Eurovision '73 winner Anne Marie David discusses her four-decade career and the Contest, past and present

Monday, February 16, 2009

Anne Marie David on the perseverance that built her career: "I always assumed the image of a competitor, maybe because I grew up in a place where I was very happy, but where we were not very rich; so I always had to make choices and needed to earn each thing that life gave me."
Photo: Anne Marie David/Dave Goodliffe

In the 1970s, she was one of the most popular female vocalists in France, and became well-known internationally. Anne Marie David, from Arles in the south of France, parlayed her initial success from playing Mary Magdalene in the French production of Jesus Christ Superstar into taking home the "grand prix" at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1973. Her winning song, "Tu te reconnaîtras" (You will recognize yourself), became a Europe-wide hit that spring.

At the height of her popularity, David perfomed world tours, and even lived abroad in Turkey for a time. In 1979, she tried once again to win the Eurovision, and placed a respectable third. Her song "Je suis l'enfant soleil" (I'm a child of the sun) became similarly popular across France and in the Francophone nations.

As time went on, however, her place in the French music scene became less certain. Touring the world had taken a personal toll, and David decided to retire from music completely in 1987. However, with the help of her fan base, she was coaxed out of retirement in 2003 and is returning to a part of her life that she tried to leave, but never left her. Celebrating four decades in the music scene, David is looking forward to adventurous new projects and a newfound zest for life.

Anne Marie David corresponded with Wikinews' Mike Halterman about her eventful career, her personal anecdotes regarding living abroad, her successes in past Eurovision contests and her grievances with the way the show is produced today. This is the second in a series of interviews with past Eurovision contestants, which will be published sporadically in the lead-up to mid-May's next contest in Moscow.

Early career

 ((Mike Halterman )) I saw the photos on your website, and I must say, you hardly look older than when you did Eurovision 30 years ago. Has anyone told you that back then, you looked a lot like Marie Osmond?

Anne Marie David: Thank you for the compliment, but I don't recall anyone alluding to a resemblance with Marie Osmond. I would have taken that as a compliment, no?

 ((MH )) When did you first start singing? Who were your musical inspirations while you were growing up?

AMD: I was already singing as a young child; my mother said that when she was pregnant with me, she sang lullabies to me... My [own] musical culture is very large. At home we listened to a lot of opera and operettas, but also French variété or the accordion. But my big revelation was my discovery of Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl. That changed everything for me... I absolutely wanted to approach [the level of] this great artist, the greatest in my opinion, and try to pull myself to the heights of her talent. Not by imitating her, but by succeeding in acquiring this vocal perfection she possesses, and by orienting all my efforts towards the acting that I could present by interpreting my songs whenever the [lyrics] allowed me to.

 ((MH )) You became very well-known in 1972 when you played Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar. How did you get the part? If you had to audition, what were the auditions like, and were you nervous?

AMD: At the time I played in the musical comedy "The Me Nobody Knows," originating from the United States. Unfortunately the promotion for this presentation was not excellent and it remained confidential. My artistic director at the time, Pierre Hebrard, knew that the casting of Jesus Christ Superstar was finished but that the role of Mary Magdalene had not yet been definitively [cast]. He asked the production [company] to audition me. I practiced the beginning of the song for a quarter of an hour with Anthony Bowles, the musical director, then I sang the song. They asked me to learn the entire song for the next morning, and to come back to sing it. I did so... I sang the song the next day and in the end, they said OK, we'll take you... I learned that for this role the production auditioned 600 girls! I was stressed out after the audition... when I realized the challenge. Before I had not been very relaxed [or] comfortable, but I mostly wanted to [sell the song]... The show must go on, no?

 ((MH )) You're from the south of France, and some of the French Wikipedians remarked, "But she doesn't have any accent when she's singing!" Did you have to take vocal classes or was it natural for you to sing without an accent?

AMD: I'm a big fan of accent imitations... accents are also music, and in private I often tell jokes with accents. It's the actress in me... but in fact singing in French for me is singing without an accent; it's a natural thing... I make no particular effort [to remove an accent].

 ((MH )) After your success in the theatre, you were victorious at Eurovision in 1973. Luxembourg usually selected their entrants internally, so how did RTL [Editor's note: The state broadcaster of Luxembourg] become aware of you? How were you approached by them, and did you ever consider not participating in the Contest?

AMD: I had the opportunity to have the director of programs and the director of special programming for RTL [watching me] the night of the premiere of Jesus Christ Superstar. They saw me and were enthused by my performance. When they asked me that night if I would accept to represent Luxembourg in 1973, I only asked if it wasn't a problem [for them because] they'd won with Vicky Léandros that year (1972). They told me no, that for them winning several times in a row was not a problem... so I said yes with pleasure!

Eurovision '73 and initial mainstream success

 ((MH )) When you competed for Luxembourg, one country winning twice in a row was still rare. Was there a lot of pressure for you to win the grand prize for Luxembourg? Did you also feel pressure to succeed from yourself?

AMD: There was no need to win the grand prize except in my head. I felt sure that an opportunity like that one was unique and that I would not have it a second time... I was incorrect... I got it twice! What I mean to say is that Eurovision remains for me a musical contest before all else, although of course a good song is worth nothing without a good [singer]. Thus the need to have both!

I've always had a taste for challenges... Eurovision is one. And among the challenges I like the competition, so when challenge and competition are combined, I think only of victory. I think it would be ridiculous and useless to go to Eurovision without wanting to win! I never participate in a contest, or anywhere for that matter, when it consists of singing with a tourist view of it. I prioritize my work and the result of my work. This has not allowed me to visit many things in all the countries where I have been in competition, but this allowed me to never find myself poorly ranked or last. One must know whether one wants victory or tourism...and I think it's a lack of respect to all those who count on us, and all those who spend a lot [of time] (production, television, etc...) to not take every chance to rank better or not put every chance of winning on our side.

 ((MH )) You ended up in a three-way dead heat between Mocedades from Spain and Cliff Richard from the United Kingdom, who both performed songs some fans also consider worthy of the grand prize. What were your opinions of those songs? If, hypothetically, your song didn't win, do you think either of them were strong enough to be winner material?

AMD: 1973 was a year very rich in quality candidates... the proof: victory came to me with just a very few points ahead. The ranking of that year's other candidates was what I dreaded most. Mocedades was a pure moment of happiness and of a formidable effectiveness; Cliff Richard benefited from an exceptional notoriety and a mastery of the scene that I was far from having; so I needed to play everything I had... but I told you that I'd chosen victory, not tourism!

 ((MH )) During the mid-1970s, you did many tours of Turkey and the Middle East, and won reporters' music awards there. What was the best thing you liked about being in Turkey? What experiences did you have that really stand out in your mind even today?

AMD: I had the immense joy of working a lot of time and also living over there, and for me it was the discovery of an immense culture, well beyond what I could have imagined. It was an encounter with a people, the Turkish people, whom we don't make the effort to know in depth. Most of the time there are too many clichés that are in no way reflections of what these people truly are... I am not talking about the leaders, I'm talking about the citizens of a country. I learned about them, to understand them, to exchange with them, in all their diversity, and God knows that in matters of diversity Turkey knows what it's talking about. I spent rare moments there surrounded by Turks, Armenians, Greeks, and Jews sitting at the same table and speaking the same language, the language of love and friendship... In all the whole world it's the same thing. All is well except when politics or religion intervene.

Eurovision '79

 ((MH )) In 1979, you decided to compete for a spot at the Eurovision final again, this time for France. Why did you want to go back a second time? Considering your past success, were you fairly confident that you would end up being the French representative that year?

AMD: It was a taste for risk that guided me, but a measured risk, because 'Winner of the Grand Eurovision Prize 1973' is a lifetime title that one does not risk losing if one takes another chance. The place [you received] remains [that] place. When I accepted [the opportunity] to try representing France in 1979, I knew that the rules of the game were different than the ones in Luxembourg. Winner [from] 1973 or not, it didn't change [things] much since one needed to pass through a selection process. I played the game like everyone else and it was the public who voted for the 12 semi-finalists. Unfortunately television was on strike, and the finale could not be held as planned. The 12 semi-finalists were therefore viewed by a jury of professionals, and I was retained. But I respected the rule all the way to the end, and above all French television never modified the rule until the final candidate selection. I would have appreciated that France 3 [Editor's note: The current television station broadcasting Eurovision in France] respects the rule of the game the same way this year... and that all the candidates win or lose in loyal fashion, by respecting the rule. This will not be the case and I regret that... [Editor's note: After decades of public voting to select France's finalist, France 3 selected their artist internally this year despite originally calling for finalists.]

 ((MH )) Competing at the Eurovision in 1979, you ended the voting on the wrong end of a close three-way finish, being beaten by the songs from Israel and Spain. Considering your victory helped Luxembourg win twice in a row, were you happy for Israel as they also achieved the same feat?

AMD: Of course! It's once again a rule fixed ahead of time, and which does not prohibit a country from winning several times in a row.

 ((MH )) Many Eurovision fans on sites like YouTube feel the 1979 Contest was one of the strongest years ever for Eurovision. Apart from your own song, were there any songs you remember that you really liked? Also, which song do you feel was a stronger entry, "Je suis l'enfant soleil" or "Tu te reconnaîtras"?

AMD: I have indeed seen how much Internet users appreciate "Je suis l'enfant soleil"... let them be reassured, so do I! That year, in 1979, I particularly liked Milk and Honey and Gali Atari who won, and the German group who sang "Dschinghis Khan", which was a very strong title and sold well. With time, singing my songs from Eurovision continue to give me pleasure. "Je suis l'enfant soleil" tells a very beautiful tale and allows me to play comedy [Editor's note: "Comedy" in the theatrical sense, aiming to denounce the faults and vices of society using humor] a lot. But I adore "Tu te reconnaîtras" for what it has in singing, pulling in, being direct with the audience. In fact, each [song] brings me something different and to the public as well.

1980s: Retirement

 ((MH )) During the 1980s, you competed in some more song festivals, including one in Norway and one in Chile. Anabela, the 1993 entrant from Portugal, felt she was eventually typecast as being "the song festival girl." Did you ever feel restricted in the same way? Were there ever any other facets to your musical repertoire that you would have liked to explore?

AMD: I always assumed the image of a competitor, maybe because I grew up in a place where I was very happy, but where we were not very rich; so I always had to make choices and needed to earn each thing that life gave me. Also, it's great to know that others count on you and think that you can bring them a victory; it's not given to everyone. As for the facets of my personality, for a long time I had to struggle (again!) against a face which refused to age, and which thus prevented me from being credible in certain repertoires.

Today time has passed, I am totally free in my choices, my voice has ripened well, and my silhouette too, my mastery of the scene is much more elaborated and thus I take on all the styles if the song touches or pleases me. And also I take on challenges like the song which I recorded with Jean Renard, [called] "Federico" which is totally "gypsy" and totally unlike my usual image. I am currently preparing a song for my English[-language] dance floor album (yep!) which is being [released] by Energise Records. [Dance music] is totally the opposite of what I do... but that amuses me and also the producers convinced me that I'd be great in it... so I hope not to disappoint them. [Here's a] scoop: it's called "You Came to Me."

 ((MH )) In the late 1980s, you retired from music completely. Was this a difficult decision for you to make? What things did you want out of your life which required you to leave music? Where did you go, and what did you do in retirement?

AMD: Nothing is ever difficult when we accept to assume our choice. Those years were very disco, we were entering terrains I wasn't ready to tread, and I had been spoiled by my artist's life by going ever farther and farther from home. The French media ignored me after my victory for Luxembourg. Everyone wanted a second "Tu te reconnaîtras" and that is impossible.

And so I went where the public awaited me, by changing countries nearly daily, and this tired me. I told myself that my life was not made only of songs and glory, and that I was passionate [about] many other things. I would have had to sacrifice far too many things and people to recover a place in France, like going to live in France, living a life of popularity, etc... I told myself that I had already been spoiled, so I said stop! in 1987 after the [Song] Festival in Chile. I participated in [many] great projects [revolving] around the Lusitanian horses and the fighting bulls which I raised with passion and love, but [my] life [eventually] did not follow those paths... maybe because my life is the stage and life took charge [and reminded] me of that...

Return to music

 ((MH )) You came out of retirement five years ago. How often did you think about returning to music while in retirement? Was music something you felt you couldn't just "let go"?

AMD: When I decide to do something, I do it. When I decide to stop something, I do that too. But that isn't taking into account that there are things which we want to do, and those which life decides for us! In 1987, I vowed never to return to the stage, but as I said, life sometimes serves you dishes that you didn't choose, and in 2003 it's chance that made me return to the stage, and it's my fans whom I never imagined [I had] in such numbers and whom, so many years later, had conserved their love, which made me stay. I owe them a lot and will never forget that.

 ((MH )) Tell us about the CDs you have released since coming out of retirement. Are you experimenting with any new musical styles? I read you had a lot of input into your CD "Federico"; describe the direction you wanted to pursue with that disc.

AMD: It's thanks to the fans from my fan club that I could create a live CD, which I titled "Live à Charleroi" (Live at Charleroi). They sent me money via my fan club to allow me to be at the concert, and they bought my CD in advance even before it existed. [All of this was] just to help me, just to show me how much they wanted to find me [on stage] again [for that moment], in the space of 14 songs with a simple piano.

For "Federico" it's Jean Renard who had the idea. [It was] a task which was totally unlike [anything in] my experience, but he trusted me and I trusted him. I don't regret it. There is a little bit of me in "Federico." I have Iberian origins from my mother, and furthermore this allowed me to write two songs in Spanish. Nothing but happiness!

 ((MH )) What new projects will you be doing in 2009? Are you doing any concerts?

AMD: Yes, I will be in some concerts but this time as an artisan. I will co-produce a large portion of them; I'm preparing an album of twelve new songs for 2010... and after if God wills it I'll celebrate my 40 years in [music] at Olympia if it's possible. I also continue [on] as a coach and the artistic director of the group "Caprice" ([who are] three of my students), who had hoped to represent France at Eurovision 2009, but whom France 3 discarded from the game in a pretty dishonest way (along with all the others, for that matter). They will record other songs this year and I'm sure they'll do great. I like talent and they have it. I already partially explained my point of view on the subject in my response to [an earlier question regarding the representative at Eurovision 2009].

Views about Eurovision today

 ((MH )) In the past ten years or so, public interest in Eurovision has dwindled somewhat in France, a trend that has already been seen in countries like the Netherlands and Germany. Why do you feel that is? Is there anything France, or perhaps France Télévisions, can do to get French people watching the Contest again, especially in a television landscape populated by reality television?

AMD: The only solution would be to stop changing a game rule that has proven itself for years, not [to] mix the genres, [to] return to the fundamentals. Eurovision is a contest of songs, not of stars, or [a] dance floor, or Top Model... If this type of manifestation, which pleases the [current viewing] base had not been derived, all those who loved Eurovision would watch it still.

But the system of votes by SMS developed the youths' votes, against whom I bear no ill but few adults play that game (my grandmother or mother will never vote that way). To put the spotlight favourably on the operators who that night will swipe the wealth [Editor's note: A reference to Pactolus, in which King Midas washed his hands of the golden touch in the river there], they prefer to take from it an evening which was an international family party... And tell yourself that any economic power who wants to make his candidate win can afford the luxury of buying millions of portable cell phones, distribute them with unlimited plans for a night to kids who could not afford them and win! Anyway, when I say "win", [it nowadays] implies not really winning!

As for the jury, it must stay visible. Previously, each country sent its two judges and during the contest were kept apart from everyone... Tricking votes would be seen on the screens the night of the Contest and thus it almost never happened. What a strange idea also to distinguish between countries which are qualified for [the final] and the others! It's a total injustice.

You see [Eurovision today] is not neutral, and don't [anyone] tell me that it's reasoning from a different age... It's just a series of observations... Nobody can contest the fact that certain generations who were the success of Eurovision no longer find their satisfaction in it and are therefore disinterested. Nobody can contest, also, that for decades the great Eurovision [winners] were international hits that everyone still sings today. Who today is capable of singing the titles which win? And what will remain of [the contest] in the future?

 ((MH )) Some viewers were not happy about last year's entrant, Sébastien Tellier. Singing his entry in essentially "franglais," [Editor's note: A mix of words and sentences interchanged between French and English] even a member of Parliament demanded that the next entry be purely in French. How did you feel about Tellier's performance, and do you feel every French entry must be sung in French? Do you feel not singing in English hinders France as an entrant in today's contest?

AMD: Once again, I think we must return to the fundamentals. Turn the problem however you'd like but in the end you will arrive at the same conclusions. Germany won in German, Spain won in Spanish, Holland won in Dutch, Norway won in Norwegian, etc... What else?

I see no reason to abandon everything to English; anyway I will fight that it not be the case with French! I sing in English, I speak English, I love the language of Shakespeare, but if I must represent my country in an international contest, I want to do it in French, and I also want it to be done in French. It's not an issue of chauvinism, it's an issue of respect with regards to all those who paid with their blood so that France is a full nation. It's the same for the national anthem of my country. And I would have the same reasoning whatever my nationality. I was born under the sun of France, it's normal that I love that sun.

 ((MH )) In our first Eurovision interview, we asked the 1982 winner, Nicole, how she felt about the alleged "bloc voting" taking place between the nations of eastern Europe. She replied, "The eastern European countries obviously support each other with the so-called 'bloc voting.' It's now a political affair and no longer a 'song contest.'" Do you feel that way as well? What exactly are your feelings about the results from the past few years, which place countries like France, the United Kingdom and Germany at the bottom nearly every time?

AMD: You already have my analysis of the problem in my responses to [the last two questions]; but Nicole is right, she is defending her country and I find that very respectable. It's what is lacking today: people who have nothing to sell and who say what they think without being part of a political machine. Thank you, Nicole.

 ((MH )) Do you ever see yourself returning to the Eurovision stage as the representative from France or any of the francophone nations?

AMD: I've been asked several times, including in 2009, to represent my country once more at Eurovision. But I've said and I repeat, it's not the place of confirmed artists to take that of young artists who need this springboard to be known by more people. And it is not the fear of losing my title of winner. I acquired it definitively for 1973, and I ranked third in 1979. Never can anything nor anyone change that. I prefer my position as coach, adviser... it's magnificent to rediscover one's twenties through someone who is 20, no? My emotions are unchanged... [I still get] the fear and stage fright as well, so can I ask for anything else [at this point]?

 ((MH )) Will you be a part of the French delegation going to Moscow this year? If no decision has been made yet, would you like to go?

AMD: Too many things separate me from the French selection for 2009, which the essential [grievance] rests on the contempt of respect for the given word, contempt for the respect of the written word, transgressed precisely by those who have a duty and mission to ensure that [such rules] are not [transgressed]. Moreover I think that all the places in the delegation are reserved and distributed in advance based on a procedure that escapes me... I have nothing to add.

 ((MH )) In closing, what would you like to say to all of your fans who have followed your career these past four decades?

AMD: Yes, I would like to simply say thank you and see you very soon to continue our beautiful love story.


This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.