May 18th is a very special date in my book - today seventeen years ago I made my first visit to Planet Eurovision as I sat in the audience at the 1996 Eurovision Song Contest. A real dream come true for my 20 year-old self.
I come from the countryside where no stars live and where no celebrities are ever to be seen. Tv shows were made somewhere else and something as grand and spectacular as the ESC always seemed so far, so unattainable.
Suddenly I found myself on the night train to Oslo and when I arrived, I felt like a fairytale hero who had been transported through time and space into another dimension. I got to talk to a fair share of participants, I got a couple of autographs and I got to help a friend make an interview with the adorable Maja Blagdan, being every inch as wonderful as I had hoped for her to be.
Maja Blagdan - Sveta ljubav (Croatia 1996)
I was so excited to finally be present in the hall and to meet other eurovision fans who could also sing along with the entries that I didn't even notice that 1996 was a vocally shaky edition of the contest where many participants underperformed and sang only moderately well.
I didn't get disappointed until the voting came to a close and Ireland had secured its fourth victory in five contests. I kept wishing for the stagnating contest to produce another one of those smash hit winning songs like in the old days and instead the juries settled for yet another set of violins and a flute.
I wouldn't have to wait for long to see the ESC make a major turnaround and re-invent itself, but regardless of the disappointing outcome the 1996 Eurovision remains one of my strongest memories. To finally realise that Planet Eurovision was no distant planet at all but a place you could visit, explore and make your own. I hope every real eurofan will have that opportunity at least once.
Eimear Quinn - The Voice (Ireland 1996)