Unicorn at Eurovision

Noa Kirel takes home third place

Israel’s Noa Kirel finished in third place in this year's Eurovision Song Contest, in the best showing for the country since Netta Barzilai won the competition in 2018 with Toy

Noa Kirel performs during the grand final of the Eurovision Song Contest.
Photos: AP Photo/Martin Meissner
Noa Kirel performs during the grand final of the Eurovision Song Contest.Photos: AP Photo/Martin Meissner

Over the weekend, performers took to the Eurovision stage for the grand final of the beloved song contest, with Sweden taking home the win. Israel’s Noa Kirel finished in third place.

The win for Sweden’s Loreen, with her power ballad Tattoo, marked the Scandinavian country’s seventh-total win at the competition, tying it for most overall victories with Ireland. It was also the second Eurovision win for Loreen, who took home the top prize at the 2012 contest with Euphoria – becoming only the second artist to ever win twice. Finland took second place, and Italy fourth.

This year, representing Australia, Perth-based synth-metal band Voyager, which features Jewish lead singer Daniel Estrin, performed Promise, finishing in ninth place.

Kirel, 22, finished with 362 points overall – 177 from the juries and 185 from the televote. Israel received top marks from the juries of Italy, Azerbaijan, France, Armenia and Poland, and finished the jury vote in second place overall. Among just the audience vote, Israel finished fifth overall. The third-place finish for Israel is the best showing for the country since Netta Barzilai won the competition in 2018 with Toy.

After completing her powerhouse performance on Saturday night, Kirel broke down in tears just before exiting the stage.

“Wow, I don’t have the words to explain how exciting it was to represent my country when millions of eyes around the world are watching every movement and note,” Kirel said in a statement shared by the Kan public broadcaster following her performance.

After the final results were announced, Kirel said she was “so proud to complete this incredible journey in the top 3!” adding that she was thankful “for the privilege to hold the flag of Israel on the biggest musical stage in the world”.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted: “Good job Noa Kirel, you’re ‘phenomenal’,” quoting a line from the song. “For us you’ll always be number one.”

The decision to send Kirel, a famous and experienced pop star at home, marked a change for Israel after seven years of sending novices selected via a reality TV singing competition.

The grand final got underway on Saturday just as a tentative ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad went into effect, although sporadic rocket fire and subsequent IDF strikes in Gaza continued as the show progressed.

Speaking to reporters on Saturday before taking the stage, Kirel said she felt a desire to make Israelis proud of her as things were tense back at home.

“I feel their backing and their support and I want to give them back the support, specifically right now with everything that’s going on… to hug them and to represent [them] more than any other day,” she said.

Israel’s jury gave its “douze points” – the maximum 12 points available – to Sweden, awarded 10 points to Norway and eight to Finland. The jury vote was announced from Jerusalem by singer Ilanit, who represented Israel at the Eurovision 50 years ago, at its Eurovision debut in 1973.

For the first time this year, viewers from around the world were able to cast their votes in the competition – even from countries that do not participate in the contest. The “rest of the world” votes were tallied up together and given the weight of one country.

Netta herself was also on hand on Saturday night in Liverpool, as one of “six iconic past Eurovision acts” to take to the stage for an interval performance – while the votes were being cast and tallied. The Israeli singer performed a cover version of the 1985 hit You Spin Me Round by Liverpool band Dead or Alive.

On Friday, Israel’s Culture Minister Miki Zohar issued a call on social media for the country’s supporters around the world to vote for Kirel.

“I’m calling all of Israel’s supporters, all over the world – let’s win the Eurovision together!” Zohar said in the video message. “Vote for Israel, and the power of the unicorn.”

Kirel’s song, which she co-wrote alongside Doron Medalie, Yinon Yahel and May Sfadia, lauds “the power of the unicorn, out here on my own”, which the singer has said is a message of acceptance and self empowerment.

While she didn’t win, the pop singer’s participation in the contest has boosted her international profile, and the song Unicorn has gained traction around the world.

Out of the 37 semi-final performances posted on the Eurovision’s YouTube account, Unicorn was the third-most watched, with 3.6 million views by press time.

On Spotify, Unicorn was the ninth-most listened to Eurovision song this year, with more than 6.4 million plays, according to the streaming platform. On Instagram, Kirel gained the highest number of followers over the past week of any of the contestants, adding more than 95,000 new followers, according to data released by MyBettingSites.

The 2023 contest was held in Liverpool, after Ukraine won the competition last year, but was deemed unsafe to host the event amid its ongoing war with Russia. The UK’s BBC worked to include many Ukrainian elements in the live shows, showcasing singers from the country and highlighting its sites in the “postcard” videos which introduce each contestant.

Israel has won the Eurovision Song Contest four times since it began taking part in 1973: first in 1978 with A-Ba-Ni-Bi by Yizhar Cohen; then a year later with Hallelujah by Gali Atari and Milk and Honey; again in 1998 with Diva by Dana International and most recently in 2018 with Barzilai’s Toy.

Daniel Estrin performs with Voyager at Eurovision. Photo: Twitter/Sarah Louise Bennett

Despite not being a European nation, Australia has competed in Eurovision since 2015. While initially, our participation in 2015 was to be a one-off event, Australia has continued to perform every year since and regularly draws a huge viewership on the ground, despite the time-difference.

Voyager was the second rock act to make it through to the final stages, alongside Germany’s Lord of the Lost in this year’s competition. Estrin is an immigration lawyer by day and believes he may be the first lawyer to take part in it. “I know San Marino sent a dentist a while ago, so I’m fairly confident saying I’m the only immigration lawyer who has participated in the contest,” he told SBS News ahead of the semi-finals.

“If someone told me that 20 years ago a progressive synth metal band from Perth would be on the Eurovision stage, I’d be like, you’re dreaming mate, so this is phenomenal. I didn’t think this would be something we’d be doing at this point in our career.”

Following the final, Voyager took to Twitter to thank Eurovision and the fans, writing “EUROVISION – That was absolutely surreal! There aren’t enough words to describe how we’re feeling.

“Who would have thought that an independent, progressive metal band from Perth, WA, would take a top 10 position at the world’s biggest song contest?!!”

Times of Israel

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