On May 12, people from 38 nations will gather in Helsinki, Finland, to see who will win the Eurovision Song Contest. As you read this, thousands of fans are converging on Finland’s capital to soak up the party atmosphere and take photos of this year’s participants, much like a weeklong tailgate party for the Super Bowl. Indeed, Eurovision could best be described as the Super Bowl of pop music: This is the program that brought artists such as ABBA, Celine Dion and Julio Iglesias into the public eye.
What makes Eurovision so gay? According to Páll Óskar, an out former contestant from Iceland, the singing contest is "like gay Christmas in springtime." First and foremost, there’s sheer camp value: If you took the talent portion from the Miss America pageant and crossed it with American Idol, the end result would look a lot like Eurovision (or ESC, as fans like to call it). It’s all about being big, bombastic and noticeable. You have to be when you have so much competition and voters to whom you are trying to appeal.
Israeli transsexual singer Dana International (who won the competition in 1998) summed up the gay interest by saying, "It’s like pageantry, and gay men love pageantry and being outrageous." In fact, for some Europeans, identifying yourself as a Eurovision fan is a tacit way of coming out of the closet, and the show is often most closely identified with housewives and gay men.
So what exactly is this curious gay-friendly program, which ranks as one of the most-watched non-sporting events worldwide? Founded in 1956, the Eurovision Song Contest was initially meant to display the wonders of television to post-World War II Europe. In recent years, it has become a symbol of European cooperation and unity — or so the rhetoric from the European Broadcasting Union goes — but really, it’s an excuse for the host nation to have all eyes on them for a week while bringing in lots of tourists. (One of the biggest ironies of Eurovision is that nations compete for the chance to incur the costs of hosting an extremely expensive international broadcast.)
This year’s contest, while still very gay-friendly, has fewer openly gay participants than recent years. Contestants who are gay or of gay interest include:
The Ark from Sweden, fronted by out bisexual singer Ola Salo. Their entry this year is "The Worrying Kind," but the band also made a splash with their 2002 single "Father of a Son," a song about gays and lesbians’ right to have children:
Ukraine is represented this year by Verka Seduchka, Ukraine’s own Dame Edna (both in style and in the fact that the creators are straight men in drag). Seduchka’s entry, "Dancing Lasha Tumbai," features her in a mirrored hat and what looks like an aluminum dress, accompanied by two 1980s-style go-go boys of the type last seen during Saturday Night Live‘s "Sprockets" sketches.
Denmark’s entry is DQ, the Eurovision alter ego for Peter Andersen who in 2005 married his partner Lukkass. Andersen sings "Drama Queen," a song that, compared to "Dancing Lasha Tumbai," is a more straightforward drag performance. Based on reports from rehearsals, this traditional approach may be his undoing: Eurovision in the 21st century is living up to the old axiom from Gypsy — "You’ve gotta have a gimmick" — and there apparently isn’t as much drama in the song as the title suggests. Here’s DQ performing "Drama Queen":