Looking back at Australia's Eurovision commentary on SBS
Thirty-nine years ago the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) first aired the Eurovision Song Contest in Australia beginning a love affair that has grown with every year since.
SBS has always been the home of international news and programming, providing television experiences for Australia’s large multicultural audience. This created the perfect haven for the Eurovision Song Contest down under.
The way Australians viewed the Contest changed over time as SBS looked at ways of giving our Eurovision experience some Aussie flavour! With many having had the privilege of commentating Eurovision for Australia, we take a look back at all the SBS commentators for one of the biggest live music competitions in the world.
Hello, Good thanks
Early on, SBS leveraged the UK broadcast with commentator Sir Terry Wogan, well known for his dry wit.
In 2001 SBS gave the Contest broadcast a complete overhaul to cater for the Australian Eurovision audience, with our first dedicated Australian broadcast, hosted in front of a studio audience by ‘Effie Stephanidis’. The character of Effie, played by comedian Mary Coustas, came to fame on the Australian sitcom ‘Acropolis Now’
The show also included “prominent multicultural Australians” who introduced songs that were connected to the countries of their background and a panel of guests discussing the entries. Audience participation was encouraged and viewers could call in to vote for entries in categories like best/worst costume and best song.
Despite the huge effort, it sadly didn’t land with Australian Eurovision fans, resulting in the SBS broadcasting the unedited Eurovision Song Contest two weeks later.
The SBS returned to Sir Terry Wogan’s BBC commentary for 2002.
This is Des Calling
In 2003, SBS again attempted an Australian host in Des Mangan. Mangan was already an SBS presenter and the host of the SBS’s ‘Cult Movie’ show. He was instrumental in speaking up for the importance of Australia stepping away from the heavy British references of Wogan’s commentary and having It’s own voice for the Contest.
In 2004 Mangan was invited back as the SBS commentator. He was even a guest on the BBC’s ESC2004 preview show, which was hosted by Lorraine Kelly and Paddy O’Connell, with special guest Eurovision 1992 winner Linda Martin.
It was there, O’Connell described Mangan as “Australia’s Terry Wogan”. Mangan’s love of Eurovision was very genuine. That year he published a book called ‘This is Sweden Calling’. An insightful reference on the history of the song contest to date and a must have for the die-hard Eurovision fan.
Although Mangan received good reviews, Australians still weren’t quite ready to part with Sir Terry Wogan, returning to the BBC Eurovision commentary for 2005 until Wogan’s retirement in 2008.
Wogan’s retirement presented the opportunity for SBS to reset and think about the direction of the Eurovision Song Contest Broadcast in Australia.
SBS ‘Rockwiz’ host and long-time Eurovision fan Julia Zemiro was the logical choice. We first got to see Julia Zemiro “overWHELMED” with excitement over the Eurovision Song Contest when she introduced us to the 2008 Contest before the BBC broadcast.
Julia was a genuine fan who grew up watching the competition. Boasting excellent Eurovision knowkedge, Zamiro had even performed in multiple Eurovision based stage productions, including ‘Eurovision: The Musical’ in 2003, ‘Euromax 7: The Musical’ in 2004 and ‘Eurobeat: Almost Eurovision’ in 2006.
Sam Pang joined Julia Zemiro in Moscow, Russia as the hosts and commentators for Australia’s first on the ground dedicated Eurovision coverage.
Pang was a Eurovision novice. He was best known as the host of a history quiz show on SBS called ‘ADbc’ which had teams of academics and comedians compete for the win.
During 2009 to 2011 Zamiro and Pang provided backstage coverage of the song contest. They interviewed contestants, delegation members and made Australia’s presence and love of Eurovision known.
From 2010 to 2014, SBS began inviting Australian viewers to participate in their own Eurovision televote. While these votes didn't actually count, it showed just how invested the Australian audience was in the competition.
The magic combination of Zemiro and Pang was a hit with Australian audiences and they wanted more. In 2012 SBS combined forces with BlinkTV to produced ‘The Road to Eurovision’. A TV special that saw Zemiro travel across Europe to Baku interviewing past and present Eurovision contestants on her way.
The same year SBS were invited to have their very first Eurovision Song Contest commentators box. We’d made it!
Australia’s love of Eurovision was gaining European notoriety and in 2013 we were asked to broadcast a ‘Greetings from Australia’ segment celebrating 30 years of the Eurovision Song Contest in Australia.
Things really took off in 2014 when Jessica Mauboy performed ‘Sea of Flags’ as part of the interval act for Semi Final 2. This would be the first time Australia would be represented on the Eurovision stage.
The performance was so well received Australia was invited to compete in the Song Contest as a one-off contestant in 2015 with a direct to Final pass. Guy Sebastian was Australia’s official first entry singing ‘Tonight Again’ which came an incredible 5th place overall.
Australia would be invited back to compete by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019.
After eight years as our hosts Zemiro and Pang announced that 2016 would be their last year as Australia’s Eurovision hosts.
So who could follow such a winning combination?
Music expert and TV and radio personality Myf Warhurst was the obvious choice, well known for her work on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) Triple J radio and music quiz show, Specks and Specks. Myf’s official Eurovision connection started the year before her hosting gig, when she was one of our 2016 Jury Members.
Joel Creasey, a stand-up comedian and TV personality, joined Myf as a cohost for Eurovision. Creasey well known for his creative and witty quips which have earned him the nickname of the ‘Acid Tongue Prince’.
Australia Decides to keep going
In 2019, SBS moved from an internal participant selection process to a live national final to pick our representative called, Australia Decides.
That year saw Kate Miller-Heidke reach lofty heights and even higher notes to take out the competition and represent Australia in Tel Aviv.
It was that year that SBS, along with their production partner Blink TV announced that they had secured a more permanent home for Australia in the Eurovision Song Contest. The arrangement had locked Australia in as a competitor until 2023.
“SBS has been the home of the Eurovision Song Contest in Australia for 35 years and we’re thrilled at this invitation to become a more permanent member of the Eurovision Song Contest family," SBS Commissioning Editor Josh Martin said.
"We will continue to showcase Australia’s amazing talent and diversity to hundreds of millions of people across Europe and the world. It highlights the power of music to bring people together – even from polar opposite sides of the globe. Thank you Europe!” (source: themusic.com.au)
Since then, SBS have continued with Australia Decides and have brought out key Eurovision personalities and acts like previous Executive Supervisor of the Eurovision Song Contest Jon Ola Sand, Eurovision winner Måns Zelmerlöw and fan favourite super group Keiino.
The Australian broadcaster’s commitment to showing the Contest coupled with Australia’s competitive nature has seen the Contest gain popularity over the years.
With our formal arrangement competing in Eurovision coming to an end in 2023 talks are taking place for the future. We will hopefully have a clearer idea of what the SBS and Eurovision have in store in coming months.
Until then, SBS, thank you for the music.
Sheldon Riley is representing Australia in this years Eurovision Song Contest with 'Not The Same'. Catch him in the second semi-final LIVE on May 13 at 5.00am AEST on SBS.
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