Every year, the Eurovision keeps hundreds of millions of viewers glued to their screens for a long night of catchy pop music and risqué outfits. The last time Israel won this competition was in 1998, when transgender singer Dana International swept up the most points from European countries for the song "Diva."
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Overnight she became a European household name, as well as an outspoken leader among the LGBT community.
Sixteen years after the Israeli sensation, Austria is sending a performer that seems like a new version of Dana International with one significant difference: she doesn’t use a razor. If a decade and a half ago sending a transgender performer to the relatively conservative competition seemed odd, Austrian singer Conchita Wurst is attempting to push Europeans’ limits yet again.
She will appear on stage in Copenhagen tonight to sing her emotional ballad “Rise Like a Phoenix,” with long black hair, a tight dress – and a thick, dark beard.
And it turns out that the Israeli diva is a source of inspiration for Wurst. “Oh, I love Dana,” said Wurst to Haaretz. “She is such a strong woman, and that is inspiring for sure.” Conchita, who was born as Tom Neuwirth 1988 in Gmunden, Austria, studied at the Graz School of Fashion and currently resides in Vienna.
Tom and Conchita exist side by side, as Wurst says on her website: “They are a team just working in sync. Although they have never met before, they are constantly missing each other in the mirror.” Conchita’s biography, like herself, includes both real and fabricated details: she was born in the Colombian mountains, grew up in Germany and participated in an Austrian talent reality show called “Die große Chance” (The Great Opportunity.)
The Guardian recently reported that St Petersburg legislator Vitaly Milonov – the man behind Russian's now infamous law against homosexual propaganda – 'has written a letter to Russia's Eurovision selection committee asking it not to send Russian musicians to the competition.'
Milonov called the event a 'Europe-wide gay parade,' and called in a tweet for a full boycott of the 'Sodom show.'
“Well you know, I always say that there are two hearts beating in my chest,” she says, “Conchita’s and Tom’s. Because of the discrimination during my time as a teenager I decided to live my life as I want it. Conchita is a symbol of the fact that you just can live a wonderful life when you do what makes you happy.”
The difficult period Wurst referred to took place when she was growing up in a small village in Austria. “It was quite difficult for me, but I always was surrounded by the love of my family, that’s why I’m the person who I am today.” Similar to Dana International in Israel, Conchita has received mixed reactions in Austria. According to her, although many Austrians know of her, not all of them are fans. Does that make her think that Austria is a conservative country, with regards to people such as herself? “I always say that tolerance doesn’t depend on a country, because there is hate everywhere. But yes, I really feel great in Austria, I love my home and Vienna is just the best place to be,” she says.
But is Conchita Wurst a combination of man and woman? “Conchita is a woman, a very strong woman,” she says. “She just has a bit of facial hair, that’s all. And the beard is because I want to show everyone that happiness or success is not about your look."
Her dream of performing in the Eurovision competition dates back to when she would watch it as a young boy with her mother. Tom remembers always wanting to appear on the sparkling stage himself. It turns out there’s something else important that she wants to change about her life. “I would love to visit Israel," she says. "I’ve never been there before and I really want to change that.”