Life & Culture

Eurovision is Eden's time to shine

When the pandemic hit, 2020's Eurovision song contest was cancelled. But now singer Eden Alene has her chance to represent Israel


From the cosy confines of her studio flat in an old Bauhaus apartment building in Tel Aviv, Israeli pop star Eden Alene is explaining how it feels to finally be going to the Eurovision Song Contest — after an unscheduled one-year delay.

“I feel nauseous,” she says. “I’m trying to make the nausea into excitement but it’s hard. Not a lot of the entrants from 2020 are back for 2021. Before my name was announced, I’d heard of four countries who’d already cancelled their contestants. I was worried I wouldn’t get my chance.”

Without a doubt, Alene has earned her place in the competition.

In February 2020 she beat hundreds of hopefuls to win The Next Star — a prime-time Israeli TV talent show specifically designed to find an artist to represent the country at Eurovision, after Israel successfully hosted the competition in 2019. After her victory, songs were auditioned, video clips were filmed and a kooky pop song called Feker Libi was chosen to showcase Alene, whose parents made aliyah to Israel from Ethiopia. The global buzz around Eden and her song was high, with bloggers praising her flawless vocals and one Israeli TV anchor calling her “one of the greatest treasures ever to come out of this country”. Yet just as her excitement was reaching fever pitch, the competition was cancelled due to Covid-19. Alene was mid-way through an interview when she was told the news.

“I cried live on TV,” she says, smiling. “I always cry, it’s not a new thing. My mum cries a lot, I cry a lot. When I win or lose, when I get hurt, when I get excited, I cry. That’s what happens. I’m a very sensitive person, I’m very in touch with my emotions.”

With last year’s competition shelved, and the world thrown into chaos, Alene began to worry she might be forgotten about.

“I went through so many auditions on The Next Star,” she says. “It wasn’t like I’d been asked to do the Eurovision — I won the opportunity. So it would have been silly for me not to get it again, it wouldn’t have been fair. I fought hard to get this.”

Thankfully reason prevailed and Israeli national broadcaster KAN soon confirmed that Alene would indeed represent her country — she just had to wait for the European Broadcast Union to decide what shape and form the 2021 competition would take.

“I won. We were locked down. It was cancelled. We were locked down again. I was waiting, waiting, waiting and then boom: suddenly the competition is confirmed and we need to start making everything ready. I had to pick up the energy from March 2020 in March 2021. It’s an on-off relationship, me and the Eurovision,” she laughs.

Alene’s route to the biggest pop competition in the world began at a young age. Born and raised in Jerusalem, she always wanted to sing. “Ever since I was a little girl, I really wanted to perform on big stages,” she explains. “In my high school in Jerusalem, we had a very big auditorium. I always went there to sing, alone, because I really loved it. I used to pretend that there was a big crowd and everyone was cheering for me.”

At high school, she sang mezzo in a Muslim, Jewish and Christian choir — “A choir for peace,” she calls it.

Her ambition for stardom was fine-tuned when she saw British homegrown artist Alexandra Burke win the UK X Factor in 2008.

“You don’t understand,” she says, resolutely. “I love Alexandra and I’ll never forget what she did with the end of Hallelujah — wow. But when Beyoncé came on stage and they sang Listen — well that was when I realised my dream is to do the same thing. I entered Israeli X Factor and I actually came to London where I met Simon Cowell. I saw the hall of fame in his office and posed for a picture next to Beyoncé’s name. To sing with Beyoncé, that is my absolute dream.”

Alene won Israeli X Factor in 2018, which gave her a platform within Israel, but Eurovision is her chance to go global.

“I want to touch a lot of people. The thing that I love most is making people cry,” she says. “So doing Eurovision on such a big stage is like a dream come true.”

New competition rules decree that last year’s songs can’t be performed in 2021, so Feker Libi has been replaced with a bright and catchy pop song called Set Me Free, as voted for by the Israeli public. The first draft didn’t set it apart from the competition, but a re-vamp has catapulted Eden into the headlines, not least because it contains the highest note ever performed on a Eurovision stage.

“The song was created via the traditional process without me,” says Alene. “But the creators of the song were so nice, they wanted to hear what I had in mind. I remember during the first or second meeting in the studio, we sat and listened and everyone said what they wanted to change or add. So I said ’I have something I want to show you, to see what you think. I think it’s cool, I don’t know.’”

She then sang a whistle note (higher than a soprano high D).

“I didn’t know if it was good enough. My comfort zone is much lower. Some people think this whistle note is hard on the ear. But Arianna does it and Mariah Carey does it, so why shouldn’t I?”

The team was excited.

“Everyone went ‘Oh my God, we have to put it in’… and that was it! People told me afterwards that it’s the highest note ever sung at Eurovision but that’s not what I wanted to achieve — I just wanted to make the song better.”

Alene and her 17 person delegation are now in Rotterdam, having been vaccinated and Covid-tested before departure.

They flew on her 21st birthday, and at her first 30-minute rehearsal on Sunday, she hit the whistle note every time. Yet despite her obvious talent, beauty, personality and cool staging, Alene won’t have an easy ride to the grand final.

Unlike the UK, which remains one of the Eurovison’s ‘Big Five’ countries (despite finishing bottom in 2019), Israel has to actively win a place. And Alene is up against some stiff competition in her sem-final, including favourites Destiny from Malta and Barbara Pravi from France. Bookies currently put her at 11th position out of 16 competitors, and only ten acts go through, so every vote counts. Thankfully this pressure doesn’t faze Alene.

“I’ve listened to the other songs — it’s very important to listen to your competition, to be ready. I like Malta’s song, it’s from the same genre as mine. But I’m much better in live performance than on a recording as it’s easier to move people.”

Despite living on the top floor, Alene has been belting out her song at home to get ready.

“My vocal coach told me to run, to not stop running and to sing the song. It’s exhausting but it’s helpful because I need to dance and move and sing and it’s difficult to breathe and dance and move together. I’m not Beyoncé! So I’ve been working very hard and we’ve had lots of rehearsals.”

Strict Covid protocols mean that delegations are smaller this year. There will be some press interviews face to face, but no events on the famous Eurovision orange carpet.It’s likely that Alene will be mainly sweet talking the media over Zoom and eating meals in her hotel bedroom (where she also, bizarrely, has her own private sauna).

Artists can go for a walk or a cycle, but they have to avoid crowds. And while there’ll be a live audience of 3,500 people for each show, it’s not quite the traditional Eurovision dream. Even so, Alene is grateful that Israel stuck by her and excited about the contest.

“It’s a big honour. I want to say, I see the look in my mum’s eyes when she sees me perform and that’s how I feel. I feel proud of myself. It’s a very big honour for me, it’s not something that comes and goes.”

Alene is also aware of how lucky she is to be living in Israel at this point in time.

“Israel kind of lives in a little paradise, I think. Here, everyone got vaccinated and everything is back to normal. Which is sad because there, in The Netherlands, it’s not back to normal. We’re a small country and it’s come to be an advantage. We are strong. We are always in the news. Everyone knows about us. And I’m proud to be representing my country.”

Paradise or not, I wonder what will happen if Eden is asked tough questions about the current unrest in Israel, or global vaccine equality. (it’s thought that 80 per cent of the other contestants won’t yet have been vaccinated, due to their young age and the speed of vaccine rollouts in their home countries). “This is a music competition, it’s not relevant,” she says sweetly. And with that I must go, so that this 21-year-old pop sensation can get back to (hopefully) taking Europe by storm.


Eden Alene is representing Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest. Her semi-final takes place on Tuesday May 18, 2021 at 8pm, BBC4 and the grand final is on Saturday May 22 at 8pm (BBC1). For more information, visit


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