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EUROVISION

LGBT teen shines as France’s Eurovision pick

At the tender age of 19, Bilal Hassani is already being held up as an inspiration to LGBT teenagers -- and now he's got his sights on winning the Eurovision Song Contest.

LGBT teen shines as France's Eurovision pick
A handout picture fromFrance television shows Bilal Hassani performing on stage on Saturday in Paris during Destination Eurovision France television's broadcast. Photo: GILLES SCARELLA / FRANCE TELEVI
An internet sensation, Hassani beat better-known singers to clinch Saturday night's public vote to represent France in the glitter-soaked competition in Israel in May.  
 
Born to a Moroccan family, the Beyonce fan has delighted in proving wrong critics who laughed at the singer they dismissed as an “Arab in a wig”.
 
“I've been a Eurovision addict since I was nine, as much for the artistry as for what it symbolises — all the cultures and differences that are brought together by music,” he said on Instagram.
 
With a penchant for wigs — each of which has a pet name, including a blonde called “Paris” and a brunette called “Gila” — Hassani is unapologetic about what he stands for.
 
“I am me, and I know I will always be. I am free,” he sings in “Roi” (“King”), the song he is hoping will become France's first victorious Eurovision entry since 1977.
 
Hassani is vocal about his sexuality and rejection of old ideas about masculinity, delighting in a gender-bending wardrobe. Heavily made up a la Kim Kardashian — albeit far less curvy — his success owes much to his big personality, flaunting what he calls his “fabulousness”.
 
Encouraging messages flooded in on Hassani's YouTube channel after he was picked for Eurovision on Saturday.
 
“I wanted to thank you — even if you don't read this comment, it's thanks to you that I've managed to have confidence in myself,” wrote one fan.
 
1,500 hateful tweets
 
But beyond the tide of support, Hassani has also had to grapple with a violent online hate campaign from homophobes and racists. Campaign group Urgence Homophobie said it had already identified “more than 1,500 insulting, discriminatory or threatening tweets linked to his sexual orientation and/or appearance”.
 
The NGO has joined forces with another group, Stop Homophobie, to take to court “every person who has insulted, threatened, or discriminated against” Hassani.
 
The young singer has tried to take it in his stride, telling reporters that winning “the votes of so many French people” on Saturday was “the best response to the haters”.
 
Hassani has taken singing and dance classes since his early years, appearing on children's talent show “The Voice Kids” at the age of 15. For his audition, he opted to perform a song by one of his idols — Conchita Wurst, the Austrian bearded diva who won Eurovision in 2014.
 
He became a YouTuber shortly after and has since won nearly 800,000 subscribers, with videos — often humorous — that start with him belting out a tuneful “Bonsoir, Paris!” 
 
With titles like “The time I fell in love with a straight guy!”, some videos are confessional, while others feature make-up tutorials or covers of songs by stars such as Ed Sheeran and Ariana Grande.
 
His Eurovision entry, co-written with last year's French contenders Madame Monsieur, has already racked up nearly six million views online.
 
In any case, Hassani is already looking beyond the competition in Tel Aviv: his debut album is due out this spring, under the French label Low Wood.
 
By AFP's Aurélie Mayembo
 

DRUGS

French minister calls for Eurovision winner to be disqualified if singer fails drug test

France's Europe minister on Monday called for "total transparency" over speculation that one of Italy's victorious Eurovision contestants used cocaine during the song contest, saying it should be grounds for disqualification if confirmed.

French minister calls for Eurovision winner to be disqualified if singer fails drug test
France's entry, Barbara Pravi, said she didn't care whether Måneskin had used drugs or not. Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP

Damiano David, the outlandish vocalist for Italian rockers Måneskin, has agreed to take a drug test after video footage appeared to show him snorting something from a table backstage during Saturday’s contest.

“I think there needs to be no doubt here, and total transparency,” Europe Minister Clement Beaune, who attended the show in Rotterdam, told RMC radio. “If there is a problem, there are penalties… Provisions are made for sanctioning measures, including potential disqualification in case of problems.” 

French hopes had been riding high on singer Barbara Pravi, who was a bookmakers’ favourite to end France’s 44-year Eurovision drought with her
moody ballad “Voila.”

But she was edged out at the last minute by a surge in public votes for Måneskin, with a final tally of 524 to Pravi’s 499.

“I don’t want to be a sore loser,” Beaune said, but “in terms of image, we can’t let people think that such competitions can result in such behaviour.”

The president of France’s public broadcasting group, however, said Monday that France would not contest its second-place finish, no matter the speculation over David’s backstage antics.

“France has absolutely no intention to lodge an appeal,” France Televisions chief Delphine Ernotte told the Parisien newspaper. “The vote was quite clearly in Italy’s favour — it didn’t steal its
victory and that’s what matters,” she said.

Pravi herself said she was not interested in the speculation.

“What’s true is that they were chosen by both the public and the jury. Afterwards, if they use drugs or they put their underwear on backwards or whatever… it’s not my problem,” she told France 2 television on Sunday.

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