Ukrainian Eurovision contestant TVORCHI band performs at a concert before departure to the Eurovision contest

Liverpool steps in to host Eurovision Song Contest

Last year's winners from Ukraine are unable to host in-country this year due to ongoing conflict with Russia, so Liverpool is stepping in. To learn more about it, The World's Carol Hills spoke to Dr. Eurovision, himself, Paul Jordan.

The World

It's kind of like the Olympics of pop music — the annual Eurovision Song Contest, which kicks off this week. 

Before you dismiss it as a gimmick, schmaltz or a joke, Eurovision is how the world came to know bands like the Swedish supergroup, Abba. 

Other Eurovision performers over the years include Celine Dion, Olivia Newton-John and Julio Iglesias, to name just a few. 

Last year's winners from Ukraine are unable to host in-country this year due to ongoing conflict with Russia, so Liverpool is stepping in. To learn more about it, The World's Carol Hills spoke to Paul Jordan, who is recognized across the UK as Dr. Eurovision.

Carol Hills: What exactly is the Eurovision Song Contest?
Paul Jordan (a.k.a. "Dr. Eurovision"): Eurovision is one of the longest-running television shows in the world. It takes place every year, usually in springtime — May or April — and it's been happening since the 1950s. Each country in Europe enters a song. And then, viewers and members of the international juries choose their favorite. The one that gets the most points wins. And what normally happens is the winner then goes to stage the event. Nearly 200 million people watch it. It's launched the careers of a lot of big, big artists.
Last year, the winners were the Kalush Orchestra, a group from Ukraine that performed the song “Stefania,” a tribute to one of the member's mother. Having Ukraine win last year, it must have been emotional. What was the energy like in the crowd during that performance?
The crowd was really, really embracing Ukraine. It was a very emotional moment. And certainly for me, as someone who spent a lot of time there, I was incredibly emotional when they won. And Ukraine has a really strong record in Eurovision. So, you know, the song was strong enough to win anyway, regardless of what was going on geopolitically. Certainly, it stood out on the night and had overwhelming support from the public. I wouldn't say it's necessarily politics. I think it was more about showing solidarity. People were there sitting on a Saturday night and just saying, look, 'Ukraine, we're thinking of you' is an incredibly powerful moment and a real expression of solidarity with people in Ukraine.
Usually, the respective country of contest winners is the host site for the following year's competition. Ukraine, of course, could not host this year due to the war. Now Liverpool was chosen — why?
Liverpool put in a really strong bid. They wanted to showcase the best of the UK but also Ukraine as well. And the UK has won five times that we've actually hosted it. This will be our ninth time, and we've also stepped in when any other countries either couldn't afford to or didn't have an appropriate place to stage it. This is the first time, though, since 1980 that the contest is being held in a country other than the previous year's winner. I think it's entirely fitting that Liverpool is hosting it. Liverpool is a city that has faced many challenges over the years. It's got the difficult past. The '70s and '80s were not great times in the city, and yet now it's regenerated. It's really a city that has cleaned up its acts and this very resilient place. I think really that's quite reflective of what a lot of people think about Ukraine and Ukrainians.
You are known as Dr. Eurovision, and we want to know why. What's your story?
I actually wrote my PhD on the politics behind the contest. But yeah, I studied in Estonia and Ukraine, and certainly for Ukraine, it was a big, big deal. When they first hosted the event in 2005 after they won, it was a massive opportunity for them to tell their own story, to speak to the world on their own terms. And really, for the first time since independence, Ukraine actually entered ... It was the idea of a PR company, and they entered specifically to improve their international image. So, for Ukraine, it is very much symbolic and certainly for them to win and other countries to win, it's about being accepted by your European neighbors as an independent country and as an equal.
What countries or contestants are you personally watching out for this year?
So, I'm looking out for Sweden. They've got an entry by a singer called Loreen. She won the contest in 2012 and had a massive hit with a song called "Euphoria." She's back this year, and there's only ever been one winner who's won more than once: Johnny Logan for Ireland. He won in 1980, returned in 1987, and wrote the winning song in 1992. So, he claims he's won three times. ​​​​​​I've also got my eye on Finland. They've only won once but have a really interesting number. It will be interesting to see whether the juries go for it. I think the public will. It's quite a kind of heavy metal rock song. It's very, very catchy but also quite flamboyant. The singer's got an interesting outfit and an interesting routine. If we go for something classy, there's a French Canadian singer for France. And that song was very interesting. It's quite a kind of disco beat, very classy; it's very elegant. I think the UK, in terms of pop songs, has got a good number that was last in the running order, and that's sometimes a bit of a poisoned chalice because after 25 songs, along comes song number 26. I think people might be a little bit jaded. It's a long night, but let's just see how those votes pan out.
Now, you mentioned that fans can vote for the winners. How does that work, and how much does the fan vote matter?
The fan and the viewer vote is worth 50% of the final score in the grand final. After all the songs are performed, the numbers are displayed on the screen, and viewers can then vote for their favorites. Those votes then added up and turned into points. So each country awards points from 1 to 8, then, 10 and 12. So basically, every country gives 10 other countries points. You can't vote for yourself, and that's worth 50%. Then, there's also the jury vote, which is worth the same amount of points, and that's also worth 50%. But this year, for the first time ever, viewers worldwide can vote, and they will be online. You can vote for your favorites. And then, what will happen is the votes from all around the world will be added up, and they will have the same weighting as one participating country.
Now, is the Eurovision Song Contest the most-watched TV show in Europe?
It probably is. It is up there were certainly the Olympic Games, the World Cup final. It's really ingrained in our popular culture over here in Europe. Everyone's heard of it; some people love it, some people don't, but everyone has an opinion. And that's really powerful. I can go on holiday to Italy, Moldova, or Spain and mention Eurovision, and people will know what I'm talking about. And I think that's really special. It's something that's very unique to Europe.
So like it or hate it, people talk about it.
Absolutely. And people keep watching it. And that's what I keep saying. You know, at a time when television is changing, people are watching things online; they're watching things on the phone. That downloading, streaming on demand, you name it. Eurovision is the one night in the year when people sit down and watch that; watching television at a specific moment in time. It's all about the live event. And yes, it's one thing that people talk about, and I say those who love it really go for it, and those who don't like it still want to talk about it. And as I say, the viewing figures are still strong and the contest will be 70 years old.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.

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