POLAND = THE HOSTS WITH THE MOST (POINTS!) | Reviewing Junior Eurovision 2019 and Viki’s big victory

Photo: Thomas Hanses (EBU)

Just like that, the maximum amount of joy has been shared and Junior Eurovision is over for another year. In news that shouldn’t surprise anyone – both because it happened days ago, and because of reasons I’ll get into in a minute – Poland did the double, winning for the second year running. They haven’t qualified to a Eurovision final since 2017, but they can win JESC whenever they feel like it, apparently. Go figure.

Viki Gabor took out the trophy (which was not kite-shaped, sadly) with her song Superhero and her suited dancers/ signers by her side. How much her win had to do with the undeniably dodgy voting system is up for debate. But however it happened, I do think we got a great winner out of the show. Superhero is a banger already fulfilling its hit potential, and it was a pre-contest favourite after all. For me, it deserved the win just as much as the other favourites would have. It was well-staged, and performed from a favourable (random) running order position; it had the crazy-excited crowd adding atmosphere to Viki’s time on stage; and it was definitely voted for by plenty of non-Polish fans.

We’ll never know for sure, but I believe Viki still would have won if countries couldn’t vote for themselves, just by a smaller margin. The fact that she finished 2nd in the jury voting (not even Roxie managed that in Minsk) is proof of her appeal and worthy winner status without Polish support giving her a helping hand. Disagree? Fine, but remember that JESC is a children’s contest, and what went down went down according to EBU rules and regs – so let’s not spend any time insulting faultless kids, okay?

I do want to echo everyone who’s said that the voting system needs a revamp to make things fairer. There’s no question about that. If it doesn’t get one and Poland wins in 2020 with a song that can’t really be considered a contender…watch out, EBU.

Anyway, let’s lighten things up and talk about the less controversial show itself.

The show

As hosts, Poland went all out and presented us with one of the most amazing JESC stages of all time. It could easily double as a Eurovision stage, and the Gliwice Arena could double as an ESC venue since it’s about ten times bigger than the Expo Tel Aviv (then again, so is my bedroom). Based on the stage and venue alone, a Polish Eurovision would be epic. Let’s hope they bring some of their Junior success to the adult contest soon so we can see it happen.

As far as the hosts went, I can’t say I was that impressed. Roksana is a little superstar (14-year-old MTV EMA winner coming through) but in general, all three MCs gave off awkward, painfully-scripted vibes. It takes serious talent to sound like you aren’t reading off a teleprompter when you are, but it can be done – it just wasn’t on this occasion. Still, as someone who can barely string a sentence together in a language that isn’t English (unless it’s a lyric from a Eurovision song) I shouldn’t be so judgmental. It won’t stop me though.

The postcards, while pretty similar to last year’s, weren’t as good. Not terrible, but not terribly interesting either. Gliwice did look gorgeous and I now want to go there ASAP – but I actually thought the artists looked like they were being forced to excitedly look into that telescope and wave at the camera. Maybe their acting skills just aren’t as strong their singing skills. Speaking of which, providing the evening’s (I KNOW IT WAS THE AFTERNOON) entertainment and scoring points had nothing to do with the postcards…so let’s take a look back at the 19 performances, all of which I enjoyed much more than any other aspect of the show, as you do.

The performances

Australia It’s tough enough being the first one on stage – but try doing it when you’re a 14-year-old boy whose voice decided to break just hours earlier, and you’re trying to sing using half of your old voice and half of your new one. The fact that Jordan made it through his three minutes without pulling an Isaiah is a miracle. It makes me even more proud of him than I would have been if puberty had backed off for just ONE MORE DAY DAMN IT and his vocals had been as effortless as usual. I still think We Will Rise started the show off well, and it was nice for us Aussies to mix up our staging for once with the addition of the piano and the dancers.

France I still curse whoever decided to stick Carla in the second performance slot, but I suspect France’s fate would have been the same no matter where she was positioned. I can’t put my finger on what was missing here…obviously not choreography, energy, colour, glitter, balloons or umbrellas (only France could throw that much at a performance and make it feel chic). But it definitely didn’t feel like winner material once all the bim bams were said and done.

Russia Tatyana and Denberel’s performance was pretty simple by Russian standards – maybe there wasn’t any cash left to splash on it in the wake of Scream. It was enough just to have the pair of them participating, after Denberel’s hospitalisation during rehearsals. Even so, I wanted more from the staging and more people filling what felt like a very empty space. I liked the shiny boiler suits (Ghostbusters glam) and vocals from both were solid. I think Tatyana might be a tiny angel walking around amongst us mere mortals, to be honest. Can I adopt her?

North Macedonia Not only did North Macedonia bring us great staging for the second time since their name change, they also a) made Mila’s knee brace look like a legit part of her costume, and b) created an instantly iconic meme when she struggled to get her mic back in its stand. This girl is gold. Hers wasn’t one of my favourite performances of the contest, but the graphics and her growly vocals were A+. Let’s hope North Macedonia keep heading in this direction.

Spain I don’t think I took a breath the entire time Melani was on stage. If you read my reviews you’ll know Marte was my favourite song, so I was as invested in it as your average psychotic Spanish Eurofan. Luckily, she made it worthwhile. That last note in particular had more wow factor than most of Spain’s recent ESC entries combined. And the oceanic/plastic visuals were perfect, telling the story of the song to those of us who don’t speak Spanish. This would have been a worthy winner for sure.

Georgia Was this not the cutest thing ever? Even if you aren’t a fan of We Need Love, your heart must have been warmed by Giorgi, his yellow jacket and his bounty of balloons. As we’ve come to expect from Georgia, his vocals were impeccable. While I do feel more could have been done staging-wise to add interest, I still enjoyed this.

Belarus Here’s a country that knows how to stage their entries 10/10, whether that translates to top-of-the-scoreboard type results or not. Pepelny was no exception. Great costumes, choreography, colour scheme and cartoons. I think the only thing dragging this down was the awkward English lyrics, which I wish Belarus had binned in favour of having Liza sing totally in Belarusian.

Malta We Are More was never one of this contest’s most exciting entries for me, and I found Eliana’s performance to be just as lacklustre. I don’t mean she was flat, but the energy level was low thanks to uninventive staging. Her costume didn’t seem to match either. There was no way this was going to hit the same high notes (so to speak) that Ela did last year, and if I had to sum it up in one word, I’d have to say ‘boring’.

Wales Say hello to my big surprise of the show! Against all the odds and all my expectations, I really liked this performance. Erin looked radiant, and the attention to detail with her costume (the earrings especially) and how it coordinated with the overall colour scheme looked fantastic on camera. Her vocals were as strong as ever, and adding the dancers and that costume reveal were both smart ideas. The revamped version of Calon yn Curo came across so much better live than it does in studio. Well done, Wales.

Kazakhstan Last year’s performance from Kazakhstan looked simpler than 1+1 in comparison to this. They threw everything humanly possible at and around Yerzhan, and to his credit he worked with it all. I still felt overwhelmed, and I think dropping a few elements of the staging to let his absolutely amazing vocals shine would have been better. Then again, it didn’t seem to affect their result…so maybe less ISN’T more?

Poland The pressure was on for Poland, being both the hosts and a hot favourite to win. Did 12-year-old Viki let that bother her? Nope! Her performance had all the attitude I was hoping for, plus sign language, a countdown clock, sharp suits and face crystals (a combo that wouldn’t work in an office environment, but was just right for JESC). After hearing reports Viki hadn’t hit all her notes during rehearsals, I was happy to hear her nail them all when it mattered most. Insert big tick of approval here.

Ireland I have two hypothetical awards to hand over to Ireland: Best Dressed and Best Armography. Much like Australia’s Jael last year, Anna sparkled onstage in a gorgeous dress while waving her arms around wildly (but not too wildly). Ireland’s choice of backdrop was beautiful and added just the right atmosphere to Banshee. Sadly, they couldn’t pull off Spain-like visuals that told the song’s story to non-Irish speakers. I also think the song’s tempo (it always felt too slow to me) made dynamic staging difficult to create. Anna did brilliantly though. She’s another star in the making.

Ukraine I love The Spirit of Music. It’s such a unique song that we knew would be sensationally sung by Sophia. I wasn’t sold on the staging though – it felt like it was designed for a different type of song altogether. I was hoping for something simpler, with shadowy lighting and clever camerawork giving more life to it. Why Sophia was dressed like a newsreader going straight from work to an intergalactic disco, I’ll never know, but her hair bling was incredible. I WANT.

The Netherlands One word: yes. I’m a big fan of Dutch dance bangers like Dans Met Jou, and I couldn’t have been happier with how it was presented. Every box was checked, and it was especially nice to see how far Matheu has come since he won the Dutch NF. I loved the costumes, the choreography, the choice of props…it was all top-tier. If there was another kind of double win to be done, Netherlands/Netherlands would have suited me just fine.

Armenia Will we ever find out why the producers put Armenia right after the Netherlands? Regardless, Karina served up a performance just as flawless as Matheu’s, and maybe even more impressive if I’m honest. Her vocals were so on point they could have popped all of France and Georgia’s balloons at once. The energy level was sky-high. The dance moves and colourful costumes were bang-on. This had top 5, even possible winner, written all over it (well, I thought so).

Portugal I mean…they did what they could with Vem Conmigo. Or as I should say, Joana did what she could. You may know this was my least favourite entry of the year, but in all fairness she replicated the studio version almost exactly. There’s no way I could go out on a huge stage in front of a huge audience and do what she did at 10 years of age, so bravo.

Italy Wales wasn’t the only country to surprise me on Sunday. I wasn’t exactly a La Voce Della Terra superfan in the contest lead-up, but I guess it’s one of those songs that comes to life live. Marta is so likeable and has a great voice on her, and it was like watching Fiamma Boccia (from 2016) all over again – no gimmicks, dancers, or props, just a singer and a mic. Oh, and a gold tutu. There had to be a touch of Eurovision in there somewhere.

Albania I had mixed feelings about this song beforehand, but Isea made me love it live. She’s one to watch: I reckon we might see her celebrating FiKmas in four or five years. What I didn’t like was how bright and colourful the staging was. To me Mikja always sounded quite serious and dramatic, and I don’t think the visuals matched up with that. A bit of Doma-style drama might have helped.

Serbia Last but not least in the line-up was Darija, looking like a little Nevena Božović with all that passion and sounding like her too with all those belt-out notes. She delivered her environmental Balkan ballad in classic style (it reminded me a lot of Serbia’s JESC 2015 performance of Lenina Pesma) but it wasn’t the knockout, winning performance a lot of people (a.k.a. Wiwibloggs poll voters) predicted. That CGI Earth gimmick would have been cooler if it didn’t look about as high-tech as Chingiz’s soul temporarily flying up into the Tel Aviv ceiling.

 

Okay…so that was the filling of this song contest sandwich, and afterwards we didn’t have to sit through hours of padding before the results were announced (thank the Lordi). There was no Madonna either – just the cutesy common song composed by Gromee, Roxie doing what she does best (being awesome) with an Anyone I Want To Be reprise, and her co-host Ida taking a dance break. Then all of a sudden, it was winner-crowning time.

The results

If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you watched the show and don’t need a blow-by-blow account of every point received by every country (or the lack of points, if we’re talking Portugal in the jury vote). So instead let’s take another look at the final scoreboard and see what “fun facts” we can pull out of it.

Poland is the first country to win two consecutive JESCs, and they join the club of two-time winners that includes Belarus, Russia and Malta (they’re yet to outdo Georgia with three wins, but I don’t want to speak too soon). Viki’s 51-point victory is the biggest in Junior history, voting systems aside.

Kazakhstan achieved their best result yet on try no. 2, winning the jury vote and ending up with a metaphorical silver medal. Wales also scored their best result on their second try – it might have been second to last, but that’s proof that if at first you don’t succeed, try again.

Spain’s 3rd place means they easily hold on to their stellar record on hiatus since 2006 – a.k.a. never finishing outside of the top four positions. Too bad the same can’t be said for their recent Eurovision participations. Maybe they can learn something from Melani?

A new name = a change of luck for North Macedonia. They’ve come 12th a total of EIGHT times at JESC, including in 2016, 2017 and 2018 – but Mila obviously wasn’t a fan of that trend, so she smashed her way into 6th instead. She really is like a fire!

Armenia scored their joint worst result, with Karina pulling a Levon and ending up 9th. I’m just as outraged as I was last year, since both performances were flawless. As I said, I thought Karina’s was winner-level phenomenal. There had better be justice for Armenia in 2020, or…well, I’ll do something. Get back to me on that.

It wasn’t the best of contests for previous Junior powerhouses Georgia and Russia – Georgia dropped out of the top 10 for only the second time since 2007, while Russia did the same for the first time ever. Malta also had a less-than-impressive time on the weekend, coming in last after a triumphant top five finish in 2018. You win some (2013/2015), you lose some (2005/2019). Hopefully all three countries can claw their way back up the scoreboard next year. In Poland, again.

 

And that was Junior Eurovision 2019. Actually, that was longer than Junior Eurovision 2019 (I always have too much to say). The good news is it’s your turn to say something now – so get typing in the comments and tell me what you thought of the JESC just passed, plus which performances were your favourites. You know you want to!

 

 

Until next time…

 

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