little less hit or miss in the song category.

Finally, a quick nod of the head to Stefan Raab and the Unser Star format, which took the Pop Idol format and applied it to Eurovision. This format got Germany the win in 2010, and produced another strong entry in 2012.

Must See for Serious Fans
Armenia (7)
Austria (7)
Cyprus (7)
Georgia (7)
Slovenia (7)
Switzerland (7)
The Netherlands (7)

Here’s where things get interesting: I wouldn’t say that the countries in this list have made particularly strong choices in their songs the past few years. But when they hold national finals, they usually put on good shows. We may pick on The Netherlands, for example, but this year’s format was a lot of fun (and I would expect nothing less from the country that brought us The Voice), and last year’s show with 3JS was solid as well. Slovenia went the Unser Star route in 2012 to great effect, and probably would have ranked a bit higher in our survey if they hadn’t saddled the Prusnik sisters with “Konichiwa.” Or sent bloody “Narodnozabavni Rock” in 2010.

Only for National Final Addicts
Azerbaijan (6)
Greece (6)
Israel (6)
Italy (6)
Spain (6)
Ukraine (6)
Albania (5)
Bulgaria (5)
Finland (5)
Latvia (5)
Lithuania (5)
Moldova (5)

Two types of shows fall into this category.  First, some countries put on decent shows, but are killed by overlength. Italy’s Sanremo festival is fun, but only if you separate it from Eurovision, since the naming of the Eurovision representative is almost an afterthought. Or there’s Moldova, which is long, has a lot of filler, and has the curious rule that the jury votes after the public vote is revealed, which makes you wonder if the show is completely on the up and up.

Second, some countries have good formats, but too many godawful entries.  In 2012 Bulgaria produced a good show with terrible entries. Lithuania holds a multi-show format with semifinals and a final, but the quality of entries hardly indicated a need for semifinals.

Ukraine has suffered recently from post-show controversies, which sort of make you feel like you’re wasting your time watching the show. (No such problem in 2012, thankfully.)

Only for Completists Willing to Forsake Happiness
Malta (4)
Portugal (4)
FYR Macedonia (3)

We have made our feelings about the Portuguese national final known on this blog before. And before. The song quality is usually not bad, but man, do the shows suck the life out of you. The FYR Macedonian show is the worst, though: the songs are usually not good, the show feels like it lasts longer than all of Sanremo and even the guy in the chicken suit fails to provide any entertainment. In 2012 they had an internal selection, and we’re hoping that they stick with that from here on out. Malta gets an extra point because the commercials are often more entertaining than the broadcast.

Limited Information
Bosnia & Herzegovina
San Marino
United Kingdom

Poland, Hungary, and San Marino have only entered Eurovision twice in the past three years, so we did not rate them. France, Turkey, and Bosnia & Herzegovina have had internal selections the past three years. Slovakia and the U.K. have done internal selections the past two years.

Then there’s Belarus. They did internal selections in 2010 and 2011, although that was not their intention in 2010. In 2011, they had to change their song last minute due to a violation of ESC rules. Then in 2012, they held a national final, but overturned the results after evidence of voting rigging emerged. Really, for entertainment value, it’s better to just follow news about Belarus then to watch anything they actually do.

One final note: this will be updated in 2013 as more data come in.