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ANYONE I WANT TO BE = A JESC WINNER? Reviewing and wrapping up Junior Eurovision 2018

Just like that (a whole week ago now), Minsk’s second Junior Eurovision is done and dusted. I still have some residual Resting Sadface, even though we in the Eurovision world have already moved on to the momentous Melodifestivalen artist announcement and unveiling of Tel Aviv’s first act via Armenia (my thoughts on those things are still to come…be patient).

I say ‘we’, but I love JESC so much I’m not ready to move on yet. Hence why I’m here to look back at Sunday’s comp way after everyone else. Me being miles behind the rest of humanity is one of my many charms. Right?

Honestly, my highlight of JESC 2018 was Polina Bogusevich standing on the stage in a gorgeous gown, looking more sophisticated and glamorous than I ever will and belting out an impeccable reprise of Wings. But there were a lot of other high points too, plus a typically tense voting sequence that produced some interesting results. I’m going to go through it all right here, right now.

If you need a refresher or just want to watch the whole thing again (I’ve watched it three times and might need to go in for a fourth ASAP) here’s the show in full:

 

And now, let’s get into reviewing the performances – from Ukraine to Poland and every country in-between – and all of the results.

 

 

The performances

Ukraine Darina kicked the show off with intensity, attitude, and a performance artists three times her age would be proud of. The quick camera cuts at the beginning were totally in keeping with the edginess of the song. Styling on point, vocals impeccable. I feel too uncool to even listen to the song, let alone watch the performance, but I’m going to keep doing it anyway.

Portugal This was cute, but looked and sounded pretty unpolished after Ukraine. I liked the phone screen/social media concept, but I couldn’t take the “boomerang” effect seriously – it just looked like a mistake. All in all it was three minutes of second gear, but Rita is full of personality and that shone through. Any moments she was in the armchair were the best ones.

Kazakhstan The music video was epic, but Daneliya’s performance was underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, she’s amazing, but her vocals were patchier than usual and I didn’t feel much fight coming from her. When she was on her game, it was stunning. Sadly though, I think a tweaked version of the NF staging would have been better.

 

Albania Efi is a tiny pink and glittery ball of energy, and I adore her. Her enthusiasm and sass at age 10 eclipses mine at age 27, and she had the crowd in her command from the second the music started. She’s not the strongest vocalist but was definitely in tune and giving Barbie her all. My only complaint is how short the performance seemed, because I wanted it go on forever.

Russia I always thought Unbreakable sounded like a JESC winner (maybe too much) and it did come across that way. With Anna front and centre surrounded by her band, it was all very Polina Gagarina, which is a compliment. She sounded solid. I’m torn on the double denim – María Isabel 2004 vibes, anyone? – but the pink extensions were a nice choice.

The Netherlands Like a takeaway pizza, this was covered in cheese and I enjoyed it immensely. Max and Anne are so cute together and have great chemistry. Vocally they were slicker than at their NF. Okay, so the giant versions of the duo on the rear stage screens had a super-high cringe factor, but somehow I found the whole package as endearing as ever.

Azerbaijan The JESC version of this song was nowhere near as good as the original – I wish Fidan had stuck with the full ballad. My other negative was her outfit (half disco, half bridesmaid). The best part of her performance was undoubtedly her vocals, which were angelic and as crystal clear as the Kosta Boda trophy she did not win. She’s precious. And a teenager now, apparently?!?

Belarus You guys know I’m biased on this one, but I honestly felt Daniel lived up to my (very high) expectations. This was impressive, and the staging was so Sweden-like that I’m sure Christer Björkman would have given it a douze if we’d had him as a guest judge again. Daniel is a star in the making and I hope to see him representing Belarus at the ESC in a few years.

 

Ireland Taylor is such a nice kid, and everything about his presence on stage made me want to wave an Irish flag in time with I.O.U (but I don’t own one so I didn’t). This was so much fun and didn’t try to be more sophisticated than it is. I’m convinced that if this entry had competed in the early to mid 2000s, it would have made the top 5.

Serbia If you read my reviews, you’ll know Svet is not a song I like much. But Bojana turned out a spectacular, faultless performance, and I was impressed big time. Great costuming? Check. Gorgeous LED graphics? Check. Vocal perfection? Check. It still felt like a looooong three minutes – the song just drags – but I was happier to watch than I had been just to listen.

Italy Melissa and Marco put on a show that was so cute, my cold, cynical heart defrosted like I’d stuck it in a microwave, and I felt the urge to run through a flowery meadow and blow bubbles and stuff. There was nothing that I didn’t love about this. They sang beautifully and their rapport is something to ‘Aww’ over. So I did.

Australia Jael is my homegirl, and she did me proud! The lighting at the start was top-notch and I wish that Sanna Nielsen vibe had been used more throughout, but I’m not too bothered. I have a conspiracy theory that her dress was sewn from offcuts of Dami Im’s, and we know there’s magic in that. Best armography of the night right here, folks.

 

Georgia If you were questioning how Tamar stood up to older and more experienced singers on The X Factor, I bet you aren’t any more. She was phenomenal, and her staging/styling couldn’t have been better. This was a more grown-up Georgia than we’re used to, and it worked wonders. Was it just me or was there a Japanese influence here? LOVE.

Israel This is how you make a performance interesting without making your singer move a muscle. Children Like These is a stunning (cover) song and Noam was pitch-perfect. All he had to do was stand there and sing, and let the camera, graphics and lighting do the rest of the work. I was spellbound, just as I knew I would be.

France If this is what France produces after a fourteen-year hiatus, maybe they shouldn’t come back to JESC until 2032 (I’m kidding of course, they’ve got to be there in 2019). Angélina’s vocals weren’t the strongest of the night, but the mise en scène was perfect and she was the cutest little leading lady ever. Great props and choreography. C’est magnifique!

Macedonia Like Kazakhstan, I wanted Macedonia to deliver a flawless performance but it didn’t quite happen. Still, this was staged beautifully by Macedonian standards (sorry, but it’s true) with the highlights being the costume change, the LED snowfall and the moment Marija held up her snowflake and the lights went down. When her vocals were at their best, they were spine-tingling.

 

Armenia It was 17 songs’ time before I could no longer resist the temptation to dance (sitting in bed, in my pajamas…it was super late at night okay?). Armenia used Levon’s NF performance as a template but made it bigger and better – and he was on fire. No fading energy or running out of breath like before. Tell me what was wrong with this and I’ll tell you why YOU’RE wrong.

Wales This was such a nice debut for Wales. Think back to how boring Perta was at the selection stage then fast forward to last Sunday, and I think you’ll agree that Wales made the most of it. I’m not 100% on the costume choice, but the choreography was A+. Manw is a really engaging performer and I would have watched two hours of just her on the stage.

Malta This was pretty much what I expected, only with more questionable fashion (party tracksuit alert) and to compensate, more sensational vocals than I was prepared for. Like every other kid who’s represented Malta at JESC since Gaia Cauchi, Ela is insanely talented at this singing business. Her dancers added interest when I was worried they’d look out of place.

Poland Last but not least (quite the opposite, as it turned out) Roksana hit the stage with what was definitely a confusing performance to watch. If there was a cohesive concept in there, I couldn’t pick it out. Still, the bomb song that is Anyone I Want To Be and Roxie’s beyond solid performing arts skills outshone the OTT surrounding her. A random but excellent closer.

 

 

My top 5 performances  

Armenia Nobody had more sass, swag and charisma all rolled into one than Levon. There wasn’t a second where he looked lost on the massive stage, and not a second when I wasn’t loving – or should I say ‘L.O.V.I.N.G’? – his performance.

Australia What can I say…I’m patriotic. I was worried that keeping Jael on a podium leaving just her voice and arms to do the talking would be a mistake, but she didn’t need to move to absolutely nail it. The glittery dress was the cherry on top.

Belarus What can I say…I’m biased. I loved Time from the first listen, think Daniel’s a superstar and consider this three minutes the coolest of the night. If this exact performance was slotted into the ESC, the only surprise would come from people going ‘Is this really BELARUS?’.

France So much cute. This was like a group of friends having the best time ever, coincidentally in front of a huge crowd and millions of online/TV viewers. It couldn’t have been more in keeping with the song’s subject matter. Trés bien.

Georgia Georgia and Tamar slayed every single aspect of this performance, and it’s another one that could have competed at adult Eurovision without any changes. The styling in particular was amazing. Bravo.

 

 

The results

I’m not going to dive too deep into facts and figures, since I’m days late getting this wrap-up done and you’ll have had your fill of that stuff by now (why won’t someone pay me to talk about Eurovision already so I don’t have to waste time at my actual job to make money?). We know our top 10 looked like this:

  1. Poland
  2. France
  3. Australia
  4. Ukraine
  5. Malta
  6. Kazakhstan
  7. Italy
  8. Georgia
  9. Armenia
  10. Russia

I wasn’t expecting Poland to quite get there with the win, but I obviously underestimated the power of Roksana’s fans (all 200 000+ on Instagram alone at the time…she’s now on 300 000+). Anyone I Want To Be was arguably the best song of the contest (though not my favourite) but was it performed better than everything else? I don’t think so. I’m going to say that the current JESC voting system needs work, but I’m excited for Poland to have won something, and I think it would be wrong to drag Roxie for having too much support.

France in 2nd is fabulous and totally deserved. If that’s not motivation enough to come back next year and attempt to go one better, I don’t know what is. Australia rounding out the podium places obviously makes me a very, very happy Jaz – I was expecting lower top 10 at most. Yes, juries love us, but those people out there taking that out on Jael need to just NOT.

After Melissa and Marco’s performance, a decent top 10 result was what I was hoping for and it’s what I got (I even ended up voting for Italy spur of the moment). Georgia and Armenia should have been higher in my opinion. L.E.V.O.N finishing lower than Boomerang and actually scoring Armenia’s worst ever result is ridiculous. Then again, the fact that 9th out of 20 is their poorest showing says great things about Armenia.

Other results outside of the top 10 that “surprised” me (because I don’t want to say ‘pissed me off’ when we’re discussing a children’s contest) include Belarus in 11th – you guys know they were my favourite, and I really think they earned a place in the 6th-9th range at least. Macedonia finishing 12th for the third year running and the 8th time in total is…well, pretty hilarious, but I would have loved Marija to squeeze into the top 10 too. Albania was underrated as far as I’m concerned, but that doesn’t take away from Efi being a teeny queen who we should all be bowing down to. Finally, Wales scoring zero from the juries and coming last overall is an injustice. HOW?!?!?

Okay, I think that’s enough complaining from me. I’m going to wrap things up by celebrating our winner Roksana, who Pole-vaulted into first place at the end of a seriously intense points presentation. I hope ‘Junior Eurovision winner’ qualifies as anyone she wants to be. Congrats to her and to Poland for finally winning a musical Eurovision event. I’m already looking forward to a show (hopefully) hosted in a place we’ve never had a JESC before next November.

 

 

Let me know what you thought of JESC 2018 in the comments!

 

 

 

 

THE JESC 2018 REVIEWS | Round 1 (Azerbaijan, Belarus, Israel, Kazakhstan + Serbia)

It’s that time again, you guys! And by ‘that time’, I mean the time when all Junior Eurovision phobics have to go into hibernation for a few weeks while the rest of us talk about it non-stop.

Here’s the lowdown on the upcoming contest: Taking place in Minsk on November 25, it’ll be the biggest JESC ever, with 20 countries competing to succeed Russia as the winner. Among those countries you’ll find Australia (yes, we’re still crashing the party); hosts Belarus (who’ve participated in every single contest); Azerbaijan, France and Israel (competing for the first time since 2013, 2004 and 2016 respectively); and debuts from Kazakhstan and Wales – one of which I’ll be discussing today as I kick off my 2018 song reviews.

Obviously, it’s Kazakhstan (the title of this post was kind of a giveaway), and joining them under my musical microscope will be Azerbaijan, Belarus, Israel and Serbia. So let’s get going and see what Fidan HuseynovaDaniel YastremskiNoam DadonDaneliya Tuleshova and Bojana Radovanović are bringing to the JESC 2018 buffet, feat. loads of Jaz Judgments™ so you know exactly where my loyalties lie.

Spoiler alert: I have more than one set of douze points to give away today, so I must be in a generous mood. Let me know if you are too and what you think about all five of today’s entries in the comments.

 

 

I’m a pretty lazy person by nature, and the reason I’m mentioning that now is because I was too lazy to Google Translate ‘Welcome back, Azerbaijan!’ from English into Azerbaijani. So plain old ‘Welcome back, Azerbaijan!’ it is. The Land of Fire has competed in two previous JESCs to date – debuting in 2012, having another go in 2013 and then giving up after neither Omar & Suada nor Rustam Karimov managed to make waves. Azerbaijan obviously didn’t believe in third time lucky back then, but maybe they do now…and on attempt no. 3, they’re this year’s Disney ballad providers.

That’s kind of appropriate given that all I think of when I see the title I Wanna Be Like You is that orangutan from The Jungle Book. This song is only similar in name though, and Fidan will probably be a much more effective voting magnet than an orangutan. Her song isn’t a divisive one, but it does pull me in two directions as there are things I love about it and things I really dislike. The good news first: overall it’s a good ballad, chilled-out and not too dramatic. Easy listening, basically. The music is well-written, the tempo is nice, and I’m a big fan of the verses. That leads me to the not-so-good news, which mainly revolves around the chorus. Repetition of the title + lots of yeahs and oohs + a child literally saying that their life goal is to be like someone else? All of that equals a half-baked, rather unsatisfying chorus that could be doing a whole lot more to promote self-confidence.

Okay, so I’m trolling a little with the lyrical content nit-picking…but the general fairy floss fluff that is the chorus genuinely bothers me. There’s also a strong whiff of cheesiness about the whole song, something it shares with the Netherlands (theirs is the scent of gouda, of course). But while I think the cheese somehow works in Max and Anne’s favour, I don’t think it does anything for Fidan. Being pretty darn adorable, she can almost pull it off, but my inner Cheese Detector never lets me ignore stuff that’s engineered to make you go ‘Aww!’. Still, she’s on track to deliver Azerbaijan’s best-ever JESC vocal performance, if her live vocals are even a patch on her studio vocals. To score their best-ever result might be a tougher task, even though their stats stand at 11th and 7th. Song-wise and IMO, 2018 is stronger than Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Mr. Olympia days. And I think there are better, more memorable ballads competing, all from equally talented female soloists – Australia, Kazakhstan and Macedonia specifically. A flawless vocal, great staging and a decent position in the running order could change the prediction I’m about to make, but before we know how the contest performance is going to pan out, I’m guessing 8th-13th is in Fidan’s future. That’s nothing to be ashamed of in a contest of 20 (and neither is 20th, kids) but if it’s a win Azerbaijan is after, they’ll be disappointed. For me, I Wanna Be Like You is almost a 7 point song, but just doesn’t get there. So here’s 6 points instead.

 

 

Not-so-secret confession time: Belarus is one of my favourite JESC countries. They may even be my absolute favourite, based on a few questionable contributions from Armenia and Russia and Spain’s refusal to make a comeback (THEY WERE SO DAMN BUENO!). That’s not to say that Belarus has 100% hit and 0% missed over the years, but come on: they’ve participated in every single edition, won twice and given us gems like Tantsuy (2003), Poy so Mnoy (2013), Sokal (2014), Volshebstvo (2015) and I Am The One (2017) along the way. And their staging is consistently slick. What’s not to love? And what doesn’t make you wonder why they kick butt at JESC but struggle at the ESC?

Anyway, I’m getting round to telling you whether or not their 2018 song – a.k.a. the host entry – lives up to the super-high Belarusian standard. Without further ado, I’ll go ahead and say that for me, HECK YES it does. What’s more, Daniel’s Time – a song title Belarus is obviously fond of – is my favourite entry this year. By one of his very 90s floppy hairs, but my favourite nonetheless. I’m not sure how popular of an opinion this is going to be, since the song style isn’t everyone’s shot of vodka (an alcohol analogy when discussing kids’ music? Nice one, Jaz). And I know those folks who followed the Belarusian NF were pretty peeved that Welcome To My Belarus didn’t win, but I think that was a little overrated. This, I love. I can’t even explain why (which isn’t going to help me review it), but I’m obsessed. Maybe it’s the balance it strikes between being youthful enough for Junior, but still mature enough to appeal to me (a 27-year-old) and my R&B sensibilities. Maybe it’s the mid-tempo, chilled-out vibe and contemporary radio sound. Maybe it’s Daniel’s ability to sing and dance without dropping a note or missing a beat. Maybe it’s everything. Like a hole for a Time capsule, I dig it. Also helping that along is the fluidity of the Belarusian-English mixture and Daniel’s flawless, non-distracting pronunciation (he was born and partly-raised in the USA, so I’m assuming his English is good).

Expect him – especially as he is the home boy – to bring it come show time. Belarus should never be discounted from the JESC race because even if you’re not a fan of their songs, they have a way of taking things to the next level on the night. Even I can see that Time isn’t going to score the country their third trophy, but I am hoping for a finish inside the top 10. The extra audience support the host entry gets is always a contest highlight for me – and it doesn’t hurt results-wise based on recent host successes. I’m totally on Team Time. Who’s with me? 12 points.

 

 

If their adult Eurovision win with Toy was Israel’s motivation to make another JESC comeback (they debuted in 2012, dropped out, then returned in 2016 only to give the Tbilisi show a miss) then I’m both very happy and very shocked. Happy because the more the merrier, shocked because Noam’s Children Like These couldn’t be more different to Toy. When you think about it, Toy could easily have been a Junior song, with a few lyrical changes of course. And similarly, Children Like These (a super awkward title that should’ve stayed in Hebrew) would definitely not be refused entry at the ESC for sounding too childlike.

That may be because it’s actually a cover (!!!) of a song from an adult singer, an infuriating fact that I’m choosing to ignore because I love, love, LOVE it. It reminds me of Israel’s 2008 Eurovision entry The Fire In Your Eyes, a song I was obsessed with back then and still love more than some members of my family. Unlike that, Children Like These isn’t looking overly popular with fans, but in every Eurovision event there’s something I fall head-over-heels for that hardly anyone else likes, so I guess this is the JESC 2018 version. Noam has something really special to pack in his suitcase pre-Minsk: a song that’s original, complex, mystical, ethnic, angelic, atmospheric…have I missed any adjectives? Even if you disagree with one or all of those I did use, you can’t deny that this is one of a kind in the line-up of 20. For me it’s far and away Israel’s best JESC entry ever, and that’s coming from someone who liked what they’ve dished up in the past. The delicate verses that are built on instrumentally as the song continues don’t follow a predictable path, but where they lead is worth the wondering and the wait. I’m going to go so far as to say that Children Like These gives me Origo-level feels – basically, goosebumps that sprang up before I even knew what the heck Noam was singing about.

Speaking of which, WHAT A VOICE! It would be criminal for the universe to make his voice break before/during JESC, so if that doesn’t happen and he sounds close to or the same as he does in the studio, we are in for an audio treat. Even so, and in spite of all my gushing, I don’t expect Israel to do much results-wise with this. It’s not straightforward or accessible enough to win over the masses, and the group of viewers it does work its magic on (I’m appointing myself team captain) won’t be big enough to give it a substantial scoreboard boost. But there’s still the potential for Israel to create a moment on the night, and as always there’s a chance I’m wrong about how they’ll do. I actually want to be wrong on this. 12 points.

 

 

I don’t know about you, but the most shocking moment of 2018 for me was when Kazakhstan was announced as a Junior Eurovision debutant. I did NOT see that coming, and it made the other debuts/returns seem pretty boring by comparison (sorry Azerbaijan, France etc). It’s always interesting to see what a brand new country brings to the table and whether or not they “get” JESC on their first try. Kazakhstan has certainly checked a bunch of boxes.

Firstly, they’re sending a stellar vocalist – and Daneliya, as a Voice Kids champion of Ukraine (I must have watched her audition a hundred times, it’s so incredible) has had the required TV time and live audience experience to take on Junior Eurovision with confidence. Someone who can nail every note without a hint of deer-in-the-headlights? That’s what you want. Talking about Ózińe Sen itself…now that’s a bit trickier. It’s not a typical power ballad, based on how Daneliya manipulates the verses with her voice and the unusual song structure. Those two elements combine to make this as exotic as it is epic – it sounds like it belongs on a movie soundtrack. It’s packed with all the dramatic moments one could handle in three minutes, plus a language change that definitely does it favours. All in all, there is something special here, and I do think Kazakhstan is a contender for the win.

I’ll believe that even more if their JESC staging is anything like the NF staging. They have recruited the man responsible for Russia’s ESC 2015 performance to sort it out (thumbs up for that) but he’s also the same guy who thought that Yulia Samoylova’s wheelchair-disguising mountain was a good idea. If Ózińe Sen is presented more like A Million Voices, then we’ll all be able to breathe a sigh of relief. And, the resulting place for Daneliya will be more likely to mirror Polina Gagarina’s than Yulia’s (though you’d have to screw things up in a major way to not even qualify to a final that has no semis). To sum up, Kazakhstan have kicked a big goal; Daneliya is amazing and so is her song; and together they’re possible winners. There are a few songs I prefer to this one, but I can’t ignore its power. 10 points.

 

 

Serbia started their JESC campaign off strong back in 2006 (with the iconic, ridiculously multilingual Učimo Strane Jezike) and followed it up with a few great results – including two best-ever 3rd places achieved in 2007 and 2010. Just lately though, they’ve had some bad luck in the contest, losing their way a bit and not necessarily understanding how modern Junior Eurovision works. I’m not sure that has changed at all with Bojana’s Svet – which might translate to ‘world’, but only has me thinking how in the world I’m going to fill up sufficient paragraph space talking about it.

One comment on the Youtube video for the song caught my eye by using the word ‘relaxing’. Now, relaxing is nice – who wouldn’t want to be lying in a hammock on a South Pacific beach, sipping a pina colada and being fanned with palm leaves? But when ‘relaxing’ is being used to describe a competition song – and I agree that Svet is so chill it’s practically comatose – it can be a negative. Despite being a big ballad performed by a female soloist, this entry has none of the heartwarming sentiment of Piši Mi or the dynamic drama of Lenina Pesma. What it has instead is the plodding gait of an arthritic pony, and a bunch of musical moments that are supposed to be jaw-droppers but come off more like head-scratchers since they’re shoehorned in to the song so randomly. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate this. There are parts of the melody and instrumentation that I enjoy, and Bojana is a quality vocalist. But the lethargy of Svet in general, plus the fact that I have trouble picking out the chorus (and if you’re missing a hook, you won’t catch any fish…or votes, in this case) leaves me feeling sleepy and unsatisfied at the end of the song. Not to mention that Serbia just doesn’t stand up compared to the JESC 2018 countries that have brought out bigger (confetti) guns in the ballad department.

Some of those ballads will rise and others will fall, and I cannot see Svet fighting its way through to emerge on top of the pile. Or anywhere close to the top, for that matter. I’m not going to lay my ‘Who’s going to come last?’ card on the table yet, but for me Serbia is there or thereabouts in the 17th-20th range. And I can’t help giving them my lowest score so far. 5 points.

 

 

Well, I’m sorry to end on a negative note – but that’s the way the cookie (sometimes) crumbles. And this was still a very high-scoring round to get things started. Here’s my first mini-ranking of the JESC 2018 season if you want proof!

  1. Belarus (12)
  2. Israel (12)
  3. Kazakhstan (10)
  4. Azerbaijan (6)
  5. Serbia (5)

I can almost guarantee that nobody else would have the same top two when it comes to these countries, but as a Eurovision fan you have to agree to disagree (or seethe quietly to yourself when you discover that someone who clearly has no taste despises a song you adore). There’s a definite quality gap between Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan IMO, but Azerbaijan – and even Serbia – could grow on me over time (Belarus pun unintended, but WHOOMP there it is). Stay tuned to see me change my mind 700 times before the contest actually happens.

Next time, for Round 2 of my JESC 2018 reviews, I’ll be turning my attention to Armenia, Georgia, the Netherlands, Portugal and Russia – so if you love (or hate) any of their songs, you won’t want to miss that. Subscribe in the sidebar to receive email alerts when I post something new, and/or join me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @EurovisionByJaz to keep yourself in the Paula-and-Ovi-piano-shaped loop. And once you’ve done that, drop by the comments box below and give me your verdict on today’s songs. I’m desperate to know what you think and not ashamed to say it!

Hence why I just did.

Okay, I’m leaving now.