If you thought American Idol was a relatively long-running musical reality TV show, think again. Across the pond, Europeans have been at this game since 1956, the inaugural year of pop culture juggernaut, the Eurovision Song Contest. So though Americans may just becoming familiar with the musical extravaganza, it has a long and illustrious history.
Eurovision falls somewhere between the various Got Talent shows, the Tony Awards Ceremony, and The Olympics, all laced with a uniquely Euro-pop beat. The competition takes one performer from each nation to sing an original song during a live television broadcast, while the world watches and votes. And much like Europeans scratch their heads at the nuances of "American" football, Americans tend not to get the ins and outs of this glittering, time-honored tradition from the Old World. But don't worry —also like American football, the Eurovision contest isn't actually all that complicated, and it's really more of a spectator sport, anyway.
The Grand Final of the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest is airing live on Logo on May 12, beginning at 3 p.m. ET. (The May 8 and 10 Semi-Finals weren't aired in the U.S., but there's always next year.) For the second year running, Rupaul's Drag Race royal family members Michelle Visage and Ross Matthews will be doing the commentary on the American broadcast. That'll probably be worth tuning in for on its own, TBH.
The reach of Eurovision stretches far, even though the States have sadly been missing out on it. Maybe you haven't seen the contest on TV, but have you ever heard of a little group called ABBA? Or Celine Dion? Or Olivia Newton John? Well, it's Eurovision that launched their careers, and those of countless more performers.
Plus, there's a reason that the U.S. broadcast of Eurovision is on Logo: the contest has been a huge cultural event for the LGBTQ+ community. The message of pan-European and global acceptance doesn't just translate to participants of different ethnicities, but to those of all sexual orientations and gender identities as well. In 1998, the first ever openly trans performer in the contest, Dana International, competed for Israel, per Billboard. In 2014, Austria's bearded drag queen Conchita Wurst took home the victory with her emotional tune, "Rise Like A Phoenix." According to The Independent, the Russian contestant that year, Polina Gagarina, received backlash from politicians in her country for publicly supporting Conchita, but refused to withdraw her support. “Eurovision is this bubble of inclusivity and respect," Conchita told the outlet, “and it’s so beautiful, if only the whole world would be in this bubble. It is a family that will never forget about you.”
So, how does the Eurovision Contest actually work? According to the official website, each participating country ("European" is a very loose label here... Australia, are you lost?) selects one performer — either a soloist or a group of no more than six people. It's up to the individual countries whether they want to send someone with star power or their freshest young talent. Each country will perform one original song that has been released no earlier than Sept. 1, 2017. In previous years, instruments and even full orchestras were used, but now, no instruments are allowed. Each act, however, is required to sing live.
As dictated by Eurovision tradition, this year's contest will be held in the home country of the previous year's winner. Last year, Portuguese singer Salvador Sobral took home the victory with a ballad sung in his mother tongue. Per EBU News, this will be Portugal's first time hosting the event. This year, 43 nations will participate in the contest. From each Semi-Final, 10 nations will emerge victorious. The "Big Five" countries — France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the U.K. — as well as the host country of Portugal, are automatically qualified to move on to the Grand Final. In total, 26 contestants will sing their hearts out in the Grand Final on May 12, where one lucky winner will be awarded the coveted glass microphone.
The biggest thing to remember is that no one is allowed to vote for their own country. In the first round of semis, if your country is participating, you can call, write a text, or use the app to assign a score to your favorite performers. An official set of professional judges will also be assigning scores, and these numbers will be added together to determine who gets to move on to the Grand Final. In the Grand Final, people from all 43 original participating countries can vote again, but still, not for their own country.
This year, amid smoke and sequins, keep your eye on Israel's Netta Barzilai. Metro reported that she's currently the favorite to win it all with her electronic-influenced song "Toy." Other notable entries to look out for include "Together," sung by Ireland's Ryan O'Shaughnessy. Pink News drew attention to the fact that while the lyrics are gender neutral, the music video clearly features a gay male couple. The Independent also lists LGBTQ Finnish entry Saara Aalto as one to watch, the runner-up from 2016 X Factor.
Keep in mind, though, that it's not the final decision, but the totally unexpected pops of brilliance, beauty, and utter bizarreness that make Eurovision a spectacle worth watching.