Toy vey! The Eurovision Song Contest is returning to the Holy Land, following Netta Barzilai’s thrilling victory last year with a quirky pop hit that featured clucking chicken noises, kimonos and other wonderful eccentricities.
Two out of the previous three times Israel had won the competition – which last year was watched by a staggering 186 million viewers around the world – Jerusalem was nominated as the host city.
But this year, the 26 finalists will gather for the first time in Israel’s cultural capital, Tel Aviv.
Now at 64-years-old, the Eurovision Song Contest is one of the longest running and most-watched non-sporting events in the world.
Israel has stormed to victory a respectable four times, following on from A-Ba-Ni-Bi in 1978, Hallelujah in 1979, Dana International’s Diva in 1998 and Netta’s Toy in 2018.
This latest win has not however been without its controversies, with supporters of the BDS movement, a Palestinian-led campaign advocating boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, calling on artists to pull out of the contest.
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Iceland’s entry also shares similar sentiments, with a bunch of fearsome-looking, bondage-clad band members protesting against capitalism and Israeli politics.
Netta has fought back against the critics, adding that to snub such a celebration of diversity would be akin to “spreading darkness”, while pop diva Madonna, who is set to perform during the interval, has vowed to “never stop playing music to suit someone’s political agenda.”
Politics aside, let’s just all sit back and enjoy the music and high probability that at least one of the acts will feature singing grannies, campy flight attendants or demon costumes. That and the UK dodging the dreaded nil points of Eurovisions past.
Will Kobi bring it Home?
As a Tel Aviv native himself, there couldn’t possibly be a more apt title for Kobi Marimi’s song than Home.
The 27-year-old, who is of Iraqi-Jewish descent, will represent Israel on very familiar ground when he takes to the stage with his pop-opera track on Saturday night.
Born in Ramat Gan, Kobi began singing at the age of 13 and has been pursuing his dream of acting and singing ever since.
Since he became the Israeli representative, Kobi has become the nation’s new sweetheart with his song, Home, which was written especially for him and reflects on personal and professional challenges he has faced in life.
Viewers can expect a dazzling performance featuring Kobi dressed in a black tuxedo, velvet waistcoat and silver bow tie, with backing singers and an epic wall of flames behind him. One not to be missed.
Rice on the money!
Michael Rice will deliver his power ballad, Bigger Than Us, on Saturday night, in a bid to bring home the trophy for the UK.
The plucky 21-year-old describes himself as “a very down-to-earth lad who is all about my friends and family.”
He adds: “I love to make people laugh – my friends would describe me as hilarious, and I try to never take myself too seriously.
“It’s such a huge honour to be representing my country at Eurovision – it really is a dream come true.”
Since winning Eurovision: You Decide, Michael has been working up his vocal muscles with performances across Europe, including appearances on Croatian and Spanish TV, and Eurovision events in Amsterdam, Madrid and Moscow.
He’s also had time to visit Tel Aviv and Haifa ahead of the song contest.
Of his all-time favourite Eurovision entries, Michael cites the ‘amazing’ Abba, as well as Conchita, Portugal’s winner from 2017 and of course, last year’s winner, Netta.
Speaking of which, Michael says his dream duet with a past entrant would be none other than Israel’s very own Toy winner.
He says: “I could imagine it being so much fun; her performances are always so exciting to watch. She is a great artist and performer and brings something new to the stage every time, which leaves you wanting more – that’s what every great performer does.”