Six months ago, Netta Barzilai wasn't even a professional singer. Now, she's the winner of Eurovision. How did all that happen?
Netta was the winner of Israel's "Cokhav HaBa" (The Next Star), a reality show with real stakes -- the winner represents Israel each year in Eurovision. This largely solves two of the most glaring problems with music reality shows. First, it provides a basic template for the type of contestant the show wants to promote. "Vote for the Worst" and Taylor Hicks-style TV characters who won't translate to real music consumers are out. The "it's a singing competition" vs "it's never just about the voice" debate is definitively settled -- stars win at Eurovision, not voices. Second, not everybody can get signed and be a winner in the long run. Only one person can win and go to Eurovision.
Netta wasn't lucky to win her spot, her wild interpretations of pop songs were mind blowing for reality TV (check out her Massive Attack meets Bjork version of Haddaway's "What Is Love") and she soundly trounced her competition on Cokhav HaBa. Was she lucky to win at Eurovision? I don't think there's any clear formula for winning there. Sometimes there's a specific thing that the public latches on to, like voting for a trans girl with a beard. Catchy dance songs usually do well, but so do overwrought ballads, and both did well in last night's final. Netta thanked the fans for voting different, and she's undoubtedly different from the usual parade of models and dancers performing at Eurovision. Different sometimes pays off, like with Lordi in 2006, but sometimes it doesn't, like with Hungary last night. I thought it was easily a top five performance and it was the only metal song in the final, but voters and judges thought otherwise.
I know that the new voting format is designed for maximum suspense, but it's deus ex machina suspense. The judges and public are attracted to totally different things, so the drawn out reveal of each country's douze points amounts to basically nothing.
"Toy" is a massive, inescapable hit in Israel, and not in the patriotic "we have to convince ourselves we like it for a couple of months for Eurovision" sense. It's played on every radio station, at every wedding and big event, people genuinely do love it and love Netta. I really had no idea if that would translate out of a single country's bubble, so I was on pins and needles up until the very end of the final.