They dazzle us with their glamour and every time they sing their way into our hearts. It’s like the stars of Eurovision were born to do it. For many of Iceland’s Eurovision singers, their path to the contest can be traced back to one starting point — Söngkeppni Framhaldsskólanna.
Beginning in 1990, the singing contest is held by schools across Iceland. Now, I won’t try to explain the Icelandic education system, since it’s slightly different from the norm. But, this contest is big. The biggest of its kind in the country, and many of its contestants have found musical fame afterwards. But we’re only interested in those who went on to Eurovision. So, sit back as we relive the moments some of Iceland’s most iconic Eurovision representatives had their first brush with showbiz. Also note, that everything is connected in one way or the other, because Iceland is a small country, and if you don’t see them perform, you’ll see them host.
Regína Ósk ( 2008)
Euroband tore up the Belgrade stage with their technopop schlager tune “This Is My life” in 2008. It marked Regína Ósk’s first time centre stage at Eurovision, but she was already something of a veteran. Before Euroband, she provided backing vocals for TwoTricky in 2001, Birgitta in 2003 and Selma in 2005. However, for the purposes of this piece we must rewind to 1996. Back then, no one had ever heard of 19 year old Regína Ósk Óskarsdóttir. She performed the Icelandic disco tune “Reykjavíkurborg” — originally by Helga Möller (I.C.Y 1986) — and finished second. Also, does the host look familiar? Yes! Its Selma, before she went blond!
Hera Björk (2010)
Who can forget the one and only Hera Björk? Answer: no one! She has a long history with Eurovision, beginning as a backing vocalist for Euroband in 2008 and Yohanna in 2009, and culminating with her iconic performance of “Je Ne Sais Quoi” in 2010. But before all that, Hera was a 19 year old student who just loved the hippy era. She entered Söngkeppni Framhaldsskólanna 1991 on behalf of her school, performing “Án þín”. Like Regína, she came second. That year’s winner was Margrét Eir Hjartardóttir, who went on to be a prolific backing singer at Eurovision, lending her vocals to the likes of TwoTricky and Birgitta. And again, feast your eyes on the 21 year old Paul Oscar, who was the host that year.
Birgitta Haukdal (2003)
In the early ’00s, Birgitta Haukdal was a sensation in the Icelandic music industry. Fronting Írafár, the country’s most popular pop group, she was the queen. Everyone wanted a piece of her, little girls wanted to be her, and a doll was even made in her honour. It was only a matter of time before she represented Iceland at Eurovision, which she did in 2003. Singing “Open Your Heart”, she placed a respectable ninth. Travel back to 1998, and she was rocking some mysterious mini-braids and a slim set of out-of-this-world eyebrows. Representing her school, she sang a cover of Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings”. She missed out on a top three finish, but we all know what happened later. Success!
Jónsi (2004 and 2012)
We return to 1996, and this time we’re with 18 year old Jónsi or JoJo, as he was called back then. He sang a jazzy calypso version of a ’50s Icelandic track called “Litli tónlistarmaðurinn”. We’d like to believe that he was going through an awkward phase, since his hair and outfit are questionable at best. He came fourth, but later found immense success with his band Í Svörtum Fötum, which competed with Birgitta’s Írafár for popularity. Those two were everywhere! They even played Sandy and Danny in a modern take on Grease in 2002. But we all know Jónsi now and what he can do. Back then, he was still unknown to the public. That is, until he took those dance moves and proved that he indeed was an entertainer in the making.
Selma (1999 and 2005)
In 1999, Selma was becoming more and more known to the Icelandic public. Like Birgitta, she played Sandy in Grease, and she was a rising star in Iceland’s theatre world. But it wasn’t until she entered Eurovision in 1999, bringing Iceland their best result to date, that she skyrocketed to fame. Before all that, she competed in Söngkeppni Framhaldsskólanna 1994, covering The Commitment’s “I Never Loved A Man”. She failed to crack the top three, and unfortunately we couldn’t find a video of her performance. Instead, I give you Selma with her band Fantasia, which in 1994, were a small sensation on the Icelandic rave scene. But trust us, her performance of “I Never Loved A Man” was good.
One sixth of Iceland’s Eurovision 2011 super group Sjonni’s Friends, Hreimur was also the frontman of Land og Synir. From the late ’90s through to the mid ’00s, they were one of Iceland’s most popular bands. Hreimur, along with Jónsi and Birgitta, was the créme de la créme of Iceland’s pop scene. Before that, he graced the same stage as Jónsi and Regína Ósk in 1996 — clearly a pivotal year for future pop stars of Iceland — and covered “Ekkert breytir því”, originally written and performed by Stefán Hilmarsson (1988 and 1991). So you see, connections. Connections everywhere! He didn’t make the top 5, but his future fame was already in the works.
Paul Oscar (1997)
Paul has always been an entertainer and performer. He won the local contest back in its 1990 heyday. Unfortunately, the recording isn’t anywhere to be found. However as you saw, he hosted Söngkeppni Framhaldsskólanna 1991, and did a marvellous job. Of course, he performed a little number too, proving to the audience and the Icelandic public that he was there to stay. It’s plain to see that his future was already written. Back then, drag queens were not exactly common, especially during a live family show as you can hear from audience’s reaction. But Paul, being his wonderful forward self, didn’t give a toss about what was considered “suitable”, doing his thing regardless. And that is why we just love him from here to eternity.
Aren’t they all just adorable??!!! What are your thoughts about the musical past of these Icelandic Eurovision stars? Let us know in the comments below.
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