During his ten-year tenure as Executive Supervisor of the Eurovision Song Contest, humble Norwegian Jon Ola Sand has reached cult-figure status among the fervent Eurovision fan base. In part, this can be attributed to the deadpan delivery of his catch-phrase “Take it away!” but this fandom is also grounded in his love of the contest and his endeavours to refresh the format of one of the world’s largest televised events.
It was under Sand’s watchful eye that, arguably, one of the biggest changes to the contest was made, with Australia introduced to the contest proper. The 2020 contest, which was to be staged in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, was to be Jon Ola Sand’s swansong. However, instead of leading the team producing a series of hectic live show(s), he’ll be overseeing an alternative event – Eurovision: Europe Shine a Light screening on SBS on Sunday 17 May at 8:30pm, wrapping up our week-long celebration of Eurovision.
Sand admits that his team was placed under enormous pressure to conceptualise an alternative program to the live event. “There was a very quick turnaround for Eurovision: Europe Shine a Light,” he reflects, adding with a small sigh, “it’s not been easy”.
“You work for almost a year (on the live show) and you know what you want to achieve,” Sand explains. “And, there’s a rhythm to the process and you have time to prepare,” he says of his regular approach to planning out the staging of Eurovision.
“But the team at the EBU (European Broadcasting Union) and the Dutch broadcasters have worked really hard,” Sand continues in reference to their combined efforts to produce the alternative show. “We’ve created a grand show, a very different way of connecting Europe… and Australia.”
Eurovision: Europe Shine a Light will celebrate the 41 artists that would have been performing at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2020 and will air in place of the Grand Final. Hosted by Dutch celebrities Chantal Janzen, Edsilia Rombley and Jan Smit the alternative show will be broadcast from a sound studio in Hilversum, The Netherlands.
It will “honour all the artists (from this year’s contest),” Sand emphasises and will include “home interviews, music from (this year’s artists) and artists from previous years will also appear,” he continues.
We can expect a spectacular line-up of former contestants to perform throughout the program including popular previous winners Netta (Israel, 2018), Måns Zelmerlöw (Sweden, 2015), Marija Šerifović (Serbia, 2007) and Gali Atari (Israel, 1979) who will sing her iconic Hallelujah accompanied by a choir consisting of former Junior Eurovision contestants.
The huge Eurovision fan base from around the world will also attempt to create something special for the screening as they embark on a global sing-a-long of Melbourne-born Johnny Logan’s (Ireland, 1980, 1987) winning entry ‘What’s Another Year’ accompanied by the man himself.
As Jan Ola Sand steps down from the role of Executive Supervisor of the world’s largest singing contest he leaves behind a significant legacy of change. Reflecting on his time in charge he admits that including Australia in the contest is one of the introductions he’s most proud of.
“Australia adds flavour, diversity,” he offers. “And (Australia) has sent consistently really good acts (to the contest)”.
Further to this he adds “Australia’s passion for Eurovision, incredible history with the contest and its high fan base (make) it logical to be included”.
“I think it’s great to connect other parts of the world (to the contest).”
In February Sand was a celebrated guest at Eurovision: Australia Decides on the Gold Coast and was full of praise for the live event.
“Australia Decides is a high-end production,” he gushes “with excellent hosts and a devoted team.” The diversity of acts on offer also impressed him, leading him to suggest that the local internal selection show is “something very special”. He quickly goes on to add that, with this year’s show, Australia had chosen a “really, really great winner (in Montaigne).”
During Jon Ola Sand’s tenure the Norwegian has been instrumental in implementing improvements to the live shows including, altering the way the Grand Final running order was determined as well as introducing a new delivery of the voting results to heighten the tension at the end of the show.
“It’s a proven formula,” Sand starts when discussing the Grand Final running order. His position on this is very clear. “(We) put the best running order together to create the best program.”
On the changes to the voting delivery he’s also matter-of-fact. “The way we present the voting – by splitting the jury and public vote – this creates much, much more excitement.”
And as for the future of the contest, Sand is philosophical. “(My hope is) that the contest stays strong and develops slowly. It’s a fantastic cultural event that needs to be taken care of.”
“It needs a steady hand that can evolve the show at the right pace so it can live on for many, many more years to come,” he offers when asked about the task that awaits incoming Executive Supervisor, Swede, Martin Österdahl.
Sand himself is oblivious to the notion that he’s become quite the cult figure among Eurovision fans courtesy of his catch-phrase, “Take it away!” When presented with examples of the various memes, gifs and even a T-shirt featuring Sand and those three iconic words he elicits a big healthy chuckle.
“I’ll have to get one of those,” he says in reference to the T-shirt emblazoned with his face. “I’m not scripted,” he says holding back the giggles. “So, I needed words to be precise to hand back to the hosts (of the live show).”
“It works… and it stuck,” he jokes.
Following the unprecedented cancellation of the Eurovision Song Contest this year, SBS is holding a week-long festival of Eurovision from 10-17 May, culminating in brand new alternative programming for Eurovision 2020 this weekend.
Tune into SBS on Saturday 16 May at 7.30pm for Eurovision 2020: Big Night In! hosted by Eurovisionaries, Joel Creasey and Myf Warhurst. SBS invited Australia to vote for their favourite three 2020 Eurovision acts from all competing nations; watch as we countdown the results of the poll over three big hours, and catch performances from some very special guests.
Dress to impress, and join the conversation using #SBSEurovision and #BigNightIn, for the chance to see your tweets and socially-distanced party pics featured on screen.
Airing on SBS on Sunday 17 May at 8.30pm will be a special two-hour program Eurovision: Europe Shine a Light from the Netherlands.