Words: Will Stroude
Whether she's making the final of RuPaul's Drag Race or being crowned the winner of Celebrity Big Brother, Courtney Act is no stranger to slaying the biggest TV stages - but the Aussie drag superstar faces her toughest fight yet after throwing her hat into the ring for this year's Eurovision Song Competition.
Court, who's proven her musical credentials on Australian Idol and as part of drag supergroup The AAA Girls with Drace Race alumna Willam and Alaska, is hoping to represent Oz in Tel Aviv in May with her belter of a track 'Fight For Love', but first she's got the small matter of the Australian national public vote to attend to.
Courtney will go head to head with nine other shortlisted acts on Eurovision - Australia Decides next month (Saturday 9 February), but - in case the gag-worthy new video for 'Fight For Love' doesn't make clear already - we her to make it the most sickening song contest ever...
Has it been dream of yours to do Eurovision since Australia joined the competition or has this all come about quite quickly?
No, since long before that! Australia has long had a love affair with Eurovision. We're obsessed with it. I just didn't think I would get to be a part of it - when Australia started competing it was like 'YES!' There have been petitions to get Courtney into Eurovision but at first the record companies were picking acts. But this year we're doing the national selection so it's finally my chance to see if I can represent Australia. Also as a queer person it's important to represent my country at something, even if it's not the Olympics - well, I guess it is the Olympics of pop music. It'd be an honour to be a drag queen representing her country.
You are up against nine other acts though, and it looks like there’s some strong competition.
Yeah there is. Tania Doko’s written a song, there’s this group called Electric Fields, and one of them is Aboriginal and sings in his native tongue and it’s this really cool fresh pop song. So I've definitely got some stiff competition. I like my song and I'm excited to perform it - it think that's where I have extra things up my sleeve...
Obviously we're big fans of 'Fight for Love' here - how did you decide on that track?
Well the Eurovision peeps sent me a bunch of songs and I also wrote a bunch of songs. I wrote 'Fight For Love' in London with Sky Adams, Felicity Birt and Danny Shah. Sky and Danny actually worked on Kylie’s Golden album. I met them at Kylie's 50th birthday party and we got chatting, and then at Kylie's Golden concert I bumped into them again and we were all having a drink and I was like 'Hey, would you guys like to write a song with me for Eurovision?!' So we all got together and banged it out.
It’s obviously got a lot of LGBT subtext to it – was it important to you to include that dimension?
For sure. I mean, it’s still criminal to queer in different ways in countries all around the world. For me, the lyrics had a queer subtext but also a minority subtext. One of the things I find important now in 2019 when we all have a pretty decent amount of rights is also thinking about other people who might not look like us or be the same colour of us, and fighting for their rights as well.
With all your recent success on Drag Race and Celebrity Big Brother, I think a lot of people don’t realise the extent of your musical background and competing on Australian Idol – that experience must stand you in good stead for Eurovision and Australian Decides?
Yeah I mean I think this is a bit like my redemption for Australian Idol! That was sixteen years ago, and while I’m certainly proud of my humble beginnings I think I’ve come a long way as a vocalist and performer. And I haven’t’ actually done anything big in Australia [recently]. I did bits after Idol but I think a lot of people watching Australia Decides will be like ‘Oh, that’s that girl from Australian Idol!’ This’ll be a cool reintroduction for people in Australia.
That was 2003 – having a drag queen on a prime-time reality show like that must have been quite revolutionary for the time.
It was, and it’s funny because for me I just loved what I did and was doing it, and I don’t think I was intentionally trying to be political. I think one of the things that held me in such good stead was one of the judges, Ian Dixon, was a Brit, and he had grown up in a world where drag and camp are a lot more celebrated. And I think him sitting there as an authority - he was head of the record label – and his support and understanding of what I did as a straight man made it okay for Australians to like. So in some ways I think the Brits and his British sensibility played a part in my acceptance on Idol, which is really cool.
There could be 99 people in the room and it just takes one Australian Idol judge to believe in you, right?
[laughs] Oh my God, it was very that!
So what can you tell us about your performance of ‘Fight For Love’? Will there be any surprises in store?
Well I can tell you I’ve not thought about Tel Aviv at all, I’ve been totally focused on Australia Decides. The only thing we were talking about was costume; this red PVC glam-inspired, quite structural garment. I was like ‘can’t we have more crystals?!’ And they said ‘well to do all this it’s going to ratchet up the price’, so I said okay, I guess spending thousands on some sparkly stones when we’re already spending however much already maybe I could spend that money better elsewhere. But for Tel Aviv there’d be no-hold-barred on the budget, that’s for sure!
What are some of your favourite Eurovision performances from over the years?
Obviously this is totally an obvious one but Conchita Wurst singing ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’ was amazing. We’re friends and she’s lovely and I messaged her to get some inside Eurovision tips and tricks! We met in Vienna after she won Eurovision and we’ve done a gigs together – we sang at Sydney Mardi Gras a couple of years ago and at the Sydney Opera House.
What advice has she given you?
I was just asking her whether before Eurovision she do a tour around Europe doing her song, performing it in different countries, what prep did she do - all that sort of stuff.
Well you’re sure to have plenty of support here in the UK should you get through.
I’ve been using that as collateral in Australia! Like ‘You know what guys, I’ve been in the UK for the past year…’ I don’t want to play dirty but… [laughs] And if Australia doesn’t take me this year I’ll come begging to the UK next year!
You’re always welcome as an honourary Brit! Australia has done incredibly well in Eurovision since joining the competition, with the notable exception of last year – what do you think went wrong for poor Jessica?
It’s funny because I was watching it the other day, and I don’t know… I couldn’t quite put my finger on what people were unhappy with in Australia. I think what probably let her down was the production – it was her or her vocal ability [that did]. She was wearing a dark coloured dress on a dark background, really nothing visually popped that much. And I thought her hair could have been bigger! But I thought she did a wonderful performance; vocally she was stunning. I mean, Dami Im, her performance a couple of years ago was pretty stellar.
I watch it weekly.
You know she was sitting on that box and then all of a sudden she wasn’t on the box?
Yeah how did she get off the box in that dress?
Well I found out – two people ran in and got her down while they cut away to another camera angle! I was like [gasps] there are so many possibilities I never even knew were possible at Eurovision!
Like getting manhandled on stage when the camera’s off you?
Or when it’s on you! Onstage, offstage, I’m always up for a bit of that… [laughs]
'Eurovision – Australia Decides' will air Down Under on Saturday 9 February on SBS.