Time for Eurovision: Here’s how the exuberant song contest works

What began in 1956 with just seven countries, has grown into a festival drawing millions of viewers around the world.

Swedish singer Loreen back lit as she performs on stage.
Loreen from Sweden is the favourite to win the competition this year with her power ballad Tattoo [Phil Noble/Reuters]

Sprinkle the sequins and pump up the volume: The annual Eurovision Song Contest reaches its climax on Saturday with a grand final broadcast live from the United Kingdom’s city of Liverpool.

There will be catchy choruses, a kaleidoscope of costumes and tributes to the spirit of Ukraine in a competition that since 1956 has captured the changing zeitgeist of a continent.

Last year, 161 million people watched the competition, according to the organiser, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), making it one of the world’s most-watched events.

Here’s what to expect as acts from across Europe – and beyond – vie for the continent’s pop crown.

Who’s competing?

This year, 37 countries sent an act to Eurovision, selected through national competitions or internal selections by broadcasters. The winner of the previous year’s event usually hosts the contest but, as Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine continues, the UK is doing the honours this year on behalf of 2022’s winner, Ukraine.

Ukrainian singer Alyosha performs in front of two handdrawn hearts in the blue and yellow of Ukraine
Alyosha is competing for Ukraine this year. The country has won three times since it began taking part in 2003 [Martin Meissner/AP Photo]

Six countries automatically qualify for the final: last year’s winner and the five countries that contribute the most funding to the contest – France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK.

The others must perform in the semi-finals with 20 acts chosen by public vote on Tuesday and Thursday.

The qualifiers are: Albania, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Israel, Lithuania, Moldova, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, Sweden and Switzerland.

The final takes place on Saturday at the Liverpool Arena.


Eurovision is not just geography. Eurovision is hugely popular in Australia and the country was allowed to join the competition in 2015. Other entrants from outside Europe’s borders include Israel and Azerbaijan.

Who are the favourites?

It is hard to predict the winners in a contest whose past winners have ranged from ABBA to Finnish metal band Lordi, but bookmakers say Swedish diva Loreen, who won in 2012, is the favourite with her power ballad Tattoo.

Finland’s Käärijä was a crowd-pleaser in the semifinals with his pop-metal party tune Cha Cha Cha and Canadian singer La Zarra, competing for France, is also highly ranked for her Edith Piaf-style song Évidemment.

UK singer Mae Muller performs in Liverpool.
Mae Muller of the United Kingdom is hoping to turn in a strong performance on Saturday night [Martin Meissner/AP Photo]

And never underestimate left-field entries like Croatia’s Let 3, whose song Mama ŠČ! is pure Eurovision camp: an anti-war rock opera that plays like Monty Python meets Dr Strangelove.

What happens in the final?

About 6,000 people will attend the final, hosted by longtime BBC Eurovision presenter Graham Norton, Ted Lasso and West End star Hannah Waddingham, British singer Alesha Dixon and Ukrainian rock star Julia Sanina.

Each competing act must sing live and stick to a three-minute limit but is otherwise free to create its own staging – the flashier the pyrotechnics and more elaborate the choreography, the better.

Russia’s war in Ukraine will lend a solemn note to a contest famed for celebrating cheesy pop.

The show will open with a performance by last year’s winner, folk-rap band Kalush Orchestra, and singer Jamala, who won the contest in 2016, will perform a tribute to her Crimean Tatar culture. Ukraine has won the competition three times since the country started taking part in 2003.

One person who will not be appearing is Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He asked to address the final by video but the EBU said that such a talk would breach “the nonpolitical nature of the event”.

How is the winner decided?

After all the acts have performed, viewers in participating nations can vote by phone, text message or app but are not allowed to vote for their own country.

This year for the first time, viewers watching from non-participating countries can also vote online, with the combined “rest of the world” votes being given the weight of one individual country.

Let 3 of Croatia on stage, They are wearing shorts and singlets. The drummer is in the middle.
Croatia’s Let 3 are singing an anti-war rock opera [Martin Meissner/AP Photo]

National juries of music industry professionals also allocate between one and 12 points to their favourite songs, with an announcer from each country popping up to declare which has been granted the coveted “douze points” (12 points).

Public and jury votes are combined to give each country a single score. Ending up with “nul points” (zero points) is considered a national embarrassment. The UK has suffered that fate several times – most recently in 2021. It bounced back last year, however, when Sam Ryder came second and is hoping this year’s contestant, Mae Muller, will also turn in a strong performance.

Where can I watch?

Eurovision is being shown by national broadcasters that belong to the EBU, including the BBC in the UK, and on the Eurovision YouTube channel. In the United States, it is being shown on NBC’s Peacock streaming service.

Source: Al Jazeera, The Associated Press