With the introduction of semi-finals from 2004, armchair punters have had the chance to watch most of the contestants perform in the contest before betting in the final. All but the automatic finalists (UK, Spain, France, Germany, and last year’s winner) are now on show before the big day.
The performance you see on Saturday night should be pretty similar to that of the semi, though there can be slight differences. Small changes in camerawork or routine, can allow some numbers to improve or deteriorate. Nerves can worsen or shine under the greater pressure and packed arena of the final.
Though any change is usually minor, they can be significant. In 2004, I watched the semi-final and felt it had been won by Serbia-Montenegro just ahead of Ukraine, as indeed was the case.
In the final, however, Ruslana’s ‘Wild Dances’ looked more polished than in the semi, whether through better camerawork or execution of the routine. It was enough to beat its main rival to the prize.
Of course, the other main difference between the final show and the semi-final one is the draw. In the above case, Serbia-Montenegro performed near the end of the show in the semi, but early on in the final. Ukraine had performed before its main rival in the heat, and later than it in the final.
So it could have been the draw or the performance in the final that made the difference. We can only speculate. And bear in mind that there is also a different demographic watching the show on Saturday night. A larger audience can lessen the impact of diaspora televotes too.
The full scores of the semi-finals are not announced until after the Saturday night final. But qualification alone can tell us something about the relative chances of the song in the final.
In 2006, the debuting Armenia was one of ten countries from 26 that qualified from the sole semi-final. That they managed this despite both being drawn first and a nervous performance, was an early indication of the strength of their diaspora. A few days later, it was last on in the final and managed a Top 10 finish.
Bulgaria in 2007 tells a similar story. It qualified when performing first in the 2007 semi, and with a plum draw of 21 in the final, got a Top 5 finish.
From 2008 there have been two semi-finals. There are a couple of things to take from this. Firstly, it splits up the countries able to vote in each heat. Some contestants happen to get drawn with lots of allies, others are less lucky. Qualification may have overcome disadvantage or been aided by allies, and this can be taken into consideration on the big night.
Secondly, every year, it seems that one semi is stronger than the other. This has been most pronounced in 2010 when at the start of Eurovision week, none of the first ten in the betting market to win the contest were participating in the first semi–final.
Therefore, the weaker qualifiers in this semi-final look highly likely to be in the bottom half of the final and you can bet against them reaching a Top 10 position. Conversely, to qualify from semi 2 with a poor draw and/or a lack of friends is an indication that a Top 10 spot is very possible.
Romania in 2008 had a great draw and plenty of friends in its semi. It was a fine bet to qualify. Plenty were predicting a Top 10 finish for the final, but opening the show, it fell sharply down the scoreboard.
Ukraine 2004 was not the only winner to have lost in its heat. Russia in 2008 had its friendly voting bloc cut in half for the semi-final and only managed a close third, before triumphing on the big night.
General Eurovision Advice
DO study the semi-final form carefully to find opportunities in the final
DON’T assume that what you see in the heat will be an exact replica of the final performance