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  • Writer's pictureColleen Hetherington

Australia's history of backing performers at Eurovision

Above: Kate Miller-Heidke and her backing singers (from left to right): Adam Lahav, Jess Hitchcock and Lilah Eliash

In 1971, the 'Six on Stage' rule was introduced which states that: "per act, a maximum of six people are allowed on stage at any one time".

While some countries choose not to take advantage of this rule, most delegations choose to add backing singers, dancers and/or musicians to their lineup.

Australia has taken full advantage of this rule since its debut in 2015, dazzling our eyes and ears with talent recruited from far and wide.

Let us introduce you to some of these backing performers who, along with the main artist, have proudly represented Australia and provided numerous memorable stage shows and vocal delights.

Carmen Smith (2015)

Carmen Smith provided backing vocals for the song 'Tonight Again' by Guy Sebastian. Smith gained some fame in the early 2010s for being a contestant on the Australian version of 'The Voice'.

Although she didn’t win, this led to further collaborations with Guy Sebastian, somebody whom she had worked with prior to her appearance on the TV show. It is through these frequent collaborations that Smith was recruited to assist Sebastian in 2015.

Aaron Marcellus and Brandon Winbush (2015)

Being forever loyal to TV talent show alumni, Guy Sebastian also recruited two American Idol regulars, Aaron Marcellus and Brandon Winbush to Australia's first Eurovision outing.

While Aaron Marcellus tried his luck in auditioning for the 7th and 10th seasons of American Idol, it was the 11th season, televised in 2012 where he found the most success, finishing in the top 25. Outside of Eurovision, he's a solo artist in his own right, releasing a single titled '3 Words' in 2019.

Winbush, while not being an American Idol contestant, worked as a backing vocalist on the show. Apart from Guy Sebastian, Winbush has worked with several high profile artists such as Justin Bieber, Patti LaBelle, Jordin Sparks, and Tori Kelly.

Anna Sahlene (2016)

A few people well versed in Eurovision Song Contests of the past will recognise the name (Anna) Sahlene.

For those who aren't, Anna Sahlene is a Swedish singer who represented Estonia at the 2002 contest in Tallinn with the song 'Runaway', finishing a very respectable joint third place.

After the 2002 Contest, Sahlene spent the rest of the 2000s attempting to represent her native Sweden with the Melodifestivalen songs 'We’re Unbreakable', 'This Woman', and 'Killing Me Tenderly'.

In 2022, she returned to Estonia to take part in Eesti Laul with the song 'Champion'. While these attempts unfortunately failed in making Sahlene return to Eurovision as a solo performer, she has had luck in returning to the Contest as a backing singer, namely providing backing vocals for Dami Im (Australia) in 2016 and Michael Rice (UK) in 2019.

Dea Norberg (2016)

Like Sahlene, Dea Norberg is a Swedish performer with a lot of Eurovision experience under her belt. Prior to providing backing vocals for Dami Im in 2016, she provided backing vocals for the majority of Sweden’s Eurovision entries of the 2000s.

Mainly hiding in the background, she had one moment of visual prominence when she provided backing vocals for Sweden’s 2008 entry 'Hero,' where she can be seen to the left of Charlotte Perrelli. Outside of Eurovision, Norberg was part of the Melodifestivalen house choir between 2003 and 2006.

Daniel Kelaart (2017)

Australian Daniel Kelaart provided backing vocals for Isaiah Firebrace's Eurovision entry: 'Don't Come Easy' in 2017. Their teamwork made Australia proud with a top 10 result.

Outside of Eurovision, he competed on X Factor in 2014 and has maintained a steady career in the music industry, both with his pop-rock band Remission Theory and his work as an independent record producer with his company: Clique Recording Studios.

Kelaart founded Clique Recording Studios in Melbourne in 2005. The company produces and writes songs for its many clients, some of whom include: Simple Plan, Tyler Hudson, Nathaniel and the Paper Kites.

Gary and Natasha Pinto (2018)

Husband and wife duo Gary and Natasha Pinto accompanied Jessica Mauboy in Lisbon with the song 'We Got Love.' They cite the Catholic church as a major source of inspiration with some of their other career highlights being: producing the song 'Receive the Power' for the popular Catholic festival: World Youth Day, and collaborating with fellow Christian performer and Eurovision artist Guy Sebastian.

Emma Waite and Emily Ryan (2019)

Above: Kate Miller-Heidke, Emma Waite and Emily Ryan on top of swaypoles in Tel Aviv.

Emma Waite and Emily Ryan joined Kate Miller-Heidke on swaypoles. Staged to be an outer space setting, all three looked to be ethereally defying gravity.

The duo form part of the internationally renowned, Melbourne based performing arts troupe: Strange Fruit. According to their website, every show in their repertoire is an “artistic expression of a universal theme, such as love, conflict, birth, death, work and play”.

The theme of looming darkness is evident in their Eurovision performance, supported by Miller-Heidke herself attesting that 'Zero Gravity' is about her experience with postpartum depression.

Adam Lahav, Lilah Eliash and Jess Hitchcock (2019)

While unfortunately not taking part in the exhilarating experience of swinging freely on swaypoles, Lahav, Eliash and Hitchcock accompanied Kate Miller-Heidke on backing vocals. Even though they can’t be seen on camera, they can certainly be heard with the repeated line: “nothing holding me down” resounding through the Tel Aviv arena and our TV screens.

Jess Hitchcock is an Indigenous Australian singer based in Melbourne. She is a long time backing vocalist of Miller-Heidke whom she met while playing the role of a marsupial in the musical theatre production 'The Rabbits'.

Israeli singers Adam Lahav and Lilah Eliash were recruited via a long distance audition process designed to find voices that would meld perfectly together with Miller-Heidke’s and Hitchcock’s.

Crystal Russell, Paris Cavanagh and Shivawn Joubert (2021)

Crystal Russell, Paris Cavanagh and Shivawn Joubert served as Montaigne’s backing dancers for her song 'Technicolour'. Although COVID-19 restrictions prevented Montaigne and the trio from rocking up to Rotterdam, it did not stop their presence being felt through a vibrant, colourful performance.

Cavanagh, in particular, has a rather impressive CV with her representatives citing her as: “one of Australia’s youngest creative visionaries.” Also working as a choreographer, her credits include a visual campaign for JD Sports and Nike and creating various numbers for contestants on Australia’s Got Talent.

What about everybody else?

There are many other talented backing performers throughout Australia’s Eurovision appearances, they are:

  • 2015: Devin Michael (Atlanta singer-songwriter)

  • 2017: Aaron Malone (Perth based singer and vocal tutor) and Aaron Mendoza

  • 2018: Samantha White

With our growing number of participations, we are sure to see this list of backing performers grow and whether they be new, local talent, or seasoned Eurovision performers, they will all be welcomed as integral parts of Australia’s Eurovision history.

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