Austria is hoping it will “Rise Like a Phoenix” in Copenhagen (or at least make the Final) with Conchita Wurst.
Thomas Neuwirth first came to the public eye in Austria after finishing behind Nadine Beiler in the TV talent show Starmania. Neuwirth later unveiled his drag persona Conchita Wurst on another Austrian talent show, Die große Chance. He narrowly finished behind Trackshittaz in Austria’s national final for Eurovision 2012 with the song “That’s What I Am.” Sensing they had a proper star on their hands, broadcaster ORF handpicked Wurst to represent Austria this year.
We are huge fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race, an American reality competition show in which drag queens vie for the title of “America’s next drag superstar.” Each week, RuPaul mentors the contestants and implores them to utilize their “charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent” in each challenge.
If ever there was a performer that fully embodied those four traits, it’s Wurst. His gimmick is obviously his carefully manicured beard. Rather than completely hiding his gender, he puts his masculinity on display as much as he displays his femininity. His look is very much in your face, and there’s no doubt he is going to be a polarizing figure.
Given that, it may not matter whether or not Wurst’s song is any good. We weren’t impressed with his 2012 attempt, “That’s What I Am.” I doubt it means anything to non-musical fans, but we didn’t think it did anything that “I Am What I Am” from La Cage aux Folles accomplished (better) 30 years earlier. It was a generic empowerment anthem. Also, we didn’t think Wurst sang it particularly well.
“Rise Like a Phoenix” is a much better fit. It sounds like a Bond theme. But Wurst infuses the lyrics with an autobiographical spirit, giving “Rise Like a Phoenix” an intimacy that suits his drag persona. The above performance is from Austria’s Dancing with the Stars and we’re hoping that it is a tiny preview of how Austria plans to stage the song in Copenhagen. That light show was pretty darned good.
As much as I’d like to believe Eurovision is ultimately just a song contest, I can’t help but wonder if Wurst will prove to be too much for many Eurovision voters (both in the public and on juries) to embrace. But “Rise Like a Phoenix” is a good enough song to carry Austria to the Final, so to paraphrase another RuPaul catchphrase: Europe, don’t fuck it up.