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For the first time ever, Canadians can vote to pick the Eurovision Song Contest winner. Here's everything they need to know about the eventMartin Meissner/The Associated Press

The Eurovision Song Contest is not your average singing competition. It’s campy, extravagant and can be an eyebrow-raising experience for first-time viewers.

And now it’s time for Canadians to get on board with the phenomenon Europe has been obsessed with for decades – for the first time this year, viewers in Canada can cast a vote in the contest. And if that’s not enough to convert Canadians, Montreal native La Zarra is entering the competition as one of this year’s favourites, competing for France.

If this is your first time tuning in, here’s what you need to know.

What is the Eurovision Song Contest?

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Let 3 from Croatia perform Mama ŠČ!PHIL NOBLE/Reuters

The Eurovision Song Contest is exactly what it sounds like: a song contest, not to be mistaken for a mere singing competition.

Singing is mandatory under the current entry rules, but countries win on far more than vocal prowess alone: theatrics, catchiness and even the language artists choose to sing in all come into play. The countries must enter with an original song (no covers) that was released within a few months of the competition.

Entries range across musical genres, including ones you may not expect, from folktronica (2021′s Shum), to folk-rap (last year’s Stefania) and so-called joke entries (this year’s Mama ŠČ!).

This year, 37 countries from all over Europe (as well as Australia and Israel) are competing. Russia is still banned from participating because of its war in Ukraine, and Montenegro and North Macedonia are sitting out this year because of increased participation fees.

How does voting work in Eurovision?

A large part of what makes Eurovision so enthralling is its suspenseful voting segment. Two components go into crowning a winner: points from national juries in each competing country, and points from the public.

The points from each national jury are announced live on-air, one by one, as the artists watch their overall ranking go up and down.

With these jury scores, an initial ranking is revealed, but everything can change as the hosts go through each act, starting from the bottom, to announce their public scores. Acts receive anywhere from zero to nearly 500 points from the public.

Geographic proximity and cultural similarities come into play during the votes, says Paul David Flood, a PhD candidate at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester in New York, where he studies Eurovision. Countries can’t vote for themselves, but some are accused of favouring each other. For instance, Scandinavian countries tend to support each other, as do Cyprus and Greece (despite getting booed for it repeatedly).

If you want to vote at home, you rank your top 10. The bottom eight will receive one to eight points each, and the top two will receive 10 and 12 points respectively. Canadians can use the Eurovision mobile app to cast their vote, which will all be tallied in a “Rest of The World” group.

Is Eurovision political?

Eurovision was created in the 1950s following the Second World War, Flood says. “Eurovision came out of a necessity to reunify a sort of war-torn Europe.”

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Kalush Orchestra from Ukraine on stage after winning the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest.YARA NARDI/Reuters

After the fall of the Soviet Union in the nineties, Eurovision continued to play a political and cultural role for newly independent nations, Flood adds. “Eurovision became a tool for them to craft their national identity as modern and as being able to keep up culturally with Western Europe.”

Last year, Ukraine broke the record for most points received from the public, widely received as a show of support not only for their song but for the war-battled country at large.

What does the winner of Eurovision get?

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Maneskin from Italy receive the trophy after winning Eurovision 2021.Peter Dejong/The Associated Press

The winner of the Eurovision contest gets bragging rights and no cash prize. The act gets to perform a second time on-air and takes home a glass microphone trophy, and the winning country gets to host the following year’s contest.

Ukraine, whose act Kalush Orchestra won in 2022, was unable to host due to the ongoing war with Russia. The runner-up, the U.K., is hosting instead.

Where and when can Canadians watch Eurovision?

What was born as an experiment in 1956 has maintained and expanded its appeal through generations. Last year, 161 million viewers around the world tuned into the broadcast, now reaching beyond Europe to the U.S. and Canada.

Canada’s La Zarra looks to end France’s 46-year Eurovision drought

The final will be broadcast on Saturday, May 13 at 3 p.m. ET on the official Eurovision YouTube and TikTok channels, without commentary. To watch with English commentary, Canadians will need to tune in to the BBC with a VPN to watch their broadcast.

Who won Eurovision 2023?

Sweden’s Loreen won Eurovision 2023 with her song Tattoo.

Who are some of the historic winners of Eurovision?

Nothing will sell you on Eurovision better than the performances themselves. Here are a few winners from the show’s seven decades of history.

Maneskin - Zitti e buoni, 2021

The Italian rock band became a TikTok sensation and quickly saw their songs soar on the charts. They even played at Coachella less than a year after their win.

Conchita Wurst - Rise Like a Phoenix, 2014

Eurovision has a long history of LGBTQ representation, with several members of the community competing and winning the competition over the years. Austria’s Conchita Wurst, a drag performer, won in 2014 with Rise Like a Phoenix.

Lordi - Hard Rock Hallelujah, 2006

Each year, a handful of acts perform hard rock, metal and industrial punk songs. One of the most iconic hard rock bands to win the contest is Lordi, a Finnish band known for its monster cosplays and horror aesthetics.

Celine Dion - Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi, 1988

At just 20 years old, Celine Dion gained international acclaim after winning Eurovision for Switzerland. She won against the U.K.’s competitor by just one point in a nail-biting final.

ABBA - Waterloo, 1974

Before they went on the become one of the most acclaimed bands of their generation, ABBA had their big break on the Eurovision stage. Their entry song, Waterloo, rapidly topped charts around the world after their win, propelling them into international stardom.

With reports from Samantha Edwards.

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