This year for the first time we organised the Grand Eurostory Writing Competition. We received lots of entry’s, so the jury read and read again and today we present you with the winner of the first prize, which is an ode to Eurovision, through a story of what Conchita Wurst meant for a fourteen year old boy from the Philippines.

It isn’t every day that you come across headlines that say, ‘Austria’s Bearded Lady Conchita Wurst wins Eurovision.’ At that time, having been born and living in the Philippines, a conservative Catholic society, the outrageous click-bait headline from the NBC article made me a little curious and a little weirded out. What did they mean by ‘Bearded Lady’ and what is a ‘Eurovision’? Is Eurovision a European film or TV competition (It has vision in its name, so it must be, right?). Of course, like any good Gen Z’er in 2014, all I needed was Google. It might’ve been a little late in the day and my bedroom was lit by a single fluorescent desk lamp. Maybe it was a morbid curiosity that brought my fingers to start clacking on my office-esque Logitech keyboard or a little voice in my head asking me to try looking for something new. Anyway, a couple of searches later, I landed on Conchita’s reprise act on YouTube. After about five seconds, the little circle loading Rise Like a Phoenix on my screen nearly 10.000 kilometers southeast of Copenhagen disappeared. An emerging sound of cheering while the stage lights dimmed and the now-familiar melody signaling the start of the performance played. As if a prophet were to emerge, the overhead lights focused on a singular silhouette in the middle of the stage. I don’t need to describe the performance to you. Funnily enough, watching a performance is better than narrating it.

About half an hour after that initial search, I was knee deep in the ESC YouTube page. Why was I feeling so enamored by the performances of such an unusual performer, of someone so far away from me, from what I’ve experienced growing up? The staging wasn’t the flashiest nor was the song. It’s still just an anthem or an epic ‘Bond’ song if anything. But God, I felt seen. I felt her win and the history that came with that win. The sleepless nights, the deep anxieties, the wonder of what kind of person I wanted to be, those were all things I felt during each chorus of Rise Like a Phoenix. I was no longer just an ‘I’ but a ‘we’.

Conchita’s reprise of the song became my shining beacon of hope, that being ‘strange’ is valuable and appreciated. That being ‘unusual’ means having your own group of people who will become your new family, who will accept you and stand with you when things that you care about are on the line. However, the aurora-like glow around Conchita that evening was not about the win. At least, to me it wasn’t. More than anything, I was resolved to make myself a person that is authentic to myself. Winning wasn’t the point, being authentic was. Even if it means coming off as unusual or weird or even a little off beat. And don’t get me wrong, the performance wasn’t a magic bullet that immediately made me know who I was and who I wanted to be. It didn’t suddenly make me act and speak in a manner that’s me. It didn’t suddenly make me want to choose and be proud of my own life. But it woke up something inside me that I couldn’t and didn’t want to take back. Rise Like a Phoenix gave me a feeling I constantly wanted to have with me when I faced something unbreakable, unmovable, and unstoppable.

When I look at Eurovision, it isn’t about the brightest stars or the highest notes. It’s about the most painful, most joyous, most frightening, and most vulnerable feelings of my life, ones that help me realize what’s at stake and what it means to move forward. It’s about baring the strangest and most unusual parts of myself to the front. It’s about how I can express myself through the artistry and emotionality of others. If anything, Eurovision is a constant reminder that I can be authentic, and that other people will care for that authenticity. It’s a reminder of how much I’ve changed and grown. And of the future I truly want to build together.

Conchita, if you end up coming across this, like many other people, I can’t tell you enough how much I love and thank you for that performance. A few years after your performance, I finally told my family about being gay. You didn’t make it matter that I was a Filipino-Chinese bachelor’s student studying in Manila while you are an Austrian artist performing on European soil for a song contest that was invisible to me until that headline.

Eurovision, you aren’t perfect and I’m sure many people have many disagreements with you (annual televote versus jury votes, anyone?). Maybe I’ll fall out of love with you and find another song contest but it will never change what you’ve done for me. Or maybe I’ll fall so hard that I decide to join you on that stage. To bare myself so that someone else can finally speak and feel at home with themselves, maybe I’ll get to do that. Who knows? Now, I’m in the Netherlands and although I can’t join you in Turin, I’ll always be watching, cheering on my top bets, excitedly anticipating those voting results, and singing my fucking heart out.