Before Dami Im and Guy Sebastian flew the Aussie flag high, another legendary Australian had already cemented her place in Eurovision history, Gina G.
Gina G’s 90s powerhouse song 'Ooh Ahh... Just a Little Bit' was made for big things.
As she burst onto the 1996 Eurovision stage in her sequinned dress (originally made for Cher!) Gina G had a hand in catapulting the competition into its modern, glorious incarnation that we know and love today.
We take a look in detail at Gina G's Eurovision story.
Brisbane’s very own Gina G, born Gina Mary Gardiner, hit the music scene as a DJ in Melbourne and a singer in the band Bass Culture. She initially appeared under the name Geena for a track she co-wrote with the group, ‘Love the Life’ which was released in Australia 1992.
By 1995 Gina had moved to the UK and it was Eurovision that propelled her to the big time. She made her Eurovision debut in the 1996 UK national selection, entitled 'The Great British Song Contest'.
The Great British Song Contest
National finals have evolved over the decades in the UK, taking many different formats. For the first time since 1960 a semi-final was reintroduced in 1996 and the show's name was changed from 'A Song for Europe' to 'The Great British Song Contest'.
Eight songs were performed on BBC 1’s flagship music show Top of the Pops and the four songs with the highest number of telephone votes qualified for the final.
*Trivia moment: Top of the Pops was the inspiration for our classic Aussie music show Countdown, interestingly the show Countdown in the UK takes the same format as the show Letters and Numbers here in Australia.*
'The Great British Song Contest' final was broadcast live on BBC One the day after the semi final. Terry Wogan hosted the show and it was the first time that a national final had not been simultaneously broadcast on BBC Radio 2. The winning entry was announced at the end of the show following a 100% public phone vote.
Gina G entered the national final with the Steve Rodway and Simon Tauber penned song 'Ooh Ahh...Just a Little Bit'. When it came to the voting Gina G was head and shoulders above her competitors, winning 113,567 votes, ahead of second place Code Red who gained 41,761 votes for their typically 90s boyband ballad 'I Gave You Everything.'
Rising Up The Charts
Although the UK had a solid few years of Eurovision top ten results behind them (1990-95 saw two second placed entries with no entry lower than tenth) modern songs were rarely a commercial success.
Gina G’s 'Ooh Ahh...Just a Little Bit' however (a perfect blend of 90s pop and dance) flew up the UK Singles chart. One month after the UK national final 'Ooh Ahh...Just a Little Bit' made its debut on the UK chart at No.6. The following week it jumped into the top 5 sitting comfortably in the top five for five weeks until it reached No. 2 during the Eurovision final.
Gina G was tipped to be top of the leaderboard come the night of the finale.
Eurosong? Yes 'Eurosong '96', the ill-fated rebrand of the song contest that only lasted a year.
The contest took place in Oslo, Norway following the country's victory in 1995 with their beautiful folk song 'Nocturne' by Secret Garden.
Gina performed second on the night; sparkly dress, big hair, dancers dancing as if there was no tomorrow, and bizarrely a computer’s CRT monitor (no doubt running Windows 95).
Eurovision is an ever changing affair and the1996 rules allowed use of the orchestra as well as backing track, provided the instruments used in the track were featured on stage. Gina G had an iconic dance backing track, hence the on stage computer. Looking back at the performance the huge monitor adds such a delightful and nostalgic 90's vibe, it wouldn't be the same without it.
The high energy of the performance more than made up for the simple staging and the odd questionable note, and most importantly the audience absolutely loved it. 'Ooh Ahh...Just a Little Bit' lived up to the hype and then some.
Surprisingly the song didn't fly to the top of the leaderboard, instead placing a very respectable eighth place.
It did however utterly fuel the hype train for UK victory in 1997 with Katrina and the Waves 'Love Shine a Light' and a subsequent phenomenal second place in 1998 with Imaani’s 'Where Are You?'.
Eurosong 1996 wasn't the end for 'Ooh Ahh...Just a Little Bit’ It breezed to the top of the UK charts in April 1996, the first time a Eurovision entry had done so since Bucks Fizz were ripping off their skirts with 'Making Your Mind Up' in 1981. It went number one in the UK.
The sounds of Eurovision were heard around the world as Gina sang her way to global success; reaching number one in Israel, number five back home in Australia and number twelve in the United States.
Gina G hit even dizzier heights when 'Ooh Ahh...Just a Little Bit' was nominated for a Grammy in 1997 for Best Dance Recording.
Spring-boarding off her Eurovision popularity Gina G released the single 'I Belong to You' later in 1996, which was also a top ten hit in the UK. This was followed by a string of UK hits with her singles 'Fresh!', 'Ti Amo', 'Gimme Some Love', and 'Everytime I Fall' which all featured on her debut album entitled ‘Fresh!’
Gina G was a hit stateside with her single 'Gimme Some Love' reaching number forty six on the Billboard Hot 100, number eighteen on both the Hot Dance Music/Club charts and number twenty two on the Top 40 Mainstream chart.
A return to Eurovision?
In 2005 Gina G applied to represent the UK for a second time at Eurovision with her new song 'Flashback'.
Sadly the hybrid of Australian/UK glory was not meant to be as she came last in the selection process, with singer Javine winning the national final.
Although she didn’t qualify again, this wasn’t the end of her success. In 2005 she released her second album, ‘Get Up & Dance’ to good reviews, the 90s nostalgia was strong and in 2006 her debut album, ‘Fresh!’, became available for download on iTunes. In late 2006 she released a new single, ‘Tonight's the Night’ and it peaked in the UK commercial dance chart at number two, she’s still got it!
Ahead of its time
'Ooh Ahh, Just a Little Bit' had once more propelled UK Eurovision entries into mainstream chart success and the upbeat modern pop song helped to lift the song contest to a new level.
As the contest evolved from orchestra to backing tracks a bridge was needed and songs like 'Ooh Ahh...Just a Little Bit’'made the transition a little smoother and palatable to the worldwide audience.
Much like Eurosong 1996, which was a trailblazer, incorporating blue screen technology for the first time in the contest, ‘Ooh Ahh...Just a Little Bit’ was ahead of its time and wouldn't be out of place in the contest today, although the audience would perhaps be a lot livelier than the formally attired, seated audience of 1996. Gina G and her legendary song will always have a place in Eurovision history.