XTRA Debate: Why some countries appear to be jury favourites

When I was watching the Junior Eurovision Song Contest a little over a week ago, I wondered why I was able to predict some of the jury favourites before they had sung. Am I just that good at predicting or is there something that makes a song a ‘jury favourite’? And why is it always the same couple of countries that do well with those juries?

Jury criteria: Vocal capacity

If we look at the official Eurovision website, we can find the criteria the national juries use when voting during the Eurovision Song Contest. Those four criteria are originality, performance, overall impression and vocal capacity. And that last one has, in my eyes, become the main focus point for quite a few juries.

If we look at the Junior Eurovision Song Contest in Minsk, the top two with juries consisted of Australia and Malta. Both girls, twelve year olds Jael Wena and Ela Mangion, had a majestic voice. They delivered their songs with incredible power. They managed to perhaps hide some of the weaknesses of their songs with the immense vocals, outshining the eventual televoting top two with France and Poland.

Australia and Malta scoring so well based on, in my opinion, vocal capacity, is no surprise. It seems those two countries know big notes and big vocals will always do well with juries. There are countless examples here, but the year 2017 is a good one to look at how vocals are used to impress the juries: Claudia Faniello and Isaiah Firebrace.

Both singers did incredibly well with the juries. In her semifinal, the juries awarded her with an eighth place. Her “Breathlessly” however couldn’t please televoters at all: nil points. The same case almost goes for Isaiah. In the Grand Final, he finished in fourth with the juries, amassing a mighty 171 points. The juries must have heard something people at home didn’t: Televoters gave Australia just… two points. Isaiah is an example of vocal power being put in a song to score with the juries, even when you don’t necessarily hit all the notes. After all, it’s about capacity…

“Overall impression” leads to safety

Australia and Malta are two of the most prominent countries that seem to always do well with juries. The other two I’d like to take into account are The Netherlands and Sweden. For some reason, these four countries seem to often do better with the juries than with the televoting. In the table below, we take a look at the scores since Australia’s debut in 2015. We take the average jury placing, as well as the average televote result. We always look at the last show they competed in for each year. 

The Netherlands8.517.5

It seems these four countries have managed to find something to often please the juries. With the exception of the aforementioned “Breathlessly”, The Netherlands and Malta have always made the jury top five in the semifinal since 2015. If you take into account that “Walk Along”, “Warrior” and “Taboo” got murdered by the televoting so much that they didn’t even qualify, that’s at least highly remarkable.

I feel the criterium of “overall impression” plays a part here. What actually is overall impression? Which factors do you take into account when you need to vote on your overall impression of an act? To put it bluntly; Just pick whatever you like, it seems. And when you just need to vote for what you like, a safer, radio friendlier song will be more likely to score well.

Safe and radio friendly is something especially Sweden and Australia have managed to do very well. A less friendly term for songs like these is formulaic, a term which still seems appropriate for the past couple of years. Sweden’s formula of sending a man with a relatively easy to remember pop tune has worked for them. For Australia, it seems to be a radio friendly midtempo song sung by a talent show winner.

The question remains why safe and radio friendly scores well with the juries, but not always with televoters. The answer to that is relatively simple, I believe. It lies in the fact that televoters only choose one song per vote. Jurors need to rank all competing entries. In other words: If you believe “We Got Love” was the fifth strongest song, as a televoter, there’s a relatively small chance you’re actually voting for it. If however all five jury members from a certain country put Jessica Mauboy fifth on their lists, it gets about six points from the juries.

Choose wise, choose a radio friendly vocal

To summarise, I don’t believe in a certain bias towards countries at the Eurovision Song Contest. I do however believe that some countries have figured out a formula to please the Eurovision juries. That doesn’t necessarily have to be with quality and hardly ever seems to comply with the originality criterium juries receive. It does however tick the boxes of vocal capacity and the most vague criterium of “overall impression”. That’s when the songs Sweden, Australia and Malta send tend to come out on top.

Oliver – agree to disagree

I wholeheartedly agree with Nick in the suggestion that televoters are less likely to vote for their 5th-10th favourite act. However, that is where our shared views on the matter seem to end. 

‘Overall Impression’ leads to flexibility

In both the semis and the final itself, a member of a jury are asked to rank their songs. This ranking is calculated with other jurors to create the composite national jury score. As Nick has alluded to, by ranking the acts, the the juries are to give a full set of points. In the case of what may be a weaker semi-final, some songs may shine slightly more than they would in the final. You tend to see a wider range of point distribution in juries than in the televote. This indicates that the juries views, when translated into points, ‘like’ songs more strongly than the televote. This simple distinction can offer some explanation to the songs that failed to qualify doing so well with juries, as Nick highlighted. 

Looking at the jury criteria, most of them are relatively objective. Insofar as vocal capacity, for example, I don’t think anybody was shocked that the juries gave a solid score to Albania and Estonia this year. Both acts displayed a huge vocal range and impressive techniques of singing. 

However, ‘overall impression’ is firmly subjective. What does this mean and how is this weighted against more objective criteria? I think it is too easy to get in a head spin and overthink this. In my view, having an ‘overall impression’ leads to a degree of flexibility to negotiate other potentially clinical criteria. Take France 2016, a fan and bookies favourite that slightly faltered vocally on stage. Yet by the end of the jury voting, Amir was in third place. To me, it seems that the jury overlooked the odd bum note and instead voted more holistically for what was a strong song staged well with mostly decent vocals. 

Amir, the French representative, performing “J’ai cherché”.

There are certainly questions to be made about the selection process and number of jury members.

Commercial success is wise

I am not wholly convinced with the methodology used to – Australia and Sweden in particular. As we all know, Australia have only submitted four entries (to date). We also know, based on the recent participation of Kazakhstan in Junior this year and the the aftermath by its Eurovision producer, that countries entering the contest take things seriously. They want to do well. Sending in big names, visuals and a strong songwriting team:

We would present Eurovision viewers with something new, fresh and unique

Khabar Agency to esctoday.com (18 October 2018), 

I can’t help but feel Australia has attempted to do just that. Each Australian artist have had a strong overall package going into the contest.  It is also important to note, that the televote have placed Australia in the top 10 with 50% of their entries. The jury is not the outlier here, instead part of a pan-European consensus. Though in the last two years Australia have failed to make a strong connection with televoting points, both of those songs are competent songs you would hear on the radio or in the charts. 

Speaking of radio friendly and charts: Sweden. From 2015, each Swedish song has had strong iTunes/Spotify/chart success across Europe before the final. This commercial success is a decent indicator to the public demand of a particular song. It seems somewhat ridiculous to think that the jury do not listen to the songs ahead of watching a Eurovision show. Considering that jury members include staff from record companies and performers – industry experts – it seems only correct they are rewarding the sounds they can see and foresee commercial success in. 

Conclusion: Blips of error on both sides 

By focusing on the jury, there is a subtle implication that there is less issue/contention with the televote. However, both the jury and the public provide checks and balances for one another, ensuring a general consensus and probably fairest result is met.  I don’t think any Eurovision fan could say with confidence that the televote got everything right, all the time.

Look at The Netherlands last year. 15 points to a powerhouse vocal group of O’G3NE? Really? Okay, I would probably agree with the suggestion that The Netherlands coming 5th place with the juries is probably *slightly* excessive. Nonetheless, the juries saved the group from coming 19th by the televote. 

Now, that is not to say the juries get it right all the time – they obviously don’t. Almost every year without fail, there is a really odd ‘blip’ of jury votes that seems random. Back in Moscow, the UK jury gave 12 points to Germany… something I still struggle with to this day!

Why do you think that juries seem to favour certain nations? We would love to know your thoughts and comments on social media @ESCXTRA!

Nick van Lith

I'm one of the founding members of ESCXTRA.com. Eleven years after the start, I'm proud to say that I am now the Editor-in-Chief of this wonderful website. When I'm not doing Eurovision stuff, you should be able to find me teaching German to kids... And cheering on everything and everyone Greek, pretty much. Pame Ellada!

Comments on XTRA Debate: Why some countries appear to be jury favourites

  • Keley Ann

    Oh sweetie. The reason Malta always do so well with juries is cos they’re infamous for bribing them and have been ever since their return in 1991. Do you really think Glen Vella or Amber to mention just two would’ve been in the jury top 5 if they’d represented Switzerland?

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