Can Israel find its next Netta?

As the search for a 2019 Eurovision contestant ramps up, young, old, religious, secular, pros, amateurs, natives and immigrants vie to represent the country in Tel Aviv next year.

The Shalva Band auditions on ‘Kochav Haba’ for a shot at competing in next year’s Eurovision (photo credit: KESHET)
The Shalva Band auditions on ‘Kochav Haba’ for a shot at competing in next year’s Eurovision
(photo credit: KESHET)
In 1979, Israel did the unthinkable. It won the Eurovision Song Contest for the second year running, taking the top prize the first time the contest was held on Israeli soil.
In 2019 many Israelis hope it can repeat that phenomenon at the competition in Tel Aviv and win back-to-back Eurovision victories.
So who will represent Israel at the contest in May? And can the country recreate the magic that brought Netta Barzilai her victory in Lisbon?
It is certainly going to try.
A few weeks ago, the search for the next Barzilai kicked off, as Kochav Haba (The Next Star) returned to Israel’s airwaves, featuring contestants of all stripes vying for a shot on the Eurovision stage.
And the show is undoubtedly infused with all things Barzilai – plus an extra boost of pressure to live up to her performance. The judges – Asaf Amdursky, Keren Peles, Shiri Maimon, Harel Skaat and Static and Ben-El – joke that the show should be subtitled “The Double Season,” as they are certain they will win once again next year.
And backstage, a cardboard cutout of Barzilai in her iconic outfit is ready for selfies, and singing hopefuls repeatedly cite her influence as inspiring them to audition.
With eight auditions episodes of Kochav Haba already aired, it is clear the judges will have plenty of intriguing and diverse options – from hopeful 16-year-olds to experienced 40-somethings; from secular to religious; from natives to immigrants from Russia, South Africa, Brazil, France and more. And viewers have already seen some unforgettable performances from unknown artists and established Israeli singers, in English, Hebrew, Arabic, Greek and even Moroccan.
Easily one of the most memorable auditions on the show came from The Shalva Band, a group of singers and musicians from the Shalva Center for children and adults with disabilities. The band performed a beautiful rendition of The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” and easily sailed through to the next round, moving the judges with their indomitable spirit.
Barry Braun, a South African who moved to Ra’anana in 2016, cried with happiness when discussing his aliyah to Israel. His performance of “You Raise Me Up” by Josh Groban advanced him to the next round. And Shahar Adwi, an ultra-Orthodox 20-year-old, impressed the judges by singing Hanan Ben-Ari’s “Wikipedia,” which includes the lyrics, “Don’t lock me up in a cage/ Don’t summarize me on Wikipedia/ I am everything, I am nothing at all.”
Even famed Israeli singer Maya Bouskilla showed up to try her hand at being able to represent Israel at next year’s Eurovision. And while she’s the most experienced performer to audition for the show so far, there are other familiar faces who want this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Ido Dankner – who competed on American Idol before dropping out – has more than 180,000 followers on Instagram and several original songs on YouTube. Elkana Marziano already won an Israeli reality TV competition – The Voice – and is back to prove he can represent Israel at the Eurovision. Other established Israeli singers have also shown they’re willing to put aside egos and fight to take part in the 2019 competition, which will be held in Tel Aviv for the first time ever.
Who will take the stage for Israel at the Eurovision in May? And can they reproduce Barzilai’s historic win? With each new contestant, the judges debate who they envision on the stage at the Expo Tel Aviv come May. An immigrant to Israel? A singer of Mizrahi music? A band or a solo artist? An English or a Hebrew song?
The judges have a tough road ahead until the finale next year – and a wealth of talent to choose from.