From worst to best: The definitive ranking of Operación Triunfo and Star Academy contestants at Eurovision (Part One)

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It’s the talent show franchise that never quite reached the same iconic status as Idol, X Factor or The Voice. Yet, 16 years after it first launched on Dutch TV in March 2001, Star Academy is creating a buzz once again. Or rather Operación Triunfo — the Spanish version — is.

RTVE are relaunching the format, six years after the last series graced TV screens. The show produced several legendary Eurovision stars, unsurprising given the programme was intertwined with Spain’s national selection for three years.

And the Eurovision acts didn’t just come from the Spanish edition. From Russia to the UK to Sweden, there’s been a surprisingly large number of contestants from Operación Triunfo, Star Academy, Fame Factory… or whatever else you might like to call it

So in honour of the upcoming Spanish revival, we’ve decided to compile the definitive ranking of contestants from the Star Academy format at the Eurovision Song Contest.

First off, we’ve applied the following rules:

  • For the purposes of ranking, we’re going off the percentage of available points that each star received at Eurovision. For example, a finalist in 2017 could only receive a maximum of 984 points i.e. 24 points from each of the other 41 countries voting. If an act finished with 200 points, they would have received 20.33% of the points available to them.
  • We’re only including acts who competed in a Star Academy spin-off before entering Eurovision as a main act

Got all that? Let’s do this!

23. Sandra Oxenryd (Estonia 2006)

OT/SA: Winner of Sweden’s Fame Factory, season four (2005)

Eurovision: 18th in semi-final with 28 points — 6.31% of available points

In 2002, Estonia hit gold bronze with a blonde Swedish songstress. However, the formula didn’t work quite so well four years on. Sandra Oxenryd rose to fame on Sweden’s Fame Factory, winning the show’s fourth and final series. The clip above shows her performing Lara Fabian’s global hit “I Will Love Again”. Unfortunately for Sandra, she didn’t fare quite so well when flying the Estonian flag at Eurovision. Her schlagery country confection “Through My Window” stayed in the semi.

22. Gisela (Andorra 2008)

OT/SA: Eight on Spain’s Operación Triunfo, season one (2001-2002)

Eurovision: 16th in semi-final one with 22 points — 9.17% of available points

Series one of Spain’s Operación Triunfo is arguably the most iconic season of the franchise anywhere in the world. The final is still one of the country’s most watched shows of all time. However, Gisela Lladó Cánovas narrowly missed out on a spot in the last six, coming eight. Prior to her elimination, she entertained audiences with takes on pop classics like “What A Feeling” and “Don’t Leave Me This Way”. Afterwards, she went on to provide backing vocals for the series winner Rosa Lopez at Eurovision 2002. Six years later, she represented tiny Andorra with the throwaway “Casanova”.

21. Sofia Vitória (Portugal 2004)

OT/SA: Winner of Portugal’s Operação Triunfo, season two (2003-2004)

Eurovision: 15th in semi-final with 38 points — 9.90% of available points

In 2004, Portugal decided to do like Spain and used the second season of Operação Triunfo as its selection method for Eurovision. The show’s series closer served as both its grand finale and the Festival da Canção final. Sofia Vitória emerged victorious with “Foi magia”. But unlike their Iberian neighbours — who secured three consecutive top ten finishes by taking this approach — it wasn’t magical for Portugal, and they languished in the semis.

20. Rui Drummond (Portugal 2005)

OT/SA: Sixth on Portugal’s Operação Triunfo, season one (2003)

Eurovision: 17th in semi-final with 51 points — 11.18% of available points

Rui Drummond appeared on Operação Triunfo’s inaugural run, finishing sixth. At Eurovision, he joined forces with Luciana Abreu, a star of the rival Idol talent franchise. Together as 2B, they performed “Amar” in Kyiv but failed to qualify. Almost a decade later, Rui’s luck finally turned when he won the 2014 edition of The Voice Portugal.

19. Filipa Sousa (Portugal 2012)

OT/SA: 12th on Portugal’s Operação Triunfo, season three (2007-2008)

Eurovision: 13th in semi-final two with 39 points — 16.25% of available points

She first auditioned for the second series in 2003, but Filipa Sousa had to wait a while before she could try again — season three didn’t arrive until 2007. This time, she made the cut. Performing Celine Dion covers, show tunes and Portuguese staples, Filipa lasted seven weeks and finished twelfth. She brought a more traditional sound to Eurovision 2012, but missed out on a spot in the final. The series was won by another future Eurovision star, Vânia Fernandes.

18. Edurne (Spain 2015)

OT/SA: Sixth on Spain’s Operación Triunfo, season four (2005)

Eurovision: 21st in the grand final with 15 points — 3.21% of available points

Despite three highly successful seasons, RTVE dropped the franchise in 2005. The direct link to Eurovision was severed as a result, but the format continued to produce future song contest stars. Among them was a young Edurne García Almagro. The blonde beauty survived for 12 weeks, ultimately finishing 12th. She quickly became on of Spain’s best known pop personalities, and in 2015 she was internally selected for Eurovision. However, while “Amanecer” boasted the same writers as Loreen’s era-defining “Euphoria”, the entry drowned beneath an overly busy stage show in Vienna.

17. Soraya Arnelas (Spain 2009)

OT/SA: Second on Spain’s Operación Triunfo, season four (2005)

Eurovision: 24th in the grand final with 23 points — 4.67% of available points

Season four also gave us Soraya Arnelas. She lasted until the 15th and final show, just missing out on the top spot. Second place was enough to secure her a record deal, and four years later she returned to Spain’s national selection as a fan favourite. Alas, things came unstuck at Eurovision. As with so many song contest performances, the entry got lost amid a whole load of crazy. “La noche es para mí” came second from bottom in the grand final.

16. James Fox (United Kingdom 2004)

OT/SA: Fifth on Britain’s Fame Academy, season two (2003)

Eurovision: 16th in the grand final with 29 points — 6.90% of available points

YouTube is full of clips from Britain’s Fame Academy season two, but oddly none feature James Fox on his own. So instead, you can listen to the fifth place finisher’s contribution to the series’ compilation album. He made the trip to Eurovision a year later. And while he only came 16th, his placing was effectively a small victory considering Jemini’s infamous nul points 12 months previously.

15. Igor Cukrov (Croatia 2009)

OT/SA: Seventh on the Balkans’ Operacija trijumf, season one (2008-2009)

Eurovision: 18th in the grand final with 45 points — 9.15% of available points

Taking in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Macedonia, Operacija trijumf was a regional affair. Its first and only season took place over the winter of 2008/2009. Croatian Igor Cukrov was among the 18 contestants to make the live shows. Tackling a mixture of Balkan favourites and English-language hits, Igor was eliminated in the quarter-final. Mere weeks later, he was selected to represent Croatia along with Andrea Susnjara. The duo qualified for the grand final, a feat Croatia wouldn’t achieve again until 2016.

14. Vukasin Brajic (Bosnia and Herzegovina 2010)

OT/SA: Second on the Balkans’ Operacija trijumf, season one (2008-2009)

Eurovision: 17th in the grand final with 51 points — 11.18% of available points

The Balkan edition of the franchise is also responsible for giving us Vukasin Brajic. Throughout the series, he showcased his talent via an eclectic mix of songs, ranging from Balkan favourites to Nirvana to a barefoot interpretation of Robbie Williams’ “Angels”. He eventually finished second. At Eurovision 2010, he sang of thunder and lightning long before Sergey Lazarev made it exciting.

13. Natalia Podolskaya (Russia 2005)

OT/SA: Third on Russia’s Fabrika Zvyozdseason five (2004)

Eurovision: 15th in the grand final with 57 points — 12.50% of available points

Born and raised in Belarus, Natalia Podolskaya moved to Russia in 2002 aged 20. Having previously competed in Slavianski Bazaar, Natalia was already somewhat of a talent show veteran when she entered season five of Russia’s Fabrika Zvyozd in 2004. She came third, and off the back of the programme she was able to launch a recording career. She won the ticket to represent Russia at Eurovision a year later, beating Dima Bilan into second place at the national final.

12. Vânia Fernandes (Portugal 2008)

OT/SA: Winner of Portugal’s Operação Triunfo, season three (2007-2008)

Eurovision: 13th in the grand final with 69 points — 13.69% of available points

Vânia Fernandes won the third outing of Portugal’s Operação Triunfo with ease. Her renditions of mighty power ballads such as “Listen”, “One Moment In Time” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” ensured she became a firm favourite with viewers at home. In the final she scooped 45% of televotes. That was on 19 January 2008. By 9 March she had also won Festival da Canção. At Eurovision, she secured Portugal its best result of the 21st century, that is until Salvador Sobral won the contest outright in 2017.

11. Julia Savicheva (Russia 2004)

OT/SA: Fourth on Russia’s Fabrika Zvyozdseason two (2003)

Eurovision: 11th in the grand final with 67 points — 15.95% of available points

The second season of Russia’s Fabrika Zvyozd produced its fair share of future Eurovision stars, including Polina Gagarina and Elena Temnikova. We’ll return to both of them in the next post, but for now our attention is on Julia Savicheva. Despite only finishing fourth in the competition, she was internally selected to represent Russia at Eurovision in 2004. Her performance is probably best remembered for her collection of strangely coloured dancers rather than the song.

Coming soon: From worst to best: The definitive ranking of Operación Triunfo and Star Academy contestants at Eurovision (Part Two)

You might also like to read:

  • From worst to best: The definitive ranking of X Factor contestants at Eurovision (Part One) and (Part Two)

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