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  • Writer's pictureDale Roberts

The Eurovision winners who almost lost their national final

Over the last few months, 26 national selection shows have taken place over Europe to choose Eurovision representatives.

And if we follow the statistical trends, the winner in Turin will most likely come from one of these shows (10 of the last 12 winners have).

The current favourite to win Eurovision is Ukraine's Kalush Orchestra with 'Stefania' who did come from a national final.

However, if they were to win Eurovision, they would take the title without actually having won their national final (the winner Alina Pash, withdrew).

Although a previous winner hasn't lost a national final, many have come very close, where they often had a tougher battle than the Contest itself.

Let's take a look at the champions who were almost lost to history.

The tiebreakers

Izhar Cohen and the Alphabeta - 'A-Ba-Ni-Bi' (Israel 1978)

Tied at their national final

Izhar Cohen and the Alphabeta comfortably won Israel's first every Eurovision title in Paris with a 32 point win over Jean Vallée from Belgium with 'L'amour ça fait chanter la vie'.

However, it was Jerusalem in February that was their real battle.

After the regional juries voted in the Israel Song Contest it was a tie between 'A-Ba-Ni-Bi' and the song 'Belev echad' by Hedva Amrani and Pilpel Lavan.

A countback of individual jury members split the tie and the rest is history.

Hedva had earlier won the Yamaha Song Festival in Japan with musical partner David.

She attempted to represent Israel again in 1979 finishing in 3rd place but never made the Eurovision stage.

She had a long musical career and her 1978 song 'Belev echad' went on to become a hit and was recently covered by Netta in 2020.

Jamala - '1944' (Ukraine 2016)

Tied at their national final

Jamala won the Eurovision 2016 Song Contest with a 23 point victory of Australia's Dami Im and 'Sound of Silence'.

But she only scraped her way to Stockholm after she tied at the Ukrainian national final Vidbir.

In a small national final of six songs, the scoring system saw each entry receive 6 points down to 1 point for both the public and jury.

Jamala lost the jury vote to The Hardkiss and their song 'Helpless' but she went on to win the public vote comfortably with 37% of the vote to The Hardkiss with 21%.

This left them both on 11 points but '1944' went through on the better public vote.

If she had finished 3rd in the jury vote, she would not have become Eurovision champion and perhaps Australia would have taken out the title. We'll never know!

One or two point victories

Riva - 'Rock Me' (Yugoslavia 1989)

Won their national final by 1 point

'Rock Me' won Yugoslavia their first and only Eurovision title in 1989 with a surprise seven point victory in Lausanne over the UK's entry 'Why Do I Always Get it Wrong?'

At Jugovizija 1989 held in Novi Sad however, they had an even tighter win.

After the 24 regional jurors voted Riva came out winners by a single point over Massimo Savić with his song 'Plavi anđeo'.

Massimo had also finished runner-up at Jugovizija in 1987 but it wasn't all bad for him.

He has had a forty-year successful career winning multiple Porin Awards (Croatia's music awards), releasing countless successful albums and was a judge on the X Factor Adria alongside Željko Joksimović.

Lenny Kuhr - 'De troubadour' (The Netherlands 1969)

Won her national final by 1 point

Lenny Kuhr had some tight contests to eventually take out the Eurovision Song Contest in 1969.

Famously winning in four-way tie in Madrid, she also only scraped through her national final with a one point victory.

At the Nationaal Songfestival 1969 held in Scheveningen, Lenny defeated Conny Vink with her song 'De toeteraar' seven points to six.

The scoring saw 15 international jurors choose their favourite for 1 point each, with Lenny in front five points to three.

The Dutch then gave out a remaining six points, with their jury favouring Conny three points to two.

Lenny would not have been at Madrid to give The Netherlands a victory if an international jury was not used. Perhaps her absence may have changed history and that infamous result.

Brotherhood of Man - 'Save Your Kisses for Me' (UK 1976)

Won their national final by 2 points

'Save Your Kisses for Me' took out the 1976 crown defeating Catherine Ferry from France with 'Un, deux, trois' by 17 points.

But it was 'A Song for Europe 1976' which saw them sneak past the group Co-Co and their song 'Wake Up' by just two points.

The voting included 14 juries ranking each song with 8 preferring Brotherhood of Man and 6 preferring Co-Co. With just three juries to go, Co-Co actually led by five points.

Co-Co went on to win 'A Song for Europe 1978' with 'The Bad Old Days' finishing 11th at Eurovision (the first time outside the Top 10 for the UK).

Cheryl Baker was a member of the group and would later join Bucks Fizz and take out the Eurovision crown in 1981.

Lost a jury, televote or semi-final

Salvador Sobral - 'Amar pelos dois' (Portugal 2017)

Lost the public vote and his semi-final

'Amar pelos dois' has the highest winning points of all time and is the only song to win both the jury and televote since the Eurovision scoring change in 2016.

However, in the first semi-final of 'Festival da Canção 2017' he didn't even win that!

The local jury gave him the full 12 points but the public were unimpressed placing him in 3rd place behind semi-final winner Viva La Diva with 'Nova glória' and Fernando Daniel with 'Poema a dois'.

In fact in the Grand Final of Festival da Canção the public continued to get behind Viva La Diva giving her 12 points again.

Unfortunately for her, she only finished fifth in the jury handing Salvador victory.

National final juries get a lot stick at times, but it seems they saved Portugal from themselves that year!

Marija Šerifović - Molitva (Serbia 2006)

Lost her national final jury vote

Marija Šerifović won Serbia their first and only Eurovision title in 2007 with a 33 point victory over Verka Serduchka from Ukraine with 'Dancing Lasha Tumbai'.

Rewind back to March at 'Beovizija 2007' and we find that Serbian jury didn't get behind their eventual Eurovision winner.

The rock band Negative with their song 'Prava stvar' won the three-person jury with Dragana Šarić (aka Bebi Doll who represented Yugoslavia in 1991) only putting Marija in 7th place.

Molitva easily won the public vote with Negative finishing 8th with the televote and 3rd overall.

Bobbysocks! - 'La det swinge' (Norway 1985)

Lost the "expert" jury

Bobbysocks! would hand Norway their first Eurovision victory with an 18 point victory over Wind from Germany and their song 'Für alle'.

At Melodi Grand Prix that year the Norwegian regional juries comfortably chose the eventual Eurovision winners.

However, an international expert made up of Tony Visconti (American producer who worked with David Bowie and T.Rex), Anne-Marie David (1973 Eurovision winner), Stig Anderson (the manager of ABBA) and Ronnie Hazlehurst (BBC composer and conductor) unanimously chose another song!

Anita Skorgan with 'Karma' was the expert's jury's choice however she would eventually lose by six points to Bobbysocks!

Anita had represented Norway at Eurovision three times previously in 1977, 1979 and 1982 (with her then husband Jahn Teigan).

Saved with a wildcard

Netta - 'Toy' (Israel 2018)

Netta would give Israel their first Eurovision win since 1998 defeating Eleni Foureira's 'Fuego' for Cyprus.

But before there was 'Toy' there was 'HaKokhav HaBa L'Eurovizion', a contest to find Israel's Eurovision artist of 2018.

After 10 auditions, six heats, a quarter-final and a semi-final, four artists made the Grand Final.

In the first round of the Grand Final the artists were put in head-to-head duels with Netta losing out to 52-year-old powerhouse Riki Ben Ari.

Luckily for Netta (and Israel) the jury saved her out of the two losing performers. She would win the final three comfortably and go on to claim Eurovision victory.

Ell and Nikki - 'Running Scared' (Azerbaijan 2011)

Milli Seçim Turu 2011 was the selection show to choose the artist (not the song) for Azerbaijan in Dusseldorf.

Following the seven heats both Eldar Gasimov (Ell) and Nigar Jamal (Nikki) both finished runner-up as individuals not automatically qualifying for the semi-final.

Luckily for the pair, they were both saved by the jury as wild cards to advance.

The both advanced to the five-person Grand Final thanks to the jury as Ell finished 6th in the public vote and Nikki last.

Ilhama Gasimova, who beat Nikki in the heats, won the public vote.

In the final the jury had the total say choosing the two to represent Azerbaijan as a pair, it's fair to say if the public had a say, it may not have been the case!

So, the course of history could have easily been changed with a jury member vote here and scoring system there. Ultimately it also shows the quality of national finals are often very high and that the biggest battle can be just getting to the Contest.

Will Kalush Orchestra make history as the first act to lose a national final but win the title? We'll find out in May.


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