8 November 2015
Junior Eurovision Song Contest, normally you take it or leave it, with it generally consisting of a bunch of whiny kids singing cutesy songs, and everyone gets 12 points to start off with. Of course, there’s the occasional gem that shines through, like Sweden’s Molly Sanden, third in the 2006 edition and now a fully fledged star. Molly stood out primarily because she had her adult voice, enabling her superb self-written ballad to fulfill its potential. That was actually the first year I caught a JESC, after stumbling across it buried away on a Saturday afternoon while channel surfing. That in itself suggests the low profile of the event, that Australia’s ESC broadcaster couldn’t be bothered showing it in a decent time-slot, much less advertise it.
This year will be much different because Australia is participating! Why? Who the hell knows. The cynic could suggest that losing Sweden in a net reduction of countries from last year, leaving just 15 for this year, organisers felt it worthwhile to invite Australia. A quick scan by SBS and Blink TV for a potential candidate and a good song – and voila, we are there. The other countries to leave from last year were Croatia and Cyprus, while Albania and FYR Macedonia are returning countries. [Edit 2015-11-13: Ireland are late entries, bringing the total of countries to 17]
Losing Sweden was integral because it meant the loss of diversity in a competition typically loaded with Eastern European and Balkan nations and barely an English language song to be found. Australia can fill that void, especially now that after senior ESC, Sweden and Australia are known as the Douze Points Twinnies, so it’s an apt replacement. More likely, the organisers, because of the 60th year anniversary invitation to senior ESC, felt it appropriate to extend the invitation further. Then there’s the somewhat remote possibility that moves are afoot for Australia to be a full member of the European Broadcasting Union and therefore be a permanent ESC competitor, so why not go to JESC now?
Bella Paige will represent Australia with “My Girls”. She came second in “The Voice Kids” two years ago. I watched the first few episodes of that, becoming bored quickly because all the boys sounded like girls and all the girls sounded like squirrels. There was one notable exception that caught my ear, a girl with a mature voice, and good range and possessing great control. Most likely that was Bella.
The first thing that hits you with Bella’s song is the deep town in her voice. Actually, that’s the second thing that hits you. The first is the “Running Scared” (Azerbaijan winner of ESC 2011) styled “oh oh-oh oh”. The third thing that hits you is that this song is so damn catchy! You can blame Delta Goodrem for that. She’s a singer songwriter noted for her run of devastatingly successful albums and equally for her run of devastatingly poor choices in boyfriends. She co-wrote My Girls with Mitch Allan and Vince Pizzinga.
Delta was my initial choice to be Australia’s representative in Vienna, and might just have performed the amazing Wings (check it on youtube). She’s also very attractive, which sadly exposes Australia’s national sport of the “tall poppy syndrome” of tearing down ultra successful people out of jealousy and spite. To Delta’s credit, she’s fought back, and is now beginning to be more accepted, especially after 4 seasons as a coach on The Voice. That exposure has shown the talent that this woman possesses is real, that she’s real, and that she’s such an empathetic and generous person.
To the surprise of Bella herself (when it was revealed to her on a morning chat show), My Girls was initially written for Anja Nissen – the winner of The Voice 2014. At the last minute, her coach, Will.I.Am, scrapped the release of the song, preferring Anja to do something with him. If I recall, there was some horrendous R&B, hip-hop, whatever, duet released, and Anja’s career disappeared quicker than you can type William’s name without those ridiculous dots. No one’s heard from William either, with his stint on The Voice lasting just the one season.
It must have been destiny that Bella would end up with My Girls because she and Anja share that very cute gap between their front teeth. With JESC artists required to have some input into the songwriting, no doubt Bella (along with Delta) fiddled with the lyrics to reflect a theme and style relevant to a 14 year girl. It’s a very empowering song, basically that we are all beautiful and can be successful, so always keep believing. Go girl.
The Fab Five
The immediate observation this year is so many songs are 3 minutes in their preview videos compared to the maximum two and a half minutes required on stage. Australia is one that will need to cut their song, or is the maximum now 3 minutes? The risk of longer songs is that those that are more simplistic and repetitive will overstay their welcome.
Just like senior ESC, JESC likes to copy attributes of the previous year’s winner. So this year, prepare yourself for more boys. There’s a 450% increase over last year’s single entrant. The 50% is that Bulgaria is a duet.
Five Stars (Excellent)
1) Australia – Bella Paige – My Girls
Australia is clearly the best entry this year and the only 5-star song. It’s not even a contest. My Girls has all the traits of a great Eurovision song, with an instant hook, appropriate key changes and a good build of momentum. Bella sounds great, especially that lower tone and her exquisite vibrato. Strangely, other than tweeting the news a month late, there’s been little word from Delta Goodrem about this collaboration. It’s impossible not to feel the Delta DNA in it, especially the bridge, where Bella even sounds like Delta, so maybe this silence is a strategy to ensure Bella retains the primary attention.
The obvious question: is Bella Paige really Julia Zemiro’s daughter? Despite the physical similarity, no. Second question: what is the hosting situation if Australia win? Nothing. It’s not even a question. Unlike ESC, JESC hosting is rotated around Europe. Bulgaria is hosting this year despite Italy winning last year.
Four Stars (Very Good)
2) Bulgaria – Gabriela Yordanova & Ivan Stoyanov – Colour of Hope
Clearly the second best this year, and hopefully a triumph for Bulgaria after their excellent song was beaten last year. I didn’t even know there was a boy in this until reading the list of songs to count the boys compared to last year. Both Gabriela and Ivan have great voices and while this ballad is a bit cliche, it’s oh so good, and it resonates even better by staying in Bulgarian. The last thing a cliched ballad needs is another cliche like corny English lyrics.
3) Italy – Chiara and Martina – Viva
This is another catchy song, and again made all the more better by sticking with the local language, this time beautiful Italian. The 15 year old twin sisters sound great too, so let’s hope they can bring their energy and chemistry and that dangerous long hair from the video to the stage without taking out someone’s eye swishing it about. Viva!
4) FYR Macedonnia – Ivana Petkovska and Magdalena Aleksovska – Pletenka
A really nice bouncy song with a funky electronic sound, and with surprisingly pleasant voices at just 13 years of age. I can’t see it doing that well, which is fine by me! It wouldn’t be a Eurovision if my favourites didn’t tank.
5) Montenegro – Jana Mirkovic – Oluja
Another bouncy one, with a hint of ethnic Balkan and even ABBA. At 15, Jana is one of the older singers, so should be reasonably accomplished live and has a decent voice. Geez, Montenegro, stop seducing us with so many great images of your country. It started with senior ESC last year and it continues here.
Four Stars (Very Good)
Russia – Mikhail Smirnov – Mechta (Dream)
One that’s trying to copy last year’s winner. It’s actually much better, the kid can sing, and the girls will love him. Being a bit too long and a bit too soppy kept it out of the Fab Five.
Three Stars (Good)
Albania – Mishela Rapo – Dambaje
The sweetest voice in the competition and an interesting African rhythm. It gets a bit too repetitive and maybe even too pretentious.
Malta – Destiny Chukunyere – Not My Soul
Probably the most natural singer, and a nice, soulful voice. The song gets repetitive and I really hate head wobbles. Also, why always these positive, optimistic names like Destiny? I’d pay someone to name their kid Uncertainty.
Netherlands – Shalisa – Million Lights
A really nice voice let down by a meandering song. It’ll probably present better on stage and I would not be surprised to see this do well
San Marino – Kamilla Ismailova – Mirror
Very pleasant. A bit more substance to the song and it rates higher.
Serbia – Lena Stamenkovic – Lenina pesma
A cute song and singer. This time probably the under-developed voice is holding this back.
Slovenia – Lina Kuduzovic – Prva ljubezen / First Love
This would be four stars and in the Fab Five if the voice was not so whiny. Maraaya, Slovenia’s representatives at senior ESC this year, co-wrote the song, and it shows. It’s great. It’s a pity I start getting headaches before it finishes. Let’s hope Lina live will be much less torturous on my ears.
Ukraine – Anna Trincher – Pochny z sebe
This time a nice voice let down by a weaker song.
Two Stars (OK)
Armenia – Mika – Love
It’s different, and should get the arena bouncing. It’s just not my type of song.
Georgia – The Virus – Gabede
Will need to rely on a good stage performance. It’ll be a fun one for the kids.
Ireland – Aimee Banks – Réalta na Mara (Star of the Sea)
Ireland were late to JESC and therefore to this preview. With Australia, they are also making their JESC debut. Is that more evidence the organisers were desperate for more numbers and diversity? If so, it worked out better than expected, because we get to hear Gaelic on the JESC stage. We’ll also hear an accomplished operatic voice, if that turns you on. It doesn’t for me. This one aggravates, particularly the really high pitched sections. The song is pleasant enough.
One Star (Poor)
Belarus – Ruslan Aslanov – Volshebstvo (Magic)
Pretentious drivel. I really can’t stand this. It’s a direct rip-off of last year’s winner, and I hated that song as well. Hey, I’m consistent! It actually should do quite well because it is a big power ballad, is sung well, and is no memorable when hearing it as a 15 second snippet in a compilation. Perfect for that re-cap after all the performances.
Knowing that it’s mostly young girls watching Junior Eurovision, and the ex-USSR voting bloc will be strong, Russia’s the most likely. Bulgaria and Slovenia are next, then Australia. San Marino, Ireland, Serbia, Netherlands and Belarus wouldn’t surprise. I’d love to see Bulgaria win. If you look at total views on youtube, the top 3 will be Serbia (331k), Slovenia (191k) and Armenia (152k). Australia next on 103k views. Russia lags on just 36k views. Like senior ESC, much of the outcome will rely on the performance. Go kids. Sing your little hearts out.
Junior Eurovision 2015 will be broadcast live in Australia by SBS on Sunday 2015-11-22 at 0430 AET. A repeat will be six days later on Saturday 2015-11-28 at 1930. Visit the official website junioreurovision.tv for a web stream (under Videos) and profiles of all entries.