A view from the stalls

So whilst I take a week off to recharge and get ready to tell you precisely why your favourite song did badly, as June nearly always consists of, Shai emailed into OE Towers and said ” I’m going to be at Semi Final one, would you like me to write about it.  Well, not one to look a gift horse in the mouth we said “ok” – Shai?

My name is Shai and some of you may have seen my name pop up in the comments section. On Tuesday the 18th of May 2021, I fulfilled a long dream of mine, as a fan of the contest,  and attended the Eurovision Song contest for the 1st time. This article is my personal story,  in relation to Eurovision.

As mentioned above, I am a Eurovision fan. I was 8 years old when I watched my 1st Eurovision on a black and white TV, it was 1973. Ann Marie David won for Luxembourg with “Tu te reconnaîtras” and among other songs we had Cliff Richard,  representing the U.K. with  “Power to All Our Friends” and Mocedades, representing Spain with “Eres Tú”. I was hooked from the first moment and have followed the contest since then.

Oh Shai, Why?

I am often asked: “Why do you like Eurovision so much. Is it because it is kitsch & camp?Is it because your are gay?” – the answer to both questions is no. At the age of 8 I don’t think I knew what kitsch & camp mean and would not recognize kitsch & camp anyway. As for the gay part, I only realized that I was gay, when puberty kicked in, 5 years later and only in the 80’s,  I made the connection between my love for the Eurovision and being gay. Needless to say that in the 80’s both being gay and loving Eurovision was preceived as a negative issue. I attribute my love to Eurovision to my love of music, my ability to sing and my fascination with languages. In addition Eurovision allowed me, once per year, to be patriotic without being overtly nationalistic. You route for your country and hope it does well. There is a sense of pride when your country does well in Eurovision. The pride is even greater if your country wins the contest. If it doesn’t, you hope that next year will be better.

The dream to attend the contest only became a possibility from the year 2000 onward. One needs to understand that in the 70’s / 80’s and the 90’s,  attending Eurovision wasn’t an option. It may seem strange but in those decades, Eurovision was an invitation only event. Most of the audience was  part of the diplomatic corps. When you look at photos of old contests, you will mostly see a middle aged crowd, dressed in suit & tie(men) or a nice frock(women), sitting down in relatively small spaces. In the course of the years, the dress code has changed and crowds have begun to show more involvement. It’s still far from the crowd we see today in Eurovision.  (If possible, please insert audience photo from any contest from 70’s, 80’s and 90’s )

This has changed in 1998. 1998 was the 1st contest , where the general public could attend the show. The change was immediate. The crowd was slightly younger, was waving flags and was generally more engaged than the previous audience.  (If possible, please insert audience photo of the  1998 Eurovision song contest) But the real change came in the 2000’s. The change was coming from several aspects:

1.The venues where  Eurovision   took place became bigger and could accommodate more audiences. Attending the contest became possible for fans. 2.The introduction of the semi final in 2004(at the beginning 1 semi and as of 2008 2 semi’s) made sure there were more shows which were accessible for the public.

3.The interest in the contest exploded in the 2000’s. The Internet made the contest accessible for everyone. The number of sites solely dedicated to Eurovision is huge and each site caters to different groups.  It was somewhere in the 2000’s,I promised myself, that one day I would attend Eurovision. This was easier said than done.

Problems at every turn.

Firstly – Accommodation at  the host city. Once a host city is announced, prices for accommodation reach sky high, which make it an expensive adventure. I was never good at guessing the host city and by the time you know what the Eurovision destination will be, you are too late.

Secondly – There are some places, I wouldn’t want to visit due to their gay rights track record.

Thirdly – Have you ever tried to get a ticket to a Eurovision show? Not to mention that  sometimes  the ticket prices are too high. And therefore not for everyone’s reach.

But mostly, I didn’t go because I decided to wait until Eurovision will come to a place closer to home. Something I wasn’t expecting to happen any time sooner. Suddenly 2018 came and Israel,  the country where I was born and grew up, has won the contest. I have decided I will do my best to attend the 2019 contest. Unfortunately, I didn’t make any reservation for accommodation, right after Israel won and when Tel Aviv was announced as host city, it was too late for me to have an accommodation for a reasonable price.

Now, I have friends and family in Israel but most of them live outside Tel Aviv and travel arrangements to and from Tel Aviv would make it an impossible and tiresome adventure. I have a friend living in Tel Aviv but he  decided to rent a room in his apartment and try to make some money out of it. Can’t blame him, I would have done the same. At one point, I almost got an accommodation for a reasonable price but it turned out to be outside Tel Aviv , so wasn’t an option. Not being able to attend Eurovision in Tel Aviv, was a bitter pill to swallow.

The chance gets closer.

Fast forward to 2019 and The Netherlands, the country I call home now,  won the contest. I decided that this is a chance not to be missed by me and try to attend the contest in person. When The Netherlands won, the dates were not yet set. When the candidate cities were announced, I thought Maastricht and Rotterdam had the most chances and made reservations for accommodation in both cities. Unfortunately I have chosen the wrong dates. When Rotterdam was chosen, it was also announced that the contest will take place a week earlier than the dates I was expecting. Needless to say,  the accommodations became useless.

Next stop was the 1st tickets sale for the 2020 contest. It almost worked. I was waiting in the virtual queue and eventually got in. However at the moment I was in, everything on screen went gray. Meaning all tickets, allocated for the 1st sale, were sold out. Talk about being unlucky. I was determined to try again during the 2nd ticket sale. Secretly, I was hoping to get a free ticket through my work. I work for a Dutch hotel chain and our hotels in Rotterdam were part of the delegation’s accommodation. So there was still hope to achieve my dream.

All came crashing down.

Unfortunately Covid-19 came and Eurovision 2020 was cancelled. In the course of 2020,  it was clear that Eurovision will be back in 2021 and Rotterdam will be the host city. What wasn’t clear was whether an audience will be able to attend. Eventually the Dutch government decided that Eurovision will be part of fieldlab events, which meant a limited number of people will be allowed to attend. It was quickly clear that the tickets will only be available for persons who managed to purchase tickets for the 2020 contest. I wasn’t one of them. I gave up the idea that I will be able to watch Eurovision in the hall. There wasn’t much I could do about it, just accept it and take another shot in the future.

But then, out of nowhere came the unexpected twist in the plot. Do you remember my work? One of the Eurovision partners has invited 2 of my colleagues to attend the 1st semi final. One of the invited persons couldn’t go and when the news reached my direct GM, who knows I am a Eurovision fan, he suggested asking if I am interested. Needless to say I said yes without any hesitation.

Grasping with both hands.

As part of the fieldlab event, you were requested to download 2 apps. CoronaCheck and the Close app. The Close app was the app where you receive your ticket and all information related to your visit. The app constantly reminds you what you expect to do before arriving at Ahoy. The CoronaCheck app was to show your negative Corona test, made on the date of the event, several hours before the show. Once the test was done, it took another 30 minutes until I received the results, which was negative. I was clear to go.

Upon arriving at the venue, you were requested to download another app called Flocky, which registered your movements in the venue, with BlueTooth technology. All in the sake of making the event as safe as possible and sort of a blueprint for future events.Do I like to be followed so much? no. But hey for the sake of Eurovision, I let my conviction down and accepted the situation as it is.

So, what was it like then?

Once in the venue , you were required to have a mask covering your mouth and nose while walking through the venue. However, once I arrived at my seat, the mask was no longer needed and we were sitting next to each other without keeping a space of 1.5 meter between us.

After 1 year and 2 months where all of us  lived under restrictions and had to keep to rules which basically took some of our freedoms and liberties away, it was quite exhilarating to lower your guards and have almost no restrictions. It was a sign of how much we missed this contact without restrictions . Sharing the moment  with other people was a sweet moment and the fact that it was part of the Eurovision experience made it all worth it. Ahoy was not completely full for the 1st semi-final. However, that hasn’t stopped us, the audience, to cheer as loud as we could and show the artists our appreciation for the  fact they were there, under circumstances far from being optimal.

Eurovision is a TV show, that should be obvious. As such, all singers need to sing to the audience at home and connect with them. When sitting in the hall, you see the preparations for the next song, and some of the songs needed more time to prepare than others. There was a screen hanging up at the roof, where you could follow the TV feed but most of the acts were easy to follow on stage. The one song, where it was obvious that you need to follow the TV feed, was the Irish song. The busy stage presentation was made for the public at home. We at Ahoy saw a young singer struggling to go through the complicated set and to be honest we could only get what the set meant while watching the TV feed.

Another thing to take from the show: The green room was allocated before the stage and it made the artists much more involved. TIX from Norway, was applauding and shouting encouragement to other artists, which was very nice to see. After roughly 2 hours the show ended and me and my colleagues left the venue and went home. We left the bubble we were in and went back to reality. Back to the restrictions and rules in place in The Netherlands.

Wrapping it all up.

Thinking about the experience, I am glad I could attend Eurovision, even if it was under unusual circumstances. Eurovision was back after a year absent and I was part of it. Eurovision is a yearly  tradition and when it was cancelled last year, it made me sad as I was missing the whole process which is part of  Eurovision. The build up to the contest,the discussions on your favourite site(s) about the songs, the reports from rehearsals, the semi-finals(trying to guess who will qualify and who will fail, is part of the process) and last but not least, the final. The final has the role of closing the current chapter in the book of Eurovision and also serves as the beginning of  a new chapter in the same book. This year it also meant that I have closed a personal chapter and attended a Eurovision show. I have made, at last,  a dream come true for myself. I might try again, but the urge to do it is no longer there.

Thank you for reading. Hope you have enjoyed it.

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