At Eurovision 2011 celebrities sparked a ratings boom—and more than a few provocative photo shoots.
Watched annually by more than 100 million people, Eurovision is the world’s most-watched non-sporting event, and the show that launched the careers of former winners like ABBA and Celine Dion. Despite the contest’s glorious past and its immense popularity in much of Europe, though, viewership in Britain and Ireland has declined for several years, owing largely to the fact those countries seem unable to produce a winner (Britain last won in 1997).
Since it’s easy to hate something you’re bad at, viewers there have dismissed Eurovision as a festival of kitsch. They cite its tawdry outfits (this year’s Polish contestant competed in a bathing suit covered in rhinestones), its nonsensical lyrics (the Armenian entry repeated the phrase “boom boom chaka chaka” 13 times) and its politically-motivated voting patterns (Cyprus always gives Greece its highest marks, and the former Soviet Republics have a tendency to side with Mother Russia).
But the backlash against Eurovision may finally be changing on the British Isles. On May 14 roughly 12.7 million Britons tuned in to the contest, up from 5.5 million in 2010. That represents the biggest U.K. audience in more than a decade, and a staggering 60% share of the national TV audience. Bloggers and Eurovision pundits agree that celebrity hype helped push up those figures. Britain’s BBC normally stages a national selection contest and allows the public to choose its Eurovision rep. But they decided to bypass democracy this year and made the decision to send Blue, the popular boy band who have sold more than 13 million albums worldwide. The group toured Europe to promote their song and, given Eurovision’s immense popularity among the gay community, even staged a nude photo shoot for gay lifestyle magazine Attitude. They finished 11th on Saturday—up 14 places from Britain’s 25th place finish last year.
Perhaps most titillating, however, were John and Edward Grimes—an eccentric set of Irish twins who perform on stage as Jedward. They have a divisive brand of popularity (and 10-inch-high hair apparently held in place by cement). In 2009, during auditions for Britain’s X Factor, Simon Cowell described them as “two of the most annoying people we’ve had on here in a long time.” But that didn’t stop them from placing sixth on X Factor, and they’ve gone on to rake in millions in endorsements and now have a cult following from Britain to France to Australia.
The blond-coiffed twins had little doubt going into the contest that their eccentricity would serve them well. “Eurovision has completely changed. It’s gone from being this ballad contest to this modern competition,” John told Wiwi in a recent interview. “It’s called the Eurovision Song Contest and we have a really, really good song. People who watch it are mainly young, funky, and cool, and they want to see something new, something different, something fresh, and something they can be a fan of. And that’s what we’re bringing.” So they donned Michael Jackson-inspired military jackets with extra-large shoulder pads, and doused them in sequins. Cue the pyrotechnics and you get the idea. Not to be outdone by Blue, they staged their own racy photo shoot with the Gay Times.
The Grimes brothers finished eighth at Eurovision, Ireland’s best result since 2000, and their entry “Lipstick” now sits atop the iTunes charts in Austria, Germany, Ireland and Sweden. And while the boys will no doubt feel a bit sad they missed out on Eurovision glory (the title went to Azerbaijan’s Ell & Nikki—two non-celebs from Baku), officials in Ireland are breathing a sigh of relief. As the Belfast Telegraph reports, Jedward’s popularity—among the public and the bookies—created widespread fear the twins would win, forcing bankrupt Ireland to stage the multi-million dollar contest next year. But, as the paper says, “the surge ebbed and we fell lower, beneath the Moldovans in the funny hats. Jedward will survive, on their energy and hard neck, and Croke Park [a Dublin stadium] is spared an expensive transformation.”