There was a slightly bizarre turn of events buried in the Eurovision Song Contest 2107 Semi Final results. During their National Final the Maltese public was given total power to choose its own entry for the first time since 2008, but Claudia Faniello’s entry laid a goose egg of nul points in the televoting.
With no apparent appeal to the wider public of Europe, what happens next?
A Change To Malta Eurovision Song Contest
As early as October 2016 reports were already surfacing that PBS, Malta’s national broadcaster, was planning to change several things in the country’s selection format for the Song Contest– most notably, that the jury voting would be scrapped and 100 percent of the decision would be given to the televoters. In recent years the public voting had counted as an effective sixth jury member, while from 2005-2008 the public picked the song exclusively. 2009 saw a one-off format where a jury selected three songs for a ‘Super Final’ and the public made the final decision.
On the surface a complete return to televoting didn’t seem like a bad idea; the previous year’s song by Ira Losco, which was somewhat controversially changed after the National Final, polled in the top four with Eurovision juries but a disappointing 21st with Europe’s public – not altogether surprising when no Maltese televoters actually chose ‘Walk On Water‘.
That change of song resulted in a public backlash, knocking what appeared to be much larger political stories off the front pages in Malta. Moving to a 100 percent televote meant a more transparent process for PBS in the selection.
Who Sings Wins
But Malta is different to almost every other country in the Eurovision Song Contest. It’s one of the smallest counties in the competition to use a public selection to pick its entry, with a population of just over 445,000, and has no music industry of its own. Taking part in Malta’s National Final is one of the biggest musical gigs of the year. While there’s no hard and fast rule about needing a certain population to win the Song Contest, such a small starting base of presents PBS with some very unique problems:
- You have a smaller talent pool to pick from.
- Everyone is ‘known’ to the public.
While the former seems to be no disadvantage for Malta, given that they appear to have a conveyer belt of talented vocalists and have won the Junior Eurovision Song Contest twice in recent years, the latter is.
With such a narrow talent pool to choose from, and similarly a very small voting audience, the public already know around 95 percent of the acts taking part before a single song is sung. That means Malta treads a very thin line between a ‘song contest’, and a ‘popularity contest’. While it can never be scientifically proved, I have no doubt that Claudia Faniello’s story (ten previous entries in the National Final without a win) coupled with her in the country helped her over the line to win the ticket to Kyiv 2017, rather than the strength of ‘Breathlessly’.
And therein lies the problem now facing Malta. By giving the public 100 percent of the vote, you allow for the artists’ stories and popularity, neither of which translate across 42 other countries, to outweigh finding the best song.
The record of giving the population total control in Malta isn’t great either. In three of the four ‘pure televoting’ years, the country has came twenty-third on Saturday night and had two failed qualifications. Save Ira Losco, who by being the country’s biggest star would win with any song in any year, the last two public choices have also failed to make it out of the semifinals – Claudia this year, and Amber in 2014.
Where Does Malta Go From Here?
This year’s televoting zero in the Semi Final was counter-balanced by the juries placing Claudia’s song eighth. With a combined total of 55 points it finished in 16th place out of 18 – unfortunately the country’s worst Semi Final position in 10 years. Probably not the result expected when the format change was announced.
PBS has already confirmed that the public will have a 100 percent say in next year’s National Final as well, which means the options for change are pretty limited. There are however some things they could do to try and mitigate the ‘popularity over song’ risk:
Offer A 200 Percent Televote
Yes, that’s right, a double role for the public. Adapt the winning format the country has used for the Junior Eurovision Song Contest where the singer is chosen in a one-off show performing any song they like. Let the public choose a winner in a glorified talent show. Then go away for six weeks, and come back with five songs that the public’s chosen singer has to perform in a live show. Let the public pick the winning song.
In the end, the people have chosen their favourite singer, and the best song for them to sing . It also allows composers to write songs best suited to that vocalist.
Do A Hungary
In Hungary’s A Dal National Final selection, the people pick the Eurovision entry but only after they’ve been carefully guided for four weeks by a jury selecting 80 percent of the qualifiers per show, and then deciding on a ‘Top 4’ that the public gets to choose from. The country has qualified every year since they started this format in 2013 (in 2012, the public picked a top 4 for the jury to choose from), so they’re doing something right.
Rebrand The National Selection
Successful examples in Estonia, Latvia, Hungary, and to a lesser extent Finland, have shown that something as simple as rebranding your National Final format can help find success.
In all cases, the shows were renamed to put the focus on choosing a song for the country not for the Song Contest (Estonia’s Song, Supernova, The Song, etc.). This is something Malta needs to do to counter the audience voting for their favourite singers. Call it something along the lines of ‘Our Song’; tell the audience countless times during the show that they are choosing “the best song for Malta”; or better yet ,drop all references to Eurovision until the last minute like they do in Hungary and Sweden!
Pair Up Fabrizio And Claudia For 2018
The two Faniello siblings have a somewhat unwanted record of both now having been ranked last, with nul points, by Europe’s televoters. Ok, so this isn’t the most serious of suggestions, but if you want to play up a story that pan-European voters could understand, this would be one of them!
For the record, Fabrizio’s one point in 2006 came from an Albanian backup jury.
Change Your Mind
Probably the most unlikely scenario, but worth putting out there. There’s no rule about how to select a song for the Contest, but the statistics from the 2017 Grand Final are quite telling – of the seven songs in this year’s Top 10 that had some form of selection show to choose them, six had jury involvement in their show. Only Romania is the exception, but TVR used a jury in its Semi Finals to pick the 10 finalists. Romania was also the only qualifier from the semis that had a pure televote in its final selection show where the singer and song were chosen as one package.
Or Stay Where You Are
The alternative of course is to just do nothing and go with exactly the same format. Given the fanfare with which the public having 100 percent of the vote was announced, this also seems the most likely option. I don’t think for a minute that this format will score nul points on televoting every year, but the inherent risk is that to do well at the Eurovision Song Contest you need the good songs to come from the more popular artists, which isn’t always the case because they have more votes ‘in the bag’. There will be the occasional ‘Gianluca moment’, but as with the 100 percent televoting era in Eurovision itself you can probably call half of the Malta’s Top 5 by looking at the names on a list.
After Portugal’s win, Malta now has the longest record between first entry and time waiting to win the Contest. While I’m sure their ‘Lordi/Salvador moment’ will eventually come, I’m less convinced they’ll do it with the current format.