Editorials & Opinion

XTRA Debate: Rethinking the role of jurors going into the 2020 national final season

How can we keep jury controversies to a minimum during the 2020 national final season?

We are only one song into the Rotterdam pre-season, and we already had our first national final controversy! When fan favourite “Me Tana” was revealed to have been scored considerably lower by the Albanian jurors than the international jurors in this month’s Festivali i Këngës, it made me question the metrics by which songs are scored in national finals. Although a ‘predictable’ national final isn’t as tense or thrilling, should jurors just vote for the most popular song, because there is merit in popularity? Or should they just vote for the performances they like, despite views, streams or fanbases? In this debate, we are discussing what we want from jurors going into 2020.

Festivali i Këngës for the past couple of years has proven to be one of my favourite national finals. It’s insanely long, it’s often ridiculous, about 1/3 of the broadcast is dominated by ads and the song quality…varies. Despite this, the shows have an undeniable charm that the more polished national finals of Norway, Denmark and Sweden lack. Bonus: the line-up always introduces me to new sounds and new Albanian icons for me to obsess over.

That said, the format is out of date. In my opinion, there is no room for a national selection without a televote in 2019. I know the festival has been running long before Albania was involved in Eurovision, but if RAI can modernise Sanremo and bring in a televote, RTSH have no excuse. Bottom line, it is reductive to select a song via 100% jury vote for a contest that is 50% televote. Make it make sense.

But this is not a debate about televoting, and we are zeroing in on the jury vote. This is a debate about what we want from jurors going into the 2020 national final season. This is topical especially where the televote is minimal or non-existent in the final vote.


Let me preface this by saying that I adore “Shaj” and think that Arilena absolutely delivered a winning performance on the final night. She is an incredible vocalist and a captivating performer. For this reason, I wasn’t surprised to see her score in all five of the jurors top 3. I by no means feel bereaved by ‘Elvana’s loss’, but the voting results still do not sit right with me.

1stArilena Ara“Shaj”3rd2nd2nd2nd1st
2ndElvana Gjata“Me tana”1st1st1st11th5th

Looking at the scores above, I struggle to see how a juror could score “Me Tana” 11th out of the 12 acts performing. If you are a juror objectively scoring those 12 performances based on their pure merit, irrespective of the Eurovision aspect, “Me Tana” was worth more than 2 points. In response to the backlash she faced for this, juror and ‘musicologist’ Mikaela Minga released the following statement:

The song has, among others, gypsy and western influences. They have nothing to do with the musical tradition of Albania. The large number of views is based on the presence of these influences.

Mikaela Minga explaining her scoring of “Me Tana”

The other native juror, Rita Pietro, said the following regarding her placement of “Me Tana” under “Shaj”:

I voted for Arilena Ara’s song with maximum points because it was more to my taste [than Elvana’s]

Rita Pietro explaining her scoring

So above we have proof that two jurors down-voted a song for two different reasons. One because it wasn’t ‘Albanian enough’, and the other because it wasn’t to her taste. The latter is somewhat excusable, but the former would not be valid under the EBU criteria of jury voting. She was clearly looking to up-vote a song she felt was ‘Albanian’, and went on to rank Bojken Lako’s “Malaseen” first. By comparison, the three international jurors, all of whom are connected to Eurovision, scored “Me Tana” top. One has to wonder if all five jurors were briefed the same way?

Unpacking the backlash

This whole debacle is not about me ranting about “Me Tana” losing because I feel like it was robbed. Rather, I am fascinated about the fall-out and the framing of Arilena’s victory as ‘Elvana’s loss’ at the hands of two women. Having live-tweeted the FiK final, the outrage was pretty much instant. With so much hype, views and excitement around “Me Tana”, there was somewhat of an expectation that despite the lack of televote, she would score highly across the board among jurors.

The backlash went everywhere, from Arilena, to Mikaela Minga and even to host Alketa Vejsiu, prompting her to release a statement on her Instagram. She even went on to say that she “was never and will never be part of any jury for any reason.”

I believe in meritocracy and I am deeply sorry that in this platform I could not give voice to the public. I am sorry if I disappointed you, I understand and respect your sensibility please spare me of accusations. I was not the jury and I did not choose the jury. 

Alketa Vejsiu via her Instagram

In addition, eventual runner-up said the following:

I saw the polls, I saw that you were singing and dancing with my song every day, I saw you also in the arena with your hands up. I’ve heard you screaming my name all over the diaspora, Pristina, and heard it last night in Tirana like never before.

My heart is full of joy! I worked hard and will work until my last breath. Work never got me down, with or without order. Thank you so much for European jurors for voting with maximum points. Not even Mikaela’s 2 points can stop me giving love. 

Elvana Gjata via her Instagram

If this wasn’t enough, RTSH deleted their YouTube channel, taking with it the live performances from the festival and, importantly, all 3.5 million+ views that Elvana had. Covering up evidence? Responding to backlash? Cleansing their videos of the many angry comments they were receiving? The extent of the fall out feels much-larger scale than usual, and should be a sign that the current format of voting at the festival needs to be changed. But beyond Albania, we have a number of national finals due to take place over the next few months. How can we avoid, or at least minimise, this level of nastiness and toxicity over…a damn Eurovision preselection?

So…what now?

Fans need to calm down

Well, Elvana Gjata and “Me Tana” are not going to Eurovision next year, at least not for Albania. No whining, angry posting or lamenting will change this. But what we can do is try and contain our rage, or at least not bring our rage to public figures who just did their jobs. Nothing that a juror can do in a national selection can justify people posting hateful or threatening messages on their pages. Just because they don’t like your favourite song in the line-up doesn’t justify such a strong response. We’re all guilty of letting our passions spill over sometimes, but the doxxing has to stop.

For me, the ultimate learning point from Festivali i Këngës 58 was that the backlash was…too much. The 57th edition was such a celebration and there was almost unanimous positivity around Jonida. Although the fan favourite didn’t win this year, the shift in tone feels…severe. Going forward into national final season, we as fans need to take responsibility for how we treat the organisers, artists and jurors of national finals.

50/50 always

Of course, the obvious counter to all of this drama and controversy is to simply include the input of the voting public into every national final. As I said earlier, not having a televote in a national final in 2019 is absurd. It’s also absurd for a national selection to not be 50:50 televote:jury, yes I’m looking at YOU, Romania. In case you forgot, there was a FiK-level controversy with Selectija Nationala this year, where a frankly bizarre format change put the televote at 1/7 of the overall points. Let’s leave this BS in 2019, please. I don’t want to hear or see any accusations of rigging, lack of transparency and disregarding ‘the will of the people’ (*shudder*) in this Eurovision season. I feel that the EBU could and should advise its members to pursue this model for their selection programming going forward.

Of course, the 50/50 split doesn’t completely eradicate the possibility of the pre-show favourite winning. Hell, pre-show fave Margaret couldn’t win Krajowe Eliminacje 2016 with a 100% televote format because her live performance was so lacklustre. It’s about time broadcasters had a little more faith in the voting public of their respective countries to select their own entries. If you don’t want public input, internally select your act entirely and don’t insult your viewers by pretending to honour their input. And as Romania’s TVR learned, the public will have their say eventually…

EBU jury guidelines for national finals?

According to the EBU itself, its members benefit from:

  • Opportunities for sharing, learning and collaborating through conferences, working groups, training, and dedicated advice and guidance.
  • A centre for learning and sharing new technology and innovation with a team of experts providing strategic advice and guidance.

Eurofans (myself included) are very quick to call upon the good ol’ European Broadcasting Union to sort out the rogue broadcasters across the continent. Sometimes we ask a little too much from Jon Ola and the gang, but there is a case to be made to bring the EBU into the way songs are selected. A pragmatic response to the controversies in Albania and Romania this year would be to create a more consistent list of guidelines for broadcasters to hold jurors to. Hell, why not just use the current criteria used for Eurovision voting?

  • Vocal capacity
  • The performance on stage
  • The composition and originality of the song
  • The overall impression by the act

Of course, broadcasters may not take kindly to being told what to do. But I’m sure this would be preferable to having to endure abusive messages to the point of deleting and re-uploading your entire YouTube channel. Ammirite, RTSH?

Oliver: Jury practicalities

Costa makes some salient and insightful points here. I can definitely see the logic and benefit of some of the suggestions made above. It certainly seems that as a society and culture we are becoming more aligned with anger, rage and fury. THANKFULLY we will be addressing just that next week *wink*. However, as with anything jury-related, there doesn’t seem to be a utopian model that is both practical and provides the objective role it seeks.

A universal criteria for juries would be an interesting experiment… but practically impossible to enforce. Apart from copy/pasting the jury voting criteria on a random document hidden on a broadcaster website – how could your prove anything? Both that the broadcaster was enforcing the rules and doing so with the same level of zealousness? Recent results in Albania mimic the issues of the Eurovision jury: 5 jurors are often not enough.

The joy of subjectivity

I often think there is a potential misreading for the purpose of juries. Yes, they are absolutely there to provide an objective opinion based on expertise. Be it the composition, technique, originality or general entertainment – juries are there to provide an opinion that the average ‘lay’ person may not necessarily ‘get’. Would the average person be able to analyse the polyphony, complex key shifts of a song? Possibly not. However, juries are still human. Every implicit bias potentially present in a televoter (which is arguably diluted due to the large population of a country) is concentrated and much more influential in a single-digit jury.

Rita Pietro basing her scores on ‘taste’ isn’t something we might like or agree with – but that’s life. Equally, the rules for FiK allowed it! Applying our subjective opinion against the subjective views of someone else (who just happened to have the power to vote) isn’t helpful. Now, obviously, if there are subjective issues that clearly tread the line between opinion, collusion and/or prejudice – that, if true, should be immediately addressed. But that is for broadcasters to address and resolve, rather than the fandom in a furore.

Nevertheless, it seems really odd to presume or expect all juries to vote in a similar way. Back in 2016 many fans were befuddled when the UK jury gave their 12 points to Georgia. Seemingly random… until you considered the strong Britpop vibe of ‘Midnight Gold’ which no doubt played a part to such a strong mark. As a fandom, we claim to #CelebrateDiversity, yet equally seem to blast anyone who dissents from a majority viewpoint. Hm…


I’m resistant to the claim that older formats must modernise for the sake of modernisation. We need to be super careful here. Festivali i Këngës, much like Sanremo are contests that predate Eurovision. Or at the very least, predate Albania and Italy participating in the contest. These are national bedrocks in the cultural zeitgeist. Based on the previous decade, there has been little change to enhance the link between these two singing contests and Eurovision.

The use of ‘international jurors‘ suggests some movement on Albania’s part… but this could be a one-off, especially given the controversy. Who are ‘we’ to dictate how televised shows with only a coincidental/loose link to the contest be operated? I’m not a fan of 100% jury national finals. However, if there was the national appetite for change I don’t see why it adjustment to voting wouldn’t be made. Also… is an internally selected song not effectively 100% jury (albeit behind closed doors?). See the selection of Katarine Duska!

We have previously asked if an ‘international jury’ reflects international taste. In a similar fashion – does any jury of music professionals truly reflect a national/international consensus of professional opinion? A huge moot point, if ever there was one.

Just because a song is a ‘bop‘ and loved by fans doesn’t mean it should have a free pass to victory. Similarly, fans should be mindful not to overhype a song/performance that has yet to achieve anything. In the case of FiK I would be really interested to see national media coverage and reception. Was the controversy really as big as the online fandom made out? Or was it relatively minor… especially given recent tragic events in Albania.

We would love to hear your thoughts! Be sure to stay updated by following @ESCXTRA on Twitter@escxtra on Instagram and liking our Facebook page for the latest updates! Also, be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to see our reactions to the news in the run up to Rotterdam!

Costa Christou

Ever since I saw Helena Paparizou's triumph at Eurovision in 2005 (at the tender age of 6), I have been crazy about Eurovision. From the regional native language bops and shrieky female-led balladry to the sophisticated avant garde pop songs and chart-friendly EDM, I love everything about this cultural phenomenon. I'm currently working as a Delivery Manager in a software development team.

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