Friday 30 September 2016

I know Eurovision's political and cheesy – but I still can't stop singing its praises

Published 10/05/2014 | 02:30

Kasey Smith performs the song
Kasey Smith performs the song "Heartbeat" during the second semi-final at the 59th annual Eurovision Song Contest at the B&W Hallerne in Copenhagen last night

I confess, I am a Eurovision fan. There is no other competition that produces a more wacky, weird and wonderful feast for the eyes and ears. Mind you sometimes the ears can be sorely tested. You can say what you like about the Eurovision but it is never dull.

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Sadly Ireland failed to advance to the final stages of the contest. Kasey Smith and the Irish traditional group Can-Linn, performing 'Heartbeat' was not one of the 10 acts chosen from 15 competitors to advance to tonight's final.

Smith looked stunning and sang very well but for some reason the voters preferred the butter-churner with the big boobs from Poland and the bearded drag queen from Austria.

At first I thought I was seeing things, a shadow across the television perhaps? But then I realised that no, it was in fact a man dressed up as a woman – and he was very pretty – with a beard.

Singing under the name Conchita Wurst, he (real name Tom Neuwirth) sang 'Rise like a Phoenix' and indeed he did. It was joyfully bonkers. The audience lapped it up and he received a huge cheer when the results were announced.

Despite the cheesiness of the Eurovision it still draws us in. As Irish people, we are proud of our Eurovision success. Look how well Johnny Logan has done on the back of his two wins. I still remember the euphoric feeling when he won for the second time. We were good at this. In fact, we were brilliant. It lifted our spirits and his songs are still the mainstay of many a sing-song around the country.

Then we wowed the world with Riverdance. Who could have predicted the phenomena that modern Irish dancing has become. The Eurovision made Irish dancing 'cool'. Who saw that coming? Around the country and indeed the globe, boys and girls were being heaved out of ballet and football classes to take up Irish dancing. Michael Flatley and Jean Butler had transformed the dance from rows of swirling, curly-wigged curtains into a cool, sexy, sultry dance.

This is the first time Ireland has failed to make it to the final of the competition since 2009. We were very good at Eurovision, now we're not even second rate, we're getting turfed out in the semi-finals. Smith, who sang her heart out, was bitterly disappointed: She said: "We were delighted we got to represent our country on a world stage.

"We gave it our all."

Ireland still holds the record for most wins. We first won the contest in 1970 with Dana performing 'All Kinds of Everything'. In total, Ireland has won the contest seven times, more than any other country, including an unequaled three consecutive victories in the 1990s (1992, 1993 and 1994 – the most consecutive wins accumulated by a country to date).

But it's not just the bearded drag queens and buxom maidens that are threatening our position as Eurovision kings. There is a serious political underbelly to it all.

We seemed to fare better when the voting was less political. While there was always a semblance of political voting – Malta normally gives 12 points to the UK, Spain and Portugal always vote for each other and Turkey and Cyprus never vote for one another – it has escalated to a whole new level since the addition of the Eastern bloc countries.

Terry Wogan became so frustrated with the bloc voting that he resigned from doing the Eurovision commentary in 2008. Furious he said: "At least the voting used to be on the songs. Now it is really about national prejudice. As far as the Eastern bloc countries are concerned they are voting for each other."

Certainly global tensions were high at the semi-finals this year. The announcement that Russia had qualified for Saturday night's final was met with loud booing. Russia is widely expected to lose out in the voting as a result of both its strict anti-gay propaganda laws and the crisis in Ukraine

While there is a tendency in some quarters to sneer at the cheesiness of the Eurovision, let's not forget it is a huge platform for any aspiring singer or band. The show is watched by 125 million people and has launched the careers of ABBA, Celine Dion, and our own Johnny Logan.

I'm not sure how the bearded drag queen will fare, but who knows? That's the beauty of the Eurovision, you never know what's going to happen.

Here's hoping Ireland can re-claim its crown soon, or even a little bit of the dignity of being in the final line-up will do.

Underneath it all we love it and we want to bring it back home.

Irish Independent

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