WITH Australia heading to Eurovision later this year to compete in the 60th anniversary of the world’s biggest music competition, many have asked how this seemingly odd inclusion came about.

Understandably though, speculation has been rife on who will be chosen to represent us.

Australia’s invitation from the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) makes complete sense to Australia’s doyenne of Eurovision, Julia Zemiro.

“It made sense I guess that they gave the wildcard to the country and television station that spends the most resources, the most love, the most time and the most attention in making programs all around and about Eurovision and commentating on the show itself,” she told the Star Observer.

“The organisers know who’s in the audience and in that front section, and amongst all the fan clubs and people holding up banners, there has been a stronger and stronger Australian presence.”

Zemiro said that ever since an SBS team went to Eurovision in 2009 – after the retirement of BBC commentator Terry Wogan – everyone behind the scenes has been taken aback and heartened that a country like Australia was so keen to be involved.

The ball started rolling after Australia was asked by Sweden in 2013 to prepare a two-minute film about our love for Eurovision.

“When Denmark came around in 2014 – another country that has a good relationship with Australia with Princess Mary – they said ‘maybe Australia could be a part of it with some half-time entertainment’,” Zemiro said.

“It was [the EBU’s] idea to give a wildcard to a country outside of Europe to celebrate the 60th anniversary this year. It really could have gone to any associate partner or full members of the EBU.

“For Australia it’s a once-off and I think it’s a little gift from the EBU to thank us for bringing in a new and completely different audience.”

On the matter of who’s going to take to the stage for Australia, Zemiro pleaded ignorance.

“I don’t know anything. SBS is still in the process of doing that. Seeing as though we found out a bit late we haven’t been able to do a selection competition show, much like many European countries do, which is something SBS would have absolutely loved to do. Trust me, it would have been done. There just wasn’t any time,” Zemiro said.

“Despite that, it means that we have the opportunity to send someone who is high-profile. I have been surprised – I have had musicians email me and ask if they can throw their hat in the ring. That’s fabulous.”

While several artists from multiple musical genres have approached her and SBS, in Zemiro’s opinion, Australia needed to send someone who was experienced.

“I don’t mean necessarily older but who’s tough because if you do lose or come in the bottom 10, it’s not a nice feeling,” she said.

For that reason, the likelihood of an artist from more recent TV talent shows was slim according to Zemiro.

“Tina Arena was asked by France to sing when she was living there and she said no,” she said.

“Perhaps something like this will now turn her head and she’d take the opportunity to represent Australia. She’s got a huge fan base in France and Europe plus the vocal chops and experience.

“Anthony Callea I think would just be a great person to go along because he is very tough and you need to be tough to get through that competition.

“It might even be Kylie Minogue. Maybe she’s put her hat in the ring too, it’s possible but I really just don’t know. It will be up to SBS and the production company Blink TV who gets the gig.”

On what Australia could offer, Zemiro said our indie music could be a big point of difference.

“Our pop does sound a lot like American or English pop; I don’t think there’s anything particularly new in that at all. I think what we do differently is that little area where someone isn’t quite mainstream but they’re not completely out there,” she said.

“I think we could certainly send an Indigenous performer like we did with (Jessica Mauboy) last year. That could be a real point of difference.

“In all honesty if you send a genuinely talented performer who can sing you a great song authentically, that’s what cuts through. It just does.”

The unofficial voting blocs that tend to emerge during the voting process could also provide a bag of tricks for Australia, according to Zemiro.

“I’m assuming – and it’s a big assumption – that Greece will vote for us and that we may vote for Greece. Maybe Italy as well but we just have so many different cultures so who knows,” she said.

“But the really interesting one to watch will be the UK because they always say that Europe hates them and never votes for them, but all of a sudden, here’s Australia and there may be a few English people here.

“Will Ireland vote for us and create some new bloc for this year only? It will all be fascinating social experiment to see how it works out.”

Zemiro agreed that our past love for Ireland’s 2011 and 2012 entrants Jedward may be an advantage for Australia, but conceded the competition wouldn’t miss their absence.

“I don’t need to see them again at the competition just quietly. They really will just go to the opening of an envelope won’t they?” she said.

“Jedward are just so hyper and apparently they don’t take drugs or drink so it is mainly just a sugar-based high. You just worry about them. They’re like little rabbits that are super excited and you’d just like to see them sleep. I hope they can get some rest eventually.”

Since the victory of trans* artist Diva International in 1997, the LGBTI community’s involvement with Eurovision has steadily grown and in recent years, become a lot more visible – largely seen with the casual references to its legion of gay fans made by the hosts in 2013 and 2014.

“It’s no surprise that it was the countries like Sweden and Denmark who made those comments. I don’t think France would have made them or many Eastern European countries, you just need to keep it in perspective,” Zemiro said.

“Sweden and Denmark are very progressive and equal society so the fact that Sweden took the lead on that and Denmark followed suit shows that they’re a particularly fabulous group of people.

“They’re also factually correct: it is a huge gay event and what’s slightly frustrating is when you get some countries saying ‘we don’t want to enter the competition because girls are kissing onstage’. Anyone can be offended by anything – people may have been offended by Dustin the Turkey or anything else.”

Speaking of Russia’s disapproval of how they perceive the competition to be evolving – going as far as bring back the Soviet-era “Intervision” contest – Zemiro said Russia and other countries expressing negativity were betraying the founding principal of Eurovision.

“[Russia’s] idea that the competition is turning into just a girl-kissing-girl, man with a beard singing with lipstick, it’s just a bit simplistic,” she said.

“The whole idea of this show is that it should be inclusive. Russia just needs to realise that it’s completely out of touch, if its current anti-gay laws didn’t indicate that enough.

“The competition was set up to bring Europe together. Europe’s changing. It’s one big melting pot and that’s the point. That’s what I’m looking forward to seeing when we go there soon.”

Conchita Wurst’s 2014 victory was a game-changer for the competition, and judging by how most the globe reacted, Zemiro hoped that greater LGBTI inclusion in Eurovision was inevitable.

“Oh, I really hope so. [LGBTI discrimination] is just rubbish, rubbish, rubbish. When Conchita came out to sing her song, it was the first time I saw other commentators actually leave their booths and come out and stand on the walkway to watch it live in the room,” Zemiro said.

“Some had been commentating for their countries for years and may be a bit jaded, but they were really moved by what had happened. It was the right song at the right time and the right performer. It was really nice that once again the beautiful, tall blonde girl didn’t win and that someone with difference won.”

On whether the already-postponed Intervision goes ahead around a proposed time that may see it clash with Eurovision, and if Russia decides to compete in Vienna, Zemiro said it shouldn’t phase anyone.

“I think [Intervision] is a stunt. If Russia doesn’t come? That’s fine, plenty of countries take years off,” she said.

“I think if Russia’s not there, we will go ‘fine, it’s your right to take a year off’ but if they are there, then we can say ‘well you’re just full of hot air, sound and fury signifying nothing because you said you wouldn’t compete but here you are’.”

Politics aside, Zemiro had tips on who may make Australia wake up at 5am to watch the grand final live on May 24 (EST).

“I am a little bit in the Tina Arena/Anthony Callea vibe and corner because I think Europe will love them and they’re tough performers,” she said.

“However, if it was the right song and you had a slightly less-known, independent performer who can make that song come to life, I think that’s the correct choice.”

“I honestly don’t know if Tina has been approached or if she’s put her hand up. But you will find out in the first week of March.”

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