Australia’s Eurovision history is longer than Guy Sebastian’s or Jessica Mauboy’s moment on the big Euro stage. Go back to that seminal year of 1974 in Brighton, England. Besides the winning earworm “Waterloo”, you might have been tapping your toes to a sweet, young, blonde singer dressed in a long, baby blue frock belting out what sounded like a Salvation Army jingle: “Long Live Love”.
That lovely lass was the English-born, but Australian-raised, Olivia Newton-John. Finishing in fourth place, her performance remains one of Australia’s best results in Eurovision (only recently beaten by Dami Im). Her song – and very '70s gown – had been chosen in a vote by the British public. Given the ongoing reaction to Brexit, sometimes a popular vote choice doesn’t seem as popular, or wise, in hindsight.
Fast forward just over 20 years and we land in Oslo 1996 to meet Brisbane-born Gina Mary Gardiner, who as Gina G entered the British “Song for Europe” contest with “Ooh Aah… Just a Little Bit”. The tune, selected to represent the nation, was composed by Simon Tauber and DJ/producer Steve Rodway, better known as Motiv8 (remember 1995’s “Rockin’ For Myself”?).
At the time, the Brits were submitting something revolutionary – a dance/pop song nearly entirely “played” on a computer programmed by Rodway. It didn’t hurt Ms G either to be wearing one of Cher’s cast-offs, a stage costume designed by Paco Rabanne that the American uber-diva didn’t want. The song charted across the globe and is embraced as one of “the” Eurovision standards of all time.
Skipping into the next century - and at Athens 2006, we find Melbourne-born, Hamburg-based, classically trained musician Jane Comerford. Now, Eurovision has been known to offer up some odd mixes: In Stockholm 2000, Roger Ponatre had represented the home team with native North American anthem “When Spirits Are Calling My Name” despite not having a skerrick of Apache, Sioux or similar blood in his veins. Jane Comerford was out front of the country-inspired band Texas Lightning for Germany, who overwhelmingly sent her to the big Euro-rodeo with “No No Never”. Sadly, it limped to 14th place in the grand final.
Anje Nissen, born in Winmalee, NSW to Danish parents, is the latest Aussie to go for glory for a European competitor. She’s left her birth nation behind and headed straight to her heritage. Last year, she competed in the Danish finals for Stockholm 2016, coming second. This year, she slayed the competition pulling in 64 percent of the votes to send her to Kyiv 2017.
Her song, “Where I Am”, is packed with classic Eurovision voting bait – an attractive singer who can sing, a tune with a decent hook, and several high notes to belt out and hold - and may snare jury and public votes alike.
Australia is always expecting big points from Denmark - we did give them their future queen, after all. However, will Anje’s song and performance be enough to bag Australia's vote?
Well, hold on. Firstly, she must qualify for the grand final, just like Australia’s Isaiah. But here’s the fly on the sausage sizzle - she’s in semi-final 2; Isaiah's in semi-final 1, meaning Denmark and Australia can’t vote for each other. Both have to get to the grand final - and given Isaiah must be one of 10 from 18 contenders and Anja’s got to push through 19 in her semi to be in that top 10, it’s not a given. However, it’s definitely probable. What happens in the grand final then is anyone’s guess. Sure, she won The Voice Australia in 2014 and has a following locally, but is it enough?
Already the ESC (Euovision Song Contest) voting analysts - yes, such people exist in ESC-land - have pegged Australia’s voting taste. We like up-tempo bangers. Last year, Belgian pocket dynamo Laura Tesoro and “What’s The Pressure?” scored the double douze points from the Aussie jury and public. The year before, the public were all over the eventual winner from Sweden, Måns Zelmerlöw with “Heroes”.
Looking at the SBS unofficial voting results in the years prior to 2015, we seem to be welded to whatever Sweden offered - except when Jedward competed for Ireland. If Anja is there on grand final night, alongside the appealing Justin Timberlake-a-like Robin Bengtsson of Sweden (who is in semi-final 1 and should qualify), will Australia’s 12-point allocation be a new twist in the 21st century’s gripping Nordic Noir genre?
The Eurovision Song Contest will be broadcast over SBS’s Eurovision weekend - Friday 12 May, Saturday 13 May, and Grand Final Sunday 14 May at 7.30pm on SBS with LIVE early morning broadcasts begin Wednesday 10 May at 5am on SBS.