Eurovision star Conchita Wurst looks back on the past 10 years

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Looking back on the past decade, Tom Neuwirth is surprised by the impact of his performance as drag queen Conchita Wurst in the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest.

“I think this moment, the victory, happens to all of us,” Neuwirth said in a recent interview at the team’s offices in Vienna. Wearing pink corduroy, a black hoodie and white sneakers, he’s charming and sweet, joking one moment and quietly reflective the next. “People would tell me where they were and how their lives had changed since then,” he said. “There’s always big stories and emotions.”

Ten years ago that May, 195 million people watched Conchita Wurst represent Austria in the Eurovision Song Contest final with “Rise Like a Phoenix.” The annual show is Europe’s longest-running talent competition, with singers representing their respective countries performing for a large television audience who vote for their favorites.

This year’s Eurovision Song Contest final takes place on Saturday in Malmö, Sweden. The event, known as the “Queer Olympics” or “Gay Christmas,” has long been popular with LGBTQ people. By 2014, the competition had a number of gay, lesbian and bisexual participants, as well as a number of drag acts, and had a transgender winner as early as 1998.

However, none of these performers has been as warmly received as Conchita Wurst, whose victory comes against the backdrop of widespread progress for LGBTQ rights in Western Europe, including a wave of legalized same-sex marriage of. The singer became a symbol of the divide between liberals and conservatives around the world, with some calling her performance a high-profile victory for queer representation, while others saw it as a sign of the degradation of traditional Western values.

At the time of the award, Neuwirth was only 25 years old and still a newcomer to the international pop music scene. All he had was second place in an Austrian talent show and a brief stint in a boy band that ultimately failed.

His victory was therefore a huge surprise for him and for Austria as a whole, which last won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1966. The collective that runs Vienna’s Queer Museum. “This feels like a victory for the entire queer community.”

Invitations poured in for Conchita Wurst: to headline LGBTQ pride events in Madrid, London, Antwerp and elsewhere; to perform at the European Parliament and the United Nations; and to appear in the Jean Paul Gaultier fashion shows.

Around the same time, “RuPaul’s Drag Race”, which had been on the air for several years, exploded in popularity and Drag Story Time began in San Francisco. In the decade that followed, both the television show and Storytime became cultural phenomena.

Today, Neuwirth said, the presence of bearded drag queens at the Eurovision Song Contest “wouldn’t be too much of a topic.” But elsewhere in mainstream media, he said, there is growing awareness of LGBTQ There has been a backlash over the group’s visibility in public life, with some arguing, for example, that drag queens use story time to groom children. “I think with all this recognition and visibility, people who don’t understand the concept of inclusion are going to be stimulated to the greatest extent,” he said.

He would know; Conchita Wurst received a violent blowback. One ultra-nationalist Russian lawmaker described her performance as “the end of Europe”; another called it “propaganda for homosexuality and moral decay”. The leader of Poland’s conservative Law and Justice party echoed the sentiment, and a few years later Turkey’s public broadcaster, which has boycotted Eurovision since 2012, said “an Austrian with a beard and a skirt claimed that there was no Gender” confirmed its decision to withdraw from the competition.

But Newells isn’t worried. He said he was too busy “living out my princess fantasy.” If anything, he added, the attention from the haters was flattering: “They were so offended by me that they had to talk about me.”

After her win, Neuwirth spent three years on the road, living out her dream as a singer in the public eye, with its “paparazzi, fame and everything that comes with it.” But with time comes wisdom. “There was a point in my career where I thought, this can’t be possible,” he said. “Conchita became a very narrow niche.”

Next, Neuwirth created a new, more masculine persona called WURST, whose 2019 debut was accompanied by an electronic album, Truth Over Magnitude. “I thought I was breaking free, but in hindsight, I was running in the opposite direction, and then I was falling back into what I thought I had to be,” Neuwirth said.

Now 35, Neuwirth is making her dramatic debut with the title role in “Ruziuz: I Am the Empress,” a cheesy drama about Habsburg royal Ludwig The story of Archduke Victor, an openly but discreet homosexual who wore skirts and clothes from time to time. . The play ran at the Rabenhof Theater in Vienna until September 24 and received an enthusiastic response, winning a standing ovation and positive reviews.

Neuwirth says he can now switch easily between his private self (Tom in sweatpants) and his personas, whether it’s the charming Conchita Wurst or the campy Archduke of Habsburg.

Finally, he said: “I understand myself that there are no boundaries.”

“I always say this,” he added, “but I don’t really live life on my terms.”

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