Eurovision Fan of the Week - Stephen from Melbourne
What a week it's been at Aussievision - and there's no better way to cap it off than by celebrating another Fan of the Week. This time it's Stephen in the spotlight, and he's a dead-set legend. Not only is he a Eurovision uber-fan, he's also a superstar doctor whose been working on the coalface of COVID-19. For him, Eurovision isn't just a hobby - it's a bridge between his Italian roots and Australian upbringing. He's also got a controversial approach to national final season he says gives him more insight into the Contest results. Hello, hello! Tell us a bit about yourself, Stephen.
Hi! I’m Stephen, I’m 26 years old and I’m a born-and-bred Melburnian. I’ve been a junior doctor for the last year and a bit, working in various wards in our public hospital system, having finally graduated from medical school at the end of 2020 (needless to say, it’s been a crazy few years).
In my spare time I love watching, listening to, reading about, and practically breathing in all things Eurovision - though if we’re not going to count that as a “real” hobby, I can say I also enjoy spending quality time with family, friends and my gorgeous puppy Bella, binge-watching trashy reality TV, and getting out and about in nature.
~I can say with confidence that Eurovision is most certainly a real hobby, Stephen, though we'll also accept 'obsession' and 'way of life'. (Mark)
How did you get into Eurovision? What was the first year you watched?
I can’t really say there was a specific moment where I “got into” Eurovision - to be honest, it’s pretty much just always been there. As children of Italian immigrants, my parents grew up watching Eurovision with their families, and they’re both huge ABBA fans, so it simply continued on with us as an annual ritual.
I think the first Eurovision I can properly remember is Athens 2006. I would have been ten years old. I remember Lordi from Finland winning that year, as well as Iceland’s Silvia Night, Russia’s Dima Bilan, and an entry from Monaco called 'La Coco-Dance'. However, I know I can recall entries prior to 2006 as well, so it’s definitely an arbitrary point! Things are certainly much clearer in my mind from 2009 onwards, when SBS started sending Julia Zemiro and Sam Pang off to cover the show.
For me, Eurovision is not just a television show that comes around once a year. It’s a uniquely contemporary way for me to connect with my heritage. As a second generation Australian of Italian background, the culture that surrounded me for much of my upbringing was an import that came here with my grandparents. Many in an analogous position can appreciate that the outcome of this is an Italo-Australian way of life that is quite distinct from how things are in Italy today. A lot of what I knew about European society when I was younger centred on its traditionalism and conservatism, and growing up as an individual and in a country where this outlook didn’t always necessarily fit, I found my personal connection with the old-school charm of Europe paradoxically bewildering. For me, Eurovision has provided me with a gateway to bridge these elements; a way to connect my ancestry with a modern and progressive Europe, where difference and diversity are celebrated, via an ever-evolving medium that concurrently never forgets its roots.
Who gave your favourite Eurovision performance and why?
This is actually a tough one! I go through moods where different entries become my favourite. I know this is perhaps a bit boring of me, but if I had to pick an all-time favourite, it would have to be 'Euphoria' by Loreen (Sweden 2012). It just gives you the hair-raising ‘winner vibe’ tingles that Eurovision is all about.
Who was your 2021 winner? What made them the best?
Hmm… At the time it was Azerbaijan’s 'Mata Hari' by Efendi. Essentially, any country that serves up a Euro club banger with those hot ethnic beats gets my vote. I’m a little bit basic like that, perhaps to the annoyance of the rest of my Eurovision gang. I also really liked Cyprus, San Marino, Israel and Malta in 2021.
What Australian artist would you love to see go to Eurovision, and why? What’s a song of theirs you think showcases what they could do at the Contest?
Interesting question! I really like our national final, but I remember at the time Eurovision - Australia Decides was starting out many of us were concerned whether established artists would be keen enough to throw their hat in the ring. I love how this hasn’t really been an issue - it is a competition, but I feel like no one has really lost out by participating in Eurovision - Australia Decides. I mean, at the end of the day, the song and performance ultimately matter most, but given the quality that has been served up, no one has suffered a hit to their credibility, and I’d even argue that most artists have probably benefited by stepping up to compete in the national final.
It’d be nice to see Anthony Callea give it a shot. He’s got the voice, ability and charisma to pull it off, with the right sort of song. Sia would also be incredible, but I don’t really see her doing this sort of thing.
You’ve been to Eurovision - Australia Decides. For those who haven’t, tell us a bit about what the event is like. What’s the vibe?
The energy is unreal! It’s basically an entire convention centre full of people just as enthusiastic and knowledgeable about Eurovision as yourself!
Which national final do you look forward to the most? What makes it special?
So uhh… not sure how to break this to y’all, but other than Eurovision - Australia Decides, I tend not to engage in the whole season of national final viewing (*gasp* - a cardinal sin, I know). Watching the lead-up shows and listening to the songs was something I once engaged in, but I lack discipline and restraint and found that I was exhausting the material well before the real deal in May, and this ruined my enjoyment of the contest a little bit. I think part of the magic of Eurovision is the surprise and joy of the discovery, and for me it’s been far more entertaining having each country try to win me over for the first time with their finalised three-minute package. It also means I continue to appreciate all the songs well beyond May each year (I’m still listening to many of the 2021 entries today!), and as an added bonus I feel like I have the upper hand at foreseeing the supposed “shock” qualifications and non-qualifications… when you don’t give yourself time to get used to, or get tired of, a song before the Contest, and you watch the final piece for the first time like everyone else, you gain a unique insight into how effective each entry is at instantly grabbing your attention.
However, as I said, I also lack discipline and restraint, and sometimes I give in to the urge when the hype is real (I’m looking at you, Senhit and San Marino, 2021). I have watched Sweden’s Melodifestivalen before and thoroughly enjoy it, and I have contemplated making the effort to watch Italy’s Sanremo as well.
~ I know I've gotten distinctly worse at picking a winner since I got more involved in national final season, so you could be on to something. But that does mean you are yet to discover the jobs of 'Ay Mama' or Lolita Zero. Worth breaking your rule for! (Mark)
If you could pick only three performances to encourage new people to watch Eurovision what would they be?
'Euphoria' by Loreen (Sweden 2012)
'Heroes' by Måns Zelmerlöw (Sweden 2015)
'Dancing Lasha Tumbai' by Verka Serduchka (Ukraine 2007)
Ready for the Eurovision speed round? Which Eurovision song:
Is the best winner? 'Euphoria' by Loreen (Sweden 2012)
Has the best live vocal? 'Sound of Silence' by Dami Im (Australia 2016)
Is your favourite Australian entry so far? This is a tricky one… it’s splitting hairs between Dami Im (2016) and 'Zero Gravity' by Kate Miller-Heidke (2019). I’d probably give it to Kate Miller-Heidke, just because of how she went the extra mile to push the barriers of what we thought was possible (both musically and performance-wise).
Was robbed? I hope someone’s on this case because Dami Im deserves justice! I really hope she comes back for another go!
Is your guilty pleasure? There’s far too many to mention. You may as well just go through my entire playlist.
~Well, you did already mention 'Mata Hari'... *shade rattle* (Mark)
Is your favourite National Final song (that didn't make it to Eurovision)? There’s quite a few, but a recent one I could give this to would be 'Little Tot' by Dotter. There’s a few artists from Sweden that I’d like to see have their Melodifestivalen breakthrough, and she’s certainly one of them.
We know you love Eurovision. But is there anything about Eurovision you DON’T like? Or something you’d change?
I mean, I’d love to see it held down here if we were to win it, though we know that’s certainly not feasible! I think I’d really like to see as many countries in Europe as possible participate in the show. It’s kind of sad knowing that the whole continent is enjoying this spectacle, save for a few nations here and there. Maybe, if logistics allowed it, I’d also like to see the stage limit increased to eight people - I reckon it may boost the visual spectacle for some entries. Oh, and I feel really bad when the hosts have to tell a country they received zero points! I’m a big fan of the new format of presenting the results and how it creates suspense, but it’d be nice if they could figure out a way to soften the blow of not scoring any votes!
A little birdie tells me you studied Eurovision at university! Tell us more: when/where/what did you learn? Do you write essays about Måns Zelmerlöw? Is Petra Mede a guest lecturer?
That’s right! I took the Eurovisions subject at The University of Melbourne back in 2016, in the final year of my undergraduate degree. Unfortunately the teaching staff did not include the iconic Petra Mede - but it did consist of highly knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff and students, several of whom I remain friends with today! We even got a visit from Eurovision 2011 alumni Nina (Danica Prodanović - Serbia 2011 with 'Čaroban')!
The subject primarily explored the history of Eurovision as well as analysing the contest via various lenses, including politics, language, national identity, LGBT+ representation etc. I’m really grateful to have developed that extra background knowledge, and it’s been enjoyable viewing the contest in a new light after having taken the subject.
Do you have a “Eurovision community” - like, do you connect with fans on Twitter or are there a group of friends you watch the contest with? Or is it something you enjoy doing solo (so there are no interruptions)?
I certainly have my “Eurovision gang” - and I’m always doing my best to rope more and more people in. I’m also a member of a few Eurovision fan groups on Facebook as well. In terms of watching the show, I’ve mostly done this myself or with my family, especially with the logistics and pressures of getting up and ready for the 5am show. However, we’re all on our phones and laptops eagerly chatting away and analysing each performance. A watch party is definitely something I’d like to do in the future - provided everyone shares the same level of enthusiasm! Stephen, thank you for your generous responses - especially since your work is so important and demanding. I hope Eurovision 2022 is particularly special for you, when it takes place in Italy. I'm sure it will be that much more special for our Italian-Australian community.