You may have heard the saying ‘A song is only as good as its singer’. Then again, you may not have, because I just made it up. If it were true, though, then the following ten songs would be the ten best in Junior Eurovision history, given that the 10-15 year-olds who performed them are so vocally talented I want to cry (but won’t *sniff*).
Yep, Eurovision’s younger, more effervescent sibling has seen its fair share of top-notch singing talents between 2003 and 2014 (as well as some kids who shouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near a microphone…but that’s a topic for another post). Those of you who aren’t JESC fans might not be convinced of that, but can I give you some advice? At the very least, keep an eye and ear out for these ten tiny(ish) talents: five + five of the most jaw-dropping vocalists to have competed in JESC to date. If you are on Team JESC, then I hope you’ll agree with me re: their amazing-ness.
#10 | Mariam Kakhelishvili, Georgia 2010
If you don’t like Lady Gaga, you probably won’t like the so-called Baby Gaga either. But since this whole list will be a drag for some of you, what’s one more thing to give the thumbs-down to? Mariam represented Georgia at JESC having previously placed third in Georgia’s Got Talent. She’d definitely fulfilled the brief of that show, so it didn’t come as a shock when Junior Eurovision no. 8 saw her blow the roof off the Minsk Arena with the sheer volume of her voice. I totally get that listening to a precocious tween shout in an imaginary language for three straight minutes is not everyone’s cup of tea (even I can’t watch back her rendition of Mari-Dari if I’m feeling remotely headache-y) but I do think Mariam’s yells were remarkably in-tune. She sang like she was in musical battle – which was more or less the case – and it was not a battle she was willing to lose. Of course, she didn’t win in the end…but fourth place is nothing to do any off-stage screaming about.
#9 | Mimmi Sandén, Sweden 2009
Mimmi’s sister Molly will be a more familiar face to non-fans of Junior Eurovision (what with two Melodifestivalen participations on her résumé, and fellow seasoned Melfester Danny Saucedo as her arm candy) but her own JESC performance in 2006 was far from flawless, vocally – and third Sandén sister Frida’s turn in 2007 was only just above average (which is woeful by Swedish standards). Youngest of the three Mimmi, however, compensated for her sisters’ sub-standard moments, putting in a stellar vocal performance of her electro-pop ballad Du in Kyiv. The song – one of my all-time Junior favourites – sounds like a tough one to tackle, but Mimmi did it with ease, effortlessly belting out the baby notes and the big ones. So talented back then at age thirteen, you can imagine how off-the-charts awesome she is in 2015.
#8 | Krisia Todorova, Bulgaria 2014
Teeny-tiny and absolutely adorable, Krisia is currently the darling of JESC – despite herself, Hasan and Ibrahim narrowly losing out to Vincenzo Cantiello (who may just feature later on in the countdown) in Malta last year. She’ll be performing the theme song of this year’s show. #discover, on home soil in three weeks’ time, and if she pulls off that performance anything like she pulled off Planet of the Children’s last year, those of us tuning in will be in for a treat. The power of the voice that came out of this girl was immense, and the fact that you practically needed a microscope to spot her on the stage gives that massive voice even more of a wow factor.
#7 | Noni Răzvan Ene, Romania 2004
The girls have dominated so far in this countdown – possibly because they aren’t prone to on-stage puberty-related problems (i.e. voice breakages). Romania’s Noni, fortunately, made the journey to JESC prior to his vocal chords taking a trip of their own to the Deep South. ‘Angelic’ is the word I’d use to describe his vocal performance of the powerful Îţi Mulţumesc. He looked as if he might burst a blood vessel before his final note, but his ability to channel that much emotion and effort into his song despite being so young was impressive. And, he trademarked tearing up post-performance at a Eurovision event well before Polina Gagarina (though his moist eyes may have just been due to relief that he DIDN’T explode into smithereens on live TV). It’s no wonder that he’s gone on to be pretty darn successful in his home country, releasing a string of singles and dabbling in television hosting and acting.
#6 | Sofia Tarasova, Ukraine 2013
Now, make way for the Ukrainian child version of Christina Aguilera! Sofia represented Ukraine when they hosted JESC for the second time, and she very nearly scored them a second consecutive win with We Are One. It was a cutting-edge, contemporary number that needed to be vocally nailed if it was going to have an impact, and Sofia did not disappoint. Being the home girl, she’d have received rapturous applause even if she’d trotted on stage and burped the alphabet, but her huge reception was well deserved. She’s a prime example of a small person who can fill a giant arena with their voice alone – no backup dancers or gimmicks (save for a laser light show, naturally…this IS a Eurovision event we’re talking about) required.
#5 | Gaia Cauchi, Malta 2013
Confession time: Gaia’s The Start was my least favourite competing entry of 2013. That may not be much of a confession if you read my scathing review of it back then, but I just thought I’d throw it out there. I wasn’t even in the mood for admiring her vocal prowess in those days, what with that nasal quality to her voice that Ann Sophie couldn’t even compare to. However, I have changed my tune (HA HA) on both song and singer, and I can no longer deny that Gaia is an amazing vocalist, with a seemingly unending supply of oxygen that she can use for show-stopping notes. The Start was full of them, and that impressed both the televoters and juries enough to claim Malta their first win in any competition featuring the letters E, S and C. A year later, Gaia proved her power hadn’t diminished as she returned to JESC as an interval act. You can pretty much expect her to enter Eurovision the second she’s sixteen.
#4 | Federica Falzon, Malta 2014
It’s always surprising when a voice like Céline Dion’s comes out of someone young enough to be Céline Dion’s grandchild – but when the pipes of an ageing opera diva have apparently inhabited that someone, ‘surprising’ no longer covers the feels one experiences. Federica represented the host country last year at the ripe old age of eleven, and her voice has to be heard – and seen – to be believed. Actually, it’s the only one on this list that can be seen, heard, and still not believed because it’s so incongruous with her appearance. If you’re yet to listen to what she has to offer, I recommend you do so right now…just be ready to pick your jaw up off the floor about twenty seconds in.
#3 | Sophia Patsalides, Cyprus 2014
JESC’s last few years have produced some ridiculously talented singers – of the seven I’ve mentioned so far, only three took part prior to 2013. Here’s another voice from the most recent contest (until November 21st has been and gone) who will knock your socks off, if she hasn’t already. Sophia, like Sofia (that’s not confusing at all) appeared all by herself on stage, but managed to get the crowd going while delivering a faultless vocal that would have floored any backing dancers she might have had. Her entry I Pio Omorfi Mera started and ended softly, but packed a punch in between, featuring a key change that seasoned singers thrice her age would have struggled to execute. That turned out to be the goosebump, this-could-win moment for Cyprus. Spoiler alert for the unaware: Cyprus got ripped off big time, finishing 9th…but that key change was still a win-worthy one as far as I’m concerned.
#2 | Ana Khanchalyan, Georgia 2011
If Sofia Tarasova is Ukraine’s answer to Aguilera, then Ana Khanchalyan is undoubtedly Georgia’s. And if you didn’t know her by name, you’d know her by voice once you’d watched her group Candy’s winning performance at JESC 2011. The fivesome blended well together, and all of their solo parts were strong. But Ana was unquestionably the standout, and Georgia used that knowledge to serious advantage when wrapping up the Candy package. Most aspects of this entry really put the ‘Junior’ into Junior Eurovision – Candy Music’s lyrics and sound, the girls’ costumes, etc – so the maturity of Ana’s vocals allowed Georgia to strike a memorable balance between childlike and competent-beyond-their-years. Three years after she took (one fifth of) the JESC trophy home, Ana successfully auditioned for a place on The Voice of Armenia, and went on to win the whole thing. Don’t be shocked if she ends up repping Georgia or Armenia at Eurovision sometime soon.
#1 | Vincenzo Cantiello, Italy 2014
He was number one in Malta last November, and now he’s numero uno again – on this insignificant list that he’ll never know exists and wouldn’t care about if he did! Woohoo! Vincenzo, our reigning Junior Eurovision champ, stood out as the only male main artist to participate last year (my apologies to Bulgaria’s Hasan & Ibrahim, but Krisia was the main attraction there). This kid also shops in the ‘Unbelievable’ section of the singing department, and that obviously struck a chord (pun intended) with the juries in particular, who placed Italy on top of their leaderboard. Vincenzo’s vocals are the kind that send a shiver down the spine of anyone who isn’t a heartless, soulless shell of a human being (in my opinion). Mark my words: he’s going to go far. Further than Sofia, where he’ll be announcing Italy’s JESC 2015 votes – and, hopefully, performing a reprise of Tu Il Primo Grande Amore, a song Il Volo would be proud to have in their back catalogue.
That’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to listing European kids who can sing better than I can even when I’m in the shower (which is really saying something, because I sound freaking awesome with those acoustics) but these ten are my personal favourites.
Let me know below which JESC participants have warbled their way into your heart over the years – or, if you normally recoil at the mere mention of Junior, what you thought of those who made my countdown, if you managed to sit through any of their three minutes (Halloween weekend has just gone, so I thought you wouldn’t mind doing something scary).
Until next time,
PS – Speaking of which…
NEXT TIME JESC avoiders beware! With the Sofia show less than three weeks away, it’s time for me to kick off my Junior Eurovision 2015 reviews – but I’m not doing it alone. I’ve put together an expert EBJJJ (Eurovision By Jaz Junior Jury) and they’re ready to compliment, criticise and score all seventeen songs competing in Bulgaria. And don’t worry: just because there’s children involved doesn’t mean we’re going to hold back (although I do draw the line at swearing…it’s not f%*#ing appropriate)!