Eurovision festivities officially kicked off Sunday evening at the grand opening “orange carpet” in Tel Aviv.
All 41 contestants walked along the orange carpet laid out in Habima Square in the heart of Tel Aviv, posing for photos and greeting fans as well as local and international media.
“It’s amazing – Tel Aviv. It’s amazing!” exclaimed Kobi Marimi, Israel’s 2019 contestant, after stepping out onto the orange carpet. “Thank you for coming! We’ve been waiting for 20 years for Eurovision to come here, to Tel Aviv, to Israel, and I’m so happy to be a part of it.”
One by one the contestants from across Europe – and even Australia – stepped onto the carpet to screaming fans and hundreds of media outlets from around the globe.
All the traditional Eurovision glitz and glamor was on full display, including full-length ball gowns – on both men and women – head-to-toe sequins, sky-high heels, feathers and, in the case of Iceland’s Hatari – a whole lot of leather.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai also strutted out onto the orange carpet with his wife, Yael, in a more staid dark suit.
“We are very happy that we have [the Eurovision] here,” Huldai told event host Noa Tishby. “And everybody’s happy, aren’t they?” he questioned, gesturing to the cheering crowd.
The first contestant to step onto the carpet was Tamta from Cyprus, who told interviewers that she’s “so excited, and happy to be here.”
France’s Bilal Hassani said his song’s message was important for people around the world.
“‘Roi’ is a song about self-love, about self-acceptance. It’s a message that’s very important to me,” he said. “When the song came out we realized that the message was way wider than me, it went above me, and many people from all over the world were very touched by it. And that became very important to me.”
Finland’s Sebastian Rejman said that “It’s been such a great week [here in Israel], and now we’re closing in on the competition – so I’m excited to get up on stage and do what we came here to do.”
Italy’s Mahmood said he’s been loving the weather in Tel Aviv, and is hoping, on his day off on Monday, “to visit either Jerusalem or the Dead Sea.”
The Netherlands’ Duncan Laurence, who is the favorite to win the contest, said he thought Tel Aviv “was so beautiful.” Asked about the pressure on him as the front-runner, he said, “I see it as a big compliment. It’s the biggest compliment you can get when you perform at Eurovision.”
The 41 contestants weren’t the only ones to show up on the star-studded orange carpet outside the Habima Theater.
The evening kicked off with a performance by Orna and Moshe Datz, who represented Israel at the Eurovision in 1991. The pair sang a rendition of their Eurovision song “Kan,” and were joined by singer and dancer Stephane Legar, along with a crew of backup dancers.
Eleni Foureira, who represented Cyprus last year and was Barzilai’s biggest competition for the top prize, also showed up on the orange carpet. She will perform in a musical number at the grand finale on Saturday night.
The four Eurovision hosts, Erez Tal, Bar Refaeli, Assi Azar and Lucy Ayoub, made their appearance at the very end of the evening.
And the 2018 Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai also stepped out on to the orange carpet, with three assistants holding the long train of her white gown. Barzilai walked out to the tune of her newest single, “Nana Banana,” which was released on Friday.
“This is overwhelming, I didn’t get it until right about now,” Barzilai told Tishby as she looked out on the crowd and media. “This is insane. Everybody is here. We brought everybody here!”
The first live semi-final will be held on Tuesday evening at Expo Tel Aviv, when 17 countries take the stage. The first full dress rehearsal will take place on Monday evening, which is the first event of the week to which KAN sold tickets. As of Sunday afternoon, at least 2,000 seats to that show were still available.
The grand finale – tickets to which sold out within hours – will be held in Tel Aviv on Saturday.
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