When Eurovision announced in February that Australia – which is distinctly not in Europe – would be taking part in this year’s contest, diehard Eurovision fans thought April Fool’s Day had come early.
Eurovision’s organising body, the EBU, did have an explanation for this year’s surprise entrant. They said that as Australia had long broadcast the contest, extending an invitation chimed with this year’s theme of Building Bridges.
It may also be far from Europe, but there was the sense that Australia is culturally close, as a home, after all, to many European immigrants.
“Eurovision is big in Australia because it’s a nation with a rich and complex immigrant population,” says Michael Idato, television critic of the Sydney Morning Herald, speaking from Vienna where he is covering the event. “Particularly for European Australians, Eurovision is a gentle exploration of their identity and ancestry, decorated around the edges with strange and eccentric songs and performers.
“The immigrant experience in Australia is very connected to an older Europe, rather than the Europe of today, and Eurovision uniquely bridges that, with a history that stretches back to 1956 and a story which seems to tell, oddly, the story of Europe.”
“Aussies do not suffer from an irony deficiency,” says all-Australian London resident author, Kathy Lette. “We also adore kitsch, and approach all artistic endeavours tongue in chic. Sydney is the gay capital of the world and a camp, irreverent, mischievous sensibility has permeated our tastes. At the Olympic closing ceremony, Kylie rode into the arena on a giant flip flop with singing prawns. Need I say more? An over-the-top, sequin-splattered, high kicking, bum-jiggling, tune-slaughtering, camp song fest is right up our boulevard.”
Australians picked one of their best singers, Guy Sebastian, the upbeat and bouncy winner of the Australian idol competition, for the Eurovision 2015. The best one, a modern R&B number called To
night Again, with echoes of the recent hit Uptown Funk, was chosen.
He travelled around Europe in a sustained charm offensive, regularly telling Europe how “stoked” he is to be there. U2’s lighting designer Bruce Ramos is also on board for the stage show.
At the back of my mind is the comparison with the UK’s somewhat more lackadaisical approach, which was to pick a singer who all four judges didn’t turn around for in The Voice competition, in partnership with a teacher who is part of a Rolling Stones tribute band.
The novelty of Australia’s participation got the attention of bookmakers. In a competition full of ballads, his decision to choose one that stood out against the sleepy ballads of other competitors, halved his odds again.
He started making promotional appearances, winning over crowds with his live performances and now Australia is third favourite to win, behind Sweden and Italy.