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FRIDAY FAST FIVE | The JESC 2015 artists who should graduate to the ESC, ASAP!

Happy Friday, guys! Or, for all of you residing in the US of A and anywhere else where Black Friday is a thing (they try to make it a thing here in Australia, but it hasn’t really taken off), HAPPY BLACK FRIDAY! It’s definitely a Happy Friday for me, because yesterday, after several hours of heart palpitations, yelling expletives at my computer screen and sobbing into the Swedish flag I carry with me at all times, I managed to score some Eurovision tickets.

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OH MY LORDI. Honestly, I’m more relieved that the ordeal of attempting to get them is over than ecstatic that I managed to nab a ticket to both broadcast semis – as you’ll know by now, whether you were in the dreaded Waiting Room of Death or not, the ticket quest was very traumatic. But I have my tickets next to me as I type this, and every time I look at them (and stroke them lovingly from time to time), I feel a flash of excitement. Congratulations to all of you who also got your hands on a ticket or two (or three, damn you), and to those of you who didn’t, or who are planning to try again in the new year for the show you missed out on: I will see you there. Assuming I will have concluded the course of therapy I’ve enrolled in to get over yesterday, of course.

It’s also a good Friday for me and my fellow Aussies thanks to tomorrow being the day of the delayed JESC 2015 broadcast, with our brand new pair of commentators narrating the proceedings (and probably taking the piss a little too often for my liking, but I’ll try to ignore that). I’m in no mood to stop talking about JESC ’15 until the credits roll on that replay, hence the topic of today’s post. So, if you’re not a fan of Eurovision’s younger sibling, you’ll have to humour me a little longer.

Let’s get into this Fast Friday Five* before I’ve officially rambled on for so long that it’s no longer Friday (confession: it’s already Saturday over here anyway). Here are five Junior acts from this year who I’d love to see and hear at Eurovision in the future.

 

*I’m now thinking that this might be the first time I’ve posted an FFF, so in case that’s true, here’s a definition: A Fast Friday Five is a short, sweet and unranked version of a top 10 list, for which I’ll select five randomly ordered favourites from any given ESC (or JESC, in this instance) category and ask you for yours in return. Just so you know.

 

Albania’s Mishela Rapo

If Mishela allowed her already-mature voice to mature even more, ditched the adorable but very childlike Mullet Gown of Multilingual Greetings (© Jaz, 2015) and popped up in Festivali I Këngës with a tropical-pop song sans the repetitiveness of Dambaje, she’d have great shot at representing Albania in the big show. Even more so if Albania loosened their purse strings and gave her some backing dancers (she doesn’t need any backing singers…not visible ones, anyway).

The earliest we’ll see her in the ESC 2017

 

 

Belarus’ Ruslan Aslanov

You guys know this kid can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned. What can I say? He’s the Vincenzo Cantiello of 2015 (only without a trophy to prove it). At age thirteen, he’s got the vocal chops, stage presence and effortless ability to emote of someone twice his age, and if we assume his voice will have broken by the time he’s sixteen (since it thankfully didn’t on the JESC stage), Belarus would be mad not to force him, at glitter cannon-point, to enter Eurofest.

The earliest we’ll see him in the ESC 2018

 

 

Malta’s Destiny Chukunyere

This little list wouldn’t be complete without our winner, who sang all of her competition under the (dinky, child-sized green room) table last weekend. She could also destroy many an adult vocalist despite being three years younger than one must be to participate in the ESC. If it wasn’t for that pesky age rule, Destiny would be the bookies’ top pick to represent her island home in Stockholm, I’m sure.

The earliest we’ll see her in the ESC 2018

 

 

Armenia’s Mika

I’ve said it once, and now I’ll say it again – Mika is a star in the making. He has more personality in his four-foot-something self than the entire cohort of Eurovision 2015 competitors (not that they were boring…he’s just that stocked up with the stuff). He’s said he’d be happy to represent Armenia in the adult contest, so all we have to do is sit back and wait three-and-a-half years for him to come of age and for that pink suit to be altered accordingly.

The earliest we’ll see him in the ESC 2019

 

 

Slovenia’s Lina Kuduzović

Last but not least, it’s Slovenia’s Got Talent winner Lina, whose voice is so studio perfect live, hearing it raises the same question asked when Federica Falzon launched into Diamonds at JESC 2014 – is this for real? Another thing I love about Lina is how much she seems to enjoy herself when she’s on stage. She’s not a show-off or a try-hard – she just gets up there, sings her heart out and smiles the entire time. We need her to spread some joy at Eurovision (and perhaps score Slovenia another top three placing!).

The earliest we’ll see her in the ESC 2019

 

 

So, now I’ve shown you mine, you’re pretty much obligated to show me yours. Count them on one hand, then let me know which JESC 2015 tweens and teens you’d like to see have a bash at Eurovision once they’ve hit the big 1-6!

Considering how insanely talented some of them are now, imagine how phenomenal they’ll be with a few more years of practice…*refuses to due to intense fear of feeling useless and unskilled in comparison to a bunch of teenagers*

 

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Malta fulfill their Destiny: Looking over the performances (and the leaderboard) of JESC 2015

Since Junior Eurovision 2015 came to a conclusion on Saturday night, I’m sure you’re already aware that we have our winner. Even if you’re repulsed by the mere mention of mini-Eurovij, you’d have heard that Malta’s Destiny Chukunyere destroyed her competition and clinched the tiny island’s second victory in three years with the party-starting Not My Soul. The thirteen-year-old triumphed over Armenia’s Mika by nine points – quite a massive margin by JESC standards – and in the process, nabbed the record for the highest-ever score in the contest. Mika has a record of his own to take home, too, scoring the highest amount of points for a non-winner in Junior history.

Although I did call Malta to win, it wasn’t the outcome I was hoping for (and even though Armenia wasn’t my ideal winner, I would have preferred them to take it out instead). But you can’t help being happy for a country that is fast becoming to JESC what Sweden is to ESC – i.e. a superpower. Plus, there’s no denying that Destiny is an incredible talent, and it’s likely we’ll see her pop up in Malta’s NF MESC the split second she’s sixteen. She’ll be shattering windows and Ming vases simultaneously with her voice by then, so there’s something to look forward to (unless you’re the owner of said windows/vases).

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I’ll get back to the results later on in this post. Right now, I’m going to answer the question nobody asked: what did I think of Bulgaria’s first-ever Eurovision event?

Well, there’s not much I could complain about. The stage was super-cool, and like last year’s, could easily accommodate the adult contest. Hostess Poli was confident and competent, and sported a hairstyle that only she – and maybe Gwen Stefani – could rock. The postcards showed off Bulgaria’s beauty to the fullest, and featured the contestants for the first time since 2013 (I was hoping that’d make a comeback). And the interval acts were actually reasonably entertaining (meaning I didn’t traipse outside to watch my lawn grow while waiting for the show to go on). Sweeping a bit of shoddy camera-work aside, I’d say that the exercise was a big success for Bulgaria – and hopefully a good practice run for hosting Eurovision sometime while I’m still around to see it (though as countries like Portugal have competed for 40+ years and never won, I won’t hold my breath…and as some countries continue to nail JESC and fail ESC, I ALSO won’t hold my breath. Basically, no breath of mine will be held over this).

Now, the biggest drawcard of any Eurovision event is the performances of the participants, right? *assumes you all agreed enthusiastically*. So let’s have a look back at the seventeen acts that battled it out for a place on the figurative podium (there should be an actual podium, I reckon), to see who shone, who needed more polishing, and who…well, the terminology I was going to use would be too cruel for children.

 

From Serbia to Montenegro and everyone in-between, here are my thoughts on the competing seventeen!

These are all my own opinions, of course, and you are free to agree or disagree in the comments. Let’s get cracking so you know just what you’re agreeing/disagreeing with!

Serbia A very red, and violent – what with all those arm movements (no wonder there were no backing dancers…at least one of them would have ended up with a black eye) – performance from Lena opened the show. She had amazing intensity for someone who ordinarily, I’d want to pinch the cheeks of because they’re SO CUTE, and vocally, she was almost entirely on point – that shaky final note the exception. Much ljubav for the lyrically-aligned hand tatts!

Vocals 9/10 Staging 8/10 Costumes 9/10 Overall 8.5/10

 

Georgia Speaking of intensity, The Virus’ front man Data was frighteningly intense during Georgia’s performance. The group’s choreography and vocals weren’t as slick as what we’re used to from Georgia, and I felt like a bit of energy was missing. The girls’ costumes were great though. I love me some houndstooth, and I suppose it’s more sophisticated than the pajamas and towel turbans I was expecting/hoping for.

Vocals 7/10 Staging 6/10 Costumes 8.5/10 Overall 7/10

 

Slovenia I could listen to Lina sing all day long, so I was really looking forward to song number three. Vocally, she did not disappoint – the clarity of her voice was unreal. Her cutesey dress and sparkly sneakers also got my tick of approval, but I wasn’t 100% sold on the Frozen-esque visuals Slovenia opted for. I feel like a cool lighting scheme (a spotlight and some of Serbia’s redness, perhaps) would have been more suitable.

Vocals 10/10 Staging 8/10 Costumes 9/10 Overall 9/10

 

Italy The reigning champions (in case the overwhelming Bulgarian-ness made you forget that Italy won last year) put on a pretty good show, better than I thought they would. It was fun and competent, though lacked a little charisma. I loved the graffiti-type backdrop, which made the somewhat dated Viva feel fresher. You could say it brought the song back to viva. Or you could not be annoying like I am, and leave puns out of it.

Vocals 8.5/10 Staging 8/10 Costumes 7/10 Overall 8/10

 

The Netherlands Shalisa is so gorgeous, and would have lit up the camera even without her shiny jacket on and those candles burning. I love Million Lights, but it’s not particularly cohesive, and neither were the accompanying dancers – I didn’t really get how some of their moves related to the song. ‘Disjointed’ is how I’d describe the sound and staging, as much as I want to say otherwise.

Vocals 8.5/10 Staging 6/10 Costumes 8/10 Overall 7/10

 

Australia My eyes were moist during Bella’s turn, so I hate to imagine what state her mother was in. Another Australian debut was always going to be a big moment for me, and I applaud our well-choreographed and attractively metallic stage show. Bella’s Christina Aguilera impression was bang-on, too (#shegotthegrowl), and I adored her pants as much as I moon over Måns Zelmerlow’s leather pair…though for different reasons.

Vocals 9.5/10 Staging 9.5/10 Costumes 9.5/10 Overall 9.5/10

 

Ireland Following directly on from an excellent debut performance was another excellent debut performance – albeit one that lost its ability to spine-tingle thanks to some distracting graphics. That dodgy, badly-animated floating ship behind Aimee made me seasick. Dry ice was used to its maximum potential here, however, and it looked like Aimee was floating on the ocean herself. Fortunately it didn’t invade her lungs and ruin her vocals.

Vocals 9/10 Staging 6.5/10 Costumes 10/10 Overall 8/10

 

Russia Wow. Unexpected wow. This really impressed me! As much as I like Mechta, I was convinced Mikhail’s live rendition would be flat and boring (like it was at the Russian NF). But Russia seemed to have cut a mix of the song that had far greater impact in the arena. I loved the mood set by the moon prop and the dry ice (boy, that machine got a workout on Saturday), the dancer, the appropriately dreamy feel created by the blue and white colour scheme…it was all lovely. Well done, Russia.

Vocals 8.5/10 Staging 10/10 Costumes 9/10 Overall 9/10

 

FYR Macedonia Okay, bad bits: the vocals were in tune but a bit wobbly, and the costumes looked like they’d been fished out of a charity shop bargain bin after Britney Spears had dropped off a load of stuff circa 1999. The good bits? Well, Ivana and Magdalena avoided creating car-crash TV (that came later) and seemed to have fun on stage. Energetic choreography and good stage presence all round helped elevate this from amateur to enjoyable.

Vocals 7/10 Staging 8.5/10 Costumes 6/10 Overall 7/10

 

Belarus This was everything I was hoping it would be, Volshebstvo being my favourite entry of the year (in case you weren’t around when I mentioned that the other 500 times). Belarus used the backdrop to perfection, and Ruslan’s vocals were insanely good, as always. His camera and crowd engagement was top-notch until he finished off with that ultra cheesy wink (WHY, RUSLAN, WHY?). Pretending that never happened, I’d call this the total package.

Vocals 10/10 Staging 9.5/10 Costumes 10/10 Overall 9.5/10

 

Armenia Mika also had a (bright pink) package, signed, sealed and delivered to the door of victory…or something like that. Armenia’s stage show would have been drooled over by Georgia, who didn’t carry off the boy/girl/girl/girl dynamic half as well (plus, effortless, quirky fun used to be their forte). Mika is such a little star, and I think he’s going to have a bright future – perhaps as an Armenian representative in adult Eurovision one day (he said he’d be happy to do it when he answered my question during the winners’ press conference!).

Vocals 9.5/10 Staging 10/10 Costumes 10/10 Overall 9.5/10

 

Ukraine Waterfalls, sharks, forests, mechanical human-sized flowers…a list of what Ukraine didn’t incorporate into Anna’s stage show would be shorter than a list of what they did. This was OTT, even by Eurovision standards, with too many colours and too many vistas on the backdrop making things messy. Anna’s Pochny z Sebe is like a vanilla cupcake, not a ten-tiered marzipan-enrobed masterpiece fit for a royal wedding – it only needed minimal decoration.

Vocals 8.5/10 Staging 6/10 Costumes 7/10 Overall 7/10

 

Bulgaria Not bad, Bulgaria. There was possibly a bit too much going on here as well (rainbows! Ribbons! Unflattering cummerbunds!) but in comparison to Ukraine, Gabriela and Ivan’s performance was simplicity personified. Both kids’ vocals were strong individually, and together…well, it could have been much worse.

Vocals 9/10 Staging 7/10 Costumes 8.5/10 Overall 8.5/10

 

San Marino Epic staging and brilliant costumes couldn’t disguise the weaknesses in Kamilla’s voice, and she looked very uncomfortable on stage (whether that was due to nerves or her Aliona Moon-esque height off the ground, I don’t know). With a more competent vocalist, this could have been a contender for the top five.

Vocals 5/10 Staging 10/10 Costumes 10/10 Overall 7/10

 

Malta Destiny can sing – we all know that. She certainly didn’t emit a single off-key note on the night, and did her best to full up a big stage without the aid of backing singers, dancers, or trumpet players. Her personality and stage presence are larger than life, but I still wish she’d had some (or all) of the above with her. Company is what her performance was missing for me, because it certainly wasn’t missing soul (obvs, since THEY CAN NEVER TAKE AWAY HER SOUUUUUUL) or spark.

Vocals 10/10 Staging 7.5/10 Costumes 7/10 Overall 7.5/10

 

Albania Mishela is another soloist who could have used some backup to bring her song to life, but again, I really liked her performance anyway. Her voice is amazing, and so was that dress (though I know I’m in the minority, I wouldn’t give her a Junior Barbara Dex Award). If I could have given her some advice beforehand, I would have said ‘Smile! This is JESC, not a funeral’. It definitely wasn’t the death of Albania’s JESC journey, if her eventual result is anything to go by.

Vocals 10/10 Staging 7/10 Costumes 10/10 Overall 8.5/10

 

Montenegro Oh dear. What WASN’T wrong with this? Unsuitable colour scheme and costumes, half-hearted attempts to create a fun, tropical atmosphere on stage, and woeful vocals were all present and accounted for. Judging by the way Jana fiddled with her earpiece, then hissed at her backing dancers as soon as she struck her final pose, I’d say some technical problems may have been afoot. Hell hath no fury like a woman with a malfunctioning in-ear monitor.

Vocals 5/10 Staging 6/10 Costumes 5/10 Overall 5/10

 

That was the show from my point of view, and based on the marks I’ve awarded as if I’m a musical theatre teacher examining my protégées, here’s my ranking of the performances:

  1. Armenia
  2. Belarus
  3. Australia
  4. Slovenia
  5. Russia
  6. Albania
  7. Serbia
  8. Bulgaria
  9. Italy
  10. Ireland
  11. Malta
  12. FYR Macedonia
  13. San Marino
  14. Ukraine
  15. Georgia
  16. The Netherlands
  17. Montenegro

Hmm…that doesn’t quite match up with the actual results, does it?

 

Taking a look at the leaderboard

Speaking of which, here are the actual results, for anyone who needs a refresher (which I would totally understand given that I’m so late in posting this wrap-up…as usual):

  1. Malta (185)
  2. Armenia (176)
  3. Slovenia (112)
  4. Belarus (105)
  5. Albania (93)
  6. Russia (80)
  7. Serbia (79)
  8. Australia (64)
  9. Bulgaria (61)
  10. Georgia (51)
  11. Ukraine (38)
  12. Ireland (36)
  13. Montenegro (36)
  14. San Marino (36)
  15. The Netherlands (35)
  16. Italy (34)
  17. FYR Macedonia (26)

There’s only so much you can say without knowing the split results (even though they might not prove to be that interesting). I’ll save a more in-depth scoreboard analysis for when they’re released, but here’s a few observations for the meantime.

  • Malta’s win marks their third top five result in a row – not bad for a country that only squeezed in to that section of the scoreboard once during their first eight years of participation.
Malta-Champion-Destiny-Chukunyere-Credit-EBU-Elena-Volotova-Vladimir-Dudakliev-604x272

How could you NOT be happy for that face? (Photo: EBU, Elena Volotova/Vladimir Dudakliev)

  • Armenia’s second place takes their total of runner-up trophies to three. They have also won once and come third twice, and are yet to finish outside of the top ten.
  • Five countries achieved their best placements ever in 2015: Slovenia, Albania, Australia, Ireland and Montenegro. For Australia and Ireland, that was always going to be the case; but two-time competitor Slovenia reached the top three for the first time in any Eurovision event, and Albania equaled their best-ever ESC result from 2012. DambaYAY!
  • Italy, on the other hand, experienced a fall from grace that could only have been more unfortunate if they’d come last. From winning last year on their debut to just sidestepping last place, it’s hard to predict how they’ll fare if they decide to return in 2016.
  • Belarus added to their collection of commendable results with Ruslan’s fourth place. They have now won twice, come third twice, and appeared in the top five eight times out of thirteen participations. The same can’t be said about their record in the adult contest…
  • Bulgaria might have done better than many of us expected, but they actually performed pretty poorly for a host entry. The past five home representatives have finished 4th (Malta in Malta, 2014), 2nd (Ukraine in Kyiv, 2013), 7th (the Netherlands in Amsterdam, 2012), 5th (Armenia in Yerevan, 2011) and 5th again (Belarus in Minsk, 2010).
  • FYR Macedonia (a.k.a. the Norway of JESC) came last for the third time in Sofia. IMO, there was a different country starting with ‘M’ that should have taken out the wooden spoon this year.
  • If you’re wondering how my pre-show predictions panned out, then prepare to laugh at my ineptitude! Yes, I did peg Malta as a possible winner, but I only guessed three of the top five correctly – Malta, Armenia and Belarus – and unlike last year, only predicted one country in the exact right place (FYR Macedonia in 17th). I massively underestimated Albania (though can you blame me?) and massively OVERestimated Australia (I blame bias for that one). How did you do?

 

I’m going to take my leave now in order to wallow in the murky waves of PJED (Post-Junior Eurovision Depression) – although the prospect of the upcoming delayed Aussie broadcast of the show, complete with our own commentary team and whatnot, is easing the pain. I’ll be back with a fun-sized amount of further JESC coverage before looking ahead to Stockholm 2016 – a party that we’ve just discovered will be attended by a) Bosnia and Herzegovina (where did they end up getting funding from? I hope to hell it wasn’t Ralph Siegel) and b) Kaliopi, Miss Congeniality of the world. I will be there too, but how much ‘there’ might depend on tomorrow’s ticket sales working in my favour. Wish me luck as I attempt to snap up the same thing that everybody else wants!

 

Until next time,

 

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JUNIOR EUROVISION HAS ARRIVED! The EBJ Junior Jury’s Top 17 + predictions for Sofia’s spectacular show

It’s D-day, guys. #discover day. Saturday, for those less JESC-inclined. For the rest of us, though, the next best thing to Eurovision is about to take place in Sofia, Bulgaria, and we (I can safely assume) are very, very excited!

There are mere hours until a certain European – or perhaps Australian – takes over from Vincenzo Cantiello as Junior Eurovision champion incumbent, and I am more than ready to find out who that child is. But before that, there’s some important business to take care of: the business of predicting. Attempting to guess what’s going to happen at any given Eurovision event is tradition, and I don’t like to break from tradition. You can see where this is going, right?

3, 2, 1, predictions!

Oh…hang on. There’s one teensy thing I forgot I had to do first. But you’ll like it, I promise.*

 

*I can’t REALLY promise that.

 

Revealed: The EBJ Junior Jury’s complete ranking, from #1 to #17

Whether you’re an EBJ regular or a random, you’ll be aware that over the past few weeks, myself and seven other JESC devotees have been both extremely catty and extra complimentary in reviewing Sofia’s seventeen competing entries. If you want to revisit all the highs and all the lows, follow Gaitana’s lead and be my guest.

  • Part 1, feat. Armenia, Montenegro, the Netherlands and Serbia
  • Part 2, feat. Italy, Malta, Russia and Slovenia
  • Part 3, feat. Australia, Belarus, Georgia and Ukraine
  • Part 4, feat. Albania, Bulgaria, FYR Macedonia, Ireland and San Marino

I totted up the top four/five at the end of each round of reviews, but being a fan of a soap opera-style cliffhanger, flatly refused to reveal the full ranking until I was gosh darned ready – i.e. when the suspense had pulled up at the intersection of Unbearable Street and Just Tell Us Already Avenue (in the suburb known as Jaz’s Overactive Imagination). That moment, my friends, has arrived. Without further ado, feast your eyes on this collaborative ranking of the Class of (JESC) 2015.

ebjjj17I’m very happy to report that my hands-down favourite from the start, Belarus, topped the list in the eyes (and ears) of the EBJ Jury. I should think so, too…I didn’t bribe them for nothing! Also in our top five are the highly regarded songs from Slovenia, Armenia and Australia, with Albania making a bit of a curveball appearance. I don’t expect Mishela, as lovely as she and her song are, to dambaje her way to such heights tonight. See my scoreboard prediction below if you want to find out where I think she will finish.

Our gracious first-time hosts Bulgaria didn’t fare so well with the EBJJJ, limping into last place. If that’s their fate in the actual contest, at least Gabriela and Ivan will be spared the humiliation of mimicking The Makemakes’ goose egg – thanks to the ‘Douze points for everybody, dance’ Junior rule, none of the kids will be jetting out of Sofia empty-handed. Bless ‘em.

In case you were wondering (which is highly unlikely, I know), here’s a rundown of the top scores handed out by each of my jury members. Not all jurors reviewed all of the entries – in fact, I was the only one who did – so keep that in mind when you’re about to mutter ‘Well, there’s no accounting for taste.’

  •  Jaimie (Australia) 10 points to Armenia
  • James (UK) 10 points to Slovenia
  • Jaz (Australia) 12 points to Belarus and Slovenia
  • Liam (Australia) 7 points to Ireland
  • Lukman (Australia) 10 points to Belarus
  • Mrs. Jaz (Australia) 8 points to Italy
  • Penny (USA) 12 points to Belarus
  • Rory (Ireland) 12 points to Albania

With three sets of douze points being awarded to Belarus, have we chosen a champ you can bet on? Or have we jinxed Ruslan right out of trophy territory? All will be revealed in a few hours’ time.

To officially conclude my 2015 JESC reviews, I’d like to thank all of my jury members for taking part – some at quite short notice. You guys are awesome, and if we were in the same room right now, I’d give you the high five of the century.

Now, onto what you probably started reading this post for: some predictions!

 

Looking into my (cloudy) crystal ball and getting all psychic on Sofia

Let’s start the proceedings with some standard guesses re: who’s going to hit, who’s going to miss, and who’s going to have it all. I’m the CEO of Never Ever Watch The Rehearsals Enterprises, so the following predictions are based on what I’ve heard about the run-throughs, plus my personal opinions of how the songs will fare.

 

The slickest staging Armenia/Belarus. Armenia never fail to entertain, and from what I’ve heard, they’ve really got their shiz together this year, bringing some of the fun from Mika’s music video to the Arena Armeec stage. Belarus will be replicating Ruslan’s NF performance, having adapted it a little to bring it up to JESC standards. It’s sure to be simple, but super-duper effective.

The most jaw-dropping vocals Australia/Belarus/Ireland/Malta/Serbia/Slovenia…I could go on. Once again, the 10-15-year-olds of Europe (and Australia…) are singing like they’ve been doing it for decades, and given that flashy vocals were a big part of Italy’s winning formula in 2014, the ability to make us all go ‘Wow!’ could be crucial. My top picks for tonight are Australia and Ireland. If there aren’t any voice-breaking incidents in the Belarusian camp, listen out there too.

The most cutting-edge costumes Armenia/Georgia/San Marino. I’ll admit, I have caught glimpses of these guys in costume, so this isn’t so much of a prediction as an educated opinion. It’s all about colour for Armenia and Georgia, whereas San Marino is going for shattered-glass chic. Believe it or not, it works.

The best backdrop Belarus. Trees are always a crowd pleaser. Hey, prettiness! Hey, symbolism!

The coolest choreography Armenia. Because if they don’t, it just wouldn’t be Junior Eurovision. And I would not know what the heck to do with myself.

The total package Armenia, Australia, Belarus. This trio should have sight and sound fully covered, and that’s what makes them frontrunners for the win.

A positive surprise San Marino. Both in terms of performance and result, I’m hoping Kamilla will surpass expectations.

A negative surprise Ukraine. Usually you can trust Ukraine to nail the visuals and mechanics of their stage performance, but I hear they’ve gone all Amanecer and thrown everything at Anna, including a giant lotus flower and a CGI shark. What the?

Biggest cheer from the crowd Armenia/Bulgaria/Malta. Bulgaria gets a free pass on this one as the host country – even if they’d sent two aggressive feral cats to hiss through a duet (which, let’s face it, is actually a semi-decent way of describing the dynamic between Gabriela and Ivan) they’d be received with rapturous applause. Armenia’s Love and Malta’s Not My Soul will get the audience going in a big way as two of the most energetic songs on the program.

 

Now, to bring out the big guns…guns that fire pixilated love hearts á la Armenia’s. Decoded, that means it’s time to predict the final results.

One of the bajillion things I love about JESC is its unpredictability. For some reason, this contest is always harder to predict than its adult counterpart, which can be frustrating as well as wonderful. 2015 is just as unclear-cut as the previous few editions have been – even in terms of who’s going to finish last, which is usually the easiest call to make – but I’m not going to let that stop me from making a fool of myself! Here’s how I think the leaderboard of Junior Eurovision 2015 is going to look just before the winner’s reprise and the roll of the credits.

 

The bottom five

Albania, Bulgaria, FYR Macedonia, Italy, Montenegro

If I HAD to call it: Montenegro 13th, Italy 14th, Albania 15th, Bulgaria 16th, FYR Macedonia 17th

 

The mid-rangers (a.k.a. the meat in the scoreboard sandwich!)

Georgia, Ireland, The Netherlands, Russia, San Marino, Slovenia, Ukraine

If I HAD to call it: Georgia 6th, Slovenia 7th, Ireland 8th, Ukraine 9th, San Marino 10th, The Netherlands 11th, Russia 12th

 

The top five

Armenia, Australia, Belarus, Malta, Serbia

If I HAD to call it: Belarus/Malta 1st/2nd (I CANNOT call it, okay?!?), Armenia 3rd, Australia 4th, Serbia 5th

 

Call it controversial (even if it isn’t, just to make me feel badass) but I’ve had a gut instinct that Belarus, my favourite entry of the year, is going to fare a lot better than some believe. I don’t want to tempt fate and ruin Ruslan’s chances, but I ignored the similar instinct I had about Italy last year, and we all know what went down in Malta. The thing is, I’m not anywhere near certain that Belarus will win – perhaps because many parallels can be drawn between their package of singer and song, and Italy’s last year, and I’m wondering if voters and juries will go for the same thing two years in a row. But, I’ve heard nothing but good things about Ruslan’s rehearsals, and provided he kept his voice in check (generally and hormonally-speaking) for the jury final, he would have raked in the points – and as some countries, including Australia, are using 100% jury vote *mutters angrily about not being able to vote*, televoters have less power here. Basically, I think things look very good for Belarus, and if they don’t win, it’ll be at least a return to the top five for them.

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Ruslan had better hope the dry ice doesn’t go all Nina Sublatti on him tonight… (Photo: Wiwibloggs)

If I’m not about to witness my favourite song win a Eurovision event for the third consecutive time, however, then it’s got to be a win for Malta (which I’m steeling myself for as it’s not an outcome I’d be thrilled about…NO NO NO!) or Australia. Armenia could take it out too, but I’m convinced Love is the kind of song that will come second or third rather than go all the way. With adult jury influence heavily in play, “junior” Junior entries have struggled to beat their more mature rivals, and I suspect that trend will continue here. But top five is almost a certainty for Armenia again.

There’s a big space between the top five and bottom five that has to be filled, but it’s ridiculously hard to predict how. Georgia has a good chance of almost being back on form this year, because they know how to put on a show, and Gabede is a song that stands out (not necessarily for all the right reasons, but it’s definitely memorable). I’m crossing my fingers for Ireland to finish in the upper mid-table region, or surprise me and do even better. The Netherlands and Russia won’t perform terribly – which is a relief for me because I really like Million Lights and Mechta – but they’re just not memorable enough to battle for anything other than to squeeze into the top ten. This is, of course, in my opinion, but I am incredibly knowledgeable AND have an impeccable prediction record. Not.

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Mikhail’s fairly well suited to JESC, and his backing dancer’s all white. (Photo: Wiwibloggs)

I’m pretty sure that FYR Macedonia, who once upon a time sent absolute gems to JESC, is going to be to Sofia 2015 what Croatia was to Malta 2014 – i.e. the loser (sorry, kids, but when there’s an über-accurate word for a situation, you’ve just got to use it). I don’t mind Pletenka, but even I can hear that it’s repetitive and monotonous, and maybe a little too amateur in comparison to the other sixteen songs. But I’m happy to be wrong if it means FYR Macedonia defies expectation, does okay and then decides to return to the comp next year.

 

Finally…the five things I’m most looking forward to seeing tonight

I don’t think this segment requires an intro.

  • Seeing how Bulgaria handle their hosting duties. Malta did an amazing job in 2014, and I’m sure Bulgaria can measure up. With Poli Genova at the helm, the night’s got to be rocking.
  • The performances from my personal top three. I’ll be on the edge of my seat when Belarus, Slovenia and Ukraine have their minutes in the spotlight, hoping for the best (or, in Ukraine’s case, hoping the shark thing was a joke).
  • Australia making their JESC debut. There was a time I would have laughed at you for fifteen straight minutes if you’d even implied that we Aussies would have a delegation at mini-Eurovij, all the whole wishing it would happen. Now it IS happening, and I am psyched.
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‘My girls here we goooooooo…to the supermarket, to buy some more alfoil for this dress.’ (Photo: ESC Daily)

  • Speaking of Australia…I’m awaiting our point delivery with eagerness too. Hopefully our jury has made the kind of choices that compensate for a lack of public vote. Although, we’re relying on an ex-Wiggle here…
  • And, to finish off, Vincenzo’s reprise of the stunning Tu Il Primo Grande Amore. I’m keen to see if his sass levels are still higher than a kite a year on from his victory. I’ve no doubt his voice remains spectacular.

 

I think I’ve said all I need to say before the show kicks off – or at least, all I have time to say, as I’ve got to go and have a pre-contest nap so I don’t pass out halfway through the recap. I’ll be doing some live tweeting tonight if you want to meet me on Twitter (I’m @EurovisionByJaz, in case you didn’t know).

Until then, if you catch sight of the comments section and feel like using it, give me one or all of your predictions for JESC 2015! I hope, no matter how right or wrong you turn out to be, you enjoy the show. I know I will, even if it does mean hauling my butt out of bed at two o’clock in the morning.

Merry JESC!

 

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JESC 2015 Judgments feat. the EBJ Junior Jury | Italy, Malta, Russia and Slovenia

Greetings, guys! It’s another day (obviously) and here’s another episode of the JESC 2015 Judgments for you to enjoy…or not. If you’re a fan of the Junior Eurovision offerings from Italy, Malta, Russia and/or Slovenia, you’re bound to feel some enjoyment, though perhaps not when one of this round’s jury members tears your fave to shreds. Just remember: honesty is the best policy, and one fan’s trash is another’s treasure, and a rolling stone gathers no moss, and a stitch in time saves nine, and…I’ve forgotten what I was talking about.

Why don’t we just get on with meeting today’s EBJ Junior Jury members? They’re a stellar bunch of folks!

 

 TODAY’S EBJ JUNIOR JURY

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Mrs. Jaz She’s back! Mrs. Jaz, a.k.a. my mother, has once again been forced at glitter-gunpoint to listen to and judge some Eurovision-related music, and I reckon she secretly loved it (her cries of ‘For the love of Lordi, make it stop!’ were all an act, I’m sure). Seriously though, she was happy to help out, and I’m happy to have the perspective of someone who can comment on each entry without knowing where it’s from or what the story is behind it – i.e. provide totally unbiased first impressions. A few of this round’s songs had her nodding in agreement with the rest of the EBJ Junior Jury, but the rest did not. Read on to find out which of the four floated her boat, and which had that boat capsizing faster than you can say ‘Where the heck are the life jackets?’

James Sayer ‘Hello! I’m James, a 20-year-old Creative Writing student at Edge Hill University, which is near Liverpool (nobody has ever heard of it, I’m aware. It’s lovely though, I promise). You might remember me from the EBJ Jury in May, when Jaz gave me Finland…need I say any more? I’m aiming to be a kinder judge this time! The first Junior contest in 2003 was actually my first-ever Eurovision experience: my sister and I stumbled across it and found ourselves captivated by all the exotic sounds on display. I think we took a particular shine to Like A Star from Malta. Junior Eurovision is basically the reason I’m a Eurovision fan, so no matter how immature some of it may seem now, it will always have a special place in my heart. My favourite-ever song from JESC changes between Sensatsiya (Russia 2012), Urok Hlamuru (Ukraine 2007), Svet U Mojim Očima (Serbia 2014) and Anders (Belgium 2007) quite regularly. I reckon 2014 was the strongest contest to date, and fingers crossed that it’s onwards and upwards from here!’

Jaz ‘You’re never getting rid of me, unless the ‘Jaz’ mysteriously drops from the title of this blog (so really, NEVER). Tasked with trying to write a different bio for myself each episode of the JESC Judgments, I figure I’ll follow James’ lead and list a few of my all-time favourite Junior entries from over the years. Just to name a few: Du by Mimmi Sandén (Sweden 2009); Te Traigo Flores by Antonio José (Spain 2005); Det Finaste Någon Kan Få by Molly Sandén (Sweden 2006); and Rodendeski Baknež by Denis Dimoski (FYR Macedonia 2005). That’s the tip of the iceberg, people. Will any of today’s tracks join that esteemed list in the future? Maybe. Just maybe…’

 

Now we’ve been introduced/introduced ourselves, we’re ready to unleash our opinions on the songs that Chiara & Martina, Destiny Chukunyere, Mikhail Smirmov and Lina Kuduzović are hoping will win them the JESC 2015 trophy. Do Mrs. Jaz, James or myself think that’s even a remote possibility for any of them? There’s only one way for you to find out.

 

 

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Mrs. Jaz Viva Italia! I liked this one straight away. It’s very catchy, and very happy. Even though I couldn’t understand anything these girls were singing, the positivity of their message was shining through in the sound of the song. They also harmonise really well, gelling and connecting in a way that makes me wonder if it’s purely a twin thing (instead of finishing each other’s sentences, they’re just so in sync that it’s hard to distinguish between them vocally). Yep, I’m pretty keen on this one…though I’m told that’s not a hugely popular opinion! 8 points.

James This one started promisingly for me: there were warm guitars and hints of synths, and I was thinking we were heading for something Tiziano Ferro-esque. You know – an epic stadium anthem, broody verses leading to a killer chorus…and then said chorus dropped. And IDK, it was like watching a basketball player charge up to the hoop, make an almighty leap, and then completely miss the hoop…and probably somehow manage to hit themselves in the face with the ball instead. The beat just plods, and the bassline is about as energetic and interesting as a salmon being slapped repeatedly off a table. My god, this is dated, and not in a good kind of retro way. It’s just cheap. And don’t even get me started on how thoroughly bored they both sound too – it’s as though the poor girls know just how bad their song is and are embarrassed to have to sing it, bless them. Italy really don’t want to accidentally win again, do they! Being nice, I’ll give them 3 points.

Jaz It’s easy to forget that Italy is the reigning champion of Junior Eurovision, given that we’re heading to Sofia, and not Rome or Milan, off the back of Vincenzo Cantiello’s triumph last November. Then you listen to their sophomore entry Viva, and it’s all too clear that Italy ain’t interested in doing a double. I don’t dislike this song, don’t get me wrong –  it’s a fun sing-along song, providing you can latch on to the Italian lyrics (which I can’t, so I just jump in whenever the twins shout ‘VIVA!’). Plus, Chiara and Martina have gelato tub-loads of personality, and as my mum said, harmonise as well as you’d expect singing twins to do. Still, this entry has nothing on Tu Il Primo Grande Amore. That was spine-tingling and timeless, and Viva is neither. The pop-rock sound is pretty 80s, so it’s far from fresh; it coasts along until the key-change arrives without going anyplace that exciting; and I definitely don’t have any hairs standing up on my body when I listen to it, unless I coincide that listening with sticking a knife in the toaster. But si, I still enjoy it, and it’s not like it’s the worst song on offer this year (Italy would NEVER send utter crap to a song contest!). I have a feeling Viva will be better live than in studio, mainly because it won’t be accompanied by a video that looks like something I could have put together in primary school… but I still can’t see it sidestepping 12th-15th place on the scoreboard. 6 points.

EBJ Junior Jury Score 5.67

 

 

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Mrs. Jaz Is this Junior Eurovision or Broadway? This sounds like a show tune the downtrodden star of a 70s-set musical would belt out at the point in the story where she’s decided that nobody’s going to bring her down any more (or in this case, take her soul). I don’t mind that about it, but I do think that sound is a detriment to the studio version. I’d expect this to be far more enjoyable live on stage, when Destiny can fulfill her namesake and get the crowd going (she sounds like she wouldn’t have any trouble doing so). The cons? Well, I didn’t love all of the vocal gymnastics at the beginning…I mean, yes, she’s got a great voice and a great range, but she doesn’t need to do a routine on the horizontal bars with her vocal chords to prove it. Apart from that, this entry is a likeable one, and I reckon it could do reasonably well for Malta. 6 points.

James Two words: CeeLo Green. Both the melody and the arrangement of Destiny’s song are more than just a little similar to the international smash hit Forget You from a few years back. It’s all been ‘kiddified’ though, and although it’s a little sickly at first, on repeated listens, I think it actually really works. I mean, the verses are a bit ‘meh’. But one undeniable positive is that Destiny’s sassy powerhouse vocals are 110% suited to this kind of song, and she really brings it to life. I think with a bit more money invested in updating the production (read: send it to Stockholm and see how it sounds when it comes back), this could be a genuine hit. That post-chorus hook is one of the strongest in the whole line-up this year. Not My Soul is a grower, and may be one to watch. 7 points.

Jaz We’ve known for a while that our girl Destiny can sing like Christina Aguilera on crack (sorry to make a drug reference when discussing the talents of a thirteen-year-old, but I’m really trying to emphasise the extent of said talents). Now she’s been matched with a song that lets her show it off to the fullest, without seeming like a vehicle for her voice and nothing else. Not My Soul is going to go OFF in the Arena Armeec, mark my words. It’s SHRN with those trumpets…well, trumpeting away in the background – and definitely Forget You gone female, youthful and Maltese. It’s made up of the cheesy-but-cute lyrical content we only get from Malta at JESC (and now, Australia, given many of us can’t understand the other countries’ song content without hotfooting it to Google Translate). Destiny crams more defiance into that ‘no, no, no, not my soul!’ post-chorus part than I have into my entire life – and not only do I believe that no-one will manage to take her soul, I also feel inspired to harness my lady power and be generally badass and stuff after hearing it. The whole thing just makes me feel good. It’s not my favourite entry of the year – far from it, in fact – but it’s an absolute match made in heaven between singer and song. And it’s so darn happy, I can’t resist having a moonwalk down the hallway during the chorus. I am more or less expecting Malta to nab another top five finish in 2015. 7 points.

EBJ Junior Jury Score 6.67

 


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Mrs. Jaz
This is…nice. Just nice. It didn’t grab me, so I can’t imagine it grabbing too many televoters or jurors either (but perhaps I’m just far off the average JESC watcher’s wavelength). I feel like you’d have to hear it more than once for any hope of being hooked in. Overall, it’s fairly forgettable and verging on (sorry, Mikhail!) mediocre. And I can’t think of anything else to say about it. 5 points.

James I’m gonna put it out there: I really like Russia’s song this year. The most striking thing about this one is how strong and professional the production is – it’s the polar opposite of Italy. It’s blatantly obvious that a lot of effort has been put into this song, and that makes me instinctively want to take it more seriously. And past that, it does have a really engaging melody too, which develops throughout and sounds very unique. I can see Russia doing really, really well with this one. Misha Smirnov has such a strong stage presence already – he’s a performer who has an effortless command of both his song and his audience, and has created an atmosphere every time he’s sung Mechta live. Another random observation: the chord progressions are very Russian too. They’ve managed to bring some national flavour by reflecting their domestic music scene rather than chucking in an accordion and a mini Cossack dancer in a bear costume (though I wouldn’t put it past them.) Pretty awesome, methinks. 8 points.

Jaz If you read my Junior reviews last year (which I’m sure you did!) you might recall that I detested the Russian song, Dreamer. Fast forward twelve months, and I’m still not mad about it in any way, shape or form, and by comparison, I much prefer Mikhail’s Mechta. It’s a weird track to try and describe, because I’m not sure whether it’s a ballad or a pop song, or both. I can say with certainty that the revamped version is a step up from the national final-winning version – it’s more upbeat and a lot less flat. I like the melody of the verses and choruses (though the latter are definitely stronger) and I think Mikhail is a nice, if not spectacular, singer. The entire entry is just nice, really, and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. It’s easy listening and not too showy, which is actually unusual for Russia. Similarly unusual would be pared-back presentation, but as I can’t imagine them overdoing the staging for a song like this, hopefully sight and sound will be equally simple. I’d like this to earn Russia a better result than last year’s, but that’s very unlikely to happen. When I put my objective hat on (which I don’t do very often) I can see that it’s probably too understated and too forgettable to go anywhere. But in terms of what I think of it and what point score I’d give it – which is the purpose of these reviews – it gets a thumbs up and 7 points from me.

EBJ Junior Jury Score 6.67

 

 

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Mrs. Jaz Ooh, this is a good one! Once again, I have no clue what’s being sung about, but I found myself getting swept up in the atmosphere created by a ballad that isn’t too much of a ballad, if that makes sense. The music is lovely, and Lina’s voice is even more so – there are no unnecessary vocal gymnastics on display here. She sounds young, but she has a lot of power and clarity in her voice that gives me the impression she knows what she’s doing. It’s a promising package…but I have to say, I preferred the Italian song. 7 points.

James Okay, Maraaya really do know how to create hits, don’t they? I simply love the Slovenian entry this year. It might even be my favourite. It’s classy and captivating, and the melody is interesting enough to make it stand out from the (many) other mini-LLBs (Jaz: lame lady ballads) crowding the field in this contest. I personally thought their song last year was a screechy misstep, but with Prva Ljubezen, Slovenia has officially ARRIVED. To be honest, most of the Balkan nations are bringing it this year, but the advantage Slovenia has is the professionalism. Lina looks, sounds, and acts like a star, and she’s got the mentoring and experience of Eurovision entrants Maraaya to back her up (whereas FYR Macedonia is endearingly home-made, and Serbia have sent a strong song with a singer who looks the absolute double of Honey Boo Boo). If I was to pick one tiny fault with this song, it’s that I think it would work much better in 100% Slovene. They could keep the Italian lines if need be; I just really don’t like the JESC tendency to shoehorn clumsily-written English lyrics into everything, because nine times out of ten it ruins what would have been a great song in its national language. But everyone’s doing it, so I doubt this will really be a problem for Lina! I’m hovering between 10 and 12 points…but I’m gonna go with 10. It’s fab, but it’s no Svet U Mojim Očima.

Jaz Before each ESC and JESC, as the competing songs are being selected, I sit and wait to hear one that gives me THE FEELING. The one that makes me stop in my tracks, gives me goosebumps and has the word ‘WINNER!!!’ written all over it. There are two songs en route to Sofia that have that effect on me, and one of them is Slovenia’s. I’m not saying it’s a shoo-in to win, but it sure as heck gives me that impression. Ermahgerd, it’s good. Maraaya (and Lina, who co-wrote both the music and the lyrics with the duo), take a bow! A good old tinkly piano intro gives way to beautifully-constructed, dynamic verses and soaring choruses, and it’s all very current. It’s instant enough to latch on to without being derivative as well, which is a hard thing to achieve. And I haven’t even mentioned the cherry on top – Lina’s incredible vocal, which is practically studio-perfect live, as you’d expect from someone who won Slovenia’s Got Talent when they were SEVEN YEARS OLD (way to make all of us senior citizens feel inadequate, Lina). Basically, this is the bomb dot com, and if it doesn’t do extremely well for Slovenia, I’ll be boycotting all things JESC for at least five minutes. DOUZE POINTS!

EBJ Junior Jury Score 9.67

 

Well, that was interesting (I hope)! Reading each other’s minds re: some songs and completely disagreeing on others, the EBJJJ have proved that music has the power to unite and divide in a very short space of time. It also has the power to make me shake my fist bitterly in my mother’s direction for thinking Italy is superior to Slovenia this year…but I have to respect her views. Or at least, I have to appear to.

Here’s a look at the leaderboard for this round of reviews:

  1. Slovenia (9.67)
  2. Russia (6.67)
  3. Malta (6.67)
  4. Italy (5.67)

I won’t factor in the scores from Part 1 – I’m saving those for the EBJ Junior Jury’s Top 17 post. But I will remind you that Armenia topped the previous leaderboard with 8.00, meaning that Slovenia is now sitting pretty in the number one spot (Helena Paparizou would approve). With nine countries’ entries left for the EBJJJ to review, can Lina maintain her lead? Or will she be knocked unceremoniously off the top by one of the upcoming acts from Australia, Belarus, Georgia or Ukraine? Time will tell, ladies and gents.

Drop by EBJ at the end of the week if you want to see two Aussies and an American have their say on the aforementioned four. I promise the pair of us from Down Under will try not to be biased when it comes to commenting on Bella Paige. Try, but perhaps not succeed.

In the meantime, let me know below what you think of today’s entries. Which of the jurors was on your wavelength…if any?

 

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