• In 2012, Engelbert Humperdinck could cross Eurovision off his bucket list. (EBU)Source: EBU
They already had international hits but the lure of the song contest proved too great.
By
Gavin Scott

3 May 2017 - 3:44 PM  UPDATED 18 May 2021 - 3:42 PM

ABBA. Celine Dion. Julio Iglesias. Nana Mouskouri. They all came to fame following their respective appearances at Eurovision. But what about the successful music acts that competed once they were already famous?

Proving it’s not just reality show winners from Estonia and Maltese pop stars unknown outside their home country who turn up each year, some acts had well-established international fan bases prior to Eurovision. Whether they were attempting to reignite their career or still had a flourishing one at the time, Eurovision was just another chapter in a story that had already begun.

Cliff Richard

Year: 1968

Country represented: United Kingdom

Song: “Congratulations”

Sir Cliff had landed his first hit single a decade earlier with 1958’s “Move It” and hadn’t been far from the UK top 10 ever since. Britain’s answer to Elvis Presley – he also starred in films – had toned down his rock’n’roll image by 1968 in line with his renewed emphasis on Christianity. Appearing at the family friendly Eurovision fitted in just perfectly. He also competed again in 1973.

Lulu

Year: 1969

Country represented: United Kingdom

Song:  “Boom Bang-A-Bang”

She was only 15 when she enjoyed her first hit, 1964’s “Shout”, and by 1969, Lulu already had an American chart-topper under her belt thanks to the theme from To Sir With Love, in which she appeared. When she wasn’t singing or acting, the Scottish all-rounder hosted variety TV programs in the UK and, in 1969, performed all six songs in contention to represent the UK at Eurovision on her show It’s Happening For Lulu. Her viewers voted for “Boom Bang-A-Bang”, which went on to tie with the songs from Spain, the Netherlands and France for first place.

Olivia Newton-John

Year: 1974

Country represented: United Kingdom

Song: “Long Live Love”

Yes, her Grease and Xanadu days were still ahead of her, but ONJ was already a successful recording artist in 1974, having reached number 1 in Australia and number 6 in the UK with her version of “Banks Of The Ohio” in 1971. Like Lulu, Livvy recorded all six potential Eurovision entries in 1974 and included them all on her album also called Long Live Love. Not a fan of the tune the British public chose for her to sing, Olivia favoured runner-up “Angel Eyes” instead.

Baccara

Year: 1978

Country represented: Luxembourg

Song: “Parlez-vous Francais?”

Yes sir, they could boogie and after their debut single became one of the biggest global hits of 1977, Spanish duo Baccara somewhat randomly ended up representing Luxembourg at Eurovision the following year. Performed in French, disco track “Parlez-vous Francais?” only came seventh but gave Mayte Mateos and María Mendiola another European hit.

Katrina & The Waves

Year: 1997

Country represented: United Kingdom

Song: “Love Shine A Light”

In 1997, it’d been 12 long years since “Walking On Sunshine”, that energetic burst of feel-good ’80s pop that’d put Katrina & The Waves on the world stage. Stories vary about just how the band fronted by American singer Katrina Leskanich ended up at Eurovision, but one thing’s for sure - the Waves’ primary songwriter, Kimberly Rew, became uncomfortable being part of the spectacle and didn’t even join the rest of the band to perform on the night. Whoever’s idea it’d been to enter the song, it proved to be a good one, with “Love Shine A Light” triumphing by a then-record margin.

t.A.T.u.

Year: 2003

Country represented: Russia

Song: "Ne Ver', Ne Bojsia"

Few outside Russia would’ve known who faux-lesbian duo t.A.T.u. were at the start of 2003, but by the time they represented their homeland at Eurovision at the end of May, they’d become one of the most talked about musical acts in the world. It was all thanks to their global mega-hit, “All The Things She Said”, and their school uniform-clad appearance in its titillating music video. Their headline-grabbing antics continued in the lead-up to the grand final, but despite the hype, the pair finished third.

Anna Vissi

Year: 2006

Country represented: Greece

Song: “Everything”

Greek Cypriot superstar Anna Vissi was still making a name for herself when she competed at Eurovision for Greece in 1980 and Cyprus in 1982. But by the time she returned for her third shot at the title, she’d become one of the most popular Greek-language recording artists in the world. Unless you speak Greek, you’ve probably never heard of her, but to that community, she’s as big as Madonna. But probably not even the Queen of Pop could’ve competed with the juggernaut that was Finland’s Lordi, who were victorious in 2006.

Blue

Year: 2011

Country represented: United Kingdom

Song: “I Can”

At the start of the century, Blue were the UK’s premier boy band, with three consecutive number 1 albums at home, and success as far away as Australia and New Zealand. In 2011, Lee, Duncan, Antony and Simon had reformed after their obligatory solo careers and were on the comeback trail. Despite the affirmatory tone of their song, Blue proved unable not only to win Eurovision but to return to their chart-dominating ways.

Engelbert Humperdinck

Year: 2012

Country represented: United Kingdom

Song: “Love Will Set You Free”’

The UK’s experiment with Blue having proved unsuccessful, attention was turned to a true music legend the following year. Born the much less extravagant Arnold Dorsey, crooner Engelbert Humperdinck had kicked his career off with 1967's dual million-selling UK number 1s “Release Me” and “The Last Waltz”. In 2012, he was, at 76, the oldest contestant ever, but his decades of fame seemingly had no impact and he finished in second-last place. Since then, he’s spoken out against Eurovision, decrying the politicised voting and calling it a “mockery”.

Bonnie Tyler

Year: 2013

Country represented: United Kingdom

Song: “Believe In Me”

After striking out with stars from the 2000s and the ’60s, the UK turned to a Welsh singer who’d been big in the late ’70s and early ’80s for their next entrant. In fact, Bonnie Tyler had first been approached to compete in Eurovision in 1983 at the height of her success. The powerhouse performer of “It’s A Heartache” and “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” (both number 1s in Australia), Bonnie Tyler’s inclusion seemed designed to emulate that of Katrina & The Waves 16 years earlier. Pity her song was such a dirge.

 

The 65th Eurovision Song Contest kicks off in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, broadcast live and in primetime exclusively on SBS and SBS On Demand from 19 to 23 May. 

Stay tuned to the SBS Eurovision website for updates: sbs.com.au/Eurovision

Join the conversation #SBSEurovision #ESC2021