Nayah is Sylvie Mestre from Perpignan in southern France, near the border with Spain. She was 38 at the time of the contest in 1999 making her the oldest competitor that year – a couple of years older than Bosnia’s senior musical statesman Dino Merlin (see No. 382), who was making his Eurovision debut, older too than the guys in Sürpriz (see No. 470) who, despite their grizzled appearance, were only in their early 30s in 1999.
Mestre had still been in her 20s when she experienced her first brush with Eurovision: in 1990, in partnership with a male vocalist named Joel, she had finished 2nd in the Swiss national selection final with Dites À Vos Enfants. The French duo just missed out to Musik Klingt In Die Welt Hinaus by Austrian singer and violinist, Egon Egemann.
Je Veux Donner Ma Voix (I Want To Give My Voice) was placed third by Norwegian televoters, but was largely ignored by everyone else; its total of 14 points only enough for a 19th place finish (out of 23). This followed France’s second-to-last place finish the year before and would have meant they, along with Spain (who finished last in 1999), would have been relegated from the contest under existing Eurovision rules. The EBU thought having two of Europe’s largest markets absent from the contest was potentially damaging and so the idea of the ‘Big 4’ was born whereby the EBU’s four largest budget contributors (Germany, UK, France and Spain) were given automatic byes.
In the 17 contests since that decision a member of the Big 4 has come last no fewer than seven times, while a Big 4 nation has only finished inside the Top 3 twice (see Nos. 430 & 369). Compare that to the 27 – twenty seven! – Top 3 finishes for the Big 4 in the first 17 contests in which they competed. Compare that also to the eight Top 3 finishes for just one country – Russia – in the past 17 years and you can see how grim the results for the Big 4 nations have been recently.
In the first 17 years they competed Germany averaged 7th place, in the last 17 years that has dropped to 15th. Spain has experienced a similar drop from 8th to 16th. France’s fall has been even steeper – from 5th to 17th, but the daddy of them all is the UK: in their first 17 contests they averaged 3rd place, the UK entry now usually comes around a miserable 19th.
It is open to debate whether automatic entry into the final, and the resultant lack of exposure in the semi final, disadvantages the Big 4 nations. Since 2011 the Big 4 has become a Big 5 with the inclusion of Italy, and Italian results don’t seem to have suffered at all, but I suspect that should the rule be abandoned many contests would be missing most, if not all, of the major players and viewing figures for the main Saturday night show would be seriously affected. Of course most French, German, Spanish and British viewers may not care whether their country is competing or not and would still tune in, but is that a chance the EBU are ever likely to take?