Switzerland: Die Entscheidungsshow… how did we get here?

Ahead of Switzerland’s latest selection show Die Entscheidungsshow 2017 taking place on Sunday, we have a brief look back at how Switzerland have selected their entries throughout their history and whether this has coincided with a change in their results.
Ne partez pas sans moiRefrain! Two songs synonymous with Switzerland in a Eurovision context. Switzerland have been victorious in our favourite music event twice. Not only that, but they were the winners of the first ever Eurovision Song Contest in 1956 which was held in their very own city of Lugano. Even the European Broadcasting Union calls the Swiss city of Geneva it’s home and is the very birthplace of what has become the world’s biggest non-sport event. Eurovision has flowed through Switzerland’s very bones for more than sixty years!
So why does such an important country in Eurovision’s history have just one top ten finish to its name in the past twenty years? And why was that top ten finish by an Estonian girlband?

The Queen of Eurovision… Lys Assia!

We can’t start a look back at Switzerland without mentioning the one and only Lys Assia. The contest’s very first winner Refrain was selected via a national final. That national final was titled Concours Eurovision and was responsible for selecting Swiss representatives every year until 2004, with a few exceptions. In 1956 11 songs competed, with two being selected to compete in Lugano for the first Eurovision Song Contest – the only time participating countries could select two songs to represent them.
Behind the 11 songs were three different artists, Lys Assia and Jo Roland (who performed five songs each) and Anita Traversi (who performed one song titled Bandella ticinese). Anita went on to represent Switzerland in 1960 and 1964, failing to finish in the top half of the Eurovision leaderboard with either of her entries. She was also present in the national finals of 1961 and 1963 but was not selected in those years. But hey, two out of five successful attempts is pretty good going!
Two of Lys’ songs were selected in 1956, the aforementioned Refrain, performed in French, and Das alte Karussell, performed in German. In fact, Lys also entered the German national final in 1956 but was not selected. Seven countries participated in the inaugural contest of 1956 and Switzerland were one of two to enter two songs by the same artist. The other country to do this was Luxembourg who was represented by Michèle Arnaud. While we know Refrain was victorious, the finishing position for Das alte Karussell and the other 12 competing songs was never revealed!

Lys, the unbeatable national finalist

The historic first Eurovision winner returned to Switzerland’s second national selection the following year. Once again, three artists entered multiple songs each: Lys, Jo Roland (once again) and a newcomer to the selection, Gianni Ferraresi. Lys once again beat her competitors and represented Switzerland in West Germany with L’enfant que j’étais. She couldn’t match her victory of the previous year, placing eighth in a field of ten. According to natfinals.comConcours Eurovision returned once again in 1958 although no information is known about the show. All that is known is Lys Assia was victorious again with Giorgio and came within three points of scoring her second Eurovision victory, losing out to France’s André Claveau.
Content with her Eurovision success, Lys didn’t return to Concours Eurovision for a fourth consecutive year. Jo Roland did however, but was unsuccessful yet again. Christa Williams took victory and then fourth place at Eurovision 1959 held in the French city of Cannes. Concours Eurovision continued to be Switzerland’s chosen selection method on a consistent basis to a respectable level of success, although not exceptional.

Concours Eurovision finally provides another winner

Switzerland’s consistent run of top ten finishes took a turn of the worse in the 1980s. Between 1983 and 1985, Switzerland failed to reach the top ten for three consecutive contests. This was their worst run of results to date at the time. 1986 was third time lucky for Daniela Simmons, after finishing last in Concours Eurovision in 1983 and second two years later. Finally Daniela achieved her Swiss national final victory and was awarded 2nd place by Eurovision jurors at the contest held in the Norwegian city of Bergen. This was Switzerland’s highest finish since Esther Ofarim took second place back in Eurovision 1963. There was signs of life in Concours Eurovision after all!
This was certainly proved to be the case in 1988 when a certain Canadian singer won Concours Eurovision after performing last in a field of 9. Céline Dion then became Switzerland’s second ever Eurovision winner, beating the United Kingdom’s Scott Fitzgerald by one point in one of the most dramatic voting sequences in Eurovision history. Perhaps surprisingly, Ne partez pas sans moi was one of the least commercially successful winners at the time. Nevertheless, Céline’s entry was chosen as a finalist for Congratulations: 50 years of the Eurovision Song Contest, a celebratory event held in Copenhagen in 2005. This cemented its status as one of the most-loved winners.

The first (confirmed… we think?) internal selection

With an influx of new Eurovision participants in 1993 and the beginning of a new relegation system in 1994, it seems the Swiss broadcaster started to feel pressure. This was despite Annie Cotton finishing in 3rd place in Ireland’s Millstreet the previous year. Details regarding national selections are scarce in the 20th century, and some sources indicate there may have been some internal selections intertwined with the regular hostings of Concours Eurovision. Nevertheless, it is believed that Duilio was definitely internally selected in 1994 by SRG SSR. However, if this was the case, it did not pay off. His Italian-language entry Sto pregando finished only joint 19th, Switzerland’s lowest ever finish at the time. This resulted in Switzerland being relegated and, in turn, missed their first ever Eurovision Song Contest after 39 consecutive appearances.
It is believed the internal selections continued for their return in 1996 and then again in 1997. Switzerland were struggling to pick up form. In 1997, Barbara Berta finished in joint 22nd place. By 1998, the relegation system has changed so that the countries with the lowest average number of points from the previous five years were relegated. Luckily for Switzerland, Annie Cotton’s success in 1993 meant they were saved from relegation despite poor results since.

Televoting makes its Concours Eurovision debut

Switzerland made the most of their reprieve and organised a national selection, believed to be for the first time since 1993. The Swiss were one of five countries to use televoting to determine their votes in the 1997 Eurovision Song Contest, the first Eurovision to introduce televoting. They extended this to their national final in 1998 and regional televoting chose Gunvor’s German-language song Lass’ ihn as their representative for the contest in Birmingham. Prior to this, the results of Concours Eurovision tended to be determined by three regional juries and sometimes a couple of additional groups such as music experts and journalists as was the case in 1993.
Nevertheless, the introduction of televoting to Switzerland’s national final was far from a success. Gunvor became their first entrant to receive nul points! since Géraldine achieved the same fate all the way back in 1967 when the number of points available was much lower. As a result, with Annie Cotton’s third place no longer applicable to Switzerland’s five contest average score, the country was relegated in 1999.

The final years of Concours Eurovision

The first edition of Concours Eurovision in the millennium saw Switzerland move slightly ahead of the times… with their voting system at least. Both a televote and a jury of experts chose Jane Bogaert as their representative for the 2000 Eurovision Song Contest. In Eurovision itself, a 50/50 televoting/jury mix only became a possible voting method in Eurovision the following year. This was part of a short-lived system that was scrapped after just two years where participating broadcasters could choose to either use 100% televoting, or a 50/50 televoting/jury mix to decide their Eurovision votes. Of course, this would eventually return and become mandatory in 2009.
Nevertheless, Jane was unable to reverse Switzerland’s dwindling Eurovision fortunes and the country was relegated once again in 2001. Concours Eurovision took on yet another voting system for 2002 when Francine Jordi was selected via two rounds of televoting. Three songs progressed from a field of eight to what we would all now call a “superfinal”. However, Switzerland had hit a brick wall and were relegated for the final time in 2003 before the semi-final was introduced in 2004.
SRG SSR gave Concours Eurovision what turned out to be one final go for their return in 2004. Once again, two rounds of televoting were used. Although, six songs progressed from a field of 12 to the second round this time… slightly too many for us to call it a “superfinal”! Piero and the MusicStars were selected with Celebrate but finished last in the 2004 semi-final with another set of nul points!. At this stage, Concours Eurovision was over.

An internal selection returns… with success!

The German language corporation of the Swiss broadcaster SF DRS (now SRF) was in charge of selecting Switzerland’s representative for 2005. Back in the days of Concours Eurovision, SF DRS, RTS (the French language corporation) and RSI (the Italian language corporation) all played their part in the Eurovision selection. Whether this by being the regional juries in the majority of years, or selecting the participants in more recent years. After only accepting applications from artists with Swiss chart success, Estonian girlband Vanilla Ninja were internally selected.
Vanilla Ninja had previously entered the Estonian national selection back in 2003 (and would go on to try again unsuccessfully in 2007). Since losing out in 2003, the girls had become popular across central Europe and this certainly showed in Kyiv in 2005. Switzerland were top of the leaderboard after a significant number of countries voted. While Cool Vibes faded to 8th place by the close of voting, Switzerland seemed to have finally regained their Eurovision mojo! Or not…

Consistent favourites become consistent shock non-qualifiers

Similar success didn’t follow in 2006 when Switzerland internally formed a band specifically for the contest called six4one. Consisting of singers from six different countries, they were no doubt trying to appeal to their homelands across Europe. However, after performing first in a field of 24 they could only finish joint 16th. Switzerland would have to go back to attempting to qualify via the semi-final.
In 2007, 2008 and 2009, the internally selected DJ BoBo, Paolo Meneguzzi and The Lovebugs were all considered amongst the favourites to win their respective Eurovision Song Contests. Yet, all three failed to qualify for the final shocking many Eurovision fans and no doubt the Swiss broadcaster too. SRG SSR tried one final internal selection in 2010. The aforementioned three different language corporations within the broadcaster formed the internal selection jury. They selected Michael von der Heide but he finished last in his semi-final with just two points. It was time for the Swiss broadcaster to make another radical change to their selection process.

Hallo, Die Entscheidungsshow

After six years of internally selected entrants, Switzerland decided to return to a national final. The broadcaster cited recent victories for Norway and Germany as re-igniting interest in the contest for the Swiss public. Four corporations within SRG SSR all contributed to the national final line-up, the German, French and Italian corporations as well as radio broadcaster DRS 3. They all did this via different mechanisms, one entrant was internally selected by the French-language corporation and others held internet votes, jury votes and/or radio votes. Eventually, Anna Rossinelli was selected solely by a public televote in a televised final in December 2010. Her selection proved somewhat of a success. Switzerland qualified for the final for the first time since 2006… even if In Love For A While did finish last once there.
The same selection formula was used for 2012 and 2013, although both years saw Switzerland fail to qualify for the Eurovision final. Therefore, modifications were made in 2014 to add an “expert check” stage after the different broadcaster corporations had put forward their acts and prior to the televised final. This proved to be a successful change with Sebalter’s 13th place finish being Switzerland’s highest since Vanilla Ninja in 2005.

The new “expert check” stage was kept in place for 2015 and 2016, although Switzerland’s success took the ultimate downturn. Mélanie René and Rykka scored two consecutive last place finishes in the semi-finals and has pushed SRG SSR to making further modifications to Die Entscheidungsshow for 2017. Rather than the broadcasters that form SRG SSR selecting entries separately, or not at all in RTR’s case, they would work collaboratively to select who would ultimately be amongst the six national finalists. In addition, the online platform that had been made available to the public in recent years was kept private for 2017.

It’s nearly time for Die Entscheidungsshow 2017

It is nearly time to find out if these modifications will work as Die Entscheidungsshow 2017 takes place on 5th February! Switzerland will be hoping that, as in 2011 and 2014, modifications to their national selection process will result in a qualification to the final.
Editor’s Note: Please do let us know if you know of any further information regarding the Swiss selection processes that we were unable to mention. As mentioned, information is scarce so we would appreciate any assistance to help fill in the missing pieces! Feel free to comment below or get in touch via the contact form.

Ryan Cobb

My first memory of watching the Eurovision Song Contest was back in 2001 and, over the years, my passion and enthusiasm for the contest has very much turned into an obsession. I adore music and I love geography, so this contest is a natural fit for me. If la la loving Eurovision was a crime, I'd certainly be a criminal!

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