Next Big Thing: Artists to watch at this year's Eurovision music contest | iNFOnews

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Next Big Thing: Artists to watch at this year's Eurovision music contest

Participants celebrate after learning that they advanced to the final during the second Eurovision Song Contest semifinal in Stockholm, Sweden, Thursday, May 12, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Martin Meissner
May 13, 2016 - 9:01 AM

The weekly Next Big Thing column highlights what's bubbling under the surface in entertainment.

With the Eurovision finals set to take place in Stockholm on Saturday, we take a look at the origins of the annual music competition and performers making a splash this year.

What it is: Eurovision is the longest-running televised song competition in the world watched by nearly 200 million people. To put that into context, the Super Bowl was seen by 112 million people in the U.S. in January.

The song contest was launched by the European Broadcasting Union in 1956 as a way to unite the nations in a post-war climate. Over the years it's become slightly less "European." For example, organizers decided the show's popularity in Australia was enough to ask the country to join last year.

Why it's unique: The show is a cultural mish-mash of pop music and colourful costumes that is always guaranteed to raise eyebrows. Austrian bearded drag singer Conchita Wurst stole the show in 2014 with the James Bond-esque sizzler "Rise Like a Phoenix," while a pack of Russian grannies chanted through "Party For Everybody" in 2012. Aside from the gimmicks there are always a few catchy ditties too.

Who you may know: Eurovision introduced the world to ABBA, who performed "Waterloo" in 1974. They gave the top prize to Celine Dion in 1988 when she represented Switzerland.

How it works: Nearly every participating country holds its own internal music competition — think "American Idol" with original songs — before sending the winner to the Eurovision semi-finals, which were held earlier this week. After eliminating the stragglers, the grand final chooses a single winner through viewer votes and a jury. The champion becomes like a Miss Universe of European pop music for a year and the winning country hosts the next competition.

This year's event: Longtime fans will tell you Eurovision has been gaining visibility over the past decade, helped especially by YouTube clips. Perhaps that's why global pop star Justin Timberlake picked this year's show to debut his new single, "Can't Stop the Feeling," on stage.

Where you can watch: Viewers can see it live on TV in most countries — even the U.S. this year — but if you're in Canada, forget it. You can only stream Saturday's finals live from the Eurovision website at

Standout Contenders:


Fans know it'll be a long shot for Russia to win, but that hasn't stopped bookies from picking Sergey Lazarev's "You Are the Only One" as a favourite. The singer, who's already a superstar in his homeland, performs a visual circus with the help of a digital screen.

He starts by flapping giant black wings before hopping across disintegrating platforms that lead to a space vortex. It's stunning, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's a lock.

Eurovision isn't just about performance. It's also about politics, and Russia's anti-gay law soured the competition's gay fan base who protested last year by waving rainbow flags during the nation's performance. But even that couldn't stop Russia from coming in second place, which is why Lazarev's stunning showcase could sneak a win.

If he doesn't, the guy shouldn't worry much. Aside from singing, he operates a side business making custom-made pastries for dogs. Weirdly charming, right?

Watch Sergey Lazarev's performance at the semi-finals:


Oozing with rousing handclaps and a sing-along chorus, Amir's bilingual "J'ai Cherche" is a charmer.

The singer got his start as a finalists on "La Plus Belle Voix," the French version of "The Voice." And his experience on TV shows in his live performance where he's all smiles as he uses the digital screens to surf across the stars.

Watch Amir perform "J'ai Cherche":


Bulgarians can finally celebrate once again with Poli Genova's "If Love Was A Crime," easily one of this year's catchiest tracks.

The country joined Eurovision in 2005 but had only made it to the finals once before this year. Genova's live performance isn't quite as spectacular as some of the others, but it does include a costume that lights up. Her song is her best weapon though: a Euro dance-flavoured track with hints of Ace of Base.

Watch the music video:


It's a long way from Europe, but Australia's die-hard Eurovision fan base has given them an upper hand in the competition.

After proving they have the pop chops last year, Australia got invited back. Once again they're considered a potential underdog with the song "Sound Of Silence," performed by Dami Im. The song fits the type of soaring mid-tempo power anthems that Eurovision audiences love.

Watch Dami Im perform "Sound of Silence":


Riding into the contest with Mans Aelmerlow's pulsing "Heroes" last year meant Sweden was practically a lock to win. They did — but that was then. This year's more laid-back entry from 17-year-old singer Frans doesn't stand a chance.

On its own, "If I Were Sorry" is the kind of song you might hear on North American radio, but it's also a sound Eurovision voters tend to reject for not being rousing enough. Frans is already a winner in some ways. The song climbed the Spotify Viral charts in both his home country and Canada when it was released earlier this year.

Watch the music video:

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