How ‘Eurovision’ Launched the Careers of ABBA, Celine Dion, and Olivia Newton-John

It might be easy for Americans to write off Eurovision as a precursor to the TV show American Idol or the basis for a Will Ferrell movie. However, no American singing show has ever brought the gravitas that Eurovision has. Eurovision is less concerned with styles, genres, age, and popularity and more concerned with finding the next big thing. For over sixty years, the annual Eurovision Song Contest has brought representatives worldwide to compete, celebrate music, and unleash the next big thing onto the world. 

Eurovision 2021 stage
Eurovision | Soeren Stache/Getty Images

What is ‘Eurovision’? 

While many regional competitions try to keep participants in a specific lane, Like the official website notes,  Eurovision celebrates sonic diversity. It aims to use music as a force for good. While The Voice and Idol exist primarily as karaoke competitions, Eurovision seeks originality. While the show inspired many of the famous competitions shows both past and present, there’s never been an American version until now. 

NBC acquired the rights to the Eurovision Song Contest in 2021 and brought along many veteran leaders of the contest to make sure that the new version can capture the original’s magic. As such, they take great pride in bringing the European roots to a market that still loves a competition series. 

“The Eurovision Song Contest is the biggest live music event in the world, and it is a great honour to bring it to the United States and transform our dream of American Song Contest into a reality on NBC. It’s awe-inspiring to stand at the beginning of an American legacy, and it doesn’t get more exciting than that,” the Eurovision company wrote in a statement on its website.

The franchise will take five performers from every state and crown a winner based on talent, style, originality, and star presence. One look at the previous contestants, however, shows the giant shoes they’ll have to fill. 

Olivia Newton-John and Cliff Richard represent the UK

Of course, many of the biggest acts in European music got their start on the Eurovision stage. The website shows the roster of talent behind the movement. One of the biggest stars, Olivia Newton-John, hailed out of Australia but represented the United Kingdom in the 1974 competition. Within a few years, she was headlining Grease and hadn’t looked back since. 

Cliff Richard, who had a string of pop hits through the sixties and seventies, made waves when he finished second in the 1968 competition. Ironically, this paved the way for a variety show featuring a young Newton-John before her big break. Richard remains one of the most iconic British pop stars for an older generation, but younger music fans might recognize some of the other names, too. 

Celine Dion and ABBA break out on ‘Eurovision’


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Perhaps the greatest Eurovision success story, ABC (Australia) notes that Swedish pop group ABBA first debuted the tight harmonies, catchy choruses, and poetic lyrics in 1974. Before long, they had more hits than the average person could count, including “Dancing Queen,” “Fernando,” and “SOS.” Young audiences may best know them for the Mamma Mia movies, which draw from the band’s endless slate of memorable songs. 

Celine Dion may be the biggest solo act to grace the Eurovision stage. Representing Switzerland, the “My Heart Will Go On” singer won the 1988 competition in Dublin and has been going strong for 33 years since. Like any competition, not every Eurovision winner became the megastar that Dion or ABBA was. However, the fact that so many all-time greats premiered there shows its power. 

Time will tell if the American incarnation is as popular as the European one, but it could be the next big event in American music television if it spawns just one artist of this mold.