In recent years the USA has finally been waking up to the camp majesty of the Eurovision Song Contest, partly thanks to 2020’s Netflix film, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, and the second season of Drag Race UK’s tribute, The RuRuvision Song Contest, which spawned the hit track UK Hun? Which was both a loving Eurovision parody and a slice of pure pop perfection, beautifully capturing that feel-good guilty pleasure appeal of a Euro institution, and an annual event like no other. Thanks to Peacock, for the second year running, the world’s largest song contest will be available to stream in the United States, both live and on-demand. To top it off, they’ve found the perfect host to provide commentary live from Los Angeles, in self-described “Eurovision crazy-superfan”, Olympic figure skater, fashionista, and host Johnny Weir, who can normally be seen on NBC analyzing about figure skating, dog shows, the Kentucky Derby, or the Super Bowl.
The 66th Eurovision, being held in Turin, Italy following last year’s victory for Måneskin with Zitti E Buoni, will be presented by Laura Pausini, Alessandro Cattelan and and Mika, with a lineup boasting a reliable mix of national pride, heartfelt songs with a message, and the truly bizarre.
Ahead of today’s second semi-final at 3pm ET on Peacock and the grand final on Saturday May 14th at 3pm ET, Johnny Weir spoke exclusively with The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann about how he first became hooked on Eurovision, why he’s so passionate about it, his style of commentary, and his favourite to win this year’s competition.
James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: Coming from the UK, I grew up with Eurovision, but not that many people have known about it in the US until recent years, so how did you first get into it?
Johnny Weir: “I’ve had the luxury of travelling all over the world from a really young age. I come from very small town America. I grew up in Pennsylvania in a town with one traffic light, surrounded by Amish farms. To me, part of being an American has always been appreciating the world around you, realizing that I live in a country that’s made up of immigrants and trying to find the best in the rest of the world and appreciating it and learning from it. I love language and I love travel, and I’ve been very blessed in the amount of the world that I’ve been able to see. Eurovision was always on my radar, but I finally started paying attention to it in 2006 when my friend Evgeni Plushenko, who was the Olympic champion in figure skating that year, and I watched the show together. I was enthralled by the performances and afterwards I did a deep dive on YouTube and found all my old favorites. I’ve just been a hardcore fan ever since!”
Talking about your old favorites, what stands out to you from Eurovisions gone by, whether it’s because of the looks or the music or a combination of the two, or just the downright kookiness?
“Verka Serduchka of the Ukraine with Dancing Lasha Tumbai in 2007. That’s a performance that I love and I will watch for fun sometimes. Right now I’m preparing for a figure skating tour in Japan and before the pandemic I’d actually prepared a program combining Verka’s Dancing Lasha Tumbai with Maruv’s Siren Song, also from Ukraine, who was supposed to compete in 2019 and then stepped back. I’m super happy that I made that performance. It’s timely and it’s my little way of giving a message of solidarity with Ukraine right now and taking Ukrainian music around the world with me.”
“Eurovision just has bangers! Its got songs you’d never even realize were in Eurovision. To be an American fan of Eurovision makes me feel very special. It’s a solid community of people that are just as crazy as I am. I’m not on the blogs and things like that because I barely can use my iPhone! But Eurovision is a constant source of inspiration for me and I look forward to this time of year just because of Eurovision.”
Who are some of your favourites competing this year?
“I was really surprised by my love for Lithuania during the first semi-final, with MoniKa Liu performing Sentimentai. Of course I’d watched all of the videos in preparation and had listened to the songs, so they were all familiar to me, but to listen to the Lithuanian language—it’s not something that I generally ride around and do—and when I saw her perform I was so enthralled and taken away by her and loved it.”
“Also S10 representing Netherlands with De Diepte, that really blew me away. Singing all in Dutch with lots of gutteral sounds. I was like, on my back, heels pointed to Jesus, ready to accept everything from the Netherlands!”
“Italy is a big showstopper for me. It’s Mahmood & Blanco with Brividi. They’re two of my favorite artists on their own and they’re going to be performing together. It’s a very heartfelt, tender, lovely, gently tender kiss of eroticism for me because I love both of them so much, they’re beautiful men.”
“I think the most poignant thing that will come out of this Eurovision is Europe and Australia standing up for Ukraine. The song is great, their performance is great with its celebration of tradition and folk music, with folk instruments. It’s going to make that performance really special and stand out. They’re earning this Eurovision title. Watching the amount of 12 points come in for them is going to be a major message of support for Ukraine. If that’s all we can do from the outside looking in, I think that’s our place. We have to support Ukraine right now.”
In terms of the LGBTQ entries, are there any that stand out to you either in terms of the performers themselves identifying as LGBTQ+ or just acts that have a major camp factor and queer appeal?
“Something that I love about Eurovision is that it is so camp and over the top. There are touches of drag here and there, there are those long runs that every drag queen has ever wanted to lip sync to, so I feel like the Eurovision Song Contest is inherently pretty gay. It’s a big pride festival of uniqueness and bravery. All of those things come through from all of the artists, so it’s not just a case of saying, ‘that’s the LGBTQ artist’, because the inclusivity that the competition shows is what makes it so special. No matter what your background is or how you identify, you can enjoy the art of this show.”
“Probably the most camp this year is Norway’s Subwoolfer with Give That Wolf A Banana! They are super mysterious with their banana outfits, no faces, and their names are just Keith and Jim. There’s a bit of homoeroticism in their lyrics too, about loving each other, and lots of talking bananas! So Norway is probably the gayest number of the contest.”
The Australian entry is quite powerful, isn’t it? The performance that I saw was quite emotional.
“Yes, the singer Sheldon Riley wears a mask for the performance, because he realized that in his early life he was hiding from people, either due to his sexuality or being born with Asperger’s syndrome. Then he takes the mask off at the end. His performance is so strong and brave, and it’s such a beautiful message for people who might be struggling around the world with their identity; that idea of not wearing a mask for the rest of the world and being proud of who you are.”
It is a very inclusive event as you say, with all sorts of flags in the audience including lots of rainbow flags which is always nice to see, especially as this show is broadcast in some countries where there’s very little LGBTQ representation on television.
“Something that’s so interesting about this contest is that you’ll see votes from countries that are less progressive than Western Europe for acts like Conchita Wurst from Austria in 2014; a man with a beard that was in full drag, full regalia. Culturally, it’s important that these people are shown in those countries and are a part of the conversation because it gives those people that are turned away from leading an authentic life hope and something to look for. As an entertainer, sometimes it can be so hard to say that just the support, just the performance, and just the visibility is enough, but if that’s all you can do, it is so important to see someone like you up there.”
“I just watched Heartstopper on Netflix on the flight out here to LA. I’m always late to the to the game for everything because I get so caught up in vacuuming and Windexing the tchotchkes in my house, so I don’t sit down and watch a lot of TV! But when I’m on a plane I’ve got time. I cried watching every episode. It was a program that I felt was so necessary. I wish I’d grown up in a time where they could show a gay love story that was that tender and caring and heartfelt. I’m 37 now, so while I was growing up it was very much overdramatized caricatures of gay men that were in all the shows, or it was the fear factor of very real things to the community like AIDS, drug abuse, or just gays clubbing all the time, or toxic sexuality, whatever it may have been. That was what I saw on TV and so as a young person preparing to go out into the world I was left thinking, well, I guess I’m going to go clubbing, that’s what my life is gonna be! Representation is such a strong statement. It’s taken me a long time to realize that as an entertainer myself and somebody that is in the public eye. It’s so much more important to me now than it ever has been and I hope that I keep growing in that same way.”
One of the reasons that many people in the UK have enjoyed watching Eurovision over the years is for the commentary. Broadcaster Terry Wogan did it for decades on the BBC and was quote dry and cutting, but also affectionate about Eurovision at the same time. Graham Norton has carried on that mantle and there’s a fun, snarky quality to his commentary. What tone do you want to strike?
“I get called snarky constantly when I’m doing my figure skating coverage on NBC Sports, but I am an expert at figure skating and so I’m just telling you the truth of what happened. So getting called snarky is something that I’m used to, but I don’t pay that much attention to the comment sections or anything like that. But as a Eurovision fan, I’m aware of a lot of the different hosts from around the world and I love Graham Norton. I know he gets in there and gets snarky with the people. I am in no position to make fun of anybody that I’m watching. I will have asides, like during the first semi-final for example, Switzerland’s Marius Bear missed a note and it was very obvious that he missed a note, so I mentioned that he missed a note! Even though it’s all fun and games, we still believe as the audience that we’re judging a contest and he missed a note!”
“I definitely try to bring positivity everywhere I go, I lead a very blessed life that I’m so thankful for and I have got nothing in my heart but joy and an admiration for people that can get out there and perform for the whole world in the biggest, most-watched event outside of the sporting world. The bravery that it takes for these people to get up there is just insane, so who am I to pick them apart? I want to be there cheer them on and support them, so that’s where I’m coming at it from and I’m going to wear crazy outfits! I’m so I’m so happy to be doing this. It really is a dream come true because this competition has inspired me in so many ways. So many days of my life have been all about being inspired by Eurovision and just to be a part of this little world now makes me so proud.”
By James Kleinmann
The 2022 Eurovision Song Contest is available to stream exclusively on Peacock in the United States, both live and on-demand.
First Semi-Final: Watch on-demand on Peacock now.
Second Semi-Final: on Peacock live Thursday, May 12, 2022, 3:00 PM ET.
Grand Final: on Peacock live on Saturday, May 14, 2022, 3:00 PM ET