OK, now that the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest is officially over, perhaps you have been wondering how it is that Australia has been the undiscovered European musical powerhouse all these years? Sure, everyone knows about our actors: Chris Hemsworth, Liam Hemsworth, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts, Cate Blanchett…and many more.
My introduction to the Eurovision Song Contest came in the mid-1970s as a kid in Hong Kong, learning to count in French and being fascinated by the French pronunciation of the names of participating countries. For those of you unfamiliar with this European phenomenon, the Eurovision Song Contest is an annual song competition which began in 1956 as a way of entertaining post-WWII Europe while it attempts to rebuild. In its inaugural competition, held in Switzerland, seven countries participated with two songs each. In 2016, sixty-one countries participated, including Australia.
So, back to the question of how and why Australia was able to join Eurovision. No, the Great Continental Drift did not shift Australia up from the Southern Hemisphere up north – at least I don’t think so, otherwise it would not have taken me more than twenty-four hours to fly to London from Sydney. According to the rules of the competition, eligibility is actually not defined by a country’s geographic location (e.g. Israel and Cyprus are not in the European continent either), but by its membership in the European Broadcasting Union (pay a fee, broadcast the show (or make it available) to at least 98% of your country’s household the previous year, and voila! You are now eligible.
Australians have been fascinated by the goings-on each May at this competition for over thirty years, brought to us by national broadcaster, SBS. The competition has changed a lot since I first watched the show. Before the break-up of the former Soviet Union, there were fewer participating, so each country’s score was announced one by one, in French, then in English. I would repeat each one as a way of learning French. I had an awesome childhood. Now, with so many participating countries, we just skip right to the top three and the show is predominantly spoken in English, which is probably just as well or we would still be watching the semi-finals now, three days later!
In 2014, we were allowed to dip our toes in the Eurovision waters in Denmark (whose Crown Princess, by the way, is Australian-born), performing during the interval. We sent Jessica Mauboy, former runner-up on Australian Idol who has since built a nice career in film and music. She did us proud with her performance and made us wish we were actually competing because she totally nailed it!
With the success of our first foray, the powers-that-be at Eurovision decided to invite Australia to participate, as a novelty, in celebration of the competition’s sixtieth birthday with a wildcard which guaranteed our spot in the Grand Final (yes, yes, it’s a little like cheating, but if the UK can be guaranteed a Finals spot each year, weren’t we just as deserving?). And so in 2015, we packed Guy Sebastian (winner of our first Australian Idol) off to Austria with a song called “Tonight Again“.
Guy’s performance did so well that we decided to compete with everyone else without a wildcard in 2016. Dami Im, winner of X Factor in 2013, was our representative this time. Her performance was as sparkly as her gown on stage, and let’s be honest, we were absolutely pipped at the finish line by the new voting system (and you can’t tell me that the winning song was not a political statement). Though Dami returns home as the runner-up, she has totally won all of Australia and international juries (Dami came first in the Jury’s Votes).
And so I leave you with Dami Im’s “Sound of Silence”. Twelve more months before we head to Ukraine!