With her Eurovision win Conchita Wurst has been the toast of Europe over the past week. As I delve into her origins and her journey to glory, I discovered some interesting stories that I just can’t resist expressing my opinion on–it’s interesting how Conchita’s talent and persona evolved over the years.
Conchita first came to the spotlight under her real identity, Tom Neuwirth. Tom was already an “out” gay teenager back in 2006, but at this point he definitely needed work on charisma as he came off like the way Clay Aiken was when he started out in American Idol Season 2. The only difference was that Clay was still in the closet (remember in those days gay American Idol contestants don’t disclose their sexuality). Below was his audition for Starmania (the Austrian equivalent to Idol but Austria did not get a franchise so we could not say it’s officially a counterpart), where he sang “Amazing Grace”, Pink’s “Get the Party Started”, and a German song.
Needless to say, he became a finalist in Starmania. He made a major enough impact to make it all the way to the finale where he was defeated by Nadine Beiler (who four years later represented Austria in Eurovision with the well-regarded “The Secret is Love”). Two of his performances in this series seem to act as a precursor to his Eurovision destiny. Below are his performances of Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger” and a remake of Anna Vissi’s 9th place Eurovision 2006 entry, “Everything”. “Goldfinger” seemed like a stage to Tom’s eventual metamorphosis, where Tom was like Clay Aiken starting to channel his inner Adam Lambert–though at around this time, Adam Lambert was still working the musical theater/cabaret circuit.
As a bonus, here is the girl who defeated Tom, Nadine Beiler, performing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” in the Starmania finale, then at Eurovision 2011 with her song “The Secret is Love”.
After Starmania the producers of that show felt it might be best to further Tom’s career by putting him in a boyband so he became part of the group Jetzt Anders! (German for “Now, Different!”), but after releasing an album and two singles that performed respectably in Austria, the group disbanded. I know the late Stephen Gately from Boyzone made a precedent by being an out gay guy within a group of hunky blokes (he came out in 1999), but though Tom’s vocal talents are one of the assets of this group, unfortunately it’s obvious a boyband is not a good fit for Tom. Still it was obvious he gave his best effort with this. See their official music video for the song “Immer und Ewig” (“Always and Forever”).
Tom lay low from the public eye for four years after Jetzt Anders! disbanded, and when he re-emerged in 2011, it’s now under the “bearded lady” persona and he assumed a new identity–Conchita Wurst. “Conchita” was derived from the name of a Cuban friend, while “Wurst” is a play on a German word for sausage and the German phrase “Das ist mir doch alles Wurst” (“It’s all the same to me”, or “I don’t care”). As Conchita, she joined the talent competition Die große Chance (think something in the lines of America’s Got Talent but this actually was around in Austria way before that franchise between 1980-1990; it was revived in 2011 in a competitive format). This time, Conchita won. Check out one of her performances in this contest, a rendition of the daunting Celine Dion hit, “My Heart Will Go On” during the show’s audition, then at the finale where she sang her first single, “Unbreakable”.
That victory fueled her to aim bigger, so in 2012 she competed in the Austrian national selection for Eurovision. Her number was entitled “That’s What I Am”, and it’s actually a decent song–actually, it sounds like a good empowerment anthem. But guess who beat her in the Austrian selection that year? The Trackshittaz silly “Woki Mit Deim Popo”, which then fared in last place in the Eurovision semifinals and failed to quality into the finals. Wonder how Conchita would’ve fared then if she was chosen instead? Would she have advanced to the finals? One thing is for certain–she wouldn’t have won because Loreen’s “Euphoria” was simply unstoppable that year.
Conchita was able to parlay her Die große Chance victory into celebrity-hood in Austria, as besides her attempt at Eurovision in 2012, she also appeared in a couple of reality shows, where she worked in a fish cannery and lived with a Namibian tribe. An opportunity came when the Austrian broadcaster ORF decided not to hold a new search for their 2014 Eurovision entry and handpicked her instead. It was controversial then because of the fact she’s a bearded drag queen, but it turns out the rest is history. And it all boils down to one constant if you look through her journey thus far–Conchita Wurst is a terrifically talented singer.
It’s not always a guarantee that a Eurovision win will bring forth worldwide fame like it did ABBA or Celine Dion, but if an opportunity comes for Conchita to visit the US, one thing I would be looking forward to is her visiting Los Angeles and guesting in E! News. I observed that Conchita looks like E! News host Giuliana Rancic if a beard is painted on her. I bet that would be a fun opportunity that should be exploited, if you ask me.
It dawned on me after exploring Conchita Wurst’s journey to fame that she actually paid her dues, and her ticket to stardom is something simple and old-fashioned–true, bonafide talent. I also admire her gracious, down-to-earth demeanor and character so far and hope she remains grounded even if she exploits the opportunities that opened up for her. More power and love for Conchita!