Amir Haddad, a 31-year-old Israeli dentist who goes by the stage name Amir, is representing France in the Eurovision Song Contest this week in Stockholm. The world’s most popular televised singing competition, the annual contest pits singers from 43 countries against one another in the battle for the year’s best pop song.
Amir, who was born in France and holds dual French-Israeli citizenship, had his first 15 minutes of fame in 2006 on the Israeli “American Idol”-like reality contest “A Star Is Born.” He was still a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces at time, and is perhaps best remembered for collapsing on stage during a duet.
The experience did not deter him from televised song contests. In 2014, Amir, who was born in France, appeared on the French version of “The Voice.” All four judges, including international pop star Mika, turned their chairs toward Amir during his blind audition — the official sign of interest on the show.
Amir placed third and was soon selected to represent France in the 2016 Eurovision song contest, with “J’ai cherché” (“I Have Been Looking For”), a pop song with lyrics in French and English.
France is one of the Eurovision’s so-called “Big Five” countries — along with Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom — that do not need to participate in semifinal contests on May 10 and 12. As a result Amir will automatically be one of the 10 singers in the finals.
Israel, on the other hand, has to place in the semifinals to garner a spot in the glamorous final show on Saturday, May 14.
Hovi Star will represent Israel in the semifinals on May 12. A stylist and hairdresser, Star, 29, drew media attention last month after claiming that he was harassed by Russian border control officers while traveling to Moscow for a preview event, saying it was because he is gay.
The alleged incident took place a few weeks before Star spoke about it on April 22 during a television interview on the Maltese television station TVM. (Star’s song for the contest, “Made of Stars,” is popular in Malta.)
“Maybe people in Moscow have a rough time with people like me, maybe because I’m gay, maybe because I dress like this, maybe because I wear makeup, I don’t know,” he told the interviewers. “But when I wanted to get into Moscow, I had problems with passport control. They told me I can’t go in, they looked at my passport, they ripped my passport and then they laughed at me.”
He added: “It’s amazing that this happened in the Eurovision bubble. My song talks about equality. It talks about how everybody is the same.” Star said that he had visited Russia previously and liked the country.
He has received an outpouring of support in the wake of reports of the incident, and was issued a new passport by the Israeli consulate in Moscow. The issue became public when the Spanish contestant to Eurovision, Barei, who said he witnessed the incident, spoke about it during an interview on Spanish television. Barei railed against Russia over Star’s treatment.
Israel has won Eurovision three times, most recently in 1998, when the transgender singer Dana International brought home the title singing “Diva.”
More than 180 million viewers watch the song contest annually. The winners are picked by popular vote, cast through SMS and an official Eurovision app.
Eurovision 2016 is taking place in Stockholm, after Swedish representative Måns Zelmerlöw won in 2015 with his song “Heroes.” The contest has already been plagued by some controversy after a leaked document uncovered that Palestinian flags are banned.
While the U.S. doesn’t participate, pop star Justin Timberlake will this year make Eurovision history as the first noncompetitive performer. He’ll take the stage to sing his latest single, “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”