Given my fondness for schlager music, it isn't much of a stretch to figure out that I would get a kick out of the annual Eurovision Song Contest. Its one of those things that my friends in Munich kept telling me I would enjoy, but I didn't think I would have any way to see for myself. Though it isn't shown in the US, I was excited to discover that it is broadcast live (as well as playable afterwards) online. There really isn't anything to compare it to... maybe American Idol meets the Olympics?! The ESC started in 1956 with 7 countries, and this year with 43 countries participating, it is one of the longest-running and most-watched television shows in the world. Abba won for Sweden in 1974 with their song "Waterloo" and Celine Dion won for Switzerland in 1988. As I understand it (and those of you who know, correct me if I'm wrong), each country's participating broadcaster selects a song/performer to represent their country. Most often, those are done by audience vote within the country, but some may select a song internally (like Germany chose to do this year). In 2004, because so many countries were participating, a semi-finals round was added, and last year, that expanded to two rounds of semi-finals to narrow the field for the finals. Much like American Idol, the audience votes by phone and text at the end of the show, except voting lasts for only 15 minutes and results are then immediately announced. You also cannot vote for the country you are in. However, there are still controversies about neighboring countries voting for their nearby neighbors, so this year they have added a judging committee whose results are factored in with the audience vote. The semi-finals were Tuesday and Thursday, with 10 countries entries chosen each night. Five other countries have automatic entries, so Saturday will be a contest between those 25. Its a surprisingly well done show. The graphics package this year is excellent (that's a whole other post), the staging and camera work is incredible, and while there are inane hosts and stupid opening numbers, the show mostly runs as songs back to back with no talk and no hosts in between, just a graphic interstitial in between each identifying the country (at least online - local announcers do talk over those graphic pieces). If you want to watch, you can catch it online at the first link below. (You should also be able to find videos of both semifinals there as well). Finals are Saturday at Noon US Pacific time. Also below are links to a couple of my favorite performances, though among my friends, consensus seems to be that Norway seems to be the favorite to win.