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Emmie and the Stand-ins: Eurovision’s Unsung Heroes Written by on May 17, 2021

Eurovision is built on the strength and talents of countless heroes, not least the stand-in singers. Samantha Ross explores their stories, as another name joins the legendary collective.

For so many Eurovision viewers, the experience of the Song Contest is limited to just a few hours of television entertainment over the span of three nights in May. Performances festooned in pyrotechnics and quick-cut camera angles seem to spring, fully formed, onto television screens, like Athena popping out of Zeus’s head.

Obviously, there’s a lot more work that goes into putting the Eurovision Song Contest together. For those of us in the Press Bubble (either in person or virtual), we get a peek behind the curtain, watching acts rehearse in the week or so before a live broadcast airs publicly. However, even those moments mark the culmination of weeks of preparation that start well before singers arrive in the host city.

Weeks prior to the start of artist rehearsals, technical run-throughs are held, utilising all of the props, camera angles, lighting, and special effects that we’ll eventually see on the nights of the actual shows. They’ve got all the bells and whistles…they’re just missing the artists themselves.

Before The Performers, Come The Performers

In order to flesh out these rehearsals, host cities will bring in stand-ins, often talented performers in their own right, to fill the spaces where countries’ representatives will eventually stand. These singers and dancers play a vital role in putting the show together, even if they rarely have a moment to be publicly acknowledged for their contribution. However, every once in a while, a name will bubble up to the surface, especially when they find wider success.

In 2013, a stand-in named Ellen Benediktson, then a music student in host city Malmö, took to the stage, belting out “L’enfer et moi” weeks before Amandine Bourgeois did so for France. She must have caught the eye of showrunner Christer Björkman, and a year later, she made it to the final of Melodifestivalen with her entry Songbird”. When Eurovision was in Stockholm in 2016, 19-year-old Renaida Braun stood in for Bulgaria’s Poli Genova’s “If Love Was a Crime”. Later that year, Renaida appeared on Sweden’s edition of Idol, coming in 6th place, and two years later she made it to Melodifestivalen with “All the Feels”.

These are just two of the probably hundreds of singers and dancers who’ve acted as stand-ins over the years, but their moments in the sun came after the fact. This year, however, through a twist of fate, an abundance of caution, and a lucky break, one substitute has gotten her chance to shine.

This year’s crop of stand-ins included twenty four students from Codarts University for the Arts in Rotterdam. One of them, a student of jazz named Emmie van Stijn, was assigned the task of covering lead vocals for “Shum” by Ukraine’s Go_A, among others. Performing a song of any type on a huge stage like the Rotterdam Ahoy would be a challenge, but to take on an ethno-pop entry based on the technique of “white singing”, including a dramatic accelerando, all while singing in Ukrainian? Emmie would have her work cut out for her, but it was all for the good of the show, and her performance would almost certainly not be released for public consumption later on…

After delegations make it to Rotterdam, and start rehearsing on site, the work of the stand-in is seemingly done and dusted. The surrogate singers and dancers go back to their lives, returning to their jobs or studies.

However, it was revealed on Wednesday that Kateryna Pavlenko, Go_A’s lead singer, was feeling under the weather, and would have to undergo more testing to ensure that she wasn’t positive for COVID-19. Furthermore, she’d be subjected to a strict quarantine until the test results (which we now know was negative).

The timing could not have been more inconvenient, as the Ukranians were scheduled to have their second set of rehearsals that day…what’s a delegation to do? With only a few hours’ notice, and permission granted from her manager at Taco Bell, Emmie was called back to the Ahoy to stand in for Kateryna during Wednesday’s rehearsal, only this time it would be with the eyes of the media (and YouTube) upon her, not just the technical crew.

And she rocked it!


The singer that some on social media dubbed “Go_B” or “Cher Nobyl” stole the show, with fans and press alike praising her vocals, her pronunciation, and her poise in such an unusual situation. While she won’t be substituting for Kateryna in any of the live shows (one, because Go_A would default to a backup performance, and two, Kateryna has tested negative for COVID and is feeling better), Emmie has cemented her place in the story of Rotterdam 2021 and endeared her to many, including the Ukrainian delegation.

There are literally thousands of people who help make Eurovision run smoothly, many of whom go nameless and unnoticed to the millions of viewers at home. Whether they’re rigging up lighting or making sure microphones are working or belting out “Shum” at the last minute, every person is a priceless member of the team. For that reason, when the spotlight ends up shining on someone unexpected, it feels that much more special. We have no idea what the future holds for Emmie, or for the twenty-three other stand-ins at this year’s Eurovision, but for this moment, we can show our love and appreciation.

Dank je wel, Emmie!


About The Author: Samantha Ross

Vaguely aware of the Contest since childhood, a fanatic since 2008, and an ESC blogger since 2009, Samantha Ross made her first sojourn to Eurovision in 2011, and was quickly welcomed into the fold at ESC Insight. Over the years, she's been interviewed by BBC World News, SVT, LBC Radio, and many others. She was a semi-regular contributor to Oystermouth Radio's weekly dedicated Eurovision program, "Wales 12 Points". Furthermore, Samantha contributed to BBC Radio 2's coverage of the Copenhagen contest, and was a member of the official web team in 2014 and 2015. She also worked as a member of the Bulgarian Delegation, serving as Assistant Head of Press in Kyiv and Lisbon. She is also the creator of the podcast "12 Points from America", an irreverent look at Eurovision from a US point of view. When not at Eurovision, Samantha is a regular on the Twin Cities pub quiz circuit, and has volunteered as a moderator for the local high school quiz bowl for over ten years. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, but is wistfully looking for opportunities to get geographically closer to the heart of the Eurovision action. You can follow Samantha on Twitter (@escinsider).

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