When we last left off, I had just finished giving a pretty detailed rundown of what Eurovision is and how it works.
Now, it’s time to talk about my personal experience with it.
The Beginnings of an Obsession
The year is 2003. A year earlier, I had watched the very first season of American Idol and I had also been introduced to the wonders of the Internet within the last couple of years, although at that time I had kept my surfing to, primarily, a fan site dedicated to the actor Daniel Radcliffe, the Harry Potter fan site Mugglenet, and CBBC’s Newsround site (it was basically a news show for kids, but it was my primary source for news online at the time). And it was this exact picture that got my attention in the spring of that year, and it was on the Newsround website for a very dubious reason.
It was the British pop duo Jemini, made up of friends Gemma Abbey and Chris Cromby (in other words, “Gem and I”…get it?). I learned they had been selected to represent the United Kingdom at something called the Eurovision Song Contest with a song called “Cry Baby”, and ended up giving the U.K. its worst result ever: 26th and last place in the Grand Final, and it had failed to get a single vote on the leaderboard, scoring 0 points (or what is referred to in Eurovision fan circles as the dreaded nul points or nil points, both pronounced in French, although these terms are not officially used by the EBU). It was the first time the U.K. had ever finished last at the Contest and the first time the U.K. had failed to receive a single vote, and thus any points (although it has happened twice since then, in 2008 and 2010, and in both those instances the U.K. did receive votes.) Some blamed this on backlash against the U.K. getting involved with the U.S.-led Iraq War that year, but once I finally got a chance to actually watch the performance several years later, the more likely reason for Jemini’s last-place finish became pretty obvious and it had nothing to do with politics. Warning: your ears may be offended by this performance.
As you can hear, the singers (especially Gemma) sang way off-key, by the sound of things (to my ears) at least a half-step sharp.
The news of this duo was my first-ever introduction to Eurovision.
Fast-forward three years to 2006. I was 19 and I hear of this heavy metal band from Finland who had just qualified to the Final with a song called “Hard Rock Hallelujah”.
I remember watching video of the band’s semifinal performance and saying to myself, “This band has to win this year. Their song is too awesome.” The name of the band was Lordi, and as it turns out, they did in fact end up winning the 2006 Contest.
Over the next few years, Serbia 🇷🇸, Russia 🇷🇺, Norway 🇳🇴, and Germany 🇩🇪 all won (“Molitva” by Marija Serifović, “Believe” by Dima Bilan, “Fairytale” by Alexander Rybak, and “Satellite” by Lena, respectively), and the last Eurovision winner I had heard before my self-imposed sabbatical from anything to do with computers was Azerbaijan’s 🇦🇿 first and only winner to date, “Running Scared” by Ell & Nikki. Little did I know over those next few years, the Contest would produce a few gems.
Emerging from a Hiatus
I went into a self-imposed sabbatical from computers and the internet that lasted about three years, from May 2012 to May 2015. It began right after Eurovision 2012 (but I didn’t follow it that year) and ended right after Eurovision 2015. During that time, though, I did hear about Conchita Wurst’s victory for Austria at Eurovision 2014 through The Graham Norton Show (yes, we know who Graham Norton is here in the States: his show airs weekly on BBC America, and he is thoroughly entertaining and sets up a fun environment for his guests). Graham even had Conchita come on as a musical guest on his show and, of course, Conchita brought down the house.
For those of you unfamiliar with Conchita, Conchita Wurst is the drag persona of Austrian singer Thomas “Tom” Neuwirth, who first rose to fame finishing second on an Idol-like show called Starmania (which is not an official Idols series in Austria; its run ended a decade ago and Austrians are currently allowed to compete on Germany’s version of the Idols format, Deutschland sucht den SuperStar). After some time spent in an Austrian boy band called Jetzt Anders! (which consisted of finalists from Starmania), Neuwirth re-emerged on the music scene as his drag persona, Conchita Wurst. Conchita was noted for being a “bearded lady” character, and after coming second in Austria’s national final in 2012, the Austrian broadcaster selected Conchita to represent Austria at Eurovision 2014 with the song “Rise Like a Phoenix”. After advancing to the Grand Final, the song won Eurovision 2014 with 290 points, marking Austria’s first win in nearly 50 years (its first victory was in 1966, “Merci, Chérie” by Udo Jürgens).
When I made my return to technology in 2015, Måns Zelmerlöw had just delivered Sweden 🇸🇪 its sixth Eurovision victory (now one win away from tying Ireland’s 🇮🇪 record of seven wins). The following year, I finally got to watch a Grand Final when Eurovision broadcast the first of three Grand Finals in the United States on the cable channel Logo, and I got to see Jamala win for Ukraine 🇺🇦, Salvador Sobral for Portugal 🇵🇹, and Netta win for Israel 🇮🇱. Sadly, it looks like Eurovision will not be broadcast on American television this year, but I hope the internet will provide a source for me to watch it anyway. Although American Eurovision fans are few and far between, we do come in all shapes, sizes, colors, genders, and orientations. One of my favorite fan sites to go to is Wiwibloggs, which covers the Contest and its alumni year-round with correspondents from all over the world. I’ve also recently discovered a YouTuber named Alesia Michelle who has an entire channel dedicated to her love of Eurovision and I hope to get a chance to check out her videos in depth.
Eurovision’s Wackier Moments
Finally, I can’t go without mentioning some of the stranger performances and moments that have taken place in Eurovision’s history. While Eurovision was presented as a straightforward song competition for much of its history, in the last two decades, it has become known for being a visual spectacle (especially after the live orchestra was discontinued) in addition for the songs competing in it. Although one notable moment did come about before then: Bucks Fizz, Eurovision 1981. This moment is really best experienced in motion.
That infamous “skirt rip” caused quite a stir for the British pop group, but it ultimately helped the group win that year’s Contest with their song “Making Your Mind Up”, and the skirt rip is still considered an iconic moment in Eurovision history.
And some other memorably wacky moments in Eurovision history:
Montenegro’s Slavko Kalezić whipping his braid around while performing “Space” in 2017; sadly, he did not make the Final. He later tried out for The X Factor UK (after previously being a contestant on the Balkan version), getting cut at the Judges’ Houses stage.
Or German comedian Stefan Raab famously asking in joke German “Wadde hadde dudde da?” (“What is it that you there have?”) at Eurovision 2000 while in this getup:
A few years before Conchita’s victory, the Austrian rap duo Trackshittaz (yes, the EBU let them compete with that name, even though it technically contains a profanity) failed to advance from their semifinal in 2012 while telling us “Woki mit deim Popo”, which is colloquial Austrian German for “Shake Your Ass”, along with the accompanying booty shaking.
In 2010 a meme was born when Moldovan saxophonist Sergey Stepanov (one third of the group Sunstroke Project) made a few dance moves and became the Epic Sax Guy during their performance of “Run Away”…
…and then brought back his Epic Sax Mojo when Sunstroke Project returned for Moldova 🇲🇩 in 2017 with their song “Hey Mamma”…and made it all the way to 3rd place 🥉, giving Moldova its best Eurovision finish ever.
In 2014, Romania 🇷🇴 featured this as part of its performance of “Miracle” by Paula Seling and Ovi.
In 2012, the Buranovskiye Babushki (The Grannies from Buranovo) managed to touch Europe’s adorable granny nerve and got all the way to second place 🥈 with their song “Party for Everybody”, losing out to Loreen’s mesmerizing performance of “Euphoria”, which gave Sweden its fifth Eurovision win.
And one of my favorite joke acts was when Ireland 🇮🇪 sent a literal turkey 🦃 (actually, a puppet called Dustin the Turkey) to Eurovision 2008 and poked fun at the whole shebang (and Ireland’s more recent Eurovision flops after winning the Contest seven times, including a run of three consecutive wins in the 1990s) with “Irelande Douze Pointe”. True to Dustin’s name, the performance was a turkey (one of a few slang terms we use in the States to refer to a flop), and he failed to advance from the semifinal.
Who knows what memorable, crazy, or wacky moments we could be in for this year? The Grand Final is set to take place this Saturday.