Isaiah Firebrace’s chances of representing Australia in Eurovision 2017 were cemented when he won the eighth season of The X Factor in 2016. These days, with the popularity of talent competition TV shows across the globe, Isaiah has this in common with many other Eurovision contenders.
The highly formulaic TV shows are a fertile training ground for Eurovision, which is really just one supersized reality show - albeit one which has a potential audience of around 204 million. The Eurovision Song Contest has the sort of reach talent show titan Simon Cowell could only dream about.
According to the many bookies monitoring the lineup of talent, Firebrace has an excellent chance of pulling off the big win. The 17-year-old from the remote New South Wales town of Moama is the bookies’ sixth favourite after Italy, Bulgaria, Sweden, Belgium and Portugal. He’s a serious contender.
With his reality show background, he’s following on from the fine tradition of Australia’s former Eurovision contestants - Dami Im, who won the fifth season of The X Factor in 2013 and went on to place second in last year’s Eurovision; Australian Idol’s inaugural winner and The X Factor mentor Guy Sebastian, who finished fifth in 2015; and, of course, Jessica Mauboy, who was runner-up in Australian Idol in 2006 and performed during the interval at Eurovision in 2014.
Interestingly, Firebrace is up against another Australian reality star, Anja Nissen. She is a Danish-Australian who won the third season of The Voice Australia in 2014 and is now representing Denmark in Eurovision. A quick scan of the backgrounds of the other bookies’ favourites reveals that nearly all of them graduated from reality TV's school of plenty of hard knocks.
Among them there’s Kristian Kostov, the 17-year-old representing Bulgaria after becoming known as a finalist in season one of The Voice Kids Russia and runner-up in the fourth season of The X Factor Bulgaria. There’s also the stylish Swedish entrant, 26-year-old Robin Bengtsson, who took part in Swedish Idol in 2008, placing third.
Close behind him, according to the bookies, is yet another ex-reality show star, 17-year-old Blanche, a singer/songwriter who wowed European audiences following her appearance on The Voice Belgique. Nearest on the list to Firebrace is Portugal’s hope, Salvador Sobral, 27, who took part in the 2009 season of Idolos, Portugal’s version of Idol.
That’s five of the bookies’ top six artists who have participated in some kind of televised talent show. It’s a statistic that says much about the viability of reality shows as a platform for rising stars and what they have to teach up-and-coming artists about not only working on their voices but their performance craft. It equips them as nothing else can for Eurovision.
Certainly, Firebrace has grown tremendously as an entertainer since he first auditioned for The X Factor. He went from someone who had hardly been out of his hometown to entertaining celebrities at G’day LA. It's that sort of transformation that proves those people who thought it fashionable several years ago to deride TV talent shows were way off the mark.
World-class performers like Sebastian, Mauboy, the various members of One Direction and countless others have given reality shows credibility. And, when it comes to Eurovision, winning a reality show is the best experience you could possibly have - as Isaiah Firebrace is about to find out.
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.