The ongoing war in Gaza and the COVID-19 pandemic notwithstanding, Israeli Eurovision contestant Eden Alene was scheduled to take the stage Tuesday night in front of a smaller-than-usual live audience for the opening of the 2021 contest’s semifinals in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
In the semifinal round, which will broadcast at 10 p.m. in Israel (3 p.m. EDT), 16 countries battle it out for 10 of 26 final spots — from which one winner will be crowned on Saturday, May 22. Another 10 spots will be awarded to winners of the second semifinal on Thursday, May 18, along with six more reserved for the Big Five (Germany, Italy, France, Spain and the UK) and incumbent winner the Netherlands.
Though some fear that the violence back home will harm 21-year-old Alene’s chances of getting into the final round — winners are chosen by viewers via text message vote — Israel’s first Ethiopian-Israeli representative is considered a strong contender, with fans tweeting support from around the world.
Alene is known for the signature “whistle note” in her song “Set Me Free,” which would become the highest note in Eurovision history if she hits it when she performs the song during tonight’s performance. (Alene has already hit the note during rehearsals in Rotterdam.)
The star sent her own message of support to family and fans back in Israel.
“I stood on the stage in Rotterdam and did all I could to bring honor to my country, its citizens, my family and friends,” the singer wrote in Hebrew on Instagram during rehearsals. “Every moment onstage it was impossible for me not to think of my loved ones and the nation I represent. I’m here in Holland, but my heart is always with you, aching, loving, supporting and worriedly following all that’s happening in Israel.”
Former Eurovision contestants from Ireland John and Edward Grimes, also known by their stage name Jedward, took to Twitter in a call for Israel to be removed from the 2021 Eurovision contest due to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, the terrorist organization that rules the Gaza Strip.
“Calling ACTION Now @ Eurovision to remove Israel from this years contest! the world is watching you! Justice for Palestinians,” said a May 13 tweet by the pair, who came in eighth place in Eurovision 2011.
Calling ACTION Now @Eurovision to remove Israel ???????? from this years contest! the world is watching you! Justice for Palestinians ????????
— JEDWARD (@planetjedward) May 12, 2021
It appears, though, that the show will go on for Alene and the other contestants — albeit on a smaller scale than on most years. Only 3,000 fans will be allowed into the Ahoy Arena, and everyone — including all performers and crew — must return a negative COVID-19 test before being admitted.
Alene was set to represent Israel in 2020, but the contest was canceled altogether last year due to the pandemic. The Netherlands hosts the 2021 contest after winning in 2019 in Tel Aviv.
In 2018, singer Netta Barzilai became Israel’s fourth Eurovision winner after taking the crown in Lisbon, Portugal, with her song “Toy.”