True divas all. Shanté, you stay.
“Diva” by Dana International
Dana International is the grand dame of Eurovision Divas. Born transgendered, she had sex reassignment surgery shortly before embarking on a music career. Despite controversy when she was voted to represent Israel in 1998, she went on to win Eurovision, making news all over the world. Her Eurovision legacy has extended beyond her path-breaking victory. The next year, she memorably tripped and fell when presenting 1999 winner Charlotte Nilsson with the Eurovision trophy. She penned Israel’s 2007 entry “Ke’ilu Kan,” sung by Boaz Mauda (which finished 9th place overall). In 2011, Dana International attempted a second go at the contest with “Ding Dong” but her comeback dream died in the Semifinals. Say no more.
“Rise Like a Phoenix” by Conchita Wurst
Every year, RuPaul’s Drag Race goes on the search for America’s next drag superstar. However, the world’s next drag superstar graced the Eurovision stage in Copenhagen in 2014. Conchita Wurst took Europe by storm, first by being a bearded lady, second by taking the Eurovision title with an empowering, John Barry-infused anthem. It was a victory no one saw coming, yet seemed inevitable in retrospect.
“Molitva” by Marija Šerifović
The bookies liked Marija Šerifović, although Verka Serduchka was the favorite going into the 2007 contest. Then rumblings came out of rehearsals that she wasn’t singing well, that her performance was lackluster. Here’s the thing: rehearsals are for blocking and a Diva knows how to turn it on whenever she wants to. Ms. Šerifović knocked it out of the ballpark in the Semis and again in the Final to bring Serbia its first win.
“Dancing Lasha Tumbai” by Verka Serduchka
The 1940s-inspired costumes, the communist star headdress, the “69” on his back, and those sunglasses…pure extravaganza. The energy level from Serduchka and company on this number is stunning. Chris has this as his ringtone. Seriously.
“Et s’il fallait le faire” by Patricia Kaas
A single woman onstage with no backup singers, a little black dress, austere lighting. An Edith Piaf-inspired tour de force. At the end she did a little jig. And it totally worked. France finished 8th.
“Sweet People” by Alyosha
Ukraine selected their artist late, after national outrage over the original choice. Ukraine selected their song late, without public input, and was fined for picking the song after the entry deadline. The song they settled on, “Sweet People,” was tuneless and depressing. And none of it mattered, because Miss Thing commanded the stage. Thanks entirely to Alyosha’s mesmerizing solo performance, Ukraine eked out a Top 10 finish in a packed 2010 field.
“Mamo” by Anastasiya Prikhodko
Why Russia would choose to defend their title with a song sung by a Ukrainian singer—and sung partly in Ukrainian—was a mystery to us (and indeed to many Russians). But this is Ms. Prikhodko’s world, and we are all here to watch her. The staging displayed her face on several huge screens, aging through the arc of the song. The camera was on her face the entire time. In fact, Ms. Prikhodko dialed down her performance for the Final, opting in the climax of the song only to scream at us and not to fall to her hands and knees and pound the stage with her fists (as she had done in the Russian national finals). Russia finished 11th.
“Sehnora do Mar (Negras Aguas)” by Vânia Fernandes
We have a soft spot in our hearts for fado. Like any good fado song, this one tells a story. It’s cathartic, and Ms. Fernandes can clearly belt out a tune. Give the woman a black shawl and set her up in a café in the Alfama. Portugal placed 13th.
“The Secret is Love” by Nadine Beiler
Ms. Beiler started her epic Celine Dion-style ballad a cappella; just her, a little black dress, and a severe bob. In textbook style, Ms. Beiler built and built (and built) the song, culminating with a gospel chorus. Her powerful voice gives us goosebumps every time. We watched every rehearsal and performance going back to the Austrian national finals and not once did she miss a note. She clinched Austria’s first qualification to the Final since 2004. (Never mind that she ultimately finished 18th.)
“Ne partez pas sans moi” by Celine Dion
Switzerland wasn’t on the radar for a Eurovision win, but audiences were surprised by the 20-year-old with the enormous voice and magnetic stage presence. Watching this with the benefit of hindsight, so much of this song is a misfit: a French chanson in 1988, the matronly blazer. But Ms. Dion’s was a talent that was not to be denied. It should have been obvious that she was destined for big things.
“Unsubstantial Blues” by Magdi Ruzsa
Abandoned at an Arizona bus stop, Ms. Ruzsa growls about “…an evanescent, unsubstantial blues.” The lyrics are pretentious and unfortunate, but it was clear that girlfriend has been through some stuff. Her performance was gritty, soulful, and honest.
“Refrain” by Lys Assia
Lys Assia was the very first winner of Eurovision, which granted her a certain royalty in the years to follow. She frequently attended Eurovision and was often afforded varying amounts of screen time, from a wave and some flowers (e.g., Norway 2010), to a brief interview in the green room (e.g., Sweden 2013), to coming on stage to kick off the voting (e.g., Serbia 2008). After performing Switzerland’s first four Eurovision entries over three contests (each country performed twice in 1956), she occasionally tried to make performance comebacks, with varying degrees of artistic success. But no matter what, she was always engaged in the Song Contest. She loved Eurovision and Eurovision loved her back.