Viva la Diva

True divas all. Shanté, you stay.

“Diva” by Dana International

Israel, 1998

Dana International is the grand dame of Eurovision Divas. Born transgendered, she had sex reassignment surgery shortly before embarking on a music career. Despite controversy when she was voted to represent Israel in 1998, she went on to win Eurovision, making news all over the world. Her Eurovision legacy has extended beyond her path-breaking victory. The next year, she memorably tripped and fell when presenting 1999 winner Charlotte Nilsson with the Eurovision trophy. She penned Israel’s 2007 entry “Ke’ilu Kan,” sung by Boaz Mauda (which finished 9th place overall). In 2011, Dana International attempted a second go at the contest with “Ding Dong” but her comeback dream died in the Semifinals. Say no more.

“Rise Like a Phoenix” by Conchita Wurst

Austria, 2014

Every year, RuPaul’s Drag Race goes on the search for America’s next drag superstar. However, the world’s next drag superstar graced the Eurovision stage in Copenhagen in 2014. Conchita Wurst took Europe by storm, first by being a bearded lady, second by taking the Eurovision title with an empowering, John Barry-infused anthem. It was a victory no one saw coming, yet seemed inevitable in retrospect.

“Ne partez pas sans moi” by Celine Dion

Switzerland, 1988

Switzerland wasn’t on the radar for a Eurovision win, but audiences were surprised by the 20-year-old with the enormous voice and magnetic stage presence. It was obvious that she was destined for big things.

“Molitva” by Marija Šerifović

Serbia, 2007

The bookies liked Marija Šerifović, although Verka Serduchka was the favorite going into the 2007 contest. Then rumblings came out of rehearsals that she wasn’t singing well, that her performance was lackluster. Here’s the thing: rehearsals are for blocking and a Diva knows how to turn it on whenever she wants to. Ms. Šerifović knocked it out of the ballpark in the Semis and again in the Final to bring Serbia its first win.

“Dancing Lasha Tumbai” by Verka Serduchka

Ukraine, 2007

The 1940s-inspired costumes, the communist star headdress, the “69” on his back, and those sunglasses…pure extravaganza. The energy level from Serduchka and company on this number is stunning.

“Voilà” by Barbara Pravi

France, 2021

The first line of “Voilà” is “écoutez moi,” and how can you not pay attention when Barbara Pravi sings? Her song is both unapologetically old fashioned and strikingly modern. The staging was beautiful and intense. And through it all Barbara sells it with just the right amount of aggression and pathos. She expresses the emotion of “Voilà” with such abandon that it’s easy to get swept up in her performance. She rightfully captured France’s best result in 30 years.

“Fuego” by Eleni Foureira

Cyprus, 2018

Before rehearsals began for the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest, “Fuego” was a run-of-the-mill pop song. But after Eleni Foureira’s first rehearsal, the press room was all abuzz: a Eurovision diva had arrived. Sure, the “Yeah Yeah Fire” meme had a bit to do with it, as did her need for a less revealing costume. But mostly it had to do with an electrifying performance full of sultry pouts, bouncing hips, gravity-defying hair flicks, and a dash of special effects. There were other people on stage with her, but at no point did you ever lose sight that Ms. Foureira was the star. She took Cyprus all the way to second, its best finish at Eurovision to date.

“Et s’il fallait le faire” by Patricia Kaas

France, 2009

A single woman onstage with no backup singers, a little black dress, austere lighting. An Edith Piaf-style tour de force. At the end, she did a little jig. And it totally worked. France finished 8th.

“Sweet People” by Alyosha

Ukraine, 2010

Ukraine selected their artist late, after national outrage over the original choice. Ukraine selected their song late, without public input, and was fined for picking the song after the entry deadline. The song they settled on, “Sweet People,” was tuneless and depressing. And none of it mattered, because Alyosha commanded the stage. Thanks entirely to her mesmerizing solo performance, Ukraine eked out a Top 10 finish in a packed 2010 field.

“Sehnora do Mar (Negras Aguas)” by Vânia Fernandes

Portugal, 2008

We have a soft spot in our hearts for fado. Like any good fado song, this one tells a story. It’s cathartic, and Ms. Fernandes can clearly belt out a tune. Give the woman a black shawl and set her up in a café in the Alfama. Portugal placed 13th.

“Unsubstantial Blues” by Magdi Ruzsa

Hungary, 2007

Abandoned at an Arizona bus stop, Ms. Ruzsa growls about “…an evanescent, unsubstantial blues.” Her performance was gritty and soulful. I’d hate to think about the stuff she’s been through in her life to bring such honestly to the Eurovision stage. I really hope she’s just a good actress.

“Refrain” by Lys Assia

Switzerland, 1956

Lys Assia was the very first winner of Eurovision, which granted her a certain royalty in the years to follow. She frequently attended Eurovision and was often afforded varying amounts of screen time, from a wave and some flowers (e.g., Norway 2010), to a brief interview in the green room (e.g., Sweden 2013), to coming on stage to kick off the voting (e.g., Serbia 2008). After performing Switzerland’s first four Eurovision entries over three contests (each country performed twice in 1956), she occasionally tried to make performance comebacks, with varying degrees of artistic success. But no matter what, she was always engaged in the Song Contest. She loved Eurovision and Eurovision loved her back.