Eurovision is the world’s largest song competition, and this year, Sweden’s Måns Zelmerlöw was crowned the winner in front of a TV audience of almost 200 million people. To put that into perspective for Americans, most of which have never even heard of Eurovision, the 2015 Superbowl had an audience of around half that amount.
While most Americans aren’t familiar with Eurovision, they are familiar with some of the competition’s most famous winners. A French Canadian singer named Céline Dion won the contest for Switzerland in 1988 and Zelmerlöw isn’t the only Swedish winner because in 1974, a band called ABBA sang a song called “Waterloo” and won the top honor. Now that the 60th year of the competition is in the history books, Zelmerlöw is readying his first European tour but admits his winning moment in May is still overwhelming.
“It was incredible,” he says of standing on stage with the Eurovision trophy in hand. “That night is still a bit foggy actually. There was a moment when we passed Russia in the voting and the arena started shouting “Sweden! Sweden!” That was one of the most incredible moments of my life. When I was standing on the stage at the end, I remember thinking ‘my friends are going to like this.’”
His friends weren’t the only ones who liked what he did on the stage. His point total was the third highest in the history of Eurovision and viewers were enamored with his performance where he interacted with the carefully choreographed graphics projected around him.
“When we decided on ‘Heroes’ being the song, I wanted to do something really special with it, something that hadn’t been seen. I didn’t want a bunch of dancers, I’d done that before. My friend Fredrik Rydman, a top choreographer here, showed me projection mapping. It was so interesting. I wanted to tell a story through the performance, so I told him parts of my life, how I was bullied as a kid and how a new friend helped me out of that. That’s where the small stick man in the performance came from.”
That small stick man helped Zelmerlöw capture the hearts of audiences all over the world as well as in the arena in Vienna.
“The vibe in the arena is so cool. It feels like the Olympics in a way. The contest is becoming more and more modern and I think it’s making more of an impact. I hope that Australia’s inclusion this year is a step toward a global ‘Vision’ song contest.”
But winning Eurovision wasn’t Zelmerlöw’s first foray into the world of competition shows on television. Actually, it wasn’t even his first win. In 2005, he placed 5th on the singing competition “Pop Idol.”
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for ‘Pop Idol,’” he explained. “I learned a lot obviously, but I still feel I did quite badly on that show. I sang like shit, I didn’t move – but it was cool to come up to Stockholm. I was surprised to end in 5th place.”
Ultimately, his success on “Pop Idol” paved the way for his being able to compete and eventually win the celebrity dancing show “Let’s Dance.”
“That show established me a bit more in Sweden,” he said. “I hadn’t danced before that. It was my first meeting with dance and we fell in love. Doing that show led to being able to play Danny Zuko in Grease. I never would have gotten that part without ‘Let’s Dance.’”
In the years since “Let’s Dance” and Grease, Zelmerlöw spent time hosting television shows and releasing new music, but it was his triumphant performance on the Eurovision stage that catapulted him into conquering a new set of dreams.
“You never know what Eurovision will generate for someone. I’m so grateful for everything and I’m still in the Eurovision bubble. I have my first European tour coming up which is a dream of mine coming true. It’s important for me to release new music and really establish myself outside of Sweden.”
He’s well on his way. “Heroes” went to number one in five countries, was a top 20 hit in 19 more and his album, Perfectly Damaged, (most of which he wrote) went straight to number one in Sweden in June of 2015. With all the European press, he has his sights set on growing as an artist and expanding his audience.
“I’m a shy person, but I have a switch on stage that turns on. When I get there, I feel safe. I’ve always loved being on stage and I’m really hoping I get to perform for the rest of the world.”