Thousands gathered Tuesday night to catch a sneak peek of 25 of the Eurovision 2018 contestants, currently in Israel as part of the four-day Israel Calling tour of the country.
But the audience was most eagerly awaiting Netta Barzilai, Israel’s choice for the music competition, who appeared on stage last to joy of the adoring crowd.
“Netta, Netta, Netta, Netta,” they cheered.
“I’m so proud to represent my nation,” said Barzilai, giggling, dressed in a short dress of bronze and black netting paired with boots, before launching into her now familiar routine of clucks and trills that precede “Toy.” The song is currently ranked #1 by bookmakers according to ESC Daily, which covers Eurovision as the “Olympic Games of music.”
The event, held in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, was broadcast live around the world through the official Israel Calling Facebook channel. Among the standout acts of the night were Spain, Australia, France, and the Czech Republic.
Barzilai closed the show with the strongest performance, a fun, well-rehearsed rendition of “Toy” that showed why it’s currently the favorite to win this year.
With the flags of each countries flashing across the windows of City Hall behind the stage, each contestant was introduced to the audience with a video montage broadcast on the screens set up at the front.
Handwritten signs were held up by viewers in the crowd to support some of the other contestants, such as Rasmussen from Denmark and the ethno-jazz band Iriao from Georgia.
The Eurovision contest has always been a beloved reality show for Israelis, who once glued themselves to the TV at home or gathered with friends to watch the annual competition.
The music reality show has expanded in recent years to include perks like this pre-contest event in Israel, now in its third year, as well as voter rankings and betting that help build anticipation for the audience-based contest.
Israel has won several times in the 40 years since first joining the Eurovision contest in 1973 — in 1978 for “A-Ba-Ni-Bi,” in 1979 for “Hallelujah” and in 1998 for “Diva.”
“It makes us feel loved by the nations of the world,” said “Toy” songwriter Doron Medalie, in a recent interview with The Times of Israel.
Perhaps it helps in terms of Israel’s perception worldwide as well.
Tuesday night’s two-hour began with a performance of “Diva” by Dana International, the performer who won in 1998.
Host Galit Gutman, speaking in Hebrew to the local crowd and English to the live broadcast on the Israel Calling Facebook page, kept the show running quickly.
Each of the 25 contestants greeted the crowd and sang a song, interspersed with a performance by Izhar Cohen reprising his “A-Ba-Ni-Bi” with five teenage backup singers.
Cohen and composer Nurit Hirsh received lifetime achievement awards presented to them by Minister for Social Equality Gila Gamliel.