Eurovision: 7 secrets to being a hit at Europe's favorite song contest

Story highlights

  • Ballads and big hair, Europop and patriotism: Eurovision Song Contest celebrates its 60th anniversary this year
  • Don glitter hotpants? Get a Swede to pen your song? CNN takes a look at what it takes to win Europe's favorite song contest

London (CNN)It may be the brashest, brassiest, hardest partying 60-year-old anyone knows.

Europe's beloved song contest, Eurovision was first broadcast in 1956 and it has been sharing its unique blend of ballads and big hair, politics, patriotism and Europop every year since.
    That makes it one of the longest-running TV shows in the world -- and with estimated annual audiences of 180 million according to broadcaster the European Broadcasting Union, arguably one of the best loved.
    If you have been living off-planet and don't know Eurovision, just imagine American Idol backcombed its hair, put on some silver spandex and flung open its doors to entrants from half the world.
    Recent contestants have included a troupe of tuneless Russian grannies and some chesty Polish milkmaids who provocatively churned their way into the imaginations of a generation of middle-aged men.
    Winners have included Lordi, a Finnish metal band dressed as Orcs and, last year, a glamorous bearded lady from Austria.
    It's weird. It's wacky. It's definitely camp. And it has awesome soft power. Up-and-coming nations on the periphery of Europe scramble to host the show to raise their profile on the world stage.
    As Eurovision celebrates a very significant birthday what does it take to win at Europe's favorite song contest?

    1. It's not that much of a big deal if you aren't European

    Azerbaijan hosted in capital city Baku in 2012. Israel has won it three times. And this year Australia will be competing.
    This oddity is down to the fact that members of the European Broadcasting Union, Eurovision's host broadcaster, can all enter if they want to. Members come from 56 countries including some that are probably a surprise like Egypt and Lebanon.
    This still doesn't explain Australia, which Eurovision says is a one-off in honor of the Aussie's love of the camp glitterfest.

    2. But, if you can, be Irish

    Jedward of Ireland performs during the Eurovision in Concert event, in the Melkweg in Amsterdam, on April 21, 2012.
    The small country nestled next to Britain is the most successful Eurovision country ever -- it's won the competition seven times.
    It also spawned the whip-legged global Irish jigging phenomenon "Riverdance," which made its debut as the 1994 interval act.
    Of course, the less we say about Jedward, the surprise-haired twins who represented Ireland in 2011 and 2012, the better.

    3. Failing that, get someone Swedish to write your song

    While some might see Eurovision as a bit of a joke, the glacially cool Swedes take it very seriously indeed.
    Each year they choose their Eurovision entrant in a six-week American Idol-style contest, Melodifestivalen, that is like the Swedish equivalent of the Superbowl.
    Eurovision's most successful act ever, ABBA, is from Sweden and its composers have been behind many winners over the years.
    Within the Swedish music industry, the joke is that their composers are as successful as Ikea.

    4. Remember kids, age means nothing

    Russia's group 'Buranovskiye Babushki' (Buranovo Grannies) performs during the dress rehearsal of the Grand Final of the Eurovision 2012 song contest in the Azerbaijan's capital Baku on May 25, 2012.
    In 2012, Russia sent out a chaotic but smiling troupe of grannies -- and that same year the United Kingdom reanimated the career of 1970s crooner Engelbert Humperdinck.
    The record for the oldest contestant in Eurovision's history, however, goes to 95-year-old Emil Ramsauer, a double bass player with Swiss balladeers Takasa who competed in 2013.
    At the other end of the scale, the youngest ever winner of Eurovision was just 13.
    Sandra Kim representing Belgium in 1986 won with "J'aime la vie" after she hoodwinked producers into believing she was older.

    5. Drag the votes out of them

    From left clockwise: Dana International, Verka Serduchka and Conchita Wurst
    Guys, if you want to win, look out that dress because Eurovision loves a drag act.
    Last year's winner was "bearded lady" Conchita Wurst and a few years earlier, Israeli transgender singer Dana International took home the top prize dressed as a woven mermaid.
    Eurovision's love of the camp sometimes exposes the divisions in Europe.
    Russians were outraged by Wurst's win while Church leaders in the Balkans blamed her for for deadly flooding, saying it was a punishment from God.
    Meanwhile, in Vienna, where this year's competition is taking place, they have put up gay-themed pedestrian-crossing lights.

    6. It's not how you sound, it's what you look like

    Their songs may be long forgotten but their costumes live on.
    Some of the most memorable acts are the ones who wore the craziest costumes.
    Lame, glitter and sequins are perennial hit. And, Bucks Fizz made memorable use of velcro in 1981 when they whipped their skirts off mid-routine.
    But if you really want to make an impression try fancy dress: Previous acts have dressed up as superheroes, a 1970s space explorer and an air stewards.
    Horror is also a popular theme: Romania's memorable 2013 entry Cezar smouldered as a chest-baring glampire while Finnish metal band Lordi, romped to victory in 2006 dressed as skeletal zombies with fangs.
    It's such a big thing that there's even an annual award for the worst dressed act, the Barbara Dex Award. The UK is currently top of the league.

    7. Get a little help from your friends

    A Malmo resident dressed in a viking costume holds a composite 'scandinavian' flag at a Eurovision public viewing area in downtown Malmo ahead of the finals of the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest on May 18, 2013.
    Sometimes it's not how good you are, but whom you know. At least, that's what some say about Eurovision.
    Eurovision faces longstanding accusations of tactical or "bloc" voting.
    Research in 2006 by British scientist Derek Gatherer identified three major voting blocs from which a winner was usually produced.
    They are "The Viking Empire" (Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Iceland among them), "The Warsaw Pact" (Poland, Ukraine, Russia) and "The Balkan Bloc" (Croatia, Lithuania, Macedonia among them).
    Many Eurovision pundits deny that voting patterns are sinister.
    Eurovision researcher Karen Fricker has told CNN that it is natural for countries to vote for neighboring countries with which they share cultural similarities as the votes reflect public tastes.