Celebrating Canadians at Eurovision for Canada Day, eh!

If you’re reading this on July 1st, Happy Canada Day! It was 156 years ago today that Canada asked Queen Victoria for independence, and she replied, “Oh blimey, alright then.” … I’m paraphrasing, but that’s basically it!

To mark the 156th anniversary of that momentous occasion, we’re looking back at Canada’s links to the Eurovision Song Contest – and before anyone says “Well Canada isn’t in Eurovision“, you’d be right and wrong simultaneously.

While Canada has never formally competed in the Eurovision Song Contest, Canadians have squeaked their way onto the Eurovision stage over the years. Furthermore, Canada actually beat Australia as the first associate member of the EBU to participate in Eurovision.

Who doesn’t remember Eurovision Young Dancers 1987 and 1989? Stephen Legate took part for Canada in 1987 and placed outside the top 3, so I guess he tied for 4th with all the other countries(?). Then Cherice Barton participated in the 1989 contest where she didn’t qualify for the Final.

Canada’s national broadcaster (CBC) has never aired the Eurovision Song Contest, and aside from some specialty TV channels airing it irregularly over the last decade, most Canadians simply don’t know what Eurovision is. However thanks to YouTube, many Eurofans in Canada are able to get their fix, and attract some new fans online.

Some saw Australia’s admission to the Eurovision Song Contest in 2015 as a means of getting Canada involved too, but the CBC has no plans to even investigate participating:

“CBC has considered participating, however our programmers don’t believe it would resonate here the way it does in other countries, some of which have broadcast the show for decades. While not the only factor in our decision making process, Eurovision is very expensive to produce, and especially so if we were to host it.” – Chuck Thompson, head of public affairs for CBC, May 2023.

Where the CBC has failed to introduce Eurovision to Canada, the EBU has picked up the baton. Back in 2006-2007 there were talks of a U.S./Canadian spin off, but those discussions went nowhere.

Then in 2022, following in the footsteps of the American Song Contest, The Eurovision Song Contest Canada was supposed to launch, but that also appears to have stalled.

“We thought it would happen and it kind of took a step back, we are still hoping. The original avenue that was pursued closed, but we are hopeful” – Eurovision Song Contest Executive Supervisor Martin Österdahl, May 2023

With nothing new on the horizon, we’re left to look back at Canada’s indirect impact on Eurovision.

1. Sherisse Laurence – 🇱🇺 Luxembourg 1986

Born in Manitoba, Sherisse Laurence was a TV host and musician in Canada in the late 1970s and 1980s. In 1986 she was chosen to sing L’amour de ma vie for Luxembourg. She finished in 3rd place with 117 points behind Switzerland and Belgium. This was also Luxembourg’s best result until their withdrawal from the contest in 1993. Bergen 1986 was a watershed moment for Luxembourg, it was in a way the start of the end for Luxembourg at Eurovision (until their return was announced in 2023). Their results really fell off a cliff after 1986, with one notable exception which is next on our list because amazingly that was another Canadian!

2. Lara Fabian – 🇱🇺 Luxembourg 1988

Born in Belgium in 1970, Lara is a Belgian-Canadian singer and songwriter. She has sold over 20 million records worldwide, making her one of the best-selling Belgian artists of all time. As a child she moved to Sicily and grew up speaking Italian. Her next big move came at age 21 when she moved to Québec, eventually obtaining her Canadian citizenship. In 2003 she moved back to Belgium to be close to her parents, and then in 2017 she moved back to Montréal to be with her family there. Yet in all those travels, there has been no mention of Luxembourg the country she represented at Eurovision. During the 1980s, she had been touring Europe, participating in Festivals, and released her debut single Il y avait, when she was noticed by RTL who invited her to represent Luxembourg in Dublin. She accepted, and Croire finished in 4th place. I should point out that her connection to Canada started as a result of her Eurovision success, as she moved to Montréal to launch her North American career two years later.

3. Céline Dion – 🇨🇭 Switzerland 1988

Before her Eurovision début, Céline Dion was making her first waves in Québec. Born the youngest of 14 children in 1968, she was discovered in the early 1980s by her manager (and future husband) René. She began participating in festivals around the world, including winning gold at a prestigious music festival in Yamaha, Japan in 1982. She went on to become the first Canadian to have a gold record in France for “D’amour ou d’amitié”. Hoping to further her career, René entered Céline in the Swiss national final for this thing called the Eurovision Song Contest in Morges, on the shores of Lake Geneva in 1988. Of course, we all know Ne partez pas sans moi went on to win Eurovision in Dublin with 137 points, beating the United Kingdom by 1 point in one of the tensest voting sequences in the Contest’s history. She opened the Contest one year later in Lausanne with a reprise of her winning song and the world premiere of Where Does My Heart Beat Now?, one of her early mega hits. Oh and Céline continued a massive career across the globe after releasing music in English and other languages including Spanish, Italian, German, Latin, Japanese, and Chinese … but she never entered Eurovision again for some reason.

4. Annie Cotton – 🇨🇭 Switzerland 1993

Born near Montréal in 1975, Annie played in various teen shows and soap operas in French Canada throughout the 1990s such as Watatatow and Virginie. She took part in the Swiss national selection for Eurovision 1993 in Zürich, with the song Moi, tout simplement. There were four juries, she got the maximum 8 points from the French, German, and press juries, and came in 2nd place with the Italian regional jury. At the close of the Eurovision voting in Millstreet, Annie had received 148 points, placing 3rd of 25 countries, behind winners Ireland and runners-up United Kingdom. Since then, she’s been a singing and theater trainer at a few camps in Québec, “thus participating in the emergence of a whole generation of young artists,” according to her bio.

5. Natasha St-Pier – 🇫🇷 France 2001

Born in Bathurst, New Brunswick with Acadian heritage, Natasha St-Pier represented France at the 2001 Eurovision Song Contest with the song Je n’ai que mon âme. Before Eurovision she had released her first album in Canada in the late 1990s went on to play Fleur-de-Lys in the musical Notre Dame de Paris in London. That gave her the exposure to launch her career in France. At Eurovision in Copenhagen, Je n’ai que mon âme took 4th place with 142 points. This remained France’s best result for 20 years, until 2021. Since Eurovision, she has released 11 albums with her 2006 release “Longueur D’Ondes” topping the French charts and getting gold certification. Her most recent album dropped in 2022 and also charted in France. She came back to Eurovision in 2014 to commentate for French TV.

6. Rykka – 🇨🇭 Switzerland 2016

Rykka was born in Vancouver. Her grandparents were all born in Europe, and although only one of them is from Switzerland, that is the country where Rykka spend much of her childhood. She represented at the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest with the song The Last Of Our Kind. Rykka came last during Semi Final 2 in Stockholm with just 28 points. There isn’t much to say about her Eurovision/European career as she’s focused most of her efforts on Canada, especially around Vancouver. I haven’t heard of her in any context outside of Eurovision, then again I’m closer to Bratislava by than I am to Vancouver, a testament to how big Canada truly is.

7. Katerine Duska – 🇬🇷 Greece 2019

Katerine was born in Montréal in 1989 but has since moved to Greece where she still resides. She was initially at university to study law, but she gave that up to focus on her music career. She’s been doing a lot of festivals across Greece and Europe over the last few years. She was internally selected to represent Greece at Eurovision in Tel Aviv with Better Love. The song came 5th in its Semi, and then placed 21st with 74 points in the Grand Final in 2019. It seems to be one of those theatrical Eurovision entries remembered more for the performance than the song I think, but time will tell.

8. La Zarra – 🇫🇷 France 2023

Fatima-Zahra Hafdi was born in Montréal in 1987 to Moroccan parents. Her breakthrough came in 2016, when she released her debut single Printemps blanc, in collaboration with French rapper Niro. She went on to release her debut album “Traîtrise” in 2021 which peaked at number 82 on the French album charts. In 2023 she was internally selected to represent France in Liverpool. Interestingly, her Eurovision song Évidemment also peaked at number 82 on the French singles chart, although it did peak in 7th place in Lithuania, so she’ll always have that. I feel like La Zarra won’t want to dwell on her Eurovision experience. It was bumpy from the start as she seemed to snub some of the pre-parties and went to Liverpool as a favorite, only to end up in 16th place with 104 points. It’s also been a hard summer for her since Eurovision as she’s been dropped from a festival, had to cancel some concerts, and reduce ticket prices to less than half of face value for other concerts.

Lastly some honourable mentions:

While not Canadian citizens, there have been a few recent artists at Eurovision who have strong ties to Canada:

  • Suzy represented Portugal in 2014, and has strong roots in Vancouver
  • Ester Peony represented Romania in 2019, but lived in Montréal from ages 8-12 when she began to sing and write her own music
  • Vasil represented North Macedonia in 2021, but lived in Canada for more than 12 years, attending the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto and graduating from the Calgary Opera’s Emerging Artists program

Canada’s Future in Eurovision

I’ve been asked if I think Canada should take part in Eurovision. Of course, that would be incredible. I’d finally get to experience some of the ups and downs that many of you feel every year when your country selects its artist and eventually watch the points roll in on the big Saturday night in May.

Yet, my answer is a resounding “no” to Canada in Eurovision. Part of what makes Eurovision so special is seeing a country come together to support its artist, no matter how good or bad! As it stands now, there’s such a small portion of the 40 million Canadians that know that Eurovision is a real event, and not just a movie on Netflix. Until that changes and Canadian Eurofans become established from coast to coast to coast, I believe Canada entering the Eurovision Song Contest would be unwise.

If you’ve read this far, I wish you a Happy Canada Day, and that you enjoy Canada’s 8 contributions to the most wonderful event in the world. Do as Canucks do and celebrate by cracking open a cold one, eating a poutine, and getting outside to enjoy some of the all too brief summer, eh!

Do you agree with my ranking in the video below? Which of the 8 Canadian songs at Eurovision is your favourite? You can vote in the comments below and let us know your favourites in the comments or on social media @escbubble!

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