María Ólafsdóttir is representing Iceland at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest with her song “Unbroken.” The 22-year-old from a small town in North Iceland was relatively unknown to the nation when she swept them away in the preliminary song contest in Iceland earlier this year. We managed to catch her for a quick chat shortly after she arrived in Vienna, where she is busy preparing for the big night.
Hi, María. What’s the atmosphere like over there in Vienna?
It’s great. The group landed yesterday and everyone is really excited. We’re about to leave for our first rehearsal.
A lot of Icelanders saw you for the first time this winter when you competed to represent Iceland in the Eurovision Song Contest. Can you tell me a bit about yourself and how you got to where you are today?
Well, I come from Blönduós and currently live in Mosfellsbær. I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember and I’ve done theatre work, both in Þjóðleikhúsið and Borgarleikhúsið. I met the guys at StopWaitGo Productions in college at Verzló and we worked together on school plays. After that they got me to sing demos—they wrote the songs and I sang them in English so they could market them overseas. Then this winter they asked me if I wanted to compete in Eurovision and I just said… yes.
You seem to have a lot of support in Iceland. I’ve heard nothing but praise, both for you and the song, but especially for you as a singer. Is this something you’re sensing as well?
Yeah, I’m feeling a lot of support from people, which I’m very grateful for.
So what’s the song actually about?
The song is about going from a dark place and into the light. You know, just about getting through hard times and staying strong because you have to believe in yourself.
It has very strong and empowering lyrics. Is that why you translated the song from the Icelandic (originally: “Lítil skref”) into English?
Yeah, well, we really just wanted everyone to understand what we were singing about and were hoping that the song could help more than just those who know Icelandic. We’ve received a lot of positive responses from people all over the world—from people who say that the song has helped them. One guy even told us that he came out of the closet after listening to the song because it gave him the strength to tell his parents.
SIZING UP THE COMPETITION
Wow, that’s amazing. It’s great that the song is already getting attention and helping people. In the actual competition, your position in the semifinals is after Azerbaijan and before Sweden. Both of these countries are very strong contenders. Do you think your position in the lineup is a good or a bad thing?
I’m not worried about our position in the lineup or anything like that. I have a lot of faith in Sweden this year and at first I was a bit intimidated by being the act before them but, honestly, I don’t think it matters where in the lineup I am.
Is the Swedish song your favourite this year?
My favourite was Sweden until I saw the Australian entry being performed when I went to Russia and it became my new favourite.
Do you feel like Australia is your biggest competition this year?
I have a feeling that he’s going to win, you know, because he’s got the best song. It’s fun and has a great vibe and there’s a lot of excitement around it because Australia is competing for the first time.
What’s your opinion on Australia competing?
I think it’s fun. It’s great that they’re joining us and that more countries are being added to the mix.
So do you think this should maybe become a more global competition?
Hmm… well, I don’t know. I guess there’s a certain charm to it being a European thing, but it’s nice to get new participants.
You said that you think Australia is going to win. Don’t you think you might have a chance as well?
I haven’t really thought that far. It hasn’t even crossed my mind, as Iceland has never won. I’m just going to do my best. My first goal is to get through the semifinals and after that I’ll set a new goal.
THE EUROVISION ELITE
You’ve become a part of Iceland’s Eurovision elite now because, as you know, Iceland never forgets those who participate in Eurovision. You will forever be famous in Iceland after this. What are your feelings about that?
It’s naturally really strange to go from being completely unknown to becoming well-known overnight. But I feel like… this is what I want to be doing in the future so Eurovision is a really good platform for me. I actually feel quite lucky that this is happening.
You just released an EP. Are you planning on writing and releasing more material?
I want to release an album as soon as possible but we’re going to finish this assignment first and then we’ll discuss what happens next. After this, I’m going to continue playing the lead role of Ronja Ræningjadóttir at Þjóðleikhúsið. It starts showing again first weekend of June.
Ok, so you have PLENTY to do. But back to Eurovision—is there someone you look up to from past competitions?
Both Selma Björnsdóttir [Iceland’s representative in 1999 and 2005] and Birgitta Haukdal [Iceland’s representative in 2003] were my idols, not just in Eurovision, but as Icelandic singers, so I look up to them a lot. Loreen’s act [“Euphoria”], which won the competition in 2012 [for Sweden], has really stuck with me as well.
You’ve met some of these past competitors. Have they given you any advice or support?
Yeah, a lot. Selma and Hera Björk [Iceland’s representative in 2010] are with me here. I’ve also spoken with Birgitta and Eyþór Ingi . Everyone’s been really helpful.
What advice have they given you?
Just to enjoy the moment and not to lose myself in the stress because this might never happen again. They’ve told me to focus on the cameras because this is first and foremost a TV show. That’s what matters.
You mentioned Birgitta and Selma being your idols. Have you always been a Eurovision fan?
Yeah. The first competition I remember was the one with Selma in 1999 when I was six. My mother and I usually watch it together, or with the whole family actually. We’re all really excited for it.
BUT WHAT ON EARTH IS EUROVISION?
Some of our North American readers have probably never heard of Eurovision. How would you describe it to somebody who has never heard of it?
Oh wow… I guess it’s European nations coming together and competing for the best song and performance. The performers try to be good representatives of their nations, but it’s really a huge festival of unification—nations unite to support their country and the participating countries also unite in a friendly way.
Do you have any advice for people who have never seen the competition before? How can people get the most out of the evening?
To watch it with an open mind—this is naturally first and foremost a show.
In case you haven’t already heard, María didn’t advance through the semi-finals. Read the full news story below.
“Did I Advance? No, Unfortunately Not”
Despite her best efforts, Iceland’s Eurovision contestant María Ólafsdóttir did not advance through yesterday’s semi-finals with her song “Unbroken.” T