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The gayest show
on earth

The gayest show
on earth


Think American Idol is as schmaltzy as televised singing competitions get? Check out what our neighbors across the pond are doing on Eurovision.

If you think American Idol is the most interesting television singing contest in the world, then you've got to experience the Eurovision Song Contest. It's a pop culture phenomenon in Europe, the gay TV party night of the year, and the most watched annual music program in the world. In all of television, only the Super Bowl and the World Cup draw larger audiences. And, oh yeah, the Eurovision Song Contest is the gayest TV program you can imagine--and we mean that in a good way.

The contest has a simple premise: First, each competing country selects an artist or band to perform a new three-minute song. (No Elvis or ABBA covers, please. ABBA rip-off bands? They're another story.) Next, each country's chosen artist performs their song live during an annual television broadcast. Finally, viewers from the participating countries vote for their favorite songs--viewers cannot vote for their own country's artist--via televoting, just like on American Idol, except the phone calls and text messages aren't free. Voting is over in 10 minutes, and the winner is announced the same night.

But you can't rely solely on your song--or your vocal performance--when you have only three minutes to stand out from the crowd. That's why Eurovision viewers are guaranteed to see costumes right out of Sydney Mardi Gras, choreography that drag queens would reject as "too much," and gimmicks galore. Anything short of a (major) fire hazard seems to be OK.

But don't take our word for it. Jane Comerford teaches a course in pop music performance at the University of Hamburg. Given her background as a pop music expert, we asked her to explain the contest to American viewers. "Eurovision is off-the-wall!" she told us. "It's crazy. It's extremely camp as an event; its campness is untoppable. It's incredibly European. You have guys out there doing whirling dervishes--which is that guys-in-skirts-twirling-until-they-drop kind of thing--from countries like Turkey. You've got hard rock bands wearing monster masks from Finland, and they're taking it all really seriously. You've got big-ballad singers from like 30 or 40 years ago. It's a mixed bag. It's a unique multicultural event. That's what's great about it. That is what's funny and amusing about it too. Everything is allowed; there are no rules." She adds, almost as if telling a secret, "There are no rules of taste either. Everything is allowed--and basically everything gets done."

She knows what she's talking about. Comerford doesn't only teach courses in pop music; she's also the lead singer for Texas Lightning, a country-and-western band representing Germany this year. A Texas-style country band singing for Germany just proves that almost everything you see at Eurovision has the potential to be fun.

But not everything is camp. Texas Lightning is no joke. They sing some of the purest classic Nashville and Texas country you've heard in years. The still waters of Comerford's deceptively simple sounding lyrics run deep:

I'm never ever gonna leave you to cry on your own Never ever gonna not go and pick up the phone I'm never ever gonna let you be chilled to the bone No, no, never No, no, never

So when we say the contest is the gayest thing you can imagine, we mean sometimes an entry is so bad it's good--like a Showgirls kinda good. And often an entry might surprise you by being actually good.

But we wanted to introduce you to the gayest show on earth.

This year 37 countries are competing in the contest, which is taking place in Athens, Greece. Since Greece won Eurovision last year, the Greek public broadcasting network has the honor of hosting the contest this year. With so many countries wanting to enter the contest, those that didn't get enough votes last year have to qualify for the finals by surviving a semifinal round.

This year's semifinal took place May 18. In the opening of the semifinal broadcast, Greece presented the best introduction and tribute to Eurovision--celebrating 50 years--in, like, ever. Near the beginning of the opening number a dancer dressed like Zeus jumped on stage lip-synching the most recorded Eurovision song of all time--"Nel Blu, Dipinto di Blu (Volare)" (Italy, 1958). You've probably heard Dean Martin's version. "Zeus," incidentally, was wearing an ill-fitting curly white ladies' wig.

Almost before you could take that in, another performer, dressed as Eros (wearing Bruce Jenner's old running shorts from that Village People movie), flew over the stage like the FTD florist suspended on cables, singing Brotherhood of Man's "Save Your Kisses for Me" (United Kingdom, 1976). Later Aphrodite herself was birthed on stage, singing "Diva" (Israel, 1998), by famous Israeli transsexual Dana International. Then a choir of girls in plus-size satin baby doll nighties popped out of Grecian urns to sing ABBA's "Waterloo" (Sweden, 1974), which in 2005 was selected by viewers as their all-time favorite Eurovision song. And by the way, you should know that the Eurovision Song Contest helped launch careers not only for ABBA but also for Celine Dion (Switzerland, 1988) and Olivia Newton-John (4th place, United Kingdom, 1974).

The opening looked like the kind of show you might have talked the neighborhood kids into staging with you while you were growing up--if you had a budget for glitzy costumes and professional dancers and singers. In fact, the whole contest has a "Let's put on a show" feel, which might seem even more timely today in the age of YouTube and reality TV than in the days of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney musicals. Come to think of it, that aspect of the proceedings just might be the biggest part of its appeal as the gayest show on earth.

Have we made you just a little bit curious? It's difficult, but not impossible, for North Americans to get a peek at the contest. There are bootleg videos of performances on various Web sites (try searching for "Eurovision 2006"). The 2006 final--which takes place May 20--will be streamed live on the Web at at 3:00 p.m. Eastern. DVDs of both the semifinal and the final can be preordered now at But before you take a look at your first Eurovision clip, be warned: Checking out just one entry might be enough to get you hooked.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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