Tuesday, 16. September 2014
11. 05. 14. - 13:00
The first anyone outside Austria knew of Austrian Eurovision Song Contest entrant Conchita Wurst was when British star Russell Brand tweeted her picture to followers after he saw it in an Austrian paper saying "Hey, I am on the front page already."
Brand was in Austria for a UN conference on drugs, the same day that Conchita had been chosen to represent Austria, and she had appeared on the front page of the country's bestselling newspaper the Kronen Zeitung which Brand had then snapped, and tweeted.
But overnight Conchita has become so famous that she can now turn the tables on Brand, and the next time she sees a picture of him in the papers, she plans to tweet his picture and tell followers the same message.
The man behind drag queen Conchita Wurst is Austrian Tom Neuwirth, 25, who unleashed his alter-ego Conchita on the world in 2011, admitting that she simply sprang into life as a way of making a statement about sexual orientation. Conchita was created because Tom wanted people to visibly question: "Are we dealing here with a man woman, or a woman man, she is a visual representation of the fact that it is not always as clear as it might seem?" And it's perhaps because Conchita is not a PR creation that she works so well.
She competed in the talent show Die Grosse Chance (The Big Chance) and took second place, becoming a national icon in Austria as the show progressed, but she failed really to make much of an impression outside Austria, apart from an appearance on a German TV show called "wild girls – on high heels through Africa". Conchita was the only member of the cast to shine after going into the desert in high heels to live with a native tribe, winning praise in German media as probably the only person ever to attempt to walk through a desert with designer luggage, and in full drag queen outfit. She was also invited to take part in a show called The Hardest Jobs in Austria. Conchita spent the episode working in a fish factory.
After the experience she was asked why someone with a serious message had agreed to take part in trash TV and she replied: "Life is a learning experience, I learned that I am not cut out for such programmes but I don't regret it, it was at the end of the day a great experience."
Conchita had also taken part in another talent show, Starmania and is a former member of boyband Jetzt Anders, meaning Now Something Different.
Eurovision is hugely popular in Austria and Conchita tried and failed to represent Austria at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012 with the song That’s What I Am, which was used to raise money for a Xmas charity benefit concert in 2013.
Affectionately dubbed ‘the bearded lady’, she nevertheless insisted that it took more than simply having a beard to win. She said: "I basically came to the Austrian selection process with a concept, just like every other artist who wants to take part in the song contest, and let's be honest, if I couldn't sing I wouldn't have been chosen. The Austrian state broadcaster has a responsibility to present the best and they can't ignore that. It wasn't enough simply to say 'here is somebody with a beard', there needs to be some talent behind the beard as well."
Asked what her plans were now she said that everything was possible, and admitted that one of her dearest passions would be to develop her own designer line of clothing. As well as being a singer and television personality, Conchita Wurst has already become a fashion icon. Almost every Facebook photo includes a list of designers responsible for her outfits. In 2011, the year Conchita appeared on the Austrian talent show, she also graduated fashion school at the Graz School of fashion in southern Austria.
Conchita’s music carries a powerful message. Her Eurovision entry, Rise Like a Phoenix is an anthem for people who are different, struggle with their identity or have suffered through discrimination. Prior to her performance, the drag queen had faced a barrage of homophobic and transphobic attacks from within her own country and from other countries including Russia, Armenia and Belarus, who branded the contest a 'hotbed of sodomy'.
There have been petitions in Russia and Belarus to have the song blocked from the broadcast because it is ‘unnatural’. The view of most European nations however was that freedom of expression and freedom of speech are at the cornerstone of democracy and of the Eurovision Song Contest.
Describing the decision to create the character Conchita, Tom Neuwirth said it was a reflection of being born and growing up homosexual in the small provincial town of Bad Mitterndorf in Styria in southern Austria.
He admits that as a child Tom had really wanted to wear a dress, and his loving grandmother had finally bought him one which had caused some confusion his family. He said: "I have to say though that they were really supportive and understanding. That however was not the case later in school where it was let's say a lot more unpleasant.
"When I discovered that I had a preference for men over women, I didn't even want to take the risk during the breaks between lessons of going to the toilet, I always put my hand up in class and asked to be excused. I think it's terrible that because of their homosexuality there are still people who feel the need to take their own lives."
Tom created Conchita to make others think about sexual orientation and about the fact that others might be different. She said: "I want other young people to find it easier to admit that if they are different, for whatever reason, that they can have the support to just admit it, and say 'I don't care about your criticism '."
In fact she even reportedly chose the name Wurst, meaning sausage in German, because of the popular Austrian expression "Es ist mir Wurst" which translates as "It's All Sausage To me" - and in fact is often as a response to criticism in which the reply is 'I don't care' - its all sausage to me.
In her homeland Austria a campaign was created on Facebook demanding that people say no to her representing the country in the contest. Although she runs a Facebook page herself she said she was disappointed that Facebook allowed so many homophobic comments to appear yet at the same time would delete postings that were negative about Facebook.
She added however that she had deliberately chosen to be provocative to draw out such comments, appearing with a drag queen personality in order to polarise and to draw attention to her message. She said: "I want to be a very visual image about the fact that some people are simply different. Sometimes you really need to hammer the message home with something really strong."
The first name, Conchita, was provided by one of Tom's best friends from Cuba and Tom adopted that.
Speaking after her win as she accepted the trophy from Denmark's Emmelie de Forrest, who won the contest last year, she said: "This is dedicated to everyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom. We are unity and we are unstoppable. For me, my dream came true, but for our society, it just showed me that there are people out there who want to go into the future and go on, you know, not stepping back or thinking in the past."
She added that she knew that had been enormously negative comments about her involvement but added: "I am essentially a positive person, that likes to keep myself busy with positive things. I don't think negative attitudes bring me or anybody else forward."
Tom however denied that he saw himself as transsexual, saying: "This is a really serious subject and a decision that needs to be made for life. Conchita is simply an artistic creation, Tom Neuwirths Alter Ego if you like. Creating an artistic double is, as the name says, art. It is something that should be done with enjoyment and for fun, but at the end of the day one needs to be happy in one's own body, the body that we are born with."
Asked if he saw himself more as Conchita or as Tom he said: "The honest answer is in my breast there are two hearts beating, one is the artistic creation and the other the private person. I take my job seriously, and I feel the Conchita has just as much right to her own life as Tom Neuwirth. Conchita is very real real and she needs to be referred to as 'her', while Tom needs to be referred to as 'he'. It's obvious for example that when I am Conchita, I use the female toilet, and when I am Tom, the male toilet. I can assure you it's never a problem for women, they love it. I walked through the door and will happily ask for example 'Hey ladies, does anybody have any lip gloss?'
"The fact is that whichever personality I am dressed as at a given time, that is the one that I live. When not dressed as Conchita I am a man, and a lazy one at that."
Appearance is important to Conchita, who says that she always spends a lot of time on her make up. She said: "I suppose if somebody said I had to get it done in 30 minutes I might get it done in 40, but if somebody gives me as much time as I want, I will spend at least four hours. I pull myself a glass of Prosecco and simply paint myself until I'm happy."
Conchita does however have one problem most other women don't, a lack of hair care products for her beard that in its current form has been growing since 2013. She said: "My beard is not 100 per cent real, I have found a trick to make it look particularly good, I use eye shadow and a thick brush to make it stand out."
Conchita added that she had always been a fan of Eurovision and asked if she has was taking part because she was proud to be Austrian, or because she had a message to equality for all, she said: "To be honest, I am proud simply to be allowed to attend the contest itself. But I am also proud to be Austrian, and see myself continuing to live there regardless."
She said she had watched it avidly since 2003, although her personal favourite was the 1988 Celine Dion song. This year her favourites had been Spain, Poland and Armenia, but added: "It is always a lottery every year, I love my song but it could just as easily have been any other contestant."
Conchita already has big plans, and admitted before the contest that she one of the best things that could happen is if she was asked to sing the soundtrack for a Bond Movie.
She said: "That would be quite simply fantastic."
Even as far back as 2007 when Conchita did not exist, Tom Neuwirth went into the final of "Starmania" against local talent Nadine Beiler with his interpretation of the James-Bond classic "Goldfinger", which was originally sung by Shirley Bassey.
At the time Juror and record label boss Hannes Eder had admitted it was a performance worthy of a film track.
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