Happy Thanksgiving from the ESC Insider!
Well, for our American readers, I’d like to wish you all a Happy Belated Thanksgiving! I hope you’ve all had your fill of your favorites, especially turkey! Chatting back and forth with my friends Tarkan and Roy (a Turk living in Germany and a South African, respectively), I realize that I’ve sort of taken Thanksgiving for granted over the past few years. I mean, I love getting together with my family over the traditional holiday meal, devouring the turkey, stuffing, green beans, cranberry-flavored-everything, and pie, and washing them all down with generous glasses of Riesling and Pinot Noir. To me, it’s become very much a family gathering, but I’ve forgotten over the years how much of an American holiday it truly is. (For our non-US readers, it’s basically the recounting of the story of how some of the first European settlers arrived on the Continent from England, made it through a harsh winter with the help of the local Patuxet tribe, and celebrated their endurance and survival the next year by sharing a feast with the Native Americans. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but that’s sort of a “Thanksgiving 101”.) I’m not proud of everything that my country has done over the last few centuries. Heck, I can barely watch an episode of the news nowadays without suppressing the need to roll my eyes every once in a while. But I am proud of who I am, and where I come from. Thanksgiving, more than any other holiday, in my opinion, honors the idea that the United States is a nation made up mostly of immigrants (and their descendants), blended together over the years.
So, what does this little commentary have to do with Eurovision, anyway?
Well, in honor of Thanksgiving, one of the most American of Holidays, I’d like to dedicate this entry to the U.S.-born performers who have graced the stage across the pond. Some carried the banner of their family’s homeland from generations ago, and others simply found their niche and opportunity when it arose. (And please note: when I say “American”, I mean “from the United States”, rather than from the American continent as a whole. I might honor Canadians in a separate posting!)
The earliest example of an American singing at Eurovision that I could find seems to be from 1979: Jeane Manson, an Ohio-born former Playboy centerfold, represented Luxembourg with “J’ai Déjà Vu Ça Dans Tes Yeux (I’ve Already Seen It In Your Eyes)“, coming in 13th out of 19 entries that year. Jeane was living in France at the time, and had already established a pretty decent singing and acting career in the Francophone world. I believe that this was the first (and, so far, only) time that an American has performed in Eurovision using a language other than English.
The most successful American to grace the ESC stage was Topeka, Kansas-born Katrina Leskanich, the lead singer of Katrina and the Waves. Their 1997 victory with “Love Shine a Light” was the most recent win for the United Kingdom, the country where Katrina had been living since she was 16. Otherwise best known for their global hit “Walking on Sunshine“, Katrina and her band not only clinched the win, but did so with the biggest margin of victory in ESC history, a record that would stand until Lordi’s win for “Hard Rock Hallelujah” in 2006. Here’s the winning performance (with a bit of Dutch commentary; skip to 1:15 for the start of the song.)
In 2006, New York-born, Greek-American singer Annet Artani (birth name: Annette Denise Stamatelatos) represented Cyrpus with the song “Why Angels Cry“, a well-sung, yet completely forgettable ballad that failed to break out of the semi-finals, even though she had the benefit of performing in Athens.
Two years later, Seattle-born Isis Gee (aka Tamara Wimer) took the stage for Poland with “For Life“, another big-voiced ballad. Isis, once a participant in the Miss America pageant system, moved to Warsaw in 2004 after marrying into a Polish family. She soon released a pop album, and entered the Polish ESC preselection, winning by a pretty major landslide. Although she made it out of the semifinal in Belgrade that year, she only won 14 points in the final, tying for last place with Germany and the United Kingdom.
More successful that year was another New York-born Greek-American, Kalomoira Sarantis, and her song “Secret Combination”. She had previously won the Greek edition of Star Academy and was riding a wave of popularity in her adopted homeland, despite the fact that she barely spoke Greek when she arrived in Athens for the first time. She took the Belgrade event by storm, with her Britney Spears-meets-bouzouki mashup coming in a very respectable 3rd place (after winning her semifinal).
2009 brought a double-whammy of American representation: Germany not only brought in Californian singer Oscar Loya to sing “Miss Kiss Kiss Bang”, but they brought in the lovely Dita von Teese (a native of Michigan) to perform during the song itself. Sadly, Oscar and Dita only came in 20th place out of 25 (although Germany more than made up for it the next year…)
So, to all of those Yankees who have crossed the ocean to try their luck at Europe’s biggest music festival, I salute you! Whether you took home the gold or didn’t even crack into the finals, you’ve made us proud!