Conchita Wurst is the person I admire more than anyone. Today, I admire her just a little bit more. Admire her in an open-mouthed, chin-dropped “How on earth did you do that?” kind of way. And, by the way, “Can I kiss your dainty stiletto-heeled foot now, please?”, because somebody sure as hell ought to be.
It all started this morning, when I rewatched Conchita Wurst’s performance last night at the Austrian national final to choose their song for Eurovision 2015, and I realized something I hadn’t realized before.
Something that is so astounding, by the time I’ve finished pointing out to you what I saw, you will soon be wondering just how the hell she did that too.
Conchita Wurst was the star act for the ORF-run Austrian national final. The act tens of thousands of people, including me, were online to see. So when that darkened stage lit up and the first strains of her new single ‘You Are Unstoppable‘ began, all my senses were heightened. Which is why, as soon as she sang the first line of the song, I knew there was something wrong.
By the second line, I was convinced. Because, if you listen closely, you’ll hear her voice come in hesitatingly with ‘You don’t know me‘, (and that girl never hesitates), then it drops away, only to come back with the second line and the tiniest ‘I don’t know you‘. So tiny, you had to strain to hear it.
Ten seconds into the performance, the camera hit her face and I knew, one hundred percent knew, there was a problem. Because her face was tight, and so was her body language. And that’s not my girl. Not on stage, and not with that song.
Because ‘You Are Unstoppable‘ is a joyous anthem that is big and loud and full of life, and she is so goddamn happy when she’s singing it live. And this version? It was subdued and restrained and introverted and she was, in a sweet way, kind of shy. (Listen to and watch it here, and then keep on reading).
Now, my first instincts were Conchita Wurst was having mic problems. Problems that seemed to be fixed as the song continued, as her voice became louder and stronger, and, while not the normal sounding explosion I’m used to, she did still nail that song.
This morning, however, on my second listen through, I knew immediately what was wrong, because I once had a similar situation happen to me. Conchita Wurst’s in-ear monitors weren’t working. Which meant, as the lights went up and the music to ‘You Are Unstoppable‘ began, she couldn’t hear it. Worse, she couldn’t hear herself.
Because here’s what in-ear monitors do. They pipe the singer’s voice into her ear so she can hear herself above the music, the audience, the echos, everything that goes on when you’re on a big stage. They also pipe in the music, in a mix that particular singer wants.
With them, a singer can hear how her voice sounds against the music, whether it’s loud enough, too loud, high enough, not high enough, and so can moderate and adjust her voice as the song goes on.
Without the in-ear monitors? A singer is lost. She cannot hear the music, except for maybe a muffled sound from outside them, as these in-ear monitors fit tightly to block out ambient noise. And she cannot hear herself. She has no idea what part of the song the music is now at, and neither does she know if her voice is at the right level.
And that’s what happened to Conchita Wurst last night at the Austrian national final, I will absolutely guarantee you. Stuck on a live TV show going out to millions, with no way of knowing how she sounded, or if she was even in time with the music.
Can you imagine how terrifying that must be? To know you may end up sounding like you screwed up royally in front of millions of people around the world. Most of whom have no way of knowing what the real problem is.
But this is what is so fabulous about my lovely Ms. Wurst. She’s a true professional, and what we call in England ‘a trooper’. Someone who makes the best out of very difficult situations, and consequently usually comes out of them smelling like a rose.
Which is just what happened to Conchita Wurst. In some God-only-knows-how way, she managed to figure out where she was in the song, moderated her voice enough that the level felt right to her and, by the first chorus, she was on track (and she knew it then as the stage light change hit) — only a hair’s breadth off the perfect timing, a hair’s breadth you’d have to concentrate on to hear.
But can I just say, just in case you’re not quite getting this, few people can do what Conchita Wurst did there. Few people can not only resurrect what could easily have been a disastrous situation, but resurrect it so well hardly anyone noticed. But she can. And she did.
Now whether it’s because she’s had practice at it (watch her Life Ball 2014 performance below if you want to know how much practice she’s had, because I’ll guarantee you someone or something f*cked up there too, and she couldn’t hear a damn thing through those in-ear monitors either), or whether she’s like a bat with a sonar system that helps her detect what the rest of us can’t, I couldn’t tell you.
All I know is she masterfully pulled off a fabulous performance at last night’s Austrian national finals, and the folks at ORF should be brushing me aside to be the first people to kiss that lovely foot. Because she saved them from a hell of a lot of embarrassment.