Tonight, Amir looks likely to give France its highest placing in the Eurovision song contest in years. Of course, whether he will see off the favourites – Sweden and Russia – in the pan-European popfest remains to be seen.
The 32-year-old Parisian will be hoping his song, J’ai Cherché, reverses the country’s poor showing in recent years.
It’s all a very different story from the early days of the contest. In Eurovision’s first 21 years, between 1956 and 1977, France won no less than five times. During that same period, between them, Luxembourg and Monaco added another five wins to the French-language tally.
The 21st century has proved altogether different, however. France has placed in the top five only twice, with Natasha St-Pier’s Je N’ai Que Mon Âme in 2001 and Sandrine François’ Il Faut Du Temps a year later.
It’s a similar tale for the UK. Having won the contest five times over the years and come second on a further 15 occasions, we have made the top five just twice since 2000.
The problem, in part, is that neither France nor the UK puts much effort into their national finals or live performance any more. Internal selections and lacklustre staging have made taking part less attractive for potential participants.
On top of that, both countries used to enjoy the advantage of having languages that were understood beyond their borders. However, since 1999, when every entrant could perform in whatever language they chose, France and the UK have fared badly.
In reality, the free-language rule has allowed English-language songs to dominate the contest. Indeed, 18 of the past 20 winners have been performed in English.
“The 32-year-old Parisian will be hoping his song, J’ai Cherché, reverses the country’s poor showing in recent years”
That may explain why Amir has opted – somewhat controversially – to perform his entry in both French and English tonight. Mind you, it doesn’t explain why Zoë is representing her native Austria tonight with Loin D’ici, a song sung in French.
Perhaps there’s a place for French in the contest still. And extra hope for Amir.