Slovenia: EMA 2017… how did we get here?

Ahead of Slovenia selecting their 2017 Eurovision entrant via EMA tomorrow, we have taken a brief look back at how Slovenia have selected their entries throughout their history and whether this has coincided with changes to their level of success in the contest.
When you’re down down low and sinking in the undertow, EMA is always here for Slovenia. Indeed, Slovenia has used variations of EMA as their national selection process for more than 20 years. Nevertheless, there are exceptions. It’s time to look back at Slovenia’s 24-year history at Europe’s favourite music competition and see why Slovenia have never quite hit the big time on the continent’s biggest stage…

A win on their debut! Sort of…

Yugoslavia debuted in the Eurovision Song Contest back in 1961. Their last entry in the contest came in 1992 as the republic broke up into several independent countries. Slovenia proclaimed independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 and became recognised as an independent country by the European Union in 1992. The same year, the United Nations accepted Slovenia as a member. The next step in Slovenia was Eurovision and they were ready to take part in the 1993 contest, historically hosted by the village of Millstreet in Ireland. However, there was one small issue. Too many countries wanted to take part!
Seven newly independent countries from the former eastern bloc wanted to take part in 1993. This would’ve required Millstreet to host a final of 29 countries. While this doesn’t seem too extraordinary these days with a 27 country final taking place as recently as 2015, a sudden rise from 22 to 29 countries would have both been unsustainable and unmanageable for the contest at the time. As a result, the first ever pre-selection round for the Eurovision was held. Hosted by RTVSLO in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana in early April, Kvalifikacija za Millstreet saw Slovenia compete against Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia for three spaces at the main contest. Slovenia’s 1X Band were victorious in the competition with Tih deževen dan. Fellow former Yugoslav states of Bosnia & Herzegovina and Croatia took the two additional qualification places.

Crashing back down to Earth

1X Band had been chosen to represent Slovenia on their debut via a national final titled Slovenski izbor za Pesem Evrovizije. 12 entries competed in the national final and the winner was decided by 12 regional juries who each allocated points to their favourite 10 entries using the Eurovision scoring system. 1x Band narrowly took victory ahead of Darja Švajger. Hopes were no doubt high heading into the contest in Millstreet but Slovenia could only place joint 22nd. The other two qualifiers from Kvalifikacija za Millstreet both finished higher, in 15th and 16th place. To avoid the need for another pre-qualification round in 1994, the EBU relegated the lowest finishing countries. Therefore, Slovenia had to wait until 1995 for their second Eurovision attempt.

Still Slovenia’s best ever result

On their return in 1995, RTVSLO once again held Slovenski izbor za Pesem Evrovizije to select their entry. As was the case in 1993, twelve songs competed and twelve juries, this time from different Slovenian radio stations, decided the winner. The lucky artist was 1993’s runner-up Darja Švajger who travelled to the contest in Dublin with her song Prisluhni mi. Darja fared much better than 1X Band did, finishing in 7th place. This remains Slovenia’s best Eurovision result in the adult contest.

While RTVSLO would have hoped this would have saved them from relegation, the EBU introduced a different pre-qualification format in 1996 to keep a cap on participating countries at 23. Every entry except Norway’s, the host of the 1996 contest, was subject to an audio-only pre-qualification round. Slovenia’s entrant Regina sneaked through, placing joint 19th with the top 22 qualifying for the contest. She went on to finish 21st in Oslo, another poor finish for Slovenia.

EMA begins!

Nevertheless, Regina’s selection in 1996 was an important moment in Slovene Eurovision history. She won the first edition of the national selection process called EMA, an abbreviation for Evrovizijska Melodija or Eurovision Melody in English. Regina had previously finished 4th in Slovenia’s 1993 national final but this time regional juries chose her as the winner.
Slovenia survived the implementation of yet another new Eurovision relegation system in 1997 which relegated countries based on their average scores over the past four (past five from 1998 onwards) years. For EMA 1997, RTVSLO decided against holding an open call for entries. Instead, seven songwriters were invited to write two songs each. The competition ended up with 13 entries, so one of these songwriters only decided to write one it seems! For the first time, the Slovene entry was chosen by televoting. 4,493 televotes gave Tanja Ribič a narrow victory and she scored Slovenia’s second top 10 Eurovision finish in Dublin. Televoting alone decided Slovenia’s next Eurovision entrant too, with Vili Resnik taking victory. Unfortunately, he could only finish 18th in Birmingham.

Televoting alone makes way for a combined voting method

Perhaps as a reaction to the country’s low finish in 1998, RTVSLO introduced an expert jury alongside the televote for EMA 1999. The expert jury were responsible for 2/3rds of the overall result while televoting was responsible for the remaining 1/3rd. This resulted in the televoting winner, Tinkara Kovač, being overruled by the expert jury who awarded Darja Švajger enough points to win overall. Darja translated her entry into English for Eurovision following the re-introduction of the free language rule but couldn’t improve upon her 7th place finish in 1995. For A Thousand Years placed a respectable 11th in Jerusalem. However, due to a low average score over the past five years, Slovenia were relegated from the contest once again.
Slovenia returned to Eurovision in 2001 and RTVSLO were determined to grab the opportunity with both hands. For the first time, a semi-final was introduced to EMA. From a field of 22, televoting selected six qualifiers with the jury selecting an additional six. The winner of the final was once again decided by a jury consisting of an expert jury and an RTVSLO jury and the public televote. The televoting favourite, Karmen Stavec, was once again overruled with the jury favouring Nuša Derenda who took the victory once points were combined. After translating her song to Energy, Nuša equalled Slovenia’s best Eurovision finish of 7th place. This record still stands today!

EMA begins to suffer from constant controversy

Over the next three years using slightly varying formats. 2002 used an identical format to 2001, 2003 scrapped the semi-final in favour of a superfinal in the final and 2004 consisted of four smaller semi-finals as well as a superfinal. All three of these editions of EMA resulted in the televoting favourite being overruled by the jury. In 2002, Karmen Stavec was once again the televoting favourites but lost out to Sestre who had received over 23,000 votes less than Karmen as a result of the expert and RTVSLO juries.
In 2003, the televoting favourite Bepop received double the amount of votes compared to their second favourite which was once again Karmen Stavec. However after the newly introduced international jury gave zero points to Bepop, they did not advance to the superfinal. Nevertheless, the public were still able to have the final say awarding Karmen Stavec a long-awaited victory in the televote-only superfinal. The international jury once again overruled the public in 2004, awarding zero points to televoting favourite Natalija Verboten who was unable to progress to the superfinal as a result. Televoters alone eventually chose Platin with Stay Forever.
For five consecutive EMAs, the favourite of the televoters had been overruled by the juries. Meanwhile, Slovenia’s results in Eurovision were deteriorating. Sestre finished 13th, pre-contest favourite Karmen Stavec finished 23rd and Platin failed to qualify from the newly introduced semi-final in 2004.

A brief return to televoting alone

No doubt in a bid to win back the public, televoting alone determined the winner of EMA 2005. Omar Naber turned second place in the first round of the final into a victory in the superfinal with 29,945 votes. His entry Stop fell narrowly short of qualification in Kyiv, but RTVSLO chose to revamp the EMA voting format once again.
The voting for EMA 2006 was split into three equal parts, one part televoting, one part SMS voting and one part jury voting. Televoters and SMS voters agreed Saša Lendero was their overwhelming favourite and she accumulated 24 points as a result. However the jury completely disagreed, awarding Mandoline nothing. This allowed the jury favourite Anžej Dežan to sneak to victory, beating Saša by just 2 points. Reports say that Slovene media had begun discussing the constant overruling of the televote by the juries. Meanwhile, Slovenia had yet to find their first qualifier since the introduction of the semi-finals.
RTVSLO responded to the reported criticism and Slovenia’s next two Eurovision entrants were chosen by televoting alone. Semi-finals were held in both 2007 and 2008 as well as a superfinal in the final. Alenka Gotar won 2007’s superfinal with 44,636 votes and Rebeka Dremelj followed suit in 2008 with 56,823 votes in her superfinal, less than 400 ahead of her opponent. Televoting numbers in EMA were higher than ever before and Eurovision interest in Slovenia was high. Alenka became Slovenia’s first Eurovision qualifier in the semi-final era, but pre-contest favourite Rebeka narrowly missed out on qualification. She placed 11th in the first of two semi-finals. A second semi-final had been introduced due to the ever increasing number of participants.

They agree… for one night…

A jury returned to EMA in 2009 and in the semi-final, both televoters and the jury agreed Quartissimo & Martina Majerle’s Love Symphony was the best entry. However, with the introduction of 6 automatic qualifiers in the EMA final the following nightwho had received the pass for “remarkable success in Slovenian charts”, the harmony between the public and the jury was quickly halted. Televoters overwhelmingly voted for Langa & Manca Špik scoring almost a third of all votes in a field of 14 entries. The jury once again gave zero points to the televoting favourite and Quartissimo won the combined vote. The classical-pop song received less than a quarter of the votes that Langa & Manca Špik received.
Televoting alone returned in 2010 and Ansambel Roka Žlindre & Kalamari were clear victors, receiving more than five times the number of votes as the runner-up. Nevertheless, Slovenia still hadn’t achieved their second qualification in the semi-final era. Maybe 2011 would be the year?

Another new EMA format finds a new star

Juries became even more influential in EMA 2011. They selected which two of the ten finalists would progress to the superfinal. Only then would the public be able to choose their favourite. Maja Keuc was the clear favourite as Vanilija achieved more than double the number of votes compared to her opponent April. More than 40,000 votes were cast in the superfinal suggesting the Slovene public were still interested in Eurovision despite one of the poorest qualification records at the time. Translated to No One for Düsseldorf, Maja became a fan favourite and her 13th place finish in the final was Slovenia’s highest since Sestre achieved the same position in 2002.
Slovenia were finally back on a high and expanded their selection process for 2012. RTVSLO decided to select two potential Eurovision representatives via a competition similar to The X FactorMisija Evrovizija took place over three months and Eva Boto and Nika & Eva Prusnik were the two artists who would take part in the revamped EMA 2012. Six original songs were made for EMA and three were given to each artist. Televoters chose their favourite song for each artist. In the superfinal, televoters overwhelming chose Eva Boto’s Verjamem to go to Baku. Slovenia once again became a fan favourite and many were shocked when Eva finished next to last in her semi-final.

Financial troubles nearly result in withdrawal

Following reduced funding, RTVSLO were considering withdrawal from Eurovision in 2013. Although Slovenia were present on the 2013 participants list, time was stretched and the broadcaster internally selected their entry for the first time ever. EMA 2011 competitor Hannah Mancini was selected but her entry Straight Into Love finished last in the first semi-final in Malmö.
The 2011 format of EMA returned for 2014, 2015 and 2016 with the jury alone selecting two entries to progress to the televote-only superfinal. Tinkara Kovač finally got her Eurovision moment after she was the televoters’ favourite way back in 1999 only to lose out after the jury vote. She also gave Slovenia their third semi-final qualification, and this was swiftly followed by their fourth when fan favourites Maraaya finished 14th. However, ManuElla wasn’t so lucky last year, finishing 14th in her semi-final. It’s also notable that ManuElla only required 3,865 votes to win EMA 2016, just 127 votes ahead of her opponent Raiven. These televoting numbers are much lower compared to those from 2012 and particularly since the late 2000s.

A bigger and better EMA for 2017?

This year, EMA has consisted of two semi-finals and a final. The final will take place tomorrow! In the semi-finals, televoters and juries selected two qualifiers each per semi-final. However, for the first time since 2009, a combined voting system will be present for the final. Looking back at our research above, on each occasion where an EMA final has used a combined points system, the televoting favourite has never won. The Slovene public will be hoping that all changes tomorrow and that their favourite won’t be overruled by the juries for the first time ever! For more on the results of EMA 2017 so far, read our article by clicking here.
Editor’s Note: Please do let us know if you know of any further information regarding the Polish selection processes that we were unable to mention. Information at times 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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