Vocal Scares: Eurovision Throat Woes

Bambie Thug rehearsing Doomsday Blue for Ireland at the First Rehearsal of the First Semi-Final at Malmö Arena — Sarah Louise Bennett / EBU

With several artistes reportedly suffering from throat maladies, we take a quick look back at some of the other times the old vocal cords have failed to hold up through two intense weeks of rehearsals.

Throat infections and vocal cord issues have plagued many Eurovision contestants. In 2021, Tusse from Sweden underwent minor vocal cord surgery just two weeks before rehearsals began. UK’s entry Javine battled throat problems in 2005 but managed to power through her performance, if not the scoreboard.

Oh, those Russians

t.A.T.u. on stage at Eurovision 2003

Perhaps most famously, Julia Volkova of t.A.T.u. rushed to hospital with serious vocal cord damage right before the 2003 contest. Their manager assured everyone she would recover in time, as quitting was not an option for the determined Russian duo. Speculation went into overdrive about how t.A.T.u. would subvert Eurovision rules and disrupt comfortable family viewing.

The usual process that klicks in when a performer cannot make the live final is to use the Friday rehearsal recording. Julia didn’t perform there either. The EBU was in a tight corner. Fan forums went wild, warning of nudity, swearing and openly naughty lesbian acts. None of which came to pass. Predictably.

Other notably afflicted stars include Ireland’s Sarah McTernan (gum infection) and Jedward’s John Grimes (vocal nodules) in 2019 and 2011 respectively.

The pandemic years

The COVID-19 pandemic introduced unique challenges, cancelling the event in 2020. The effects continued in 2021, with positive tests threatening to derail performers’ participation. Icelandic group Daði og Gagnamagnið (2021) tested positive, forcing them to use rehearsal footage for their official contest entry. Travel restrictions meant Australian entrant Montaigne couldn’t fly to Rotterdam for the contest and had to perform via a live-on-tape performance that was recorded in Australia.

Go_A, Ukraine, Backstage, Rotterdam Ahoy, 9 May 2021
Go_A, Ukraine, Backstage, Rotterdam Ahoy, 9 May 2021

Kateryna Pavlenko, the lead singer of Ukrainian Go_A, tested positive and was unable to take part in some rehearsals. She was later cleared to perform. A positive test meant Duncan Laurence was unable to perform live as a guest at the grand final.

After the 2022 event, host Laura Pausini revealed she had become sick during the show.

Support plans

But it’s not just bad luck and busy schedules to blame. The immense pressure and intense rehearsals in the lead-up to the competition can take their toll on even the most seasoned vocal cords.

That’s why Eurovision organisers have robust plans in place to support artists’ health and well-being. On-site medical professionals are available to treat illnesses and injuries, while vocal coaches help contestants manage the demands of rigorous rehearsals.

The crew also takes great care with technical elements like stage design and sound systems to ensure optimal performance conditions.

As for everyone else, fans will have to wait and see if they can overcome this setback in her Eurovision journey. If history is any indication, a Swedish medical team will work their magic to get them in fighting shape before they take to the stage in Malmo.

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