Eurovision’s Nul Points Survivors’ Club: what does it feel like to score zero?
Despite being one of the most quoted – and feared – scores in Eurovision, only 37 grand final acts know what its like to receive the fabled “nul points” in the contest’s 64-year history. Gulp!
Some participants, like Norway’s 1978 entrant Jahn Teigen, turned his failure to gain a single point with ‘Mil etter Mil (Mile by Mile)’ into an underdog success. He called his subsequent album ‘This Year’s Loser’, and returned to compete later in 1982 and 1983 – where he fared better, reaching 12th and 9th place respectively. Others, like Daniel Ágúst, who represented Iceland in 1982 with the nul points-notching ‘Það Sem Enginn Sér (What No One Sees)’, went on to form the cult indie band GusGus.
To date, only two UK acts have fallen victim to the curse, Jemini in 2003 and James Newman in 2021, the latter being the only time an act has managed it since the scoring system changed in 2008. But how does it feel to be part of the club no-one wants to be in? NME spoke to some survivors to discover what happened next.
In 2003, Jemini – a Liverpudlian pop duo comprising Chris Cromby and Gemma Abbey – became the first act from the United Kingdom to receive nul points with ‘Cry Baby’, a song written by Martin Isherwood.
“During the scoring, there was a lot of alcohol involved!”
Chris Cromby: “I met Gemma when we were teenagers in a touring performing arts roadshow in Liverpool. After going to college, we started recording a number of Martin Isherwood-written tracks through a producer we were working with. We recorded ‘Cry Baby’ as A Song for Europe contender, and ended up winning it and being selected as the act to represent the UK in Eurovision in Riga in 2003. It all went tits up on the night. We were the only act there that didn’t have in-ear monitors so when the song started, Gemma couldn’t hear herself to pitch properly, and we ended up getting the dreaded nul points.”
“During the scoring, there was a lot of alcohol involved! We had to sit through 26 countries voting, and we weren’t receiving any points – so each time a country voted, we’d take a big gulp of wine. It was nerve-wracking and nail-biting sitting there and afterwards when we received nul points overall, there was disbelief. I was 20 and Gemma was 21, but we were chipper and resilient. Our attitude was that we needed to get a second single out and tour live to prove to people we could sing, but we weren’t given that opportunity. We were dropped by our label and management, our album – which was already recorded – was never released and we were left to fend for ourselves overnight.”
“The press coverage was brutal and personal. Louis Walsh said that I looked like I worked behind the chemist at Boots. But with each article, we’d say: ‘At least people are still talking about us!’ I’m glad this was in the days before social media, because that would have affected us worse.”
“For our 20th anniversary, and to celebrate Eurovision being held in our home of Liverpool on behalf of Ukraine, we’ve been performing live gigs to Eurovision fans and it’s felt like therapy which has healed any wounds. People have been bringing their ‘Cry Baby’ CDs from 20 years ago to be signed, and it’s made me emotional and we’re even releasing a new single called ‘Constantly‘”.
“It felt like a Gareth Southgate moment in Euro ’96 where you miss the penalty and suddenly, you’ve became the nation’s villain.”
Martin Isherwood: “The day after winning A Song For Europe, I rang up Jemini’s manager and said: ‘I had a nightmare we got the worst UK result ever!’ I had feared it for all sorts of reasons: our reputation in Europe at the time due to the Iraq war, and also because the small label Jemini were on couldn’t afford to tour the single around Europe to build momentum.”
“Even though there was hype around the song, I didn’t go to the contest in Riga for a number of reasons, including my dislike of flying and my deteriorating relationship with the BBC – I felt like I was being treated like a gameshow winner rather than a professional songwriter. When I asked the BBC for in-ear monitors because Jemini struggled with their tuning, I was told it would destroy the vibe. Every other artist had them. I watched Eurovision in Manchester in a public showing. When the song came on, I turned round to my friend – a producer – and said: ‘They’ve sent the unmastered track!’ and you couldn’t hear the bass properly. I’m glad I didn’t go to the contest because the performance was a train crash I could see coming from a mile away!”
“By the time of the scoring, I’d moved to a pub with family and friends. I’d heard it go badly wrong and it was demoralising – but nothing compared to the vitriol that was unleashed after the result. The flak all went to the two singers who did their best and were badly let down and abandoned pretty much after that. For me, it knocked my confidence. It felt like a Gareth Southgate moment in Euro ’96 where you miss the penalty and all of a sudden, rather than being the nation’s darling, you became the nation’s villain.”
“Twenty years later, I think Jemini have been rehabilitated. They’ve always had cult status among Eurovision fans and there’s a lot of affection for them. Nobody likes coming last – but somebody has to – yet 20 years later, I know ‘Cry Baby’ is still a good song that I can be proud of.”
In 2015, Ann Sophie, singing ‘Black Smoke’ became the first German act to receive nul points since 1965.
“When I look back at it now, I want to hug that girl”
“In 2014 I applied for the wildcard entry for independent artists to represent Germany at Eurovision. I was the runner-up in the German pre-selection, but when the original winner Andreas Kümmert, declined to go, this whole crazy journey started. It was three months of intense work, and travelling around performing at events. Sometimes I wasn’t even sure which city I was in!”
“Given the fact I had a cold the week of the final – and performed while still congested – and aged 24, had never performed in front of an audience that big before, I was happy with how my performance went. I can still play it back in my head and the audience’s excitement and cheering is a nice memory to have. During the scoring, after the fifth country gave their vote, I felt it wasn’t going well… that was when I reached for my glass of wine and sat back! I was crushed. When I look back at it now, I want to hug that girl because I can see it in her eyes. I tried to be strong and I wish I’d allowed myself to feel sad.”
“Coming in last with zero points was hard, but what happened next was worse. I was dropped by everyone. I felt my dream crumble. I was having self-doubt, thinking: ‘I’m not a good enough singer’. I thought I needed a Plan B and studied business psychology, but I continued to write songs and couldn’t quell my desire to be an artist, singer and performer. But it took courage to present myself at auditions because I thought I was still seen as this girl who got zero points at Eurovision who isn’t worth it. I felt alone and it was hard to pick myself up. I had a mental health crisis for many years after Eurovision, and some days, I wished I had never gone.”
“One day, I applied to The Voice in Germany in order to tell my story, and my success on that gave me closure. I continue to release pop songs independently, and have had the leading role in many musicals. The only thing that upsets me sometimes is the press in Germany try to reduce me and my artistry to this one specific evening eight years ago which doesn’t feel fair.”
In 2015, Austria’s The Makemakes received nul points for the song ‘I Am Yours’ – the first time a host country has bottomed out with zero. It also marked the first time since 1997 that two countries scored nul points: Austria and Germany.
“Maybe we shouldn’t have burned the piano!”
The Makemakes’ Dominic Muhrer: “I was never the biggest Eurovision fan beforehand because sometimes it can feel more about the politics than the music, but we entered the Austrian contest to represent our country because we felt it would be nice to have a bigger audience and some TV presence. We knew that it would be impossible to win because Austria was the host nation, having won the Eurovision the year before with Conchita Wurst’s ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’. We didn’t think it was possible for a country to win two years in a row, so we just set out to have a good time. The production team around us didn’t really know what to do which didn’t help. Maybe we shouldn’t have burned the piano! I still think our song ‘I Am Yours’ is good, with a timeless Beatles vibe.”
“It’s never nice not to get appreciation for something you love, but the most difficult part for us was we decided to drink for every zero points we received, so there was a lot of wine involved! We made the best out of it. We would do Eurovision again. It was a good time. Afterwards, we made the joke of singing ‘We are the zeros of our time!’, referencing a lyric from the winning song ‘Heroes’ [by Måns Zelmerlöw] – because we always try and stick to the fun, positive part of making music.”
“During Eurovision, we went from zero to 100 and were superstars in Austria but the media quickly dropped us afterwards. We still had songs on the radio, and supported OneRepublic on tour, but the energy was going out of it which was one reason why we decided to step back from playing live. We didn’t break up, and our friendship is still intact, but we’re not playing as musicians at the moment. I started a new yacht-rock project, Loveboat, and our album came out recently.”
“There’s a lot of people who’ve competed in Eurovision who’ve scored average amounts of points and everyone forgets them. At least everybody remembers the ones who scored nul points!”