The following North Americans have participated in Eurovision since the year 2000. Since that’s a relatively recent period, I think I’ll just organize the acts by year:
2001 saw Natasha St-Pier representing France, the country’s first (and, thus far, only) North American act. A prolific recording artist, she recently released a greatest hits album and is currently on tour in her native Canada. Interestingly, she’s done the best for France so far this past decade – perhaps an affirmation of her views concerning French ESC participants, or perhaps because her 4th place song “Je N’ai Que Mon Âme” (“I Only Have My Soul”) was in fact the first French attempt to–mon Dieu!–incorporate English lyrics on stage? Who knows. Only time will tell if France will ever pick a US contestant to represent them (though that entry, as we’ve seen from recent controversy over language policy and test scores, would have to been sung at least partially in French). Even so, I’d seriously doubt it.
Greek-American Annet Artani represented Cyprus in 2006 with “Why Angels Cry” (think gospel version of “What for?”). She was born “Annette” in New York City but decided to change the spelling so Greeks could pronounce it easier. Prior to her ESC debut, she collaborated with Mando (ESC Greece 2003) as well as Britney Spears, as a backing vocalist and co-writer of “Everytime”. As with most things Britney-related, Artani has not missed her fair share of controversy – from contesting her 15th place semifinal finish (Q #13) to exiting prematurely after being invited to appear on “Fame Story” (former Greek version of, yes, American Idol) and later represent Greece in Eurovision 2008 (due to “contractual differences”). Seems like Artani isn’t the only one bailing out on the Greeks.
2008 was a double-whammy as far as Eurovision America is concerned. What made it so interesting was that our two Americans represented such different ends of the spectrum at the finale that year. Isis Gee (born Tamara Diane Wimer) grew up in Seattle before marrying Adam Gołębiowski and moving to Poland. She’s recorded several jazz albums and was selected the Polish Eurovision act with “For Life”,where she made it through to the final before (sadly) coming in 23rd place. Gee currently resides in Italy, where, from the looks of it, has successfully dispelled the notion that there is more to life than bottle tan and peroxide (though she insists her time in Miss America was for a “scholarship opportunity”) (Q#4). Fittingly, she recently appeared on “Taniec z Gwiazdami” (Polish version of, yes, Dancing with the Stars). It was either that, or The Real Housewives of Warsaw….
America’s other 2008 entrant, Kalomoira (or –mira, it’s a bit hard to tell for sure) Sarantis, on the other hand, hailed from the East Coast prior to her transcontinental musical debut. Like Annet Artani, she is a native New Yorker of Greek descent, participated in Season 2 of “Fame Story” (and won the contest), and had a row with her Greek recording label. Like Isis Gee, she performed in the Greek version of Dancing with the Stars and has expressed her national pride, though perhaps in a more subtle way. After winning the internal selection, Kalomoira came in 3rd for Greece with “Secret Combination” in Belgrade. Immediately following her ESC success/label row fallout, Kalomoira left Greece for New York, ultimately deciding to return, re-sign with the same recording label, and film a Japanese game show (our ESC participants are so predictable). Which makes me ask: is taking your cue from other pop stars a secret combination to success (maybe not), or just good feet?
Last year’s contest in Moscow was a unique experience for Germany, who decided to go with a secret combination of their own – pairing relatively unknown American performer Oscar Loya with “surprise” guest star Dita von Teese (pro-Europe burlesque dancer and former Mrs. Marilyn Manson) for a rousing rendition of “Miss Kiss Kiss Bang” accompanied by Alex Christensen on the piano. Loya grew up in California and currently resides in Munich/Berlin. He was involved in Broadway’s musical theater scene prior to forming Alex Swings Oscar Sings with Christensen, a successful German producer/inventive lyricist/Clay Aikenite; last year, they were the first German act featured on Oprah and released a collaborative album. Von Teese, on her part, raised some high hopes in her stage appearance for Germany, though the performance ultimately came in a slightly-disappointing 20th place. In retrospect, however, it’s hard to tell which was meant to steal the show – von Teese’s presence or Loya’s pants. (Though as we’ve seen, shiny pants don’t always equal success).
Not to be overlooked was another almost-shocker that American metal/rock band System of a Down (whose members are of Armenian heritage) would represent Armenia at the ESC. Somehow the rumor mill went into overdrive (especially considering the band’s been “on hiatus” since 2006) and the viral spread needed to finally be combated by the band itself.
Sadly, no representatives from our continent in this year’s contest (at least, to my knowledge). However, there were some close second-best scenarios: 1) Albanian Juliana Pasha’s backup singers were all American. 2) Everything about Azerbaijani Safura Alizadeh’s entry can be considered American given its US choreography and production….everything, that is, except Safura herself. 3) Greece’s Giorgios Alkaios lived in the US as a toddler. 4) Lastly, Tom Dice (Belgium) and Jessy Matador (France) headed to the States to film their official ESC videos (for Mr. Matador, Miami specifically….though unfortunately for Kalomoira, it looks as though her recent trip to Florida came courtesy of a green screen).
And that’s it! (thank goodness) Lastly, no story about North Americans in Eurovision would be complete without a shout-out to those non-native participants who’ve spent a considerable amount of time living in the US/Canada (ie, longer than the 90-day visa waiver period). Such notables include (but are by no means limited to): Ronnie Tober (Netherlands 1968), Julio Iglesias (Spain 1970), the Herrey brothers (Sweden 1984), Lara Fabian (Luxembourg 1988), Tajči (Yugoslavia 1990), Stefan Raab (Germany 2000), Dave Benton (Estonia 2001), Mando (Greece 2003), Sakis Rouvas (Greece 2004 and 2009), Noa (Israel 2009), Aysel Teymurzadeh (Azerbaijan 2009), Giorgos Alkaios (Greece 2010). I am certain there are others to be added this list; thus, if I’ve left out anyone (whether glaringly obvious or not), do let me know…
So, to wrap up: what lessons can we take from all this? Just this, my fellow citizens….whether you’re an American Idol hopeful, aspiring academic, or budding ornithologist, there is always a place for you at the Eurovision Song Contest….perhaps even its own stage.