Nothing brings people together like the Eurovision Song Contest. This annual televised celebration of music, serious and kitsch in equal parts, captured my heart the moment I heard the first note from the 2012 contest. Broadcast live from Baku, Azerbaijan, I watched on YouTube as nations from Iceland to Israel, Sweden to Slovakia, and the United Kingdom to Ukraine battled it out in a friendly competition to determine a song for Europe.
Simply put, I’m a fan. I’ve watched every year since, mostly from the comforts of my living room, but I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of the press corps for two contests. I was able to go to Copenhagen in 2014 and Lisbon in 2018 to cover the contest as a journalist, meeting and working with people from all over the region.
This year, now that I live in France, I decided that it would be a great time to watch a Eurovision national selection show. Many Eurovision countries select their song and artist without much fanfare, but France was one of the countries who decided to go all out and host a live television song contest to choose their representative. My next stop was determined: Destination Eurovision! In two semi-finals and a grand final, a jury vote and a televote would determine the artist and song who would carry the French flag to Tel Aviv for the Eurovision Song Contest 2019
For each of the three shows, held on consecutive Saturday evenings, my dear friend Vincent and I braved the cold, damp weather to take the train all the way to the other end of Paris. Destination Eurovision would be broadcast live at the France Télévisions studios in Saint-Denis. There, we waited for nearly three hours in line, partly in the frigid weather, along with French music fans who were there to support their favorite artists. It was well worth it!
The show was fabulous. The energy in the studio seemed to overflow, and the pain from standing for hours didn’t faze us at all in all the excitement. The show was hosted by Garou, one of the most popular French-Canadian singers; his charisma was the highlight of the show. We got to watch some well-established French singers give it their best shot. Chimène Badi sang a power ballad about her inner strength as an independent woman, while Emmanuel Moire’s song explored the emotional challenges of living openly as a gay man. There were some newer artists who took to the stage too, such as Aysat with her uptempo song about female empowerment, Silvàn Areg with a jaunty French rap, and Seemone with her heartfelt number dedicated to her father.
The eventual winner was Bilal Hassani, a gay man of Moroccan descent, and an outspoken voice in the French LGBTQ community. He sang “Roi,” a pop ballad about conquering one’s dreams and being free to be oneself. Bilal’s queerness shines through in his self-presentation: his signature look is his wig, a blonde bob, complementing his androgynous pop star outfits. His boisterous fanbase, which propelled him to the top of the leaderboard at the end of the show, comes from all walks of life. They surrounded Vincent and I in the crowd: old and young, Black, White, Arab or otherwise, everyone was welcome in Bilal’s kingdom. I look forward to watching Bilal perform on the big night in May. I’ll be back in California (graduation is literally on the same day), but I’ll be watching all the same.
Destination Eurovision was an experience I’ll never forget. I got to spend some quality time with my friend as we cheered with the crowd to some of the best talent France has to offer.