How One Fan Brought Luxembourg Back to Eurovision After a 31-Year Gap

Eric Lehman from Luxembourg started out as a Eurovision fan, attending his first contest in Birmingham, England, in 1998 after Katrina & the Waves claimed victory in 1997 with “Love Shine a Light.” Eventually, Lehman became a journalist, reporting for various outlets in his home country, even though the Grand Duchy dropped out of the contest in 1994.

Nine years later, when the song contest was held in Riga, Latvia, Lehman stayed an extra day.

“I invited a close friend of mine to come over to my hotel room to have coffee. We discussed the possible return of Luxembourg. At that point, we had not participated for 10 years. My friend said, ‘Why don’t you try to reach out to let them know what the benefits are, of coming back and participating in the Eurovision Song Contest? You are well equipped with all your Eurovision knowledge, and you have all these contacts. Why don’t you reach out and tell them if they need a head of delegation, you are the perfect choice.’ I was very reluctant because I thought I would be too young for this. He said, ‘No, just go and suggest it.’”

Fast forward to 2024. Lehman’s accreditation badge lists his name and title: head of delegation.

There are not a lot of things fans of the Eurovision Song Contest hate about the long-running, pan-European competition – but one of them is when countries drop out. But as much as they dislike when that happens, they love it when they return.

The small European nation was there at the very beginning of Eurovision in 1956, one of seven countries in that inaugural broadcast. Luxembourg consistently returned to the contest every year through 1993, only missing 1959.

Things went south in 1994. Seven new countries were admitted, bringing the total number of entrants who wanted to take part to 32, too many for one broadcast. A relegation system was implemented and the six lowest scoring countries in the 1993 contest were out. Goodbye Belgium, Israel, Denmark, Slovenia, Turkey and Luxembourg. Italy voluntarily withdrew.

All of those nations did return, sooner or later. But not Luxembourg – until now.

Eric Lehman was 10 years old in 1988. “I watched Eurovision with my family,” he tells Billboard. “My father was working for RTL, the national broadcaster in Luxembourg, and he had worked on the 1984 contest, the last time Luxembourg hosted [after a 1983 win with “Si La Vie Est Cadeau” by Corinne Hermès]. As a kid, I was allowed to stay awake until very late in the night because the show would end at midnight CET. We were represented in 1988 by Lara Fabian, who went on to become a big star. It was the same year that Celine Dion sang for Switzerland. Lara was in the lead, so I was really enthusiastic. I thought we might win. I like geography and hearing different languages and I enjoy music and TV production, so Eurovision was giving me everything I wanted.”

In 1998, with access to the Internet to purchase a ticket, Lehman traveled to Birmingham by himself to be in the audience for the first time. “I met so many people and became a member of the local fan club and went on to be president in 2000. There are 42 branches today.”

Lehman’s next step was to cover Eurovision for Luxembourg media, including RTL, Radio Luxembourg and local newspapers. Then he became a member of various delegations over the years, including Lithuania, Turkey and France. He also returned as a journalist for Luxembourg television.

All this time, Lehman was determined to bring Luxembourg back into the Eurovision fold. “I fought very hard. I wanted to be the face of Eurovision in Luxembourg. I staged annual charity fundraisers for Televie, a TV marathon that collects funds to fight against cancer and leukemia. They were all Eurovision-themed, which is how we made Eurovision popular again at home.”

Lehman was at the contest in Turin (2022) and Liverpool (2023) and did “massive coverage” for RTL. “I started a big campaign with our previous prime minister, Xavier Bettel.” Lehman and Bettel were granted a one-hour meeting with RTL CEO Christophe Goossens.

“It took me three weeks to prepare this presentation. I got in touch with 14 heads of delegation, EBU staff and former contest producers, to find all the information we would need in order to know what it takes to join Eurovision and what the costs are.”

Lehman, who says he doesn’t even sweat at the gym, could feel drops of water running down his spine during the presentation. “I knew that this was the moment. If we didn’t convince them now, we never would. We explained what the benefits are, that Eurovision has a large audience, especially young people 15 to 29. That is very interesting for them. And it’s not about the three minutes on stage. It’s a good thing for the entire country – nation branding, creating new music, promoting and showcasing new local talents and allowing a team of singers and composers to work with foreign composers and record labels. It’s a way to expand your music industry to the rest of the world.”

Not long after, Lehman got a call from RTL asking if he would he take on the job of head of delegation for Luxembourg’s return to Eurovision.

Thus began a search for candidates to represent the country after a 31-year gap. “We proceeded to the selection process with a nationally televised contest. We received over 500 entries. From that field, we selected 70 songs to audition. And from those 70, we chose eight singers to compete in a national final.”

One of those eight performers was Tali, an Israeli-born singer who had been living in Luxembourg. She was in New York studying theater when Lehman called and asked if she would consider representing Luxembourg in Eurovision.

And what of the friend who told Lehman he should pursue his dream all those years ago?

“Last year when I was appointed HOD, I knew I needed to find him. We had not been in touch for years because he stopped coming to Eurovision in 2007. I didn’t have his phone number or email address. I checked Facebook and other social media and couldn’t find him. Then I traveled to Malmö. I was in the lobby of the official delegation hotel on the day of the opening ceremony and I saw him after 17 years. I got up and I said, ‘Do you remember me? I’m Eric from Luxembourg.’ He immediately recognized me and we talked for a while and later at dinner I showed him my badge and said, ‘Remember what we said back then in 2003 in the hotel room?’ He started crying and I told him, ‘I was looking for you because I wanted to tell you that your idea and my dream have come true. I have become head of delegation of Luxembourg and I brought the country back.’ Can you imagine? Twenty-one years later, it happened. It’s quite a coincidence because he hadn’t attended the contest for 17 years. And just when I was thinking about him, there he was.”

Tali will sing “Fighter” for Luxembourg in the grand final of the 2024 Eurovision Song Contest. She is fourth in the running order. Viewers in the U.S. can watch the four-hour live broadcast on Saturday, May 11 at 3 p.m. ET.

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