UK returns to national selection for 2016

your choice

It’s not complicated. Since Lordi swept to victory in 2006, all but one Eurovision winner[1] has been chosen through a national selection contest – essentially each country’s own version of the X Factor.

The lowdown

For the first time since 2010, the UK will be choosing its own Eurovision entry for the 2016 contest. Could a winner be in our midsts?

Why it has taken the powers that be so long to revisit the idea of a UK national selection is beyond me. The logic is simple: widespread public appreciation in one country is more than likely to equal public appreciation in a fair few other nations.

There’s no accounting for taste

One reason may be that the British public has bad taste – or those voting have little idea about what it now takes to win Eurovision. The days of corny acts aren’t over, but a gimmick hasn’t taken the biscuit since, arguably, Lordi. Today it’s about genuine vocal talent, a catchy beat or sheer stage presence (one of these qualities stands you in good stead, two or more is a dead cert for success.)[2]

Admittedly, the public’s last choice did not fare well. Josh Dubovie came in last place at the 2010 final, achieving one of the three worst scores in our Eurovision history. He finished 10 points better off than the ill-fated nil points Jemini, who we chose in 2003, but let’s not dwell on that.

BBC blunders

It’s fortunate that the UK gains automatic qualification to the final as one of the Big Five (top financial contributors), because our contenders are consistently lurking in the pits of Eurovision rankings – whether publicly decided or not – and we would otherwise almost certainly be cast out at the first semi-final hurdle. The internally selected acts of 2011-2015 (Blue, Englebert, Bonnie, and those two other disasters) finished in 11th, 25th, 19th, 17th and 24th place. It may well have been a cheaper process, but the BBC are shifting at least part of the responsibility back to the public – no doubt to alleviate the moans of those (myself included) about their poor decision-making.

So here were are: in a privileged position, and with the chance to do something about it.

But is it enough?

We might only be halfway there. Most of those Eurovision victors were chosen through national selections broadcast over a number of weeks, gaining traction and public interest on primetime TV. Having produced six winners so far including ABBA, the Herreys, Loreen and Måns, the Swedish contest Melodifestivalen is king of them all and this year offers 28 contestants in six shows over five weeks. Our selection process started in 2015 with a poorly advertised open call for submissions, and will promptly end with a Friday night broadcast on BBC4: a one-time event with a shortlist of six entries selected by the BBC, to be revealed mere days before the live voting show.

It could go a number of ways. One act may be truly phenomenal and earn a outright share, or the votes may be split fairly evenly between six carefully-vetted but ultimately beige performances. Either way, our entry will be chosen by a quite likely small or fan-led voting base.

In 2002 Jessica Garlick managed third place; the last time we won the contest was in 1997, with Katrina and the Waves. Join me to find out if our odds look any better this year, when I’ll be tuning into BBC4 and liveblogging the show on 25 February 2016 from 19:30. Gulp.

[1] That exception was Russia’s Dima Bilan, who had come in second place to Lordi two years before – an advantage of its own when he returned to the stage in 2008.

[2] Queens Loreen and Conchita are exemplary role models; Alexander Rybak a more than worthy mention.