1. Everybody now loves Conchita Wurst, the Austrian drag queen who won the Eurovision Song Contest this weekend. But where did she – and her alter ego, Thomas Neuwirth – come from?
2. Thomas Neuwirth’s first brush with fame came as a teenager in 2006, on the Austrian talent show Starmania.
His voice was pretty impressive even back then.
3. Tom made it all the way through to the final of the competition… but in the end, came second.
4. But not before getting to do this fairly amazing Shirley Bassey number.
6. He then formed a short-lived boyband, Jetzt Anders! (“Different Now!”), with three other Starmania competitors.
7. This song, “Dieser Moment”, got to number 7 in the Austrian chart.
But it was to be their biggest (and virtually only) hit. Jetzt Anders! disbanded in the same year they formed, and Neuwirth disappeared from Austrian TV screens for several years.
8. But he returned in 2011 – which was when Neuwirth first unveiled Conchita. Again, it was on an Austrian talent show – this time, a show called Die Große Chance (“The Big Chance”).
9. That’s from her version of “My Heart Will Go On”, which is POWERFUL.
10. From there, in 2012 Conchita made her first attempt to become Austria’s Eurovision entry.
11. …but again, she only came second.
The winners were a hip-hop duo called Trackshittaz. Their song, “Woki mit deim Popo” (“Waggle your ass”) didn’t even make it to the 2013 Eurovision final. It was genuinely terrible.
12. (In the meantime, Conchita found time to share helpful makeup tips.)
13. She also appeared in two reality TV shows - one where she worked in a fish factory, and another on German TV called “Wild Girls”, in which a group of women had to survive in the Namibian desert.
14. Finally, in September 2013, Wurst was selected by ORF, the Austrian public service broadcaster, to represent Austria in the following year’s Eurovision - this time, without a public vote.
15. This led to a major backlash - with a Facebook group, “No to Conchita Wurst at the Song Contest”, getting tens of thousands of likes.
While the group ostensibly claimed they were opposed to the lack of a public vote, comments on the group included many homophobic statements. Wurst responded with a statement of her own, calling for tolerance – and pointed out that there’d been no such backlash in 2007, when ORF also chose a performer, Eric Papilaya, without a public vote.
16. And there were petitions in both Russia and Belarus calling for a boycott of Eurovision as a result of Wursts’s inclusion.
One Russian lawmaker was moved to describe Eurovision as a “pan-European gay pride parade.” Which… well, it kinda is, but that’s not the point.
17. There was also a movement in Austria called “Knit for tolerance”, in which people wore knitted beards in support of Conchita.
18. In an interview with BILD, Conchita said: “To make it clear: I am not transsexual, but a man, and will remain that way… I’m planning no sex reassignment. I just like to wear women’s clothes, that’s all.”
In another interview with Kurier, Neuwirth said: “Conchita is a fictional character, Tom Neuwirth’s alter ego.”
19. Conchita has her own biography - born in the highlands of Colombia, her father a theatre director called Alfred Knack von Wurst, and with a French husband called Jacques Patriaque.
20. And Neuwirth wants people to take Conchita seriously - he prefers people to use feminine pronouns when discussing his appearances in her persona.
Conchita – and her bearded appearance – are a “statement and provocative at the same time”, she told BILD. “The beard is a means for me to polarize, to draw attention to myself,” Neuwirth told Kurier.
21. But Neuwirth also says that Conchita has been a part of his personality for a long time.
In the BILD interview, Conchita described a having “parallel puberty” and trying on dresses for the first time at the age of 14; saying that “Frau Wurst was always there.” In the Kurier interview, Neuwirth says that “two hearts beat in my chest”.
22. In the end, with 290 points, Wurst’s “Rise Like A Phoenix” didn’t just win Eurovision 2014 - it was one of the most popular acts in the contest’s history.
And it surprised many observers by getting points from across the continent - even from countries in Eastern Europe that some felt wouldn’t be keen on awarding points to a gay man in drag. Even Russia gave it five points.
24. In Wurst’s acceptance speech, she made another plea for tolerance, saying: “This night is dedicated to everyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom. You know who you are. We are unity. And we are unstoppable.”
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