The Triumph of the Divine Ms. Dana
May 11, 1998
The morning after Dana International's stunning victory in the Eurovision song contest, the British newspapers were jam-packed with details of her life history, including the sex-change operation, the controversy she arouses in Israeli society, even the story of the court injunction that almost prevented her from participating in the contest. Even before her triumph, Dana expressed the hope that her exposure in this international (primarily European) competition would land her recording contracts in the UK. Dana International's popularity in the United Kingdom was strongly felt at the betting shops, where she was the odds-on favorite, far outdistancing her competitors from France, the Netherlands, Malta, Switzerland, even the UK itself. Dana won first place for Israel in a tough, nail-biting near-photo-finish that she fought out with the representatives of Malta and the UK.
Malta, an island-state with only a quarter of million inhabitants, saw the Eurovision contest as a wonderful opportunity for international exposure, and its representative, Kiara, who sang "The One I Love," claimed that 98 percent of Malta's citizens were glued to their television screens during the Eurovision broadcast. Kiara, whose musical career is based on her appearances in TV commercials, is not an experienced or even a well-known singer.
By contrast, veteran professional Imaani, who led the United Kingdom to third place, has already appeared with artists such as James Brown and Michael Bolton and with groups such as Incognito and the Pretenders.
Dana, who appeared in a tight-fitting dress (for her victory reprise, she switched to a feather creation designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier), was a natural in this year's song contest, which was dominated by raven-haired women with beautiful figures and skin-tight gowns. As has been the case every year, Eurovision 1998 featured white pianos, electric guitars and, of course, conductors with mustaches and pony-tails.
Dana was unquestionably the undeclared star of the evening and, even before her win, had already become an cult figure among the patrons of the UK's gay bars and nightclubs. German singer Guildo Horn also had a troop of fans who very much wanted to see him and his group, the Orthopedic Elastic Stockings, in first place. The fans included Guildo's look-alikes, who, on the week of the contest, had won a Guildo look-alike contest held in Germany and who came to the UK to meet their idol.
The British Broadcasting Corporation, which produced this year's Eurovision show in the city of Birmingham, commissioned the services of renowned set-designer Nick Trainer, who built the stage, and composer Gustav Holst, who wrote "Jupiter", the grandiose entertainment show, which featured African and Indian dance troupes, a Welsh male choir, wind instruments and a Scottish bagpipe company, and which was intended to showcase the many facets of British culture. Other participants in the show included celebrated violinist Vanessa May, opera singer Lesley Garret, and Swedish-born moderator Ulrika Jonsson. The BBC paid the trio approximately 5 million pounds.
This was Israel's third win in the Eurovision, comparing quite favorably with France and the UK (each with five wins) and with Ireland (with seven). "Dana International's achievement was very moving. In recent years we have not suffered from an abundance of events in which we could take pride as a nation," notes Uri Porat, executive director of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, who feels that "much of the credit for the victory goes to Dana and to the other artists".
The IBA might have difficulty producing the show in Jerusalem next year (the additional prize that Dana has netted for Israel) because a production of that scale could cost somewhere in the area of $10 million. According to Porat, in addition to high technical costs involving telephone voting and satellites, much needs to be invested in human resources and creative work: "Failure in this type of production must never be allowed to occur, because we would end up disgracing ourselves before hundreds of millions of viewers and making Israel look very bad internationally."
by Dafna Levi-Yanovitz, Ha'aretz