It’s just over 12 months since Austrian Tom Neuwirth rose (like a Phoenix) from the ashes of a failed Pop Idol experience by reinventing himself as the world’s foremost bearded lady, Conchita Wurst, and winning the hearts and minds of the whole of Europe by romping to victory in the Eurovision Song Contest.
Her famous “We are unstoppable” proclamation as she lifted the trophy in Copenhagen quickly became the motto for her campaign to promote tolerance and acceptance of diversity across the globe.
It’s difficult to think of any other winners of Europe’s cheesiest, campest and most frivolous of television events going on to address the assembled members of the United Nations, but Conchita is a lady with a mission, and she’s a force to be reckoned with.
So, as Conchita’s career as a singer, TV presenter, writer (her autobiography, Unstoppable has just hit bookshelves) and international diplomat takes her on to bigger and more exciting places, what do this year’s contestants have to offer?
Well, songs or acts which are “issues based” certainly seem to be looking to follow in Conchy’s stilletoed footsteps.
Take the Finnish entrants, PKN, for example. Four middle aged guys playing a punk song about their dislike of the constraints of “the establishment” might not seem that out of the ordinary. Until, that is, you find out that the guys are all living with severe learning disabilities. But living is exactly what they are doing and PKN are having a fantastic time delivering their own unique message about just how normal they are, despite some people’s preconceptions.
In the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, Armenia have chosen to send an international group specially brought together with one ex-pat member from each of five continents singing a song to celebrate their genealogy.
Romania are singing a not so cheery ditty about the plight of the millions of Romanian children who are left at home as their parents leave their homeland in search of work.
In a contest whose strapline this year is “Building Bridges” the Russians have chosen a wispy blonde called Polina Gagarina (no relation to Lady Gagarina, apparently) to sing a big peace anthem featuring the lyrics, “praying for peace and healing, I hope we can start again… when you hear our voices call you won’t be lonely any more”. That’s reassuring then.
It’s all a far cry from the heady days of Diggi-loo Diggi-ley, Boom-Bang-A-Bang, and the quintessential let your hip go hippety Pump-Pump.
However, don’t despair. There is plenty of the usual froth and frivolity that you’ve come to love and expect from our favourite annual cheese-fest.
Simply by mentioning the fact that the backing singers for Moldova are dressed as New York traffic cops in tight-fitting leather hot pants I’ve got you back on-side, haven’t I?
What about the rather matronly and buxom Dutch lady whose little black dress looks like it popped a seam down the front, putting one in mind of that old Oklahoma classic, June Is Bustin’ Out All Over? Sadly for June, the dress also features a star shaped gap round the back which looks like an exit hole from an unfortunate explosion of unexpected wind.
Of course, Eurovision is notorious for its flamboyant costumes. Who could forget Dana International sporting her Gaultier “Feather” dress or the girls from Bucks Fizz having their skirts ripped off mid-way through their song?
The “reveal” (as it’s known in the inner sanctum) has long played a part in keeping the audience’s focus on a song that perhaps isn’t always as captivating as it should be.
Sadly, however, this can sometimes go disastrously (or hilariously, depending on your perspective) wrong. Take Serbia this year, for instance, who for some reason have decided to bedeck the backing ensemble of their generously proportioned diva in what appear to be Ku-Klux Klan robes, only for those to be discarded halfway through the song to reveal 70s disco attire as they launch into a routine the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the heady days of Pan’s People.
In the midst of a particularly tempestuous and dramatically staged love ballad between two star-crossed Czech lovers the girl pulls her slingbacks off and hurls them over the stage. The chap doesn’t seem unduly fussed, though, and carries on belting out notes Caruso himself would be proud of without so much as a flinch of his perfectly formed biceps.
In a contest dominated this year by an inordinate number of mid-tempo ballads, and downbeat boy/girl duets (blame the Country-tinged Dutch duo who were just pipped to the post by Conchita last year) there is one such duo who certainly stand out from the rest of the field, and I’m talking about our very own UK entrants, Electro Velvet. Specially brought together to sing their quirky electro-swing number Still In Love With You, Alex and Bianca might not actually win it, but the United Kingdom will certainly be injecting some fun and humour into the proceedings. Expect audience shots of Union Jack-waving roaring Twenties-styled flapper girls (and boys – remember, diversity is key).
This is the contest’s diamond jubilee and in a very special one-off move the organisers have invited a very special guest along to join in the party. For this year only we’re having an entry competing from Australia.
Given its huge European ex-pat communities, the country has followed the contest passionately for over 30 years and now they’re finally hoping to hear the magic words “pour L’Australie, Douze Points!”.
They are taking their participation seriously too, sending one of their most established artists, Guy Sebastian, with a cool piece of modern pop which sounds remarkably like the biggest pop song around the entire globe in the past six months, Uptown Funk.
If the Aussies do win it then don’t worry about having to travel Down Under for next year’s event, as the rules state that they will be asked to co-produce the show in a European city of their choosing.
Is the Hydro free next May?
The Boy From Oz is currently third favourite with the bookies, behind perennial favourites Sweden and then Italy.
Måns Zelmerlöw is the chap carrying the hopes of a sixth Swedish victory. His song Heroes has a David Guetta vibe and is one of the most contemporary sounding songs in the contest this year. Visually, it is also the most polished performance of the lot as our hero cleverly interacts with a very cute computer generated little chap.
It would be a brave man who might suggest that anyone other than Sweden is going to win, but three young Italian tenors who go by the name Il Volo (The Flight) will be hoping to take the contest back to Italy for the first time in 26 years with their powerfully performed pop-opera tour de force, Grande Amore.
The Austrian capital, Vienna, has embraced the contest and treated the 2,000 plus delegates to trips to the Opera, visits to the world-famous Lipizzaner horses, copious amounts of Wiener schnitzel and an unhealthy amount of Sachertorte.
One thing is certain: someone is going to be doing a celebratory waltz on the Blue Danube tonight, at the end of the 60th Eurovision.
The Eurovision Song Contest is on BBC1 tonight, from 8pm