Aficionados of the annual glamfest that is the Eurovision Song Contest should be able to hazard a guess as to where the various countries will swing their prized “douze points”. Greece gives 12 to Cyprus and Cyprus returns the favour. Russia dishes points out over most of Eastern Europe and scores big from most of the former members of the USSR in return.
The Scandinavians all vote for each other and Poland has staged the most successful occupation of another country – check out how the “televote” (i.e. the public vote) from the United Kingdom goes each year! It used to be the same with Germany and Turkey, until Turkey decided to fold up their silken tent and go home, muttering darkly about unfair rules and other European injustices.
There is a different vibe, though, on the ground at each ESC. The camaraderie between performers is almost unlike anything you’d expect. We know elite sportspeople make a show of keeping their distance from their competitors during active engagement, but tend to come together afterwards for pleasantries over a bevvie or three. (Unless you are the Indian and Australian cricket teams…)
But almost to a vocal cord, every performer at ESC sends out the message that they “love” the other songs and the other singers before anyone's hit the stage. They praise the quality of each year’s competition and how “amazing” it is just to "be here”, getting to be a part of an immense show.
And that’s the thing - each country's delegation (which includes head of delegation, performers, songwriters, staging consultants, publicity peeps… it’s a full crew!) truly embraces the concept that Eurovision is a show. It’s a massive three-night televised concert held in an atmosphere akin to football finals. Each country is but one three-minute component of that spectacle and wants to be seen to be doing their part and not letting the side down.
Having been to three of these extravaganzas, you gain some interesting insights into what performers think of their competition. In 2015, which, after 30 years of dreaming, was Australia's first year as a participant, I got to know several of the more experienced journos and ESC scribes while attending as a radio journalist for Brisbane’s 4ZZZ Queer Radio program. A German writer asked me to take some photos while he was interviewing Nadav Guedj, who was competing for Israel with "Golden Boy".
At the end, Guedj was asked about his thoughts on other acts that year and he gushed about Guy Sebastian and "Tonight Again", praising the quality of the song as well as Sebastian's vocal range and style. I piped up, "You'd have to say that with an Australian in the room." He replied, "You are an Australian? I thought you were a German! Oh man, your song is so good!" and gave me a massive hug.
Last year in Stockholm, Sanja Vučić from Serbia was walking out of her press cabin just as Dami Im was doing a run through of “Sound of Silence” onstage and being broadcast throughout the press centre. Vučić has an impressive set of lungs and seemingly out of nowhere joined Im in an impromptu duet, belting out the chorus and then saying, "Man, I love this song. What a voice she has!” She was totally unaware she just happened to be standing in front of me and the rest of the Australian press contingent.
There was a palpable sense of solidarity in Copenhagen 2014, watching how the other performers (Ruth Lorenzo of Spain and Sanna Nielsen from Sweden, most notably) showed their overwhelming support and joy at Conchita Wurst winning for Austria. This was stuff that couldn’t be faked or scripted. The Danish host broadcaster knew those moments are broadcasting gold, because they show things the public rarely, if ever, get to see. They got their cameras in the right place at the right time to capture it.
What will happen this year in Kyiv, where the theme is “Celebrate Diversity”? Eurovision is nothing if not diverse and most performers have shown in the past that they rate performer unity very highly.
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.