When Jessica Mauboy arrived in Denmark to perform at the Eurovision song contest in 2014, she knew she wouldn’t be the last Australian to do so.
“I wasn’t aware until I physically felt the welcome on the ground,” she said. “I’m sure there would have been many, many conversations between all the big bosses before that, but for me, actually going there and being in the presence of the show [and] all of the people, I was so emotionally moved by how welcomed Australia was.
“I felt right there and then that it wasn’t going to be the last time we were going to be able to be a part of it.”
She was right. The reaction to Mauboy’s performance of her song Sea of Flags as an interval act four years ago was the catalyst for Guy Sebastian to become Australia’s first competitor in the contest a year later.
His fifth place in the competition was followed by Dani Im who was runner-up in 2016 and Isaiah Firebrace who finished ninth in 2017.
On Monday SBS announced Darwin’s biggest pop icon will become the fourth Australian to compete at the event when it’s held in Lisbon, Portugal in May next year.
An Aria award-winning performer who became the first indigenous artist to reach number one on the Australian album charts last year, Mauboy admits that while she was “definitely barracking for my great friends” in the competition, there was “some part of me saying I would like a chance to compete”.
“I am a deeply a competitive person when it comes to music,” she said. “I almost feel like I was the permission for Australia to become properly involved ... a year after that, the gate was opened for Australia [and] I almost feel like I’ve been waiting for this, like it’s unfinished business.”
She now has five months to work on a song.
In 2014 Sea of Flags, she said, was about representing the particular passion that Eurovision elicits in even non-European countries such as Australia.
“You know, the flags everyone holds up, and the parties that get put on around the world because they can’t be there … the passion behind it all,” she said.
The performance also managed to capture the idiosyncrasy that defines Eurovision; at the end of her performance, an astronaut appeared waving a double-sided Australian and Aboriginal flag.
As a competitor, Mauboy, whose mother is from the Indigenous KuKu Yalanji tribe and whose father is from Timor, said wanted to write something that reflected “Australia as a whole”.
“Obviously my Indigenous culture is very special to me … it runs through my blood and I definitely want to portray that in the music and as well as Australia as a whole,” she said. “The idea of singing in language could be quite special.”
The head of Australia’s delegation to the song contest, Paul Clarke, said Mauboy had “opened the door for Australia to compete at Eurovision”.
“Before the great moments of Guy, Dami and Isaiah, there was Jess, who touched the hearts of the Eurovision directors and proved just how talented our vocalists are,” he said.
“Since then we have always wanted to give Jessica a shot at the competition, and this year the stars aligned.
“We can’t wait to develop a great song and stage production with Jessica and her team, and recreate her Eurovision style as a galactic soul diva.”
Since finishing as runner-up of Australian Idol in 2006, Mauboy has become one of Australia’s most successful female artists, selling more than 3.4m albums globally and releasing five top 10 albums and 15 top-20 singles.
She has also won two Aria awards from 24 nominations. Her songs have been streamed 158m times and her videos have been viewed globally 37m times.