3 December 2018
A catchy song, a cool image, interesting choreography, and an innovative use of effects and lighting were the winning combination for Poland’s Roksana Wegiel at the 2018 Junior Song Contest in Minsk, Belarus. Performing last of the 20 songs, Roksana, or Roxie to her friends and new fans, lit up the stage with Anyone I Want To Be. She overcame a 69 point deficit to Australia after the jury vote to leapfrog France into the lead with the final score of the night. France’s Angelina with Jamias Sans Toi had only just hit the lead with the previous public score to ultimately finish 12 points behind in second place.
Even though we are now so often told that everything can change with the public vote, few people expected the big finale that materialised. With two scores left to reveal, either France or Poland would have been deserved winners after what can only be described as a bizarre jury vote. Malta and Australia fought for the lead all night, and it was a mystery what anyone saw in them. Georgia was worthwhile in third as was Kazakhstan in third on the public vote. Ukraine took a worthy fourth place on both systems. Other than Ukraine appearing first and Kazakhstan third in the running order, all other top performers had late draws with Australia 12th, Georgia 13th, France 15th, Malta 19th and Poland 20th (last).
As strong as the vocals were for both Malta (score 4/10) and Australia (5), Malta gave me the runs with those annoying vocal runs while Australia was always a lame song. In the normal singing part of the song, the vocals were a bit weak anyway. Both strike me as reality TV contestants trying to stand out with vocal gymnastics whereas I prefer to simply have a nice song sung really well, which arguably is harder and more impressive to do. Belarus (2) was dreadful, being repetitive dross in a style of music I detest. The stage lighting was the only thing of interest. Netherlands (5) lost impact by the final, so finishing 13th wasn’t a surprise. Azerbaijan (5) was never a favourite, mostly due to the underdeveloped voice, although the song was pleasant and a reminder of a Debbie Gibson song. Wales (5) marginally improved from its sleep-inducing vibe to merely be mostly boring. Only the start with the nice rhythm was good, and the dancing was ok.
Albania (6) was much better live, and it was nice to hear that 10 year-old Efi wrote it herself. Apologies for the harsh words in the preview! Although, it was more the video that gave the impression of trying too hard. Just keep it simple. Israel (6) restored some of the goodness I originally felt with it while Ukraine (6) had a great second half. It sounded a bit flat early. Armenia (6) was entertaining and LEVON was flawless spelling out his name, while Rita from Portugal (6) dazzled more for her being a classical brunette beauty. Her song, while it had a catchy energetic feel, lacked impact and the vocals were a bit breathless.
Big improvers were Serbia (7) and Georgia (7). Bojana from Serbia singing directly to the camera made her song all the more engaging, and dressed as a princess among a castle setting provided that extra sense of a fairytale. A shame she finished second last. In contrast, Georgia had always a good, modern sound and beat, and Tamar really lifted the song on stage for a respectable 8th place. Taylor (7) from Ireland brought a colourful rendition of IOU, and deserved higher than 15th. My mother asked “How old is she?”. I said she’s a he, so I wasn’t the only one confused. He’s 14 anyway, and seemed so in the voice. Him and Rita from Portugal really highlight the difference in maturity a few years make. Kazakhstan (7) might be disappointed with 6th after so much effort. It took me 10 listens to really like the song so that early perception of it being too messy probably held true at JESC. Even the graphical presentation was busy, with the Kazak blue and yellow lighting at the end the only bit helping the song. Daneliya is a definite talent so we might see her on the senior stage one day if Kazakhstan are ever allowed to enter.
My Top Five
5) Poland – Roksana Wegiel – Anyone I Want To Be (8)
The presentation really didn’t do much for me, and I was thinking something more edgy like Russia would have done better. Consequently I originally had it outside my top 5 in place of Kazakhstan. Repeat viewings changed my mind, along with the fact it was the first song that appealed to me. It still does, and Roksana is a superb performer with a powerful voice. Coincidentally a documentary on the 2000s I watched over the weekend showed Avril Lavigne, and first thought that was she’s Canada’s Roksana Wegiel! They really do share so much similarities. I wonder of Roxie realises it?
4) Italy – Melissa & Marco – What Is Love (8)
Melissa is so adorable! She reminds me of a cartoon character. So young too at 10 years old, while Marco is 14. This always had an epic feel to it so it was only a matter of producing live. The children did well enough and it was a good idea to use similar castle imagery we had just seen in the previous song by Serbia.
3) FYR Macedonia – Marija Spasovska – Doma (8)
Easily the best voice in the competition, and the best vocals. They were so natural and effortless. Unfortunately the song didn’t quite have enough oomph or moments to gain a good place, and dropped from first in my preview to third after JESC. Still, I could listen to Marija all day, and she definitely deserved better than 12th. Hopefully she has a great career ahead of her and we see (and hear) her again.
2) France – Angelina – Jamais Sans Toi (8)
These are the songs I believe are the classic JESC songs we should see. Cute kids with cute songs with cute and cheerful vibe, with cute messaging and an ultra cute presentation. The way the song climbed into the chorus was superb, and then Angelina and her two dancers capitalised with their groovy dance moves. Classic stuff.
1) Russia – Anna Filipchuk – Unbreakable (9)
Number one simply because I love the song so much! It’s my kind of music, with a dramatic rock vibe to it and plenty of key changes. I loved the fact Anna presented it with a band too. It really captured the song and even reminded me a bit of Polina Gagarina with A Million Voices at ESC 2015. While Anna couldn’t do a Polina to finsih off with a big vocal finale (few could), she used a million faces on the big screens to reinforce the song’s message. Sterling stuff!
The only change from my top 5 before JESC was Italy at 4 for Poland, Poland drops to 5, and Ireland is out. Top 3 were FYR Macedonia, Russia and France, and the change in order merely represents the greater impact at JESC. Also affecting the change was the use of English. Notably Russia and Poland used it extensively in their preview videos whereas come the live performance, it was mostly their home language. That certainly helped Russia because the abrupt change to English for the entire second half stopped it from being top in the preview.
Online voting was used again for the public vote, which included pre-voting based on 10 second rehearsal snippets (I blocked the screen to avoid spoilers and voted based on preview videos), and then a 15 minute window during the live show. Again, like last year, the live online voting failed to load for me and countless others, so it’s difficult to see it ever become a feature of Eurovision. On the positive, the system of voting for 3 to 5 songs is a good one as it reduces the extent of bloc voting. In ESC you get 20 votes to send anywhere, whereas JESC you can only vote once for a song and are forced to vote for at least two other songs. That’s not to say it reduces bloc voting entirely, it only minimises it. If youtube views on the preview videos was any indication, Poland was always a strong chance of winning. They had 2 million views just before the contest – at least 3 times more than the next best of Kazakhstan on 600k views, and 10 to 20 times more than most others. Even Russia was well under 200k.
It was a really good Junior Eurovision, with plenty of interesting, diverse and quality songs, and plenty of children simply being children. That’s reflected in the average score of 6.2, which is at the higher end for any Eurovision show. Most importantly we got a great new winner that broke the recent stranglehold of divas winning the contest, and not to mention Poland gaining their first ever Eurovision Song Contest win. Of course, in Roksana Wegiel, an exceptional talent who looks to have a bright career ahead of her. I’ll say it again: if Roxie can be anyone she wants to be, she only needs to stay being herself. Dare I said she’s a bit of a “miodzio” too?