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EBJ’s Top 10…incredible JESC singers even the haters have to hear

You may have heard the saying ‘A song is only as good as its singer’. Then again, you may not have, because I just made it up. If it were true, though, then the following ten songs would be the ten best in Junior Eurovision history, given that the 10-15 year-olds who performed them are so vocally talented I want to cry (but won’t *sniff*).

Yep, Eurovision’s younger, more effervescent sibling has seen its fair share of top-notch singing talents between 2003 and 2014 (as well as some kids who shouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near a microphone…but that’s a topic for another post). Those of you who aren’t JESC fans might not be convinced of that, but can I give you some advice? At the very least, keep an eye and ear out for these ten tiny(ish) talents: five + five of the most jaw-dropping vocalists to have competed in JESC to date. If you are on Team JESC, then I hope you’ll agree with me re: their amazing-ness.

top10jesc

 

#10 | Mariam Kakhelishvili, Georgia 2010

If you don’t like Lady Gaga, you probably won’t like the so-called Baby Gaga either. But since this whole list will be a drag for some of you, what’s one more thing to give the thumbs-down to? Mariam represented Georgia at JESC having previously placed third in Georgia’s Got Talent. She’d definitely fulfilled the brief of that show, so it didn’t come as a shock when Junior Eurovision no. 8 saw her blow the roof off the Minsk Arena with the sheer volume of her voice. I totally get that listening to a precocious tween shout in an imaginary language for three straight minutes is not everyone’s cup of tea (even I can’t watch back her rendition of Mari-Dari if I’m feeling remotely headache-y) but I do think Mariam’s yells were remarkably in-tune. She sang like she was in musical battle – which was more or less the case – and it was not a battle she was willing to lose. Of course, she didn’t win in the end…but fourth place is nothing to do any off-stage screaming about.

 

#9 | Mimmi Sandén, Sweden 2009

Mimmi’s sister Molly will be a more familiar face to non-fans of Junior Eurovision (what with two Melodifestivalen participations on her résumé, and fellow seasoned Melfester Danny Saucedo as her arm candy) but her own JESC performance in 2006 was far from flawless, vocally – and third Sandén sister Frida’s turn in 2007 was only just above average (which is woeful by Swedish standards). Youngest of the three Mimmi, however, compensated for her sisters’ sub-standard moments, putting in a stellar vocal performance of her electro-pop ballad Du in Kyiv. The song – one of my all-time Junior favourites – sounds like a tough one to tackle, but Mimmi did it with ease, effortlessly belting out the baby notes and the big ones. So talented back then at age thirteen, you can imagine how off-the-charts awesome she is in 2015.

 

#8 | Krisia Todorova, Bulgaria 2014

Teeny-tiny and absolutely adorable, Krisia is currently the darling of JESC – despite herself, Hasan and Ibrahim narrowly losing out to Vincenzo Cantiello (who may just feature later on in the countdown) in Malta last year. She’ll be performing the theme song of this year’s show. #discover, on home soil in three weeks’ time, and if she pulls off that performance anything like she pulled off Planet of the Children’s last year, those of us tuning in will be in for a treat. The power of the voice that came out of this girl was immense, and the fact that you practically needed a microscope to spot her on the stage gives that massive voice even more of a wow factor.

 

#7 | Noni Răzvan Ene, Romania 2004

The girls have dominated so far in this countdown – possibly because they aren’t prone to on-stage puberty-related problems (i.e. voice breakages). Romania’s Noni, fortunately, made the journey to JESC prior to his vocal chords taking a trip of their own to the Deep South. ‘Angelic’ is the word I’d use to describe his vocal performance of the powerful Îţi Mulţumesc. He looked as if he might burst a blood vessel before his final note, but his ability to channel that much emotion and effort into his song despite being so young was impressive. And, he trademarked tearing up post-performance at a Eurovision event well before Polina Gagarina (though his moist eyes may have just been due to relief that he DIDN’T explode into smithereens on live TV). It’s no wonder that he’s gone on to be pretty darn successful in his home country, releasing a string of singles and dabbling in television hosting and acting.

 

#6 | Sofia Tarasova, Ukraine 2013

Now, make way for the Ukrainian child version of Christina Aguilera! Sofia represented Ukraine when they hosted JESC for the second time, and she very nearly scored them a second consecutive win with We Are One. It was a cutting-edge, contemporary number that needed to be vocally nailed if it was going to have an impact, and Sofia did not disappoint. Being the home girl, she’d have received rapturous applause even if she’d trotted on stage and burped the alphabet, but her huge reception was well deserved. She’s a prime example of a small person who can fill a giant arena with their voice alone – no backup dancers or gimmicks (save for a laser light show, naturally…this IS a Eurovision event we’re talking about) required.

 

#5 | Gaia Cauchi, Malta 2013

Confession time: Gaia’s The Start was my least favourite competing entry of 2013. That may not be much of a confession if you read my scathing review of it back then, but I just thought I’d throw it out there. I wasn’t even in the mood for admiring her vocal prowess in those days, what with that nasal quality to her voice that Ann Sophie couldn’t even compare to. However, I have changed my tune (HA HA) on both song and singer, and I can no longer deny that Gaia is an amazing vocalist, with a seemingly unending supply of oxygen that she can use for show-stopping notes. The Start was full of them, and that impressed both the televoters and juries enough to claim Malta their first win in any competition featuring the letters E, S and C. A year later, Gaia proved her power hadn’t diminished as she returned to JESC as an interval act. You can pretty much expect her to enter Eurovision the second she’s sixteen.

 

#4 | Federica Falzon, Malta 2014

It’s always surprising when a voice like Céline Dion’s comes out of someone young enough to be Céline Dion’s grandchild – but when the pipes of an ageing opera diva have apparently inhabited that someone, ‘surprising’ no longer covers the feels one experiences. Federica represented the host country last year at the ripe old age of eleven, and her voice has to be heard – and seen – to be believed. Actually, it’s the only one on this list that can be seen, heard, and still not believed because it’s so incongruous with her appearance. If you’re yet to listen to what she has to offer, I recommend you do so right now…just be ready to pick your jaw up off the floor about twenty seconds in.

 

#3 | Sophia Patsalides, Cyprus 2014

JESC’s last few years have produced some ridiculously talented singers – of the seven I’ve mentioned so far, only three took part prior to 2013. Here’s another voice from the most recent contest (until November 21st has been and gone) who will knock your socks off, if she hasn’t already. Sophia, like Sofia (that’s not confusing at all) appeared all by herself on stage, but managed to get the crowd going while delivering a faultless vocal that would have floored any backing dancers she might have had. Her entry I Pio Omorfi Mera started and ended softly, but packed a punch in between, featuring a key change that seasoned singers thrice her age would have struggled to execute. That turned out to be the goosebump, this-could-win moment for Cyprus. Spoiler alert for the unaware: Cyprus got ripped off big time, finishing 9th…but that key change was still a win-worthy one as far as I’m concerned.

 

#2 | Ana Khanchalyan, Georgia 2011

If Sofia Tarasova is Ukraine’s answer to Aguilera, then Ana Khanchalyan is undoubtedly Georgia’s. And if you didn’t know her by name, you’d know her by voice once you’d watched her group Candy’s winning performance at JESC 2011. The fivesome blended well together, and all of their solo parts were strong. But Ana was unquestionably the standout, and Georgia used that knowledge to serious advantage when wrapping up the Candy package. Most aspects of this entry really put the ‘Junior’ into Junior Eurovision – Candy Music’s lyrics and sound, the girls’ costumes, etc – so the maturity of Ana’s vocals allowed Georgia to strike a memorable balance between childlike and competent-beyond-their-years. Three years after she took (one fifth of) the JESC trophy home, Ana successfully auditioned for a place on The Voice of Armenia, and went on to win the whole thing. Don’t be shocked if she ends up repping Georgia or Armenia at Eurovision sometime soon.

 

#1 | Vincenzo Cantiello, Italy 2014

He was number one in Malta last November, and now he’s numero uno again – on this insignificant list that he’ll never know exists and wouldn’t care about if he did! Woohoo! Vincenzo, our reigning Junior Eurovision champ, stood out as the only male main artist to participate last year (my apologies to Bulgaria’s Hasan & Ibrahim, but Krisia was the main attraction there). This kid also shops in the ‘Unbelievable’ section of the singing department, and that obviously struck a chord (pun intended) with the juries in particular, who placed Italy on top of their leaderboard. Vincenzo’s vocals are the kind that send a shiver down the spine of anyone who isn’t a heartless, soulless shell of a human being (in my opinion). Mark my words: he’s going to go far. Further than Sofia, where he’ll be announcing Italy’s JESC 2015 votes – and, hopefully, performing a reprise of Tu Il Primo Grande Amore, a song Il Volo would be proud to have in their back catalogue.

 

 

That’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to listing European kids who can sing better than I can even when I’m in the shower (which is really saying something, because I sound freaking awesome with those acoustics) but these ten are my personal favourites.

Let me know below which JESC participants have warbled their way into your heart over the years – or, if you normally recoil at the mere mention of Junior, what you thought of those who made my countdown, if you managed to sit through any of their three minutes (Halloween weekend has just gone, so I thought you wouldn’t mind doing something scary).

 

Until next time,

 

2015sig

 

PS – Speaking of which…

NEXT TIME JESC avoiders beware! With the Sofia show less than three weeks away, it’s time for me to kick off my Junior Eurovision 2015 reviews – but I’m not doing it alone. I’ve put together an expert EBJJJ (Eurovision By Jaz Junior Jury) and they’re ready to compliment, criticise and score all seventeen songs competing in Bulgaria. And don’t worry: just because there’s children involved doesn’t mean we’re going to hold back (although I do draw the line at swearing…it’s not f%*#ing appropriate)!

 

From the start to ‘The Start’: reviewing + wrapping up JESC 2013

It’s been a week since Gaia and her poofy dress were crowned (or trophied, I should say…this isn’t Miss World) the winner of Junior Eurovision 2013, to the surprise of few. A week is like a decade in Eurovision years, so I apologise for taking so long to get all of my thoughts out on this year’s comp.

I’ll admit, despite my dislike for The Start (which grew out of straight-up hate and, shamefully, could develop into tolerance any day now) I’ve been feeling warm and fuzzy all week over the fact that Malta has finally won an ESC event. For such a small nation surrounded only by water (cross-border voting accusers are speechless right now) to triumph in such a level playing field is a big deal, even if it wasn’t in the adult ESC. Personally, I think it’s even more impressive this way, because while Malta has been successful in the senior contest (including that surprising top 10 result in Malmö) they actually have a below-average track record in Junior – up until now, they’ve only made the top 5 once and have spent most of their time outside of the top 10. So a belated but big congratulations goes to Malta from moi. My fingers and toes are crossed that they choose to host the show in 2014, so I can at least travel there spiritually, if not physically. Unless I win the lottery by then, of course.

But you don’t want to hear me rambling on about winning lotto when there’s JESC rambling to be done. I’m going to run through everything that happened last Saturday evening, including the twelve performances, painfully scripted host banter, and all 1, 254 interval acts (I give mid-voting entertainment the thumbs down).

Did Ukraine do better the second time around? How did Zlata cram her hobbit feet into those fierce stilettos for her act? Will The Start be a karaoke classic? All these questions and more may just be answered in this review and wrap-up of the JESC that was.

Let’s begin with the filling of the sandwich. The most important part. The reason we all watched in the first place (unless you watched for Ruslana and ended up sorely disappointed).

 

The performances

From #1 to #12, here they are – scrutinised and scored for your convenience.

Sweden – My heart breaks for Elias, because, well…so did his voice. And what a time for it to happen! At least Dorijan Dlaka feels his pain. Unavoidable vocal difficulties aside, I enjoyed this as an opener, as I suspected I would. Yes, it was a slow burner, but when the chorus kicked in, the audience made some serious noise. It made an impact, as did Sweden’s excellent use of the background. The staging was a little boring, but you can’t expect acrobats and costume reveals with a song like this. A final question: was up with Elias’ crazy eyes? Was he using those to try and distract us from his voice?  

Song (10); Vocals (6); Staging (8); Personality (6); Costume (7) = 7 points

 

Azerbaijan – This was the first time I’d heard Rustam sing live, and I have to say, just like last year with Azerbaijan, I was disappointed. Maybe it was nerves (he is so incredibly teeny) but he sounded like he had a throat infection, and we cannot blame that on puberty. On the plus side, his costume was as cute as a button (whatever that means) and I enjoyed the choreography. Who could resist a human bicycle? Or a giant guitar, for that matter. In some ways, Azerbaijan stepped it up for JESC this year, but in others, they remained same-same.

Song (8); Vocals (6); Staging (8); Personality (10); Costume (8) = 8 points

 

Armenia – If I had thought to mute my laptop before Monica opened her mouth, this would have been an excellent performance. The props were sweet (literally), the costumes were as elaborate as I’d expected, and Monica worked the stage quite well. Unfortunately, her vocal performance was hands-down THE worst of the night. In fact, I wouldn’t even call what she did up there singing – it was more a case of yelling out of tune. The song and act were very Georgian, and it’s kind of a shame Georgia didn’t send it, because there’s no way they would have sent a kid who had the ability to butcher their own composition. Sorry, Mon.  

Song (10); Vocals (2); Staging (8); Personality (10); Costume (8) = 8 points

A violin break meant a singing break, and that turned out to be good news for us all...

A violin break meant a singing break, and that turned out to be good news for us all…

 

San Marino – It wasn’t until this point that a decent vocalist took to the stage, in the gold-jacketed Michele. For me, this was also the first package performance, where everything came together. I loved the beginning, where Michele was sitting in the spotlight á la Dima Bilan, and the audience started singing along with the o-o-o’s (SO CUTE, especially for a country making its debut). He had great stage presence and charisma, and the choreography was enjoyable. Perhaps the Michael Jackson vibe was taken a bit too far with that costume, but this was a top 5 act. Well, it should have been.

Song (10); Vocals (10); Staging (8); Personality (12); Costume (7) = 10 points

 

FYR Macedonia – It wasn’t a complete car crash, but there were a lot of things wrong with Barbara’s performance. Number one: her voice. Sure, she sounded like Whitney Houston compared to Armenia, but she was definitely ropey. She didn’t look like she was having the best of times up there either. Her costume was business up top and party down below, and it didn’t really work. A lighter, brighter, more summery look would have suited the song more. I also think Barbara should have let her backing dancers do most of the moves so she could have focused on her voice.

Song (8); Vocals (5); Staging (6); Personality (6); Costume (5) = 6 points

 

Ukraine – If I had to use one word…PERFECTION! Sofia took a mere few seconds to relegate Michele to second-best performance so far. Perhaps I’m biased because We Are One was/is my favourite entry, but I think every aspect of the performance on the night was top notch: her voice (of course), the costume, the high-tech lighting, the camera work (which was not so good throughout the rest of the night), her emotion, and anything else I’ve forgotten to mention. This was a host entry that deserved the rapturous reception they tend to get no matter what. 

Song (12); Vocals (12); Staging (12); Personality (12); Costume (12) = 12 points

 

Belarus – Ilya was my next favourite, but I was worried about his ability to pull off the vocal in what doesn’t seem an easy song to sing. Fortunately, he nailed it, and everything else. Great entry, and great dance moves, Belarus! The knee slide that accompanied Ilya’s money note was the cherry on top of a polished, professional and entertaining cake. The only thing I would pick on is the lack of colour in the costumes, but only because I just want colour everywhere, in everything, particularly in JESC. It doesn’t really bother me.

Song (12); Vocals (12); Staging (12); Personality (12); Costume (10) = 12 points

 

Moldova – My favourites just kept on coming. As with Macedonia, I was expecting this to be an epic fail despite my love for it. Aside from an off-key first chorus, I was pleasantly surprised. The change from national final to now was obvious, and not just because there wasn’t a row of bored-looking judges yawning their way through it. Rafael emoted well, and those costumes were the bomb! The addition of the girl-in-a-bird-suit was verging on too much, but it was striking, and she did jeté out at the right moment. So well done, ladies and gents. And bird.

Song (12); Vocals (8); Staging (8); Personality (10); Costume (10) = 10 points

Forget 'grease'...bird is the word in Moldova.

Forget ‘grease’…bird is the word in Moldova.

 

Georgia – I think we all knew there was a certain Georgian-ness missing from this entry, and with the lack of colour (here I go again) and funk in the costumes, that was further emphasised. Having said that, the country continued not to put a foot wrong in the competition, with a polished, vocally together and enthusiastic performance. I liked the Birgit black-and-white effect, although it could have been executed better. It was clear that this wasn’t a winning act, so I hope we get the old Georgia back next year. The Georgia that makes us all think they could easily win.

Song (10); Vocals (10); Staging (7); Personality (10); Costume (7) = 10 points

 

Netherlands – I thought this would be an act to beat, and the performance gave me no reason to doubt that, though there were times when the twins looked uncomfortable. Maybe those cheerleader outfits were itchy. Still, they put on a great show not that different from what we saw at the Dutch final. The audience seemed to go particularly nuts over this one. This may sound odd, but I wonder if it was too childish for the tastes of the voters? Look at what they ranked first and second. 

Song (10); Vocals (8); Staging (8); Personality (7); Costume (10) = 10 points

 

Malta – Yes, I was won over by Gaia, but I haven’t completely back-tracked on the trashing I gave her song when I was reviewing all of them. It’s just that, in the spotlight and in that adorable dress, she commanded attention without the need for props or dancers, and did give a spectacular vocal performance. The ballad also provided a nice contrast with Double Me before it and Mechtay after it. As soon as Gaia belted out her final note, I was pretty certain Malta had the comp all sewn up. 

Song (8); Vocals (12); Staging (8); Personality (10); Costume (8) = 10 points

 

Russia – Dayana and her troupe of sailors (sadly, she did not arrive in Kiev flanked by the Buranovskiye Babushki) brought some colour to the stage and ended the string of performances with a bang…and a boat that still defies explanation. Generally, it was a good performance. For a song that starts at a high level and only goes up from there, it was well managed by Dayana. I would say that she could have moved around more – she seemed a bit stiff, and never really got down with her dancers, Ruslana-style, which I think would have been a better choice for such a high-energy entry. 

Song (10); Vocals (10); Staging (8); Personality (7); Costume (8) = 10 points

"The boat represents my intention to sail away with the victory."

“The boat represents my intention to sail away with the victory.”

 

These performances went by in a blur on the night, but now that I stop and think about them, and the above scoring, these are the places I believe everyone deserved:

  1. Ukraine
  2. Belarus
  3. Malta
  4. San Marino
  5. Russia
  6. Netherlands
  7. Georgia
  8. Moldova
  9. Azerbaijan
  10. Armenia
  11. Sweden
  12. FYR Macedonia

A few of these came true, or almost true. I’ll remind you of what the actual scoreboard looked like later on (in case you’ve forgotten, because, you know, it’s been THAT long). Right now, let’s talk about…

 

The interval acts

And when I say ‘acts’, I mean ‘acts’. Seriously, have you ever seen so many interludes of entertainment in your entire life? There were more pauses for IAs than there were lingering hand shots in the broadcast of Eurovision 2013 (which is saying a lot). I’m not going to cover the many random dance routines sprinkled throughout – including mid-voting which nearly killed me (just get on with it, for god’s sake!) – but there were some main events worth mentioning:

  • Emmelie de Forest made an appearance with a pint-sized piper and her usual lack of footwear (does the girl own a pair of shoes?) and I have to say, I was underwhelmed. Only Teardrops never did that much for me, and it did even less without the fancy pyrotechnics and with a dress one would wear to a funeral.  
  • Miniature powerhouse Anastasiya Petryk half-reprised Nebo, sounding as frightening as ever and looking as tiny as she did a year ago. As she said in her postcard back then, she is still ‘small Ukrainian girl’. She then launched into a surprisingly fluffy (for her, the demon child) song about winning and believing and stuff. I personally would have preferred to hear the whole of Nebo again.
  • The class of Kyiv took to the stage to “perform” (a.k.a. mime) the group song Be Creative (I wonder where they got that title from?) which, if you could ignore the obvious lip-syncing, was quite nice. It makes me happy to see all the kids high-fiving and interacting with each other like that, until I get sad that they’re all going to be jetting off home and only communicating via social networks (ooh-ooh, ooh-oh-ohhh…).
  • The best was saved for almost-last when the gloriousness that is Zlata put on a show that put Emmelie’s to shame. This included a variety of costume changes involving too much cleavage for children’s television and a dress that I’m sure she stole from Kim-Lian’s host wardrobe. I enjoyed every minute of it! Normally I’d be crushing on the male co-host, but Zlata is the most perfect creature ever to have existed, and if she asked me to marry her, I would totally say yes.

 Ahem. Well, this is awkward. Let’s move on!

 

Other talking points

  • The artist parade: I always enjoy this part. I’m not sure about the whole ‘backing it with the entries’ deal though. I think keeping the songs as fresh as possible for the performances is the way to go.
  • The stage: Jigsaw-tastic! That thing was grand enough for adult Eurovision, if a little too childlike. I preferred the Amsterdam stage a bit more just to look at, but this one is still one of the best we’ve seen.
  • The hosts: I’ve already made mention of my soon-to-be fiancée Zlata, who was joined by co-compere of 2009, Timur Mirosch…Mirochs…Miroschchenkyo. Miroschnychenko! Man, Lynda Woodruff would have a field day with that one. It’s not a bad gig for him, hosting alongside stunning women like Zlata and Ani Lorak. Perhaps he was distracted by Zlata’s beauty (or her massive dress) because he wasn’t as proficient as he was last time. Together, they were competent, but the humour came across forced. I did like their outfits though – very JESC appropriate, and they matched the logo!
I assumed Zlata was representing Australia in the green and gold for a while.

I assumed Zlata was representing Australia in the green and gold for a while.

  •  The postcards: Cute, and tailored to the country and artist about to perform, which I find more enjoyable than vignette after vignette of panoramic host country shots. You can never go too far with puzzle pieces, that’s my motto. I also liked the segment that posed the question: where did the kids want to be in 10 years? If it wasn’t for that, we never would have learned that Dayana aspires to be a crazy cat lady.

Now let’s focus on the part of the show that gets everybody’s palms (and probably some other places) sweating.

 

The voting and results

Once all the performances are over, THIS is what we wait for, right? When it comes to JESC, the voting is often tense all the way through, and 2013 was no exception (the EBU didn’t even have to rig the order to make it more exciting).

There was no tension in terms of technical difficulties, however, as we had live spokespersons presenting each country’s points for the first time. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, it eliminates the possibility of cross-continental glitches that leave us cringing at the awkwardness of it all; on the other, it made the process run too quickly for my liking, and felt a bit wrong because we’re all so accustomed to crossing all over Europe and hearing those magical words: ‘INSERT CAPITAL HERE calling!’. I don’t think I want to see it repeated in Valletta next year (as Elias would say, that’s where we’re going. It’s a fairly safe bet).

Let’s take a quick look at some of the interesting occurrences of the swift voting sequence that saw Malta take out the top prize.

  • The first douze of the night came courtesy of the kids’ jury and went to Malta. While this foreshadowed the outcome, we couldn’t have been sure at that point that Gaia had the comp in the bag. Last year the kids’ jury ranked eventual runner-ups Georgia first.
  • Malta didn’t receive another set of douze until four more countries had voted. Sweden, Azerbaijan and Armenia gave theirs to Russia, and San Marino got a big cheer for sending theirs Ukraine’s way.
  • Macedonia only received points from six countries, out of a possible eleven plus the kids’ jury. Barbara’s highest score was the 2 she got from Armenia. 11th-placed Moldova received points from ten countries, the highest being 4 from Belarus, Georgia and Malta.
  • We had three leaders throughout the voting: Malta (duh), Ukraine and Russia.
  • Russia was the last country to vote, and they had the power to make for a very different story. Had they given their douze to Ukraine and four points or less to Malta, the host country would have won.
  • Their points did make for a few less drastic last-minute changes: San Marino moved from 11th place to 10th, and the handy douze to Belarus pushed them ahead of Russia into the bronze position. Basically, Russia scored themselves out of a trophy. Oops.
  • All up, Malta received five lots of douze, Russia and Ukraine three each, and Armenia and Belarus one apiece.

To refresh your memory (whether it needs it or not) this is what the scoreboard looked like after all of the above:

  1. Malta (130)
  2. Ukraine (121)
  3. Belarus (108)
  4. Russia (106)
  5. Georgia (91)
  6. Armenia (69)
  7. Azerbaijan (66)
  8. Netherlands (59)
  9. Sweden (46)
  10. San Marino (42)
  11. Moldova (41)
  12. FYR Macedonia (19)
If it wasn't for the picture of Rustam and Monica dancing together, THIS would be the cutest photo of 2013.

If it wasn’t for the picture of Rustam and Monica dancing together, THIS would be the cutest photo of 2013.

This was not an easy contest to predict, and as I am rubbish at seeing the future, I managed to predict just one placing correctly – Georgia’s 5th. I had a few close ones though, deciding that Malta would come 2nd, Russia 3rd, Azerbaijan 6th and Moldova last. It is shameful that I couldn’t even get the bottom-ranker right (that’s usually the easiest one!) but I’m so not bothered, because Rafael didn’t lose! I love his song but was sure he’d bring up the rear, so I’m thrilled he did better than I expected.

Other surprises? San Marino so low, for starters. After the great performance he turned out, and that encouraging sing-along from the audience, I thought Michele had it in him to make the top 5. He would have deserved it. The Netherlands missing out on a top 5 placing also shocked me. I’m still not 100% sure what went wrong there.

On the ‘happy surprise’ front, Ukraine’s second-place features heavily for me. Sofia was amazing, her song is amazing, blah blah blah…you know I think it was perfect.

But my moment of the night was Belarus’ last-second leapfrog into 3rd place, which secured them a trophy and, technically, their best result since 2007. Ilya aced what I was worried could be a disaster vocal, and everything else just came together, so IMO the placing was well deserved.

My top 3 – Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova – did a whole lot better than I’d anticipated. What about you? How did your favourites go? Did any of the final scores surprise you?

 

Awarding some trophies of my own

I always hold an awards ceremony for the ESC, so here’s a suitably miniature version for JESC. I don’t actually have trophies to hand out, but the thought’s there.

Mr. Congeniality is Michele Perniola because he was positive, friendly, and super charismatic on stage, even in that questionable jacket.

Michele rests, exhausted by his own awesomeness

Michele rests, exhausted by his own awesomeness

Miss Congeniality is Mylène & Rosanne because they have double the sunny personality and double the ability to smile 24/7!

The Born Entertainer is Ilya Volkov because he’s a showman and a half, and is totes the Donny Montell of Junior Eurovision.

The Best Artist Gimmick was from the Netherlands because hello? It’s Jedward all over again.

The Artist Most Likely To End Up in the ESC is Gaia Cauchi because she sings, and she’s Maltese. It’s a given. We have two former JESC contestants in the NF for Copenhagen alone.

Remember this face (and giant hair bow)...they'll both be coming at you in the Maltese final five years from now.

Remember this face…it’ll be coming at you in the Maltese NF five years from now.

The Grower Song of the Year is from San Marino because I thought it was average at first, but now I’m o-o-o-ing along with all of y’all.

The Best Vocal came from Sofia Tarasova because whilst her voice may not be as powerhouse as Gaia’s, I know which one I’d rather listen to.

The Best Prop/Gimmick came from Russia because well, there weren’t that many to choose from, and even if the boat didn’t make sense, it was striking.

The Best Choreography was from Belarus because Ilya and his lady friends had the moves like Jagger. Kind of.

The Best Use of the Background was by Sweden because with little else to work with, the spark effect added interest to the performance, and amped up at just the right moments.

The Best Dressed Artist/s were from Moldova because Rafael looked adorable, and the graphic get-ups his backing dancers wore were very cool.

The Worst Dressed Artist/s were from FYR Macedonia because what…was that? Half dinner party and half music festival?  

Put your hands in the air like you just don't care...about what you're wearing!

Put your hands in the air like you just don’t care…about what you’re wearing!

The Most Deserved Final Result was received by Ukraine because they did as well as possible (with a brilliant act) whilst stepping back to let a new country win. Not on purpose, but you know what I mean.

The Least Deserved Final Result was received by San Marino because Michele was the first to impress me on the night, and his performance still stood up at the end of the night.

The Least Predictable Result was received by the Netherlands because most of us thought they’d do excellent, didn’t we? I never would have guessed the twins would be left to loiter so low.

 

Believe it or not, that is all I have to say about Junior Eurovision 2013 for now. You probably will believe that, since I covered everything whether it was interesting or not (my bad). Kyiv did a pretty good job of hosting the second time around, and if JESC lasts long enough to give the city a third try then I’ll welcome it. I’m sure Timur would too, because there’d be some other superhumanly attractive Ukrainian woman to follow in the footsteps of Ani and Zlata by presenting alongside him. Maybe Verka Seduchka? 

 

Bests, worsts, highlights, lowlights, shocks and surprises – if you’ve got any from last weekend, let me know down below!

 

JESC Month | Today’s the day! Ranking and predicting before Kyiv kicks off

Can anyone believe Amsterdam 2012 happened a whole year ago?

ME NEITHER! It cannot possibly be JESC time again already, because the last show was only, like, a few months ago, right?

Nope. The last year has gone so fast I don’t even think Barbara Popović could’ve kept up with it, and lo and behold…it IS time for Eurovision’s first-born to entertain us once again.

JESC turns eleven this year, and it’s a miracle it’s even happening. Thanks to the EBU, who are obviously very persuasive, or have zero qualms about bribing people with large amounts of money and/or chocolate, 12 artists from 12 countries are about to battle it out for that all-important trophy in the shape of Puzzle Man (and also for two others that look exactly the same). In just a few hours, I’ll be dragging myself out of bed to watch them in action, and you better be there with me. Not literally, of course, unless you happen to be in my ‘hood, in which case come over and bring all the sugary consumables you can carry.

I’m super excited for tonight’s show, particularly because it’s a hard one to predict, which means the voting sequence will be a nailbiter. Then again, I have enough trouble predicting…well, anything, so that makes things difficult. Still, I’m going to have a shot at guessing how things will go down tonight, just for you (‘you’ meaning ‘anyone who happens to stumble across this post’) and I’ll throw in some final pre-contest rankings and expectations as well.

The hours and minutes are ticking down, so let’s get cracking!

 

PS – RANDOM ALERT! Thought this does have a JESC link…I just wanted to mention that Sweden’s 2011 Junior representative, Erik Rapp, finished 3rd in Swedish Idol last night. I’ve checked out some of his performances from the season, and some of the final two contestants, and I have to say, he was robbed of a place in next week’s final! Robbed, I tell you! Still, it’s great for him to have gotten so far, and with Sweden appreciating their finalists so much, he’s still got a chance to carve out a decent career for himself, á la Robin Stjernberg. I still have hope that a former JESC artist will win one of these talent shows one day.

PPS – This just in (sort of)! Malta’s 2008 Junior representative, Daniel Testa, has been confirmed as a semi-finalist in the Maltese NF for Eurovision 2014! Me so excited. Already I want him in Copenhagen, even over Fabrizio Faniello and the million other competitors who have tried to represent Malta more times than they’ve had hot dinners.

ANYWAY…

 

From reviews to rankings 

A couple of days ago I rounded off my 2013 reviews. If you haven’t checked them out yet, THERE’S STILL TIME! HURRY! I scored the whole class of Kyiv based on our beloved ESC point system, but I decided to keep you in suspense (ha ha) regarding a full, twelve-country ranking, until right now.

  1. Ukraine
hqdefault

Sofia nearly swallows her microphone at the shock of being my #1

  1. Belarus
  2. Moldova
  3. Russia
  4. The Netherlands
  5. Sweden
  6. Armenia
  7. San Marino
  8. Georgia
  9. Macedonia
  10. Azerbaijan
  11. Malta

Keep in mind that the only song I really dislike is Malta’s. I know it’s a fan favourite and everyone thinks it’s going to win, blah blah blah, but I’m entitled to stand apart from the crowd every now and then. Stand apart from them, all lonesome, weakly waving a mini Moldovan flag, it would seem.

Everybody wants their favourites to do well, but since Moldova is a lost cause and I have a bad feeling about Belarus, I’m relying on the host country to stop me from sinking into a deep depression (especially if Malta wins – then the depression would be brought on both by things not going my way and the generally moany vibe of The Start). But realistically, how do I think they’ll do?

 

Making (terrible) predictions

Okay, it’s crunch time, a.k.a. prediction o’clock. Before I begin, here’s a disclaimer: not only am I a notoriously inaccurate predictor, but since I never watch any Eurovision-related rehearsals (I’m not getting up at 2am to see something I’ve seen before) all of my guesses are based on feedback from those on the ground in Kyiv, as well as my own warped opinions.

With that said, this is how I think the scoreboard will look at the end of the evening:

  1. The Netherlands – I type this knowing it doesn’t feel right, but that is how hard the predicting shebang has been this year. I certainly think it’s a possibility, though. The Netherlands have a catchy song, a concept (the whole twin thing…you may not have noticed) and by all accounts, an eye-catching stage show. They are also late in the draw and sandwiched between two much slower songs (Georgia and Malta. And that happened RANDOMLY, EBU) so there’s nothing stopping them from sticking out. If they don’t win, they’ll do very well.
Instead of rehearsing, Mylene and Rosanne argue about who gets to keep the trophy

Instead of rehearsing, Mylene and Rosanne argue about who gets to keep the trophy

  1. Malta – going against the masses, I just don’t believe this has the power to reel in the most votes. It feels like a song that could easily come second or third to me. Plus, the closest thing to a ballad that’s ever won JESC is Nebo, and though there’s a first time for everything, I don’t reckon tonight will be the first time a traditional ballad snatches up the trophy (the first-place trophy, anyway).
  2. Russia – plum draw, great song, not Katya Ryabova who is cursed to share her placing with someone else…Russia has the potential to outdo their 2012 result. Of course, the clichéd nature of the song could result in an epic fail, but I suspect that’s not a big enough issue to stand in their way.
  3. Armenia – this one’s got more gimmicks than a gimmick store (man, I wish those existed) and a song that actually has Georgia written all over it. Unless Monika’s vocal is truly woeful, I can’t imagine a bad finish for her.
Monika trying to outshine the smuggest chef I ever did see

Monika trying to outshine the smuggest chef I ever did see

  1. Georgia – I think we can all agree Give Me Your Smile ain’t Georgia’s best effort; but they’re still Georgia, and Georgia know how JESC is done. What the entry lacks in punch, The Smile Shop will no doubt make up for in vocal ability, fabulous costumes and a slick dance routine.  
  2. Azerbaijan – a week ago, I’d have put this lower, but I’ve heard comments from those lucky people in Ukraine for the contest (who I’m totally not jealous of, BTW) that Rustam has the goods to make us all forget about the Omar & Suada incident. I still don’t think his song is that strong, but it’s gaining momentum.
  3. Ukraine – I want this to do better, as I said, but there is a lot of competition, and I wonder if the song is a little too alternative in its construction to win the masses over. Sofia has a great voice (I’d listen to her over Gaia any day) and I hear her performance has been top-notch at rehearsals, so my fingers are still crossed.
  4. San Marino – again, I’d love SM to make the top 5 in their first final. But Michele has an early draw, and there are stronger songs afterwards, so I’m inclined to place him just above the end of the pack.
  5. Macedonia – this could end up looking ridiculous if they’re not careful. It’s another one that could do really well under the right circumstances. If my prediction comes true (cue uproarious laughter) it may dissuade FYROM from signing up for 2014, which sucks.
  6. Belarus – it’s taken a lot to rank one of my favourites this low, but like I said earlier, I’ve had a bad feeling about Ilya’s chances over the last few days. This isn’t because I’ve heard bad things (in fact, I’ve heard very little about him, and isn’t a lack of news supposed to be good news?) but just because of what my gut is telling me. Apart from telling me I’m a little hungry, it’s saying Poy So Mnoy might get lost in the crowd.
I bet Ilya wishes he'd gotten hair extensions so he too could whip his hair back and forth

I bet Ilya wishes he’d gotten hair extensions so he too could whip his hair back and forth

  1. Sweden – now here’s someone I’ve heard about. Specifically, I’ve heard about his vocal woes, which may have something to do with every JESC teen boy’s greatest fear: puberty. I had my doubts about this song’s chances even when it was possible Elias was going to deliver a vocal on par with Amaury Vassili. But now that it seems he’s destined to butcher his own composition (and first up too) I am sad to say that I think he’ll be somewhere at the bottom.
  2. Moldova – one thing that is usually easy to predict in Junior is which country will come last. I mean, who didn’t see it happening to Albania last year from a mile away? Now, I adore Rafael’s song, but I’m under no illusions that he’s going to succeed, unless there’s some miracle, being that I am the only person I know who would throw the ‘L’ word at it.

Well, I’ve justified my choices, and there’s no going back now! What I will do now is make some smaller predictions about the performances (and maybe have another stab at picking the winner).

Best staging – visually, I’m expecting near-perfection from Armenia, Georgia and the Netherlands.

Best vocals – Sweden! Just kidding (poor Elias). Ukraine should be flawless, Moldova too if he can control himself. Georgia is always on point, and yes, I’ll admit that Malta will shine vocally. Shine and/or burst the eardrums of everybody sitting in the first few rows.

Best costumes – Armenia, Georgia and the Netherlands. Armenia’s will be elaborate and confectionary-themed, Georgia’s will be retro, and the Netherlands will most likely come to the party as cheerleaders.

The whole package – I’m talking vocals, costumes, charisma, dance moves, props AND lighting here. Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Georgia and Russia will be contenders for Package Deal of the Year.

Positive surprise – the country that will give a great performance that we’re not expecting? San Marino. And, if Elias’ voice has miraculously broken by tonight, maybe even Sweden.

Negative surprise – the country that won’t pull off as good a performance as we think? Armenia could be the one. Belarus too (noooooooo!) could crash and burn if Ilya can’t nail those high notes and choreography.

The winner…again – because I hate narrowing it down to one, I’m going to widen the scope. The Netherlands are definitely on my radar, but I also think we could see Armenia, Georgia, Malta or Russia take out the comp. That’s five potential winners, and now I’ve rattled them off you can expect to see Azerbaijan, Macedonia or any of the others that I didn’t mention win.

 

That’s about all I have to say before the show starts. There are so many reasons to look forward to it: the awesome stage; Zlata; the postcards; Emmelie, Anastasiya and Ruslana; the on-stage spokespersons; the exciting voting, and probably other stuff I’m forgetting. Well, there is also the knowledge that tonight’s winner will (allegedly) get the chance to appear at Eurovision 2014. Unlike myself. #pityparty

Odds are there’s at least one reason you should tune in, so do it, and enjoy it! I’ll be tweeting my pajama-clad butt off during the show @EurovisionByJaz, so maybe I’ll see you there.

Good luck to all of the kids, and may the best song win (so long as it’s not from Malta)! I’ll see you in a few days’ time for the annual JESC wrap-up.

 

Make your last-minute predictions, people! Who’s going to win Junior Eurovision 2013?

 

JESC Month | Reviewing the Class of Kyiv (Armenia-Malta)

We’ve passed the one-week-to-go mark, people! JESC 2013 has begun, if you count the artist arrivals and rehearsals and all that jazz, which I totally do. That being the case, it’s about time I caught up with the rest of the world and did some reviewing of what’s to come.

You may have noticed I’ve finally got this blog festive, Junior-style, so to keep the momentum going, I present this: the first half of my musings on the Class of Kyiv! Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Macedonia and Malta have all been under my musical microscope (figuratively. I don’t actually own one, or know what the heck it would be/do) and here are the results. There’s a douze pointer among them, but which country is it? Place your bets and read on to see if you’re right.

Please?

 

ARMENIA

Choco Factory by Monica Avanesyan

ArmeniaSounds like: CANDY music is back in business

The good: It seems to me that Georgia and Armenia have swapped JESC tactics this year – Georgia’s gone for something more conventional than usual, whilst Armenia has upped the crazy and selected a more inventive entry than most of their previous ones. I don’t know how much this has to do with Monica being inspired by Candy (maybe kids just can’t get enough of confectionary-themed lyrics) but I’m enjoying the results. Choco Factory is less retro than Candy Music, and where that was fluffy and fun, this is interesting, but almost as infectious. It avoids over-repetition of the ‘choco’ by changing up the rhythm every chance it gets, but when that chorus comes around, its simplicity and age-old use of ‘la-la-la-la-la-la’ gets you. Well, it gets me, anyway. The violin interlude seems kind of random, but I think it adds to the interest, and I loved the way it was presented at the national final. All in all, I’m very pleased with Armenia’s choice. Not that I have any clue of what else was on offer…

Everything else: I’ll admit here that I didn’t like this as much the first time I heard it as I do now, possibly because it is more complex than your average ear-worm. That could be a slight danger to its chances of success on Saturday night. Having said that, I’m expecting a colourful and entertaining stage show from Monica and her troupe of pastry chefs-in-the-making, and if that expectation is met, it should eclipse any issues with the song not being instant enough.

The verdict: The Georgia in Armenia works for me. 10 points.

JESC chances: I can’t imagine it crashing and burning by any means. 2nd-6th.

 

AZERBAIJAN

Me and My Guitar by Rustam Karimov 

AzerbaijanSounds like: Azerbaijan has taken over from Moldova as the sender of 1980s TV show theme tunes

The good: Is this kid not the boy version of Anastasiya Petryk? As in, the most adorable 10-year-old in the world? He is just so PRECIOUS! I don’t know if that will help him at all, since his song ain’t quite so precious. It’s not terrible (and even if it were I don’t think I’d have the heart to say so in case it made Rustam cry). In fact, it’s an enjoyable listen, partly because of the Azerbaijani, which is a lovely language we don’t get to hear often enough in Eurovision. It keeps up a good momentum, and the chorus is nice, if not particularly punchy. It’s hard to say whether his voice will be as good live as it is in studio, since one again we haven’t had a live preview from Azerbaijan. I really hope it is. I also hope he brings a guitar onstage so that the song title actually makes sense. There isn’t a string or pick to be seen in the music video.

Everything else: Like I said, I couldn’t bring myself to be mean about this. What I will say is, it’s clear that Azerbaijan hasn’t taken to JESC like they did ESC. In the adult contest, they chalk up success after success with polished, appealing songs, seemingly without effort, and they have done from the beginning. But Junior is so far proving to be a harder nut to crack. I figured they’d come back with a vengeance after they tasted failure last year, but Me and My Guitar seems like a different song on the same level. It’s sweet, but not that exciting and not very distinctive.

The verdict: Too cute to trash. 7 points.

JESC chances: He may do better than Omar & Suada, but not by a heap. 8th-10th.

 

BELARUS

Poy So Mnoy by Ilya Volkov

BelarusSounds like: The good old JESC songs of yore (as in, the good old JESC songs of five or six years ago)

The good: I may as well lay all my cards on the table straight away. *slow claps* Well. Done. Belarus! I LOVE this song, and I don’t care who knows it – especially if ‘who knows it’ turns out to be some rich JESC-obsessed Belarusian who wants to fly me out to Kyiv just so I can wave a flag for Ilya next weekend. Speaking of the man behind the music…Ilya did some fancy backup dancing for Egor Zheshko in Amsterdam last year, and now he’s elbowed Egor out of the way in order to be the main attraction. Good move. Poy So Mnoy is miles better than A More-More. It is the catchiest song of the year IMO, and it’s got those irresistible hey-heys going on that complement verses and choruses made up of actual words (shocking, right?). I love the melody, I love the electronic feel, I love the tricky notes that are thrown in…just…douze points all round! I’m hoping for slick, dance-heavy staging on this one, with a lot of light effects. PS – Ilya is almost as adorable as Rustam. There is much cuteness to be had in 2013!

Everything else: There is something in the way of this that takes me back to earlier years of Junior, and songs like Noviy Den by Andrey Kunets (also from Belarus) and Prati Mi SMS by Bobi Andonov (a favourite from FYROM). I realise those are two very different songs, but it’s stuff like that I’m reminded of when I hear Poy So Mnoy. For me, that’s not a bad thing – I like to get nostalgic whenever I can – but perhaps the voting public/juries are looking for something more ‘now’ than ‘then’. Of course, if nobody else sees this song as harking back to a time gone by, then we have no problem.

The verdict: Yes, Ilya, I WILL sing with you. DOUZE POINTS!

JESC chances: Hopefully a decent placing is on the cards. My guess is 4th-6th.

 

GEORGIA

Give Me Your Smile by The Smile Shop

GeorgiaSounds like: Georgia on 75%…

The good: We’ve become accustomed to getting quirky, creative entries from Georgia that always work, even if it seems like they couldn’t possibly. This year is one of their more conservative (a.k.a. safe) songs, but having come out of Bzikebi Studio (manufacturers of CANDY, the Funkids and obviously, Bzikebi) The Smile Shop’s Give Me Your Smile – a title I assume was inspired by that creepy line from Compass Band – is still pretty good. It’s retro through-and-through with a decent mixed-language hook (luckily, as there’s not that much to latch on to elsewhere). Even though it’s not as standout as usual, I’ll be surprised if the Georgian level of costuming, staging, dancing and vocals isn’t maintained. Generally, I’m not finding myself thinking ‘Damn, they’ve done it again!’; but I still think the song is proof that Georgia knows how to tackle JESC.

Everything else: As you can see up there ↑, I feel like Georgia has come into the contest this year without the hunger to win. Can you blame them? They won in 2011 and scored silver in Amsterdam, and no matter how they do on Saturday, there’s a good chance they’ll get to host the show if it continues (fingers and toes crossed). Even running on a semi-full tank, they’re by no means the weakest competitors as far as I’m concerned.

The verdict: I’m not in love, but I do like it a lot. 8 points.

JESC chances: I can’t imagine a fail, but there’s a first time for everything. 3rd-7th.

 

FYR MACEDONIA

Ohrid I Muzika by Barbara Popović

MacedoniaSounds like: 1990s trance, Balkan-style. Also, a little like Vodka (Malta’s ESC entry of 2008)

The good: First and foremost, it’s great to have FYROM back in Junior after a year’s break. What they’ve come back with is a catchy, speedy and summery song that’s pretty well performed by Barbara. It doesn’t blow me away, but considering I was hoping for some straightforward ethno-pop and was let down, I’ve come around. The chorus is quite memorable, with the potential to get stuck in people’s heads. You can’t fault the energy levels either, with the pace starting at maximum and ending the same, only slowing for a brief moment before the final chorus. If Barbara can get through to the live final without having collapsed from exhaustion, I will be impressed. She seems to be capable of delivering a decent vocal and dance moves at the same time, so she should turn out an entertaining performance.

Everything else: The full-on pace of this song has its pros and cons. Negatively speaking, it is intense, and even though the length is the same as all of the other entries, it goes by in a flash and leaves me thinking ‘what the fudge just happened?’. It won’t have the luxury of multiple outings to let people absorb its good qualities on the night, and many first-time listeners (apparently they make up a big part of the voting community) may be left dazed and confused when its over. I’d love FYROM to win, but this is not the song they’re going to do it with.

The verdict: If I’m feeling on edge, 7 points. Otherwise, 8.

JESC chances: Middling. 6th-8th.

 

MALTA

The Start by Gaia Cauchi

MaltaSounds like: it should be called The End and be played at funerals

The good: Malta has been absent from JESC for two years now, so it’s good to have them back as well. Unfortunately that sums up all the positive stuff I have to say about their comeback, and as Gaia’s a fan favourite I fully expect abuse for even daring to say that.

Everything else: And the award for Song Most Resembling a Cheesy Talent Show Winner’s Single goes to…Malta! They also get the award for Jaz’s Bottom-Ranker 2013, FYI. I’m sorry, because I know a lot of people are backing this, but…I don’t get it. Yes, Gaia has a big voice and the song is full of show-stopping notes, but that big voice has a strange nasally thing going on that irritates me, and those show-stopping notes (that sound like they were written out of key with the music) follow suit. Adding to my thumbs-down mentality is the depressing ‘wailing’ vibe it gives off, and those clichéd lyrics about believing and achieving from the start in your heart. It’s all too much! Listening to this makes me feel overwhelmed and annoyed, and I don’t think a JESC song has ever given me that combo of emotions before. I really am sorry for the trash talk and I’m sure Gaia’s a lovely girl, but I get paid to be honest. Well, I don’t get paid to blog (unfortunately) but honesty is the best policy, right?

The verdict: No thanks. 3 points.

JESC chances: I don’t think this is the winner (at least I hope it’s not) but because I dislike it it’s sure to do well. 3rd-6th.

 

 

So that’s what I’m thinking at this point in time, but please don’t hold me to these opinions or predictions forever, because a) I change my mind all the time, and b) I am the world’s crappiest predictor…especially when it comes to JESC. What is certain is that right now, for these six songs, my rankings look like this:

  1. Belarus
  2. Armenia
  3. Georgia
  4. Macedonia
  5. Azerbaijan
  6. Malta

 

What about you? What do you think of these six songs, and how do they stack up against each other?

 

NEXT TIME: It’s the turn of Moldova, the Netherlands, Russia, San Marino, Sweden and the host country Ukraine to be reviewed under my imaginary musical microscope (I’ve decided it’s a regular one that plays music…an iScope?). Again, there’s a douze pointer, but it might not be who you’d expect. I hope you’ll drop by to check out the other half of the Class if Kyiv and let me know what you think of them.