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THE JESC 2018 REVIEWS | Round 3 (Australia, France, Malta, Poland + Wales)

Wherever you are in the world and whatever time it is there, a) hello and b) thanks for coming back to read more of my Junior Eurovision 2018 reviews!

I’m squeezing them in at this point since the contest is happening this weekend…I know, it’s super shocking that I, Jaz, your hot mess of a Eurovision aficionado, am having issues getting things done on time. But once you’ve recovered from said shock, I’m going to shock you even more by getting straight into today’s round of reviews. Obviously this one includes the songs from Australia, France, Malta, Poland and Wales, so you might want to prepare yourself for all the girl power.

Keep scrollin’ on (Maltese wordplay intended) to see what I think of Jael, Angélina, Ela, Roksana and Manw’s JESC contributions and chances, as they take to the stage for the first time to rehearse. Could I be reviewing a potential winner here? Tell me what you think and how excited you are for Junior Eurovision (on a scale of 1 to almost peeing your pants) in the comments.

 

 

We’re back! It’s attempt no. 4 for us Aussies to win Junior Eurovision, and with our results reading better by the year (8th, 5th and 3rd so far) there’s a lot of pressure on Jael to do just that. Now, you can call me biased if you want – I won’t be able to deny it – but I really think we’re in with a shot this time. If not to go all the way, then to do pretty well for ourselves at the very least.

Champion is right there with Speak Up in terms of greatness (only as a power ballad, it’s got a different energy) and it leaves My Girls, and We Are especially, in its dust. Sounding a lot like Beyoncé’s Halo and featuring an arguably better chorus, it may be derivative for a song that’s advising us all to live like we’re original – but by-the-numbers pop is what Australia has delivered to JESC’s doorstep every time, and it’s continued to work in our favour (adult Eurovision = another story). Anyway, the lyrics are no more generic than the English verses/choruses of most of the other entries…or a lot of the lyrics in general if you Google Translate them. This is a song contest for kids we’re talking about, so uplifting messages about being yourself and shooting for the stars and stuff are always going to outnumber deep and meaningful musical ponderings re: the meaning of life and the inevitable existential crisis that hits you when you turn 13 (or was that just me?).

Besides, the real star attraction of this show is Jael herself – she’s got the vocal power of reigning Junior Champion (HA HA) Polina Bogusevich without the English pronunciation handicap. And this song is perfect for her voice. Those tones plus the majestic melody could equal a spine-tingling three minutes on the Minsk stage, assuming that Jael brings her vocal A-game when it counts and we don’t screw up, undercook or overdo her staging (I say we, but I’m taking zero responsibility if it happens). Australia hasn’t exactly been the best role model for live presentations at Junior, so I’m hoping the delegation has built on last year’s interesting-but-not-OTT production for Isabella. If they have, I don’t see how we couldn’t finish on the upper left side of the scoreboard. But like I said, I’m biased. 10 points.

 

 

Bonjour! Longtime JESC fans will remember that France had a fleeting affair with Eurovision’s younger sibling (which sounds wrong, but you know what I mean). It started in 2004 and ended in…well, 2004, when they sent the Frenchiest Song Ever™ to Lillehammer – Si En Voulait Bien by Thomas Pontier. Beginner’s luck and a generally great entry scored them 6th place, but they dropped out regardless and haven’t graced a JESC with their presence since. Until now, obviously. The question is, has that extended vacation been beneficial or has it put them out of touch with what Junior Eurovision is about these days?

For me, France was worth waiting for. Adorable Angélina and Jamais Sans Toi are EXACTLY what I want from a JESC package. She is so cute (and if her parents are inexplicably looking to put her up for adoption, I’ll take her for sure) with all the charm and confidence a kid needs to handle a big performance like the one she’ll be giving in Minsk. And the song is, like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way. It’s catchy, energetic and summery; the mix of languages is seamless; it’s contemporary; and it’s neither too junior nor too adult. Basically, all I can hear is the sound of boxes being ticked. France has done everything right with this whether it was on purpose or not, and I salute them for that. The only thing they could potentially mess up is the staging, and since Thomas’ song didn’t require anything but bare-bones presentation, all we can look to if we want to gauge their skills is adult Eurovision. Jamais Sans Toi is not unlike a kid version of Alma’s Requiem, with a similar energy, vibe and sound…and Alma’s staging was underwhelming. Let’s hope France learnt from it and are throwing some backing dancers Angélina’s way (not literally). At the very least they need to make sure she doesn’t get swallowed up by a big stage and/or dizzying aerial shots of Paris. I will be the prayer emoji in human form until I’ve seen this performance.

For now I’m going to wrap things up with a plot twist: in spite of everything I’ve just said, France isn’t currently right at the top of my JESC 2018 ranking. But that’s just testament to how epic this edition of the contest is. I’ve got Angélina about 7th as of right this second, and I’m still going to give her 10 points.

 

 

With two JESC trophies in their display cabinet and a bunch of other respectable results to their name, Malta shouldn’t be underestimated in this contest. Sure, I personally overestimated them last year, thinking that Dawra Tond was a possible/probable winner (when it eventually finished 9th…oops). But still, this is an island that gives Junior all they’ve got, every year. Ask me if I think they’ve done the same in 2018 and I’ll hesitate for five minutes before saying ‘I thiiiiink so?’.

Marchin’ On actually fits the mould of every Australian JESC entry ever more than it does previous Maltese songs – we Aussies are the lyrical cliché masters after all, and Ela belts out some big ones. ‘As one army we’ll give our all, fearless, not afraid to fall’? ‘Find the light that shines bright deep within’? You’d think countries with English as a main language could be more creative than that. But hey, I’m not here to criticise children (too much). Lyrics like those – and the grammatical disaster that is ‘Whether if you’re big or small’ – aside, there is something appealing about Marchin’ On overall. The melody is nice, the atmosphere is uplifting and the chorus is catchy and memorable. Ela is a great vocalist too, though she’ll be hard pressed to outdo the mind-blowing performances of Gaia Cauchi, Destiny Chukunyere and Christina Magrin in that department (I’m convinced that both Maltese and Georgian kids get deported if they can’t sing). There might be a bit of x-factor missing here, and in what has shaped up to be a super competitive contest, I don’t know if this has the steam to move ahead of six or eight other contenders. Yet I still have a sneaking suspicion Malta will do quite well in Minsk.

Assuming their staging is on point, the only obstacles to success would be a) the big bunch of contender countries I just mentioned, and b) Marchin’ On being kind of unsure of itself. It’s mid-tempo, not really a power ballad but definitely not a piano ballad, and missing a “moment” – Ela’s vocal gymnastics towards the end seem a bit desperate and tacked on just because she can pull them off. Okay, so maybe she won’t do that well – and I’ve talked myself out of a third Maltese win, I think – but there’s a possible spot for her on the lower left side of the scoreboard. Upper right at least. To clarify, my predicted range for Malta at this stage is 8th-13th, and my score for them is 7 points.

 

 

Poland is one country that’s made a cracking comeback to a Eurovision event – kind of like Bulgaria at adult Eurovision, but on a smaller scale (and with a little less success). They dropped out of JESC after two consecutive last places in 2003 and 2004, and didn’t return until 2016. Since then they’ve sent two stunning ballads and two sensational female soloists to the contest, with Alicja Rega achieving their best result ever last year (though I think Mój Dom deserved to be higher than 8th because HOLY KIELBASA, IT’S AMAZING!!!). It’s female soloist no. 3 for Poland in Minsk, but The Voice Kids winner Roksana isn’t packing a big ballad in her suitcase.

Funnily enough, when the song title was revealed I assumed Anyone I Want To Be was definitely going to be a ballad, and a cheesy one at that – but I was wrong. It’s actually hard to categorise this song (at least in one or two words) so I’m going to say it’s ‘contemporary radio-friendly pop with urban and rock influences and a whole lot of attitude’. So much attitude that Roksana’s almost too nice to pull it off, but I think she just manages to get away with it. I’m a big fan of this track in general – it’s catchy, fun and has some edge, making it totally age-appropriate but not unappealing to voters and jurors who are *ahem* a little way away from their childhood/teenage years, like myself. I especially love the pre-chorus and any of the parts that are in Polish. That leads me to my only real issue with AIWTB, which is the pretty messy mix of languages. There’s English and Polish all over the place, and it makes the whole thing feel less than cohesive. I would have preferred the entire song to be in Polish, at least up until the last chorus (a more traditional trend of shoehorning English into LOTE entries). But the song is good enough in every other way for me to ignore the bilingual elephant in the room.

It’s great to see Poland doing something different after the last few ballads they’ve sent, without reverting to dated pop or the lacklustre stuff that saw them finish dead last twice back in the early Junior Eurovision days. I just hope they can stage this in the right way, because it needs something less basic than the ‘stand there and sing in front of a pretty LED background’ formula that worked fine for Nie Zapomnij and Mój Dom. I’m thinking backing dancers, lots of colour and possibly the theft of the Netherlands’ costumes from 2016. It will be interesting to see what is done with this, but I have high hopes. We know Roksana can sing – you don’t win The Voice by wailing like we all did when Finland didn’t qualify to the ESC final last year – and she’s singing a very good song. So, if the performance is in keeping with singer and song quality, there’s no reason why Poland couldn’t potentially equal or better that 8th place from Tbilisi. I do prefer Mój Dom – that’s a douze pointer for me – but AIWTB is worth a round of applause and a top 10 result. 8 points.

 

 

After Kazakhstan, Wales’ RSVP to the JESC 2018 party was the biggest jaw-dropper of the year. There’d been rumours of participation in the past, but it was far from being a done deal that they’d compete in either JESC or the ESC…until now, when anything is possible (and I mean ANYTHING, in a world where Bulgaria can just up and withdraw from Eurovision at the top of their game). So here we are with Berta by Manw, a song that has (thankfully) been revamped and is ready to represent Wales – if not win, or even come close – for the first time.

Now, I’m all about that ‘the more the merrier’ mentality, but I was hoping Wales would make more of a splash with their debut when the day finally came. Now it’s here, I am a little disappointed (particularly when I think about what Kazakhstan is bringing to the table – i.e. a song that could win the entire contest). There’s nothing majorly wrong with Berta. It’s a nice song actually: dreamy and soothing, with a chorus that makes Welsh sound very pretty (because truth be told, it’s not the prettiest language on the planet). And Manw’s voice is perfectly suited to this type of song. But in terms of competition songs that can attract enough attention to rise above the rest, it’s missing something. Drama? A catchier hook? Variety? I’m not sure, but I know it’s not bringing its musical A-game. I can’t imagine Berta outshining the likes of L.E.V.O.N, Your Voice, Ózińe Sen, Samen, Say Love…I could carry on, but that would make Manw feel bad if she miraculously happened to read this.

In all fairness, I have been wrong about this kind of thing before – and there are always songs that do far better in JESC than expected – but I will be in a state of shock for months if Wales makes the top 5, or even the top 10. Either way, they should come back next year and give it another go, because it’s hard to understand exactly what works at Junior Eurovision on the first try. As an Australian, I can admit that we didn’t get it initially, and even now we’re still figuring it out. And Wales has to be commended for putting on a national final in their attempt to figure it out, and ending up with an entry that’s decent if not dangerous. I like Berta and I will listen to it post-show, but I won’t be voting for it. 6 points.

 

  

15 down, 5 to go! With another group of this year’s participating songs critiqued by yours truly, here’s the mini-ranking for this round:

  1. France (10)
  2. Australia (10)
  3. Poland (8)
  4. Malta (7)
  5. Wales (6)

As much as the biased fan inside me wants to put Australia on top, I have to bump Angélina above Jael by a croissant crumb because Jamais Sans Toi is just so infectious, fun and summery (and as we’re heading into summer here in Australia, I guess I’m in a sunny mood). Poland is sitting pretty in the middle with a strong 8 points, followed fairly closely by Malta and Wales. I’ve mentioned again and again how high-quality I think this competition is, and the fact that my least-liked song of the day is one I still enjoy and can give a reasonable score to is proof of that.

How about you? Is this 16th edition of Junior Eurovision floating your boat more buoyantly than ever before, or do you reckon we’ve had better contests in the past? Which of today’s reviewed entries is your personal favourite, and could any of them win the whole thing? Let me know below.

 

NEXT TIME By process of elimination, you’ll know which countries I’m yet to review – and in a few days’ time the wait will be over! Step right up Albania, Ireland, Italy, Macedonia and Ukraine, because I’m shining my spotlight on all of you…and y’all know I believe that honesty is the best policy.

 

See you then!

 

 

 

THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 1 (Armenia, Cyprus, Hungary, Malta + the Netherlands)

Hello there! I bet you thought this day would never come – the day when I’d finally get my Euroshiz together and do what every other ESC website has been doing for a month.

REVIEWS!!!

Okay, so you might have known I’d kick things off eventually if you’re familiar with my sloth-like tendencies (never visit this blog for breaking news, because it won’t be breaking by the time I talk about it). Now that there are four weeks to go until Lisbon’s first semi final, though, you’re about to be flooded with my verdicts on all 43 songs competing in Eurovision 2018. It’s a review tsunami, so strap on your lifejackets and take a big breath!

For Round 1, my high-tech random selection process – in which I copy-pasted a list of the countries, closed my eyes and pointed at it 43 times – resulted in Armenia, Cyprus, Hungary, Malta and the Netherlands being the fortunate first group to be judged (you’ll have to wait a while for the lucky last). So if you want to see how I rate Sevak, Eleni, AWS, Christabelle and Waylon, you came to the right place.

Check out my reviews, vote for your favourite of today’s five, and share your thoughts in the comments. Pretty please?

 

 

My thoughts If you’d told me a few months ago that Tamar Kaprelian would not be representing Armenia at Eurovision this year, I would have had a very melodramatic meltdown. Poison (Ari Ari) is an ethnopop masterpiece after all (Disagree? CASH ME OUSSIDE, HOW BOW DAH?!?) and when I listened to the snippets of everything else Depi Evratesil had to offer, I didn’t hear anything as awesome. As Donny Montell knows, love is blind…but it also made me deaf to the potential of eventual winning song Qami. I honestly can’t even recall hearing a snippet of Sevak’s power ballad – the first all-Armenian language song sent to adult Eurovision – even though I definitely did. Yet all it took was one look at/listen to his national final performance for me to forget about Poison (almost – a banger is always a banger) and fall head-over-heels for Qami. ‘Wind’ as it translates to – and it’s a safe assumption that he’s talking about the force of nature, not the aftermath of a particularly spicy vindaloo – ticks every box on my mental checklist for epic ballads. It’s a slow burner that starts off subtly before exploding at the end of the second chorus (kind of like the 0-100k/ph dynamism of Aram Mp3’s Not Alone). It’s haunting and mysterious. The melody is stunning, and the repetition of the title gives us non-Armenian speakers something to latch on to. Plus, the contrast between the delicate first half and Sevak’s vocal and visual strength (there’s wearing your heart on your sleeve and then there’s wearing your abs on the outside of your shirt) makes the overall package vulnerable and powerful at the same time. I know a lot of fans aren’t as psyched about this one as I am, but every year there’s one song I adore that not many other people seem to (and it can either bomb, or kick butt in the actual contest like Origo last year). I do think there is room for Qami to do some butt-kicking in Lisbon, this not being a ballad-heavy year and Sevak having the kind of song that could be a mind-blower if it’s staged right. But that’s more of a hope and prayer than a prediction, so don’t hold me to it!

2017 VS 2018? 2018, hands down (sorry, Artsvik).

My score 12

 

 

My thoughts Speaking of ethnopop masterpieces…enter Cyprus! Strutting in wearing a catsuit and a pair of sky-high heels, of course. Last year I was pleasantly surprised by Hovig’s Gravity, which was constantly compared to Rag & Bone Man’s Human – familiarity doesn’t breed contempt with me, I guess. I’m mentioning the comparison because once again, Cyprus has delivered a great pop song that happens to fit neatly into the mould of one I’ve heard before – in this case, a bunch of songs from Helena Paparizou’s back catalogue. Is there anything wrong with that? Umm, NO. Don’t get me wrong, I applaud originality, and Lisbon is lucky to have it in the form of Israel, Ukraine etc. But even a Paparizou album filler would be welcome at Eurovision, and since we can’t have the queen herself performing one (though she did record a version), Eleni and her Fuego are the next best thing. I love this, and it was an instant love strengthened by the fact that ‘You got me pelican fly fly flying’ is legitimately one of the lyrics. That IS original! I feel like this song was engineered especially to appeal to ethnopop tragics like myself because, in that department, it does everything right. Simple, neatly-rhymed verses + a chorus made up of hooky melodies and yeahs (which can be exchanged for ohs) + a memorable riff played on a traditional instrument = this, and every other ethnopop entry ever. Basically, it’s Aphrodisiac (Greece 2012) with a 2018 magic wand waved over it. With the product placement from the music video out of the question for the live ESC performance, and Eleni sure to be looking as hot as the fire she’s singing about, my only concern is how she’ll sound. The lives of hers I’ve checked out have been fine – albeit feat. some heavy lifting from backing vocalists – but I have heard she isn’t the most reliable live performer. Still, if Jedward can sing seemingly in tune (with their backup vocalists’ mics turned way up) then anyone can. And if someone can point me in the direction of proof that Eleni is actually a top-notch singer and convince me that I shouldn’t be worried, they’ll get a gold star. I really want this to be Cyprus’ fourth finalist in a row, not their first DNQ since 2013.

2017 VS 2018? This is like choosing a favourite child. NOPE. Not happening.

My score 10

 

 

My thoughts You’ve got to give Hungary credit for never sending the same song to Eurovision twice. Their bounce-around approach has, since their 2011 comeback, given us dance pop, electro rock, an acoustic alt-ballad, EDM, a charity song, anthemic rock and an ethnopop slice of heaven (Joci Papái was my favourite last year and is still a true musical love of mine). In 2018 we’re getting something different again with hardcore(ish) rock/metal/I’m clearly not an expert on the genre of AWS’ Viszlát Nyár but it sounds intense to me. It’s certainly the most hardcore, rocky song competing in Lisbon, and while that will help it stand out, such songs don’t always go over well at the ESC (I can’t imagine juries going nuts over this). The fact is that the demographic AWS are aiming at is not found, in droves at least, in the Eurovision audience (if someone did a Venn diagram to demonstrate it, the two fan bases would have a pretty tiny overlap area). I’m definitely not the kind of person who would readily abandon their pop sensibilities for anything involving screaming to music. So you might be surprised to learn that I actually like this. Like, not love (á la Origo, which I said I’d marry in my review last year if I could) but yes, I dig it. It reminds me a little of Dead By April’s Melodifestivalen entry Mystery, which I was obsessed with back in 2012 – it features the same mixture of soft moments and intense, scream-your-lungs-out moments that a) make it dynamic, and b) stop it from totally alienating people who aren’t regular purveyors of hard rock. As always, Hungarian sounds alluring and mysterious as the language of choice (is there a genre it doesn’t work with?), especially in the verses. Overall, Viszlát Nyár might be well outside my top 10 for the year, but there are only two or three songs I dislike and this is not one of them. I’m a big supporter of Hungary in the contest and I do hope AWS give the country their 8th consecutive qualification…but I think it could be a tough task. The best comparison song would be Softengine’s Something Better, which did very well for Finland in 2014 but was a lot more accessible (and the screaming was confined to the last twenty seconds or so). I don’t expect Hungary to perform as impressively as that if they do make the final, and TBH, I’ll live if they don’t. Still, it would be nice to have some rock on hand to spice up the best Saturday night of the year.

2017 VS 2018? It’s a no-brainer – Origo all the way.

My score 7

 

 

My thoughts Not for the first time – they did it last year too – Malta is sending an artist to Eurovision who’s tried to represent them before with a better song than the one they’re actually getting to go with. In Christabelle’s case, 2015’s Rush really should have been her Eurovision song, but it finished 2nd in MESC that year (Saddy McSadface). And so, three years later, we’ve ended up with Taboo, a mostly Maltese production feat. input from Thomas g:Son (shocking). I’ve developed a bit of a love-hate relationship with this song, though now I think about it, those words are probably too strong – ‘like-dislike’ would be more accurate. Basically, there are parts of it I really like and others that I really don’t. First, the negatives: it may not be as lyrically lame as past Maltese entries, but it’s all over the place with metaphors and similes, making it fairly nonsensical and the message confusing (apparently it’s about mental health struggles, ICYMI). The chorus in particular bugs me like crazy – it seems like the songwriters wanted it to be meaningful, but it turned into a mess of words that happen to rhyme with ‘animals’ (criminals, miracle, *my brain explodes*). The dubstep break is my other main gripe with Taboo, just because it feels passé and could have been left out to no great loss. Positives-wise, there’s good energy, a hypnotic beat, a contemporary-sounding melody, and an overall approving nod for Malta choosing something like this. And I have to mention the MESC performance, which was OTT but very cool at the same time…even if it might be hard to replicate on Lisbon’s LED-less stage. To her credit, Christabelle is a likeable performer with a decent voice, providing she’s not running a marathon or doing star jumps constantly during a performance (code for ‘don’t make her move too much, Team Malta!’). I think Taboo has a better chance of qualifying to the final than Claudia’s Breathlessly did last year – that proved us all right when it went nowhere. But in semi two, where five or six countries could easily advance from the first half alone, Malta’s odds are 50-50, and the shock value will be minimal whether they qualify or not. Unfortunately they’re performing just three songs before Sweden, and Benjamin is armed with an uptempo song accompanied by a slick, impressive stage presentation – much like Malta, but better. And with Sweden being almost a dead cert to qualify, if one of the two is going to be sacrificed to the DNQ gods, it will be Malta.

2017 VS 2018? 2018 fo sho. I’d rather break the taboo than be breathless.

My score 6.5

 

 

My thoughts The first question to ask someone who’s about to hear Outlaw In ‘Em for the first time is ‘How do you feel about country music?’. If their answer is ‘Not good’, then they won’t be giving it douze points, or anything close. Waylon’s solo Eurovision entry is without a doubt the countriest country song I’ve ever come across. Every lyric, every guitar lick – even the title – is dripping in the genre, and makes me feel like an idiot (or should I say ‘good for nothin’ varmint’?) for not wearing a cowboy hat. Of course, as soon as the song’s over, normal cowboy-hatless life resumes. I have to say, I do enjoy a country song or 65, but I’m more of an easy-listening cruisy country fan, as opposed to a rip-roarin’, honky-tonkin’, gun-totin’ type. In that sense, you can understand why I much prefer Waylon feat. Ilse deLange (a.k.a. The Common Linnets) with Calm After The Storm to this entry. The fact that Outlaw is so darn country – to the point where it’s about to fall off a cliff edge into Cheesy Canyon – is a turn-off for me, even though I appreciate the go hard or go home mentality (a half-assed country-tinged track for Waylon? No sirree). It reminds me of Achy Breaky Heart too much to take seriously, only it’s too fast to boot-scoot to. I know I’m in the minority here, but I don’t want all of y’all to challenge me to a stand-off just yet. I’m not totally, 110% anti-Outlaw. On the plus side, I like the lyrics: unlike Malta, the theme here is clear and consistent; and the rhyming is beautiful, which makes the overall package sound neat. The song is unique (in this competition, anyway) and definitely memorable. And Waylon is a great performer even when he’s not locking eyes with Ilse – in Portugal he’ll be making eyes at the camera instead, and I’ll imagine he’s staring straight into my soul (in a sexy way, not a demonic way). Will he end up staring down the barrel of qualification, though? The betting odds say heck yes, but I have to wonder if this song is going to be too divisive. It does come to life more on stage than in studio, so I can see it meeting expectations on the night/s that count most. Yet the mass appeal needed for a win isn’t there, and I can’t see a Common Linnets result in Waylon’s future either.

2017 VS 2018? 2017. Girl power and incredible harmonies > full-on country extravaganza.

My score 6.5

 

 

And that, guys, is Round 1 done and dusted. Five down, 38 to go in less than four weeks.

SEND HELP.

Then, when you’ve dialed 911/000/whatever your country’s equivalent is on my behalf, you can take a look at today’s mini-ranking:

  1. Armenia (12)
  2. Cyprus (10)
  3. Hungary (7)
  4. Malta (6.5) 
  5. The Netherlands (6.5)

So it’s Sevak who takes the top spot, which is obviously not a shock to me because I already knew how I felt about these five songs (let me hear you say ‘DUH!’). Now the question is, can Qami hold on to the #1 position as the EBJ 2018 reviews continue? You’ll have to stay tuned – and subscribed, hint hint – to find out. Opt in for new post email alerts in the sidebar, or find me on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram (all @EurovisionByJaz) to make sure you don’t miss a thing!

Before I sign off and in turn stop begging you to follow me on social media, I do have another question:

 

NEXT TIME The Lisbon reviews are just revving up…and if I want to get them finished before Eurovision happens, I need to get a move on. Drop by on the weekend when I’ll sit myself down on the EBJ judging panel to critique Azerbaijan, Estonia, Poland, Romania, and Spain!

 

Until then,

 

 

 

SHINE BRIGHT! Jaz’s JESC 2017 Reviews, Round 3 (Australia, Belarus, Malta + Ukraine)

If you’re not ready for Junior Eurovision 2017 (which TBH I’m not, considering I’m still frantically trying to get my song reviews done on time), too bad – it’s nearly here! The countdown is in single-digit days, rehearsals have started in Tbilisi’s festively-decorated Olympic Palace, and Mariam Mamadashvili is probably wondering what to have printed on her business cards now that ‘Current JESC Champion’ is about to be void.

In fact, the contest is so close than I have zero time for a classic Jaz Introductory Euroramble™. All I’m going to say is here’s Round 3 of my annual reviews, feat. Australia, Belarus, Malta and Ukraine. Check out my verdicts and vote for your favourite of the four below! 

 

 

Watch it here

Last year…I couldn’t help being happy – though very, VERY confused – when Alexa Curtis finished 5th with We Are. I suspect the absence of a televote had something to do with it.

The 2017 verdict We’re back, bitches! Actually, scratch that, because I should be keeping my language in check when discussing JESC. We’re just…back. As an Australian, it’s hard not to be pleased that our Eurovision invitations are still being extended (even in the face of frequent backlash/mutterings from other countries, which I do understand. But at the same time, IT’S HAPPENING, SO GET OVER IT). Also pleasing is the fact that we’re yet to send a bona-fide dud to the adult or junior contest, and the seriousness of our approach is worth at least one less snide remark, right? I definitely think so when it comes to Isabella’s Speak Up, which is arguably our best JESC entry ever. It doesn’t have My Girls whiff of lyrical cheesiness, or the wishy-washiness of We Are – the lyrics are great, the chorus is catchy and easy to sing along to, the vibe is young without being too young, and it includes one of the best key changes of the year (which Isabella has already proven she can nail live). I honestly feel like I would rate this song no matter which country it was coming from or what language it was sung in. It’s not as bubblegum pop as, say, Kisses and Dancin’ from The Netherlands last year, but it has a similar charm and upbeat energy that makes you smile. All in all, there is very little to pick on re: Australia 2017 – before seeing it live, anyway (rehearsals have obviously started, but my golden rule is NEVER watch them). Isabella will be backed by some dancers, the outfits and graphics will be slick, we’re performing second-to-last…what could go wrong in a contest that’s weaker than the last few? Well, a lot. I have an unfortunate feeling that even though a) Speak Up is our best Junior track so far, way better than We Are, and b) as I just mentioned, 2017 is not the strongest field of songs, we’re not going to make it into the top 5 again. I think we deserve to with this – not necessarily reaching the podium, but 5th or 4th place, sure. I just have this gut feeling that Australia is headed for more of a 6th-8th ending á la 2015. Still, I don’t have the most reliable guts on the planet, so anything could happen. My fingers are extra crossed!

Song score 10

Artist score 10

Final score 10

 

  


Watch it here

Last year…Alexander Minyonok and Muzyka Moikh Pobed received the Christer Björkman douze points of approval, which (when combined with a usage of hoverboards that totally eclipsed Serbia’s) helped him hit the heights of 7th place.

The 2017 verdict This might not apply at adult Eurovision, but you should always keep an eye on Belarus at Junior. They’ve won it twice and done very well for themselves on most other occasions. The trend continues 110% with Helena and I Am The One, and I’m going to cut right to the chase by saying she may actually be the one (someone had to say it). This song is undeniably high-class, and I don’t think many people could call it anything less than flawless without lying a little bit. It’s not even in my personal top three for 2017 and I’m calling it perfection. Beautifully produced – right down to the music video – and big on atmosphere and drama, it does everything a dark pop song should do without being cookie-cutter predictable. Belarusian lyrics + English title = totally fine by me, as are the explosive choruses and moments of light and shade that make the Serbias and Portugals of the year sound flatter than a pancake. Helena’s voice can get a teensy bit grating in the chorus if I’m extra-critical, but as long as she has ultimate control over it and stops it from entering The Screech Zone (it’s like the Twilight Zone, but you need multiple pairs of earplugs to make it out alive) I can deal. Speaking of things that might happen live…I want this performance to be the way I’m picturing it in my head SO BAD. The mystical ball from the MV better be there at least, and dynamic, epilepsy-triggering laser lights basically go without saying. For the costume, I’m thinking boho-robot, but that’s a concept I need to write an explanatory thesis on later. For now, I don’t know what else I can say about Belarus bar the following: the other four or so songs in winning contention better watch their backs. Then again, this could be the pre-show favourite that doesn’t quite meet expectations. There’s only a few days until we find out!

Song score 12

Artist score 12

Final score 12

 

  


Watch it here

Last year…home girl Christina Magrin delivered possibly THE vocal performance of the year, and came 6th with Parachute. I still can’t stand the song…but damn, that voice!

The 2017 verdict If this was the Junior Eurovision Cuteness Contest, Malta would walk it because Gianluca is so, so cute *melts despite not being the biggest fan of kids in general*. But it’s not. Sure, being adorable and charismatic and having impressive eyebrow-waggling ability for a 10-year-old will benefit him, but he needs an A-grade song to secure Malta’s third JESC win since 2013. Does he have it in Dawra Tond? Well, it was better three years ago when Armenia sent it and called it People of the Sun. It is very similar to that bronze medalist of Betty’s, but as with movies and music, the original is usually better. Still, the infectious sunny energy of POTS is worth taking “inspiration” from, so I can’t be too harsh on Dawra Tond. The pros include: a bit of Maltese for the first time since 2010; simple lyrics and phrasing that make this sing-along friendly and a total earworm; a good combo of retro (there’s something Mambo No. 5 about it) and modern dance-pop sounds; and that energetic beat that Malta can’t stay away from for too long (though they’ve won Junior with and without it). Overall the song doesn’t show off Gianluca’s incredible vocal abilities as much as I would have liked, but it does have some big moments. Performing between female ballad-fielders Ukraine and Russia should make Malta stand out, but with Polina being a heavy hitter and a handful of other stronger songs scattered throughout the running order, I wouldn’t bet any money on Gianluca winning (but I’m still pre-predictions, so don’t hold me to that if he does!). Honestly, I don’t want him to, but I could live with a decent finish in the range of 3rd-7th. Any higher and I’ll be forced to post bitter (yet not offensive because KIDS) statuses, tweets and stories all over social media to console myself.

Song score 7

Artist score 12

Final score 9.5

  

 

Watch it here

Last year…Ukraine had something of an off year at JESC, only making it as far as 14th with Sofia Rol’s ballad Planet Craves For Love. The nonsensical Cirque du Soleil staging didn’t help.

The 2017 verdict Ukraine are a bit hit-and-miss with me at Junior, though I’ve liked all of their recent entries (I’ve got no complaints about the 2012-2016 songs on a purely musical level). And hit-and-miss is actually how I feel about Anastasiya’s Don’t Stop specifically. It has grown on me since it won the national final back when dinosaurs still walked the earth (a.k.a. ages ago). But, while there are parts of the song I love, there are other parts that really irritate me – so on the whole I can’t say I’m going to be voting for it. Getting my tick of approval are the verses – nice melody and structure, plus an acoustic-y, chilled-out vibe that gives me life – and anytime the violinist pops up even though that does remind me a bit of Jacques Houdek’s My Friend. However, my main peeve is kind of a big one: the chorus. Anastasiya seems very sweet and she has a nice voice, but whenever an ‘ay-i-ay-i-ay-i-ay’ comes out of her mouth (which is a handful of times in every chorus) the nearest mute button becomes all I can think about. Sometimes you don’t know why you’re annoyed by something…you just are. And sadly, as sweet as she is, Ana is not Gianluca-level cute in that I would forgive her if she stole all of the money out of my purse. There’s always the chance of her new and improved live version winning me over, I guess. Looking at/listening to Don’t Stop as objectively as I can, I think it has the potential to do fairly well in the contest, if not amazingly so. It’s not a winner (if Ukraine think that the key to winning Junior is sending a very small child called Anastasiya, they are wrong) but my notoriously unreliable crystal ball tells me mid to lower top 10 is attainable.

Song score 7

Artist score 8

Final score 7.5

 

 

Well, there’s another four songs I can cross off my list. And here’s the mini-ranking from this round: 

  1. Belarus (12)
  2. Australia (10) 
  3. Malta (9.5)
  4. Ukraine (7.5)

So Helena’s the one AND number one on this occasion, closely followed by Isabella *screams patriotically*. This was a pretty high-scoring round though, so on the miniscule chance that Anastasiya is reading this, she shouldn’t feel bad. That score won’t put her at the bottom of the overall ranking still to come. DRAMA!!

Is Belarus your favourite of today’s four tracks, or is Malta more your cup of tea? Perhaps Australia or Ukraine have served up your preferred kind of pop. Take your pick!

 

NEXT TIME There’s one final round of reviews for me to get through – so who’s left? Armenia, Ireland, Russia and Serbia, that’s who. Keep an eye out for that post to find out who gets douze points from me.

 

Until then,

 

 

 

JAZ JUDGES EUROVISION 2017 | Albania, Cyprus, Latvia, Macedonia, Malta + Switzerland

Two weeks, people. TWO WEEKS!!! That’s (roughly or exactly, depending on when you’re reading this) how long we have to wait until the first semi final of Eurovision 2017.

That’s 95% wonderful in my mind, with the remaining 5% a result of a) me freaking out because it’s almost been an entire year since I attended my first live contest, and b) me freaking out because I have five more rounds of song reviews and (hopefully) some predictions to post here on EBJ in such a short space of time. SEND HELP.

Today is judgment day for Lindita, Hovig, Triana Park, Jana Burčeska, Claudia Faniello and Timebelle. And before you ask, yes, my mum has come back again to help me review their ESC entries! So without further ado – ‘ado’, as you probably know by now, is code for ‘Jaz-rambling’ – let’s get this party started.

*moonwalks, stacks it on a stray sock and falls to near-death*

 

 

My thoughts Anything I say about an Albanian Eurovision entry usually begins with ‘Well, the Albanian version was mysterious and unique and generally great, but the English version…’ – you get my drift. And FYI, Lindita’s World (or The Song Formerly Known As Botë) will be no exception. I really liked the version of the song that won the American Idol alum Festivali I Këngës, because it was so intense and interesting. English – and I know it’s only because I can understand it – has a way of making most of that disappear, particularly if the English lyrics are lame. That’s what it’s done to World, although no change of language could make Lindita herself less of a vocal powerhouse. The melody is still nice and dramatic, and that money note she belts out for what seems like ten straight minutes is still a staggering ‘wow!’ moment. But with Albanian off the menu, the song sounds plain vanilla when it used to be covered in chocolate sprinkles. I understand countries wanting to use English to communicate with more people, but when an artist can invest emotion in their vocal performance like Lindita can, sticking with their native tongue wouldn’t hold them back. Imagine Hungary’s Origo, or even the chorus of 1944, in English. Things wouldn’t pack the same punch with those two songs, would they? I don’t think so. World, to someone who never knew it as Botë, is probably a decent enough power ballad. But even so, I hope Lindita is prepared to fight for a spot in the final, because she’ll be lucky to get there otherwise. 6 points.

My mum says… Someone has a serious set of lungs! I’m guessing you all know the particular part of this song that made me sure of that. As for the rest of (the) World…well, I wasn’t a huge fan at first. It starts off slowly and sounds sort of old-fashioned for a piano ballad. But when it turns from piano ballad to power ballad, the situation improves. I got swept up in the emotion and passion Lindita projects once she gets fired up, which made me appreciate the song more. 6 points.

Albania’s score 6.00

 

 

My thoughts As hilarious as it would be to see Hovig carried out on stage by a giant and carefully positioned on a fake rock at Eurovision, it’s a different Gravity to Zlata’s that he’s packing in his suitcase: the Thomas G:son kind. And holy Rag’n’Bone Man rip-offs, it’s amazing! I like to think of it more of an homage to Human rather than a textbook case of plagiarism. It’s also an example of a song that’s better than the last one the artist tried to get to Eurovision with, which often isn’t the case (though I do dig Stone in A River too). From the second that mechanical, hypnotic beat kicks in at the start, I’m hooked. Simply-worded verses lead to the biggest earworm of a chorus in this year’s contest (one that’s instantly memorable thanks to clever rhyming), and both are perfectly suited to Hovig’s strong, slightly gravelly voice. The potential for epic staging is sky-high here, so I hope Cyprus has taken advantage of that and not left the poor guy to just stand centre stage in a spotlight. I do think the song is good enough to shine without gimmicks, but an edgy lighting scheme or some Loïc Nottet-style dancers (slash Cirque du Soleil acrobats, given the possibilities for tricks suggested in the music video) would set the scene and give Gravity the atmosphere it deserves. Either way, I don’t have much more to say about it other than this: if Minus One managed to qualify, then Hovig should too. Oh, and Gravity kicks astronaut ass. And regular, 9-to-5 worker ass. Basically, all ass. 10 points.

My mum says… I liked this straight away – there was no waiting for something exciting to happen. That beat (and the strange sounds that accompany it, which I suspect may be an alien mating call) piqued my interest instantly. There’s great energy all the way through, and the lyrics are interesting enough in their own right to prevent potential boredom. Gravity makes for a refreshing change from the usual love song style, and I wouldn’t mind hearing it again right now! 8 points.

Cyprus’ score 9.00

 

 

My thoughts Latvia has come a long, long way since Cake To Bake. Sure, that was sweet (pun intended) but you have to admit that what they’ve sent to the ESC since then has been in a whole different league of contemporary pop awesomeness. Just when we thought that was all down to Aminata’s involvement, along came Triana Park with Line, the third installment in a trilogy of fantastic Latvian tracks (and sequels are supposed to suck!). It’s just SO COOL. Everything from the silky-smooth electronic production to the minimalist, non-cliché lyrical content, bare-bones instrumental hook, and lead singer Agnese’s unique voice and constantly-changing look (the woman is a hair, makeup and clothing chameleon) is what I want to see more countries ship off to the contest. Basically, a package that even the most seasoned ‘Eurovision is crap’ troll would find appealing, or at least very hard to take the piss out of. There is something stopping Line from being one of my favourite songs of the year – maybe the fact that it is quite flat and repetitive (though that’s typical of the genre), or just the fact that I happen to enjoy other entries more. But in terms of measuring up to Love Injected and Heartbeat, it definitely does. The live performance is not as slick as the studio version, which wasn’t an issue for Aminata or Justs, so I don’t think Triana Park will be jury high-flyers. Televoters will go more gaga over Line, I think, so we’ll see if that’s enough to nab Latvia another left-side result on the Saturday night…assuming they make it that far. They sure as heck deserve to. 8 points.

My mum says… This isn’t (totally) my cup of tea. I enjoyed the catchy chorus, but I found the rest of the song monotonous and far too repetitive. It didn’t do much for me at all. The lead singer’s voice didn’t seem to have the same power and appeal as any of the other singers I’ve heard so far. If I’m not the target audience for Line, though, it’ll probably do well because it certainly sounds current. 4 points.

Latvia’s score 6.00

 

 

My thoughts Macedonia was one of two countries that really surprised me with their 2017 song, because I was expecting something totally different to what they delivered (I’ll tell you now that the other one was Belgium, but you’ll have to wait and see if I was pleasantly or not-so-pleasantly surprised by City Lights). I’ll confess that I didn’t even have the chance to have a cursory glance at Jana’s musical background/career to date before Dance Alone pirouetted into the picture, but even if I had, I doubt I would have seen such contemporary, radio-friendly pop coming. Not from her or from Mace-Dona-donia! This song is super polished; modern, as I mentioned, but brings the eighties back in a way that Ruffus would approve of; and seems to have been lifted straight from a Spotify playlist called ‘Music To Get Ready For A Night Out To’. It’s unfortunate that, after such a show of ethnicity in Stockholm with Kaliopi, there’s no trace of traditional sounds to be heard here, but given Kaliopi’s failure to even qualify for the final, I don’t blame Macedonia for pinballing in a different direction. With infectious hooks throughout, simple but effective lyrics and a charismatic performer, there’s nothing wrong with Dance Alone. Perhaps that’s my problem, because as much as I like it, I can’t force myself to fall in love with it. It’s so perfect in a plastic-package kind of way, I feel disconnected from it and can’t muster up any strong emotions when I hear it (love, hate or the irresistible urge to dance). There’s always a song competing in Eurovision that I know is a good-quality one, but it ends up in my ‘meh’ pile anyway. I guess this is the 2017 version. 6 points.

My mum says… After listening to this, I might have to make the pavement my catwalk too! It’s a cool pop song that had me moving to the music very quickly, and I can’t deny that’s a sign of something being up my alley. The whole thing is infectious (in a good way – no need for face masks) and I can’t think of anything to complain about. Well done, Macedonia. 8 points.

Macedonia’s score 7.00

 

 

My thoughts I am so horrified by Malta’s downgrade from Walk On Water to Breathlessly (albeit a downgrade from a Swedish-made song to a Maltese-made song, which is not the horrifying part) that I can’t even contain myself enough to write a suspenseful intro that keeps you wondering WTF I think of Claudia’s entry for a line or six. When I first heard it, she’d already won – MESC was one national final I had to sacrifice acquainting myself with until it was over (thanks, adult commitments). I actually couldn’t believe that Malta had willingly chosen to send such a dated, dull and overly-dramatic ballad to Eurovision, straight after serving up slayage with Ira Losco. Over time, my despise has turned to tolerance (so long as I’m in a generous mood) but Breathlessly is still right near the rear end of my overall ranking. It’s something that belongs in the credits of a mid-1990s romantic drama movie starring Kevin Costner and Julia Roberts – not a highly competitive song contest in 2017. If that’s not enough to turn you off, how about the creepy lyrical content seemingly written from an unhinged stalker’s perspective? ‘I’ll be watching you, breathlessly’? Watching me call the cops! Okay, so maybe I wouldn’t do that to Claudia, who seems like a cool person, does the song justice vocally and looks stunning in the music video. But not only does she deserve a better song to go to the ESC with, she’s had better songs to go to the ESC with. It’s too bad her time has finally come with an entry that will struggle to break free from the semi final. 4 points.

My mum says… ‘Terribly ballady’ were the words that came to mind when I was listening to Claudia go on and on and on, feeling like a psychiatrist she should be paying by the minute. The subject matter of the song doesn’t seem that sad and miserable, but it made me feel really down in the dumps which is NOT how I like music to affect me. If there was more variety in the mood or the lyrics, it’d be better, but Breathlessly flatlines. I don’t think I’ll bother firing up the defibrillator and trying to revive it. 3 points.

Malta’s score 3.5

 

 

My thoughts There’s one thing I have to get out of my system before I talk about Timebelle’s Apollo, and that is the all-important subject matter of how FREAKING BEAUTIFUL (I hope Robin Bengtsson hasn’t trademarked that phrase) lead singer Miruna is. If she just stood on stage for three minutes doing nothing but batting her eyelashes at the camera, I wouldn’t be able to look away – and I say this as a straight female. She can sing and stuff too, I know, but…hashtag hottie. Right, I’ve said it. Now, The Song! Apollo, for me, is a step up from Timebelle’s last Swiss NF entry Singing About Love (although they are once again singing about love). Sure, it could have been a minor radio hit five or ten years ago, but I don’t think this sort of ballad style dates too badly. I really like every element of it, even in 2017 – the tune, the dynamic way that softer verses build up to big, dramatic choruses, the lyrics (which are simple but not too simple, and just about cliché-free)…and how’s ‘I’ll follow you, Apollo’ for a lyrical hook? Well, you might think it sucks, but I think it makes the song even more instant. Overall, it’s memorable enough – and will be well-performed enough – to squeeze into the second semi’s top 10, but that’s not a given. ‘Enough’ isn’t always enough (if that makes any sense) in a competitive environment, and I can see why Switzerland might miss out just as easily as they could slip through to the final. Either way, they’re guaranteed to improve on Rykka’s result from last year (lest we forget the blue perm and boob-smoke). 7 points.

My mum says… Now here’s a ballad I can get on board with. It’s uplifting, easy to sing along to and just poppy enough to put some pep in your step. The steps taken when following Apollo, obviously. I think Malta should take notes during the lesson Professor Switzerland delivers in Ukraine! 8 points.

Switzerland’s score 7.5

 

 

18 down, 24 (possibly plus-one, if I decide the flame is indeed burning) to go! Here’s the ranking after today’s reviews:

  1. Cyprus (9.00)
  2. Switzerland (7.5)
  3. Macedonia (7.00)
  4. Latvia (6.00)
  5. Albania (6.00)
  6. Malta (3.5)

I’m happy to announce Hovig as the winner of this round. Will he find himself on top – or at least close to the top – of any other upcoming leaderboards? I can hardly stand the suspense. I don’t think there’s a lot of suspense in wondering what will happen to last-placed Malta, but then again, the ESC always manages to provide us with some shocks (you haven’t forgotten about Greta-gate already, have you?).

How would you rank the entries my mum and I judged this time? Let us know in the comments. I love knowing who agrees and disagrees with my opinions so I know who I’m buying a birthday present for – and who I’m so NOT – this year…

If you’re enjoying the Jaz + Mrs. Jaz Judgments so far, then stay tuned for the next installment. We’ll be taking on some big hitters in the form of Bulgaria, France, Italy, Romania, Serbia and Sweden. The bookies rate (some of) them very highly, but will we? Look out for our thoughts on Kristian, Alma, Francesco, Ilinca & Alex Florea, Tijana and Robin to go live if you want to find out!

 

Until then,

 

 

 

SATURDAY SHORTLIST | The five JESC 2016 songs that all Eurovision fans should listen to

Junior Eurovision isn’t for everyone. I totally get that.

But attention, anti-fans: did you know that your aversion to watching tweenagers/teenagers do pretty much what the grown-ups do in May each November (only on a smaller scale and with the occasional mid-song onset of puberty) is depriving you of terrific tunes that could be added to your ESC and NF season playlists?

If your answer to that is ‘No! Please fix that for me immediately if not sooner, Jaz!’, then fear not – I’ve got you covered.

As a starting point, I’ve sifted through the seventeen songs that competed in Junior Eurovision 2016 last Sunday, and singled out the most mature, non-stereotypically JESC entries of the year. The following five songs are the ones I’d recommend you have a listen to if you’ve found mini-Eurovision too young to warm to in the past, but have a reasonably open mind and wouldn’t recoil in horror at the prospect of giving a few participants a chance to win you over.

Those of you who are JESC fans should feel free to scan this list too, and make your own recommendations from contests past and present in the comments. Together, we can brainwash bring people around to our super-cool way of thinking…

 

 

CYPRUS | Dance Floor by George Michaelides

Could be a Eurovision entry from…Sakis Rouvas, Loukas Giorkas & Stereo Mike

Why you should press play Just in case the title of this track didn’t clue you in, it’s the sort of song that will have your butt moving to the energetic, ethno-dance beat before your brain has even processed what’s happening. Because Sakis Rouvas himself is probably too stiff in the joints these days to return to Eurovision – with a banger like Dance Floor, anyway – you might want to familiarise yourself with the sound of his likely successor.

 

 

MACEDONIA | Love Will Lead Our Way by Martija Stanojković

Could be a Eurovision entry from…Elena Risteska, Poli Genova

Why you should press play There are always songs competing at JESC that really put the word ‘Junior’ into Junior Eurovision. Martija’s is the opposite of that. What you hear and what you see (should you watch her performance from last weekend) are both far more suited to the adult contest. If you tend to shy away from young-sounding voices and songs, and/or if you’re a fan of on-trend, radio-friendly tropical pop, then Love Will Lead Our Way is the way to go!

 

 

POLAND | Nie Zapomnij by Olivia Wieczorek

Could be a Eurovision entry from… Eva Boto, Pastora Soler, Polina Gagarina

Why you should press play Who doesn’t love a classic, money-note-filled power ballad when it’s done right? Poland’s return to JESC after over a decade away brought with it a beautifully written and executed effort (emanating national anthem-esque, military-march vibes) that struck a perfect balance between youthful innocence and mature sophistication. Nie Zapomnij beats a whole bunch of ballads that have made it to the ESC recently, so I highly recommend it.

 

 

RUSSIA | Water of Life by The Water of Life Project

Could be a Eurovision entry from…Tinkara Kovač, Zlata Ognevich

Why you should press play Because I’m biased, and since I absolutely adore this song, YOU SHOULD TOO! Seriously though, it’s a humdinger feat. everything one could possibly want in an adult Eurovision entry. It’s ethnic and modern; builds gradually and powerfully; mixes soft moments with explosive moments, making it exciting; and features a few run-throughs of the chorus in English, so those of us whose tongues won’t wrap around Russian can still sing along.

 

 

UKRAINE | Planet Craves For Love by Sofia Rol

Could be a Eurovision entry from…Mika Newton

Why you should press play Hanging onto Macedonia’s heels in the ‘maybe this should have been submitted for Kyiv?’ stakes is Ukraine, with this dreamy mid-tempo ballad. It’s an interesting (some would say boring, but decide for yourself) composition that doesn’t follow a bog-standard formula, and it has the ability to transport you to another place – the set of The Lord of the Rings, for example. It’s not for everyone, but it is more geared towards grown-ups than kids.

 

 

And that’s my chosen five. If you braved a viewing/listening session on any of the above entries for the first time, let me know what you thought of them. If you’re JESC 2016-savvy already, let me know how I went selecting the songs that might just convince the haters that Junior is worth watching. And of course, if there’s anything else you want to say about the contest we’ve just witnessed – won for the third time by Georgia – go for it. I’m not ready to stop talking about it yet!

 

Until next time…

 

2015sig

 

 

Maltese mishaps, mimes and Mariam’s Mzeo: My review + wrap-up of Junior Eurovision 2016!

WARNING: Things are about to get very honest.

Just like that, Junior Eurovision is done and dusted for another year – but none of us who tuned in are likely to forget about it that easily.

Sadly, that’s not because Malta outdid their spectacular show from 2014, but because Sunday’s contest was a bit of a shambles from start to finish (on the part of the adults in charge, not the kids competing). With the most rushed artist parade in history; painfully scripted host dialogue that Ben Camille and Valerie Vella stumbled over like they were running through a booby-trapped trail in the dark; camera operators spending more time in full view than out of it, á la Eurovision 2015; a venue that was far too intimate and therefore lacked atmosphere; AND the cherry on top, when Valerie single-handedly destroyed the tension buildup of the voting by blurting out the remaining amount of points, this was the most amateur JESC of all time. The fact that Malta has handled it with ease before makes it that much worse that things went so downhill this year.

Let’s cross our fingers for Tbilisi to take on the challenge with more finesse (which, TBH, wouldn’t be hard) if we happen to head there in 2017. Because, moving on from my endless list of complaints, my congratulations must go out to this year’s winner Georgia: the Ireland of Junior, only Georgia’s on top of their game now, and they don’t dwell on ancient victories which will soon be outnumbered by Sweden’s.

Hashtag burn.

You’d be forgiven for thinking it was JESC 2013 all over again, as a pint-sized brunette in a poofy white dress belted her way to the win with a powerful ballad. But we subbed in Mariam Mamadashvili for Gaia Cauchi this time, and watched her take the first-place trophy out by creating a truly magical moment on the Mediterranean Conference Centre stage. Hers wasn’t a triumph that everybody saw coming – particularly those of us who refrained from viewing the rehearsals – but, much like Italy’s the last time JESC met Malta, it became inevitable and was very much deserved.

Sixteen other stars shone pretty bright on Sunday, too – but not all of them could end the night on a note as in-tune as every single one that came out of Mariam’s mouth. So let’s hit rewind and review what went down from the start of the performances to THE MOST PRECIOUS REPRISE IN EUROVISION HISTORY (as seen above). I promise I’ll try to stay positive about all of it.

FYI…this is a long one, so you might want to grab a cup of tea and/or call in sick to work for the next three days. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

  

The performances

Ireland Zena’s start to the show was a nice one, but I found everything about it to be a bit messy (and not in a deliberate, that-totally-works kind of way, like her hair). I didn’t like the addition of an English chorus (clichéd lyrics never win me over). As for her dress…well, now we know what would happen if Yohanna’s Eurovision gown got together with a piñata and had a really ugly baby. So much for staying upbeat, Jaz.

Armenia The bad bits were average, but the good bits were great! Tarber is one of my personal favourites of the year, and it was just as entertaining to watch as it is to listen to. Anahit & Mary’s harmonies weren’t exactly on fleek (as Kisses would say) and I wish they’d been styled more in line with the music video (Mary’s hair in particular). If we’re talking fashion, I also think the costume-reveal outfits would have been more effective as dresses made up of both fabrics the girls started out wearing. But that’s just me being picky. Correct, but picky.

Albania Klesta is so sweet, and she can definitely sing (with more power than one would expect from such a small person). But this fell a little flat, and I think it’s because she couldn’t fill the stage with a presence like Mariam did. Besoj is a beautiful song, but it would work better at adult Eurovision, being sung by someone older and more experienced like Elhaida Dani.

Russia I was having heart palpitations in the lead-up to Sofia’s performance – Water of Life floats my boat like nobody’s business. Overall, it wasn’t as slick and powerful as I was hoping (since I wanted it to win) but I loved the girls’ outfits and choreography. Sofia was a stellar lead vocalist, too.

Malta This song, on the other hand, makes me want to rip my ears off. But I can’t deny that Christina (like everyone else residing in Malta) is one heck of a singer. She nailed every note, and unlike Klesta, had all the charisma she needed to fill the stage despite having no one else up there with her. Expect to see her at MESC the minute she’s old enough.

Bulgaria I’ve made it pretty clear already that I think Lidia is absolutely adorable, and that I plan on adopting her ASAP. Apart from one vocal slip-up, she charmed her way through her performance of Valsheben Den. The last thirty seconds really would have benefited from some backup vocalists supporting her visually instead of just aurally. On her own, she ended up looking very tiny and lonely.

Macedonia I applaud Macedonia for their top-notch vocals, cool choreography, and gorgeous rose gold costumes (I would quite like a catsuit like Martija’s to wear on Christmas Day, but it’s probably not that flattering after excessive amounts of turkey and pudding). Unfortunately, the whole thing would have been more at home in Kyiv next year than it was in Valletta for JESC. Still, an A+ for effort.

Poland I have one word for this: FLAWLESS. ‘Perfection’ also comes to mind. We got a stunning dress, graphics and vocals from Olivia, and in her case, I didn’t mind the last-minute addition of English. My only complaint? Why did the audience not cheer louder and longer for her?

Belarus And the Award for Most Improved Since Initial Selection goes to…Belarus, without a doubt! Alex’s breathless, shouty vocals from back then had clearly been whipped into shape. The whole three minutes was slick, entertaining, and the most Junior an entry can be without going too far. Extra kudos is deserved here for extreme multitasking – I’m not even sure I could get on a hoverboard without breaking something (on my body or someone else’s), let alone sing pitch-perfectly while riding one.

Ukraine A gigantic upside-down umbrella would have been OTT enough…but this was a Ukrainian performance, so why stop there? Throw in a couple of mimes as well. What either of these gimmicks had to do with Sofia’s song I don’t know, so they just left me very confused and distracted. Pretty dress though. She can reuse it for her future wedding.

Italy I’d say that Fiamma’s delivery of Cara Mamma was a cute overload, but it was actually just the right level of cuteness – if it were a bowl of porridge, it would be the one Golidlocks would opt for. Her costume (if you can call it that) was too casual for my liking, but even so, she had me melting into a puddle on the floor because AWWWWW. The simplicity of this after the OTT of Ukraine made it come across even better.

Serbia Whoever hit the hoverboard second was going to be unfavourably compared to the one who hit it first – too bad for Dunja. There wasn’t anything terribly wrong with her performance, though like Lidia, she could have used some backup. She also had the glitteriest case of dandruff I’d ever seen, and I’m still unsure whether I liked that look or not. All in all, Serbia didn’t get the party pumping like they should have.

Israel This was another performance in which some parts were great and others were messy, which didn’t give the best overall impression. Shir & Tim’s vocals were okay. They had decent chemistry and nice costumes (as you may be able to tell, I put a lot of stock in what people are wearing). I was hoping this would be presented in a more atmospheric way, which would have made it more memorable.

Australia We Are is weak, and there wasn’t much Alexa could do to elevate it. She sang reasonably well if not perfectly, and her engagement with the camera and the audience proved the worth of her time on The Voice Kids. But, as I expected, I wasn’t left feeling strongly about this in a positive or negative way. It was just…there.

The Netherlands I think I’ll be spelling ‘fun’ k-i-s-s-e-s from now on, because these three were the life of the party! The costumes they eventually chose were atrocious (had they just been renovating and repainting a Barbie Dream House? And why was one of the outfits beige?) but apart from that, this was Junior Eurovision in a psychedelically-patterned nutshell.. The energy was unrelenting, and the vividness of the 80s flashback was extreme (and I wasn’t even born until 1991). I loved every second.

Cyprus I’m still not convinced that George isn’t Sakis Rouvas after seven years of plastic surgery (has anyone seem him since Moscow?), but I am convinced that his performance kicked butt. There was no other pure ethno-pop – with drums! – competing in 2016, so this really stood out.

Georgia Last but not least (literally), was another heart-melter. Mariam had the dress that Fiamma didn’t, and elegantly powered her way through the classically beautiful Mzeo without missing a single note. She made serious magic on that stage, and she didn’t even have to saw someone in half to do it. At this point, the doorway to victory was wide open, and she strolled right through it.

 

If I had to filter those seventeen down to my top five, I’d go with (in random order) Russia, Macedonia, Poland, Belarus and Georgia. But all of the competing kids did themselves proud.

Speaking of the kids…I have to draw attention to the level of cute on display at this year’s contest. I’ve never wanted to adopt so many children at once in my life, so watch out, Angelina Jolie – your record may be about to be broken.

Now, before we move on from the performances to the voting and results, let’s take a look back at the entertainment between them.

  

The interval acts

Poli Genova Good golly, Miss Poli! Fiercer than ever and just as adept at doing the chicken dance without looking like a loser, she had the few people who could actually fit into the MCC on their feet.

Destiny Chukunyere Why, oh why wouldn’t they let her sing? Sing live, I mean. She was put to better use as a mime than the kids accompanying Sofia Rol on stage. Pre-recorded vocals aside, Destiny’s reprise of Not My Soul was pretty enjoyable. The other song she performed was…different. And slightly inappropriate at times.

The common song This was more of a cheesefest than a quattro formaggio pizza party for the entire population of Europe. I must be getting old and bitter, because I did not enjoy it at all. The reappearance of extreme miming didn’t help matters.

Jedward Let’s just say that, while their hair may have gotten even higher since their ESC days, the twins’ musical talents haven’t improved much. I never thought I’d say this, but stick to the expert judging, boys!

 

The voting + the results

The end of a Eurovision event is usually the most exciting part – and with the JESC 2016 voting echoing that of ESC 2016 (which nearly killed me), it was bound to be worth waiting for.

It was, but it also turned out to be confusing in the way it was presented. For starters, we had the child spokespersons reading out the adult jury votes. Then we had the expert jurors announce their scores one by one. Then came the combined points from the kids’ jury, read out by the adult hosts. Given that all of this took place at 2am my time, you can understand how it seemed to be less than straightforward. But it certainly delivered on tension, until Valerie made the slip-up that brought one heck of a crescendo to a screeching halt. After that, this is what we were left with: 

  1. Georgia 239
  2. Armenia 232
  3. Italy 209
  4. Russia 202
  5. Australia 202
  6. Malta 191
  7. Belarus 177
  8. The Netherlands 174
  9. Bulgaria 161
  10. Ireland 122
  11. Poland 60
  12. Macedonia 41
  13. Albania 38
  14. Ukraine 30
  15. Israel  27
  16. Cyprus 27
  17. Serbia 14

The scoreboard wasn’t a carbon copy of this after the adult jury points had been presented: though many countries stayed put throughout the final two voting segments, the adults ranked The Netherlands 3rd and Belarus 4th, while Italy and Russia would eventually rise up to 3rd from 6th and 4th from 9th respectively.

The adult jury gave their top points to Georgia; the kids’ jury gave theirs to Armenia; and the expert jury gave theirs to Russia. All three ranked Australia 5th, which was the only across-the-board agreement. Some of the most drastic differences of opinion? Russia (top three with the KJ and EJ, 9th with the AJ); Georgia (1st with the AJ, 8th with the EJ); and Malta (2nd with the KJ, 10th with the EJ).

Opinions also differed among the three expert jurors (a.k.a. the two expert jurors and Jedward) – Mads handed his douze to Italy, Christer gave his to Belarus, and Jedward rewarded Russia with their top score.

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The scoreboard after the adult jury votes (top left), the expert jury votes (top right), and the kids’ jury votes (bottom).

 

If we combine the twelve points from both the AJ and the KJ, it leaves us with Georgia scoring 11 sets – the same number of countries that received at least one top score.

Three countries finished in the same position they performed in. Armenia performed second and came second, Russia performed fourth and came fourth, and Cyprus performed 16th and came…you guessed it, 16th! The same thing happened twice last year. Fortunately for Georgia, Mariam bucked the trend by finishing first after performing last. This is the fourth time that has happened in JESC history – the final songs to be performed also won in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

The countries that improved on their last results were Georgia, Italy, The Netherlands, Australia, Ireland, Russia, Macedonia and Poland. The countries that did NOT improve were Serbia, Belarus, Ukraine, Malta, Albania, Israel and Cyprus. As for Armenia and Bulgaria…well, they ended up in the exact same positions as last year.

Another “interesting” fact…there were only two songs that were performed without any English lyrics. One won, and the other came last.

If you were wondering what I thought of the final results, then I’ll tell you – there were some shocks and surprises, and a few injustices, but the right entry won…even if it wasn’t my favourite. I always believe that the eventual winner is the true winner, simply because they won according to the rules of the contest. But Mariam’s Mzeo is definitely more of a Waterloo than an I Wanna – i.e. it’s a song I can get on board with, rather than a song I’ll quietly resent for years.

I can also live with my far-and-away favourite Russia finishing fourth – the same position my #1 entry reached in 2015. And as I predicted Armenia would come second, I’m not going to complain about that. Underrated IMO were Poland, Macedonia and Cyprus. Overrated was Australia (so if you hear news of me being deported to Greenland, you’ll know why). Then again, the bulk of the points were based on the performances at the jury show on Saturday – and unless you were there in the MCC at the time, you’ll never know how they differed from the televised versions.

 

So, was this the greatest Junior Eurovision ever? Umm, no. Was it up there (or down there) with the worst? Production-wise and host-wise, yes (in my honest opinion. You’re welcome to disagree). Can Malta do better? Of course, we know that. But what we did get out of the show was seventeen enjoyable performances from seventeen talented acts that must have had Jedward feeling insanely inferior; a voting sequence that had us on the edge of our seats almost until the very last second (DAMMIT, VALERIE!); and an insight into how uncomfortable Christer Björkman is when he’s not in total control of such proceedings.

Oh, and I also got my Tweet read out loud (albeit attributed to a boy named Yaz) so that was a personal highlight.

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What were your overall impressions of JESC 2016? Do you think Malta nailed or failed their second attempt at hosting? And how did your favourite songs end up faring in the competition? If there’s something you want to say, I’m listening…a.k.a. monitoring the comments section below.

I’ll be back soon with a few more Junior-themed posts (sorry to those who can’t stand it, but I’m not willing to let go just yet) before launching into some Stockholm flashbacks – after all, it has been SIX MONTHS since the final. Then, it’s on to NF season we go, and this time, I really mean that (in case you hadn’t heard, I’m off to Melodifestivalen in March!).

Basically, I have all the Eurovision you need to get you through the next few months. And then the rest of your life, probably.

 

Until next time…

 

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IT’S JESC 2016 TIME! The EBJ Junior Jury’s Top 17 revealed + my predictions for the show

Welcome to the day all of us Junior Eurovision fans have been waiting for since the conclusion of the adult contest in Stockholm: show day!

 

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In a matter of hours, the 2016 edition kicks off in Valletta, and I couldn’t be more excited if I tried (and I have). I hope you are too – I don’t want to be the only one on the planet who’s pretty close to peeing their pants.

Let’s leap straight in to the stuff I promised to cover in the title of this post, because a) I don’t want the show to start before I’ve even made my predictions, and b) I want to distract you from the fact that I just admitted to being close to wetting myself (I must have temporarily mistaken the slogan of JESC 2016 for #embarrass). So here are some rankings and predictions for your reading pleasure (fingers crossed).

 

Calculated and complete: The EBJ Junior Jury’s Top 17 for 2016 (plus my personal pre-show ranking, just because)

Just as the countdown to the contest itself was on this week, so too was the countdown to the unveiling of the EBJJJ’s post-review ranking (well, it was in my mind, anyway). After four rounds of reviews and mini-rankings, it’s time for me to pull the Cloth of Intrigue away with a magician-like flourish, and let you see who ended up where. Voila!

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So there you have it. Russia, after scoring more sets of douze than any other country, takes first place, followed by Armenia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Macedonia. Poor Cyprus (and I am a little outraged by this) were relegated to rock bottom, which I hope will not be the case after the actual show is over. I’ll probably do a quick analysis this week of how the actual results compared to the EBJJJ version, so keep an eye out for that – the differences are sure to be drastic!

In case you were curious, here’s my personal ranking as of right this second. I got my way a few times, and I didn’t even have to rig anything. Woohoo!

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

How does yours compare, and what do you think of the EBJJJ’s collective Top 17? Let us know in the comments below.

 

Bets on (but not literally): Predicting the winner, loser and all of the results in-between

I say ‘not literally’ because I’ve never been confident enough in my predicting powers to gamble any of my savings on them. Removing money from the equation takes some of the pressure off, but I’ve got to say – I thought the absence of televoting would make trying to foresee the results easier, but it really makes it harder!

The outcome of JESC has never been decided by 100% jury voting before, so it’s impossible to say with certainty (unless you’re psychic) what will happen in a few hours’ time, and what happened as a result of yesterday’s jury final. Who knows how each jury will react/reacted to each performance? Not me, that’s for sure. But when it comes to the following questions, I have made the effort to come up with some answers…

 

FTW? Bulgaria. Yes, ladies and gents – for the first time in my history of being a Eurovision fan, I am calling this one outright (instead of super-gluing the seat of my pants to the fence by predicting at least three countries to win). I’ve only very recently had the feeling, especially after hearing reports on the rehearsals, that Bulgaria may be about to win their first ever Eurovision event – just six months after Poli Genova achieved their best result yet. My reasoning behind this is pretty simple: I think Valsheben Den is one of the few competing songs (if not the only one) that offers something to all three juries. I can also clearly see the credits rolling over a reprise from Lidia, which is often a good indication of a song’s potential to win (as stupid as it sounds). She’s adorable and engaging, her vocals and her costume (from the little I’ve heard and seen) are on point/fleek, and the song is catchy, memorable and uplifting. WHOLE PACKAGE ALERT! They may not be boasting my absolute favourite entry of JESC 2016, but I would be perfectly happy to witness Bulgaria win with what they do have.

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Could Lidia outdo Krisia, Hasan & Ibrahim’s second place today? Quite possibly!

Dark horse FTW? Poland. It’s time for a beautifully-sung ballad to win again, basically, and if it isn’t the up-tempo, inspirational, almost tribal ballad from Bulgaria, I have a sneaking suspicion that it could be Poland’s more traditional number. There was something magical about Nie Zapomnij from the start, and it has continued to grow on me and give me THE FEELING ever since. The pathway to victory is more mountainous for Poland than for Bulgaria, so that’s why I see Olivia as the dark horse to Lidia’s bright, white prancing pony. But watch out for this one, guys. If it doesn’t go all the way, it’ll at least outrank both of Poland’s previous results – and outscore both of their existing point totals.

The rest of the top five? Armenia, Russia, Macedonia. Armenia are better at being the bridesmaid than they are at being the bride, which is nothing to be ashamed of. Last year, I was convinced Mika would come second despite having everything required for a win, and I was right (for once). I have a similar feeling about Anahit & Mary – though really, anywhere in the 2nd-5th range of positions could come easily to them. Russia would be my ideal pick to emerge on top as Water of Life is my absolute favourite entry…but nobody’s talking about them as a potential winner anymore, and something is crooked enough about the chemistry and all-around appeal of the group and song on the JESC stage to convince me that it’s just not to be *wails like Rona Nishliu at a funeral*. Predicting Macedonia to make the top five may be a bit ambitious on my part (as I’m not sure the older jurors will go for it) but it deserves to be towards the top. If Martija doesn’t even grace the top ten with her presence, I will personally take it upon myself to beat up Jedward with an oversized can of hairspray (even if it wasn’t their fault).

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Russia has sent an incredible song to JESC this year, but it’s looking less likely than ever that they’ll be rewarded for it.

The lower left-hand side of the scoreboard? Georgia, Malta, Belarus, Italy. We’re talking 6th-9th places here, so just out of the top-ten-in-adult-Eurovision equivalent that is the top five. Georgia, if I’m honest and all of a sudden, could actually win (as it turns out, Mzeo is kind of epic and has been getting the round of applause to end all rounds of applause during rehearsals), but if they don’t, I think they’ll drop down to about 6th. Malta (my least favourite) will no doubt get a boost as the home country, but I just don’t think Parachute has the substance to squeeze into the top five á la Federica’s Diamonds in 2014. Belarus would be in with a better chance if televoting was happening (hello, hoverboards!) but as the situation stands, they may have to settle for less. I think Italy’s class will win over the adult juries to an extent, and perhaps the expert juries too, unless Cara Mamma is completely overshadowed by other ballads.

The upper right-hand side of the scoreboard? Israel, The Netherlands, Cyprus, Australia, Serbia. Each of these countries has something that’s likely to stop them from steamrolling over a lot of their rivals. For Israel, it’s going up against arguably stronger and more memorable ballads. For The Netherlands, it’s racking up the points when their song is geared more towards the kids’ jury than any of the others. For Cyprus, it’s bypassing the potential jury opinion that Dance Floor lacks the technicality of a worthy winner. For Australia, it’s the same issue Israel will have, as well as a general lack of ‘wow’ factor. And for Serbia, it’s an underwhelming presentation that has been closely compared to the superior one from Belarus. Together, they’ve got about 99 problems, and making it over to the left side of the scoreboard is definitely one.

australia-second-rehearsal

Australia hasn’t upped their game between 2015 and 2016 – so we shouldn’t expect a better result! Great outfit, though…

Right at rock bottom? Albania, Ukraine, Ireland. It causes me physical pain to predict such low places for two of these countries, but I really do think they’ll all have trouble capturing substantial votes from any of the juries – Ukraine and Ireland in particular. I’d love to be proven wrong and see Albania and Ukraine perform better, but I’m preparing myself for the worst.

 

These predictions – plus some highly scientific calculations which involved guessing which entries would appeal to which jury (kids, adults and/or expert) – come together to create a leaderboard that looks like this: 

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

I reserve the right to delete this and pretend I never produced it if the real results are vastly different.

Do you agree or disagree with my guesses? Is there an obvious, in-the-bag winner in your opinion, or are we in for a shock that has all of our jaws on the floor?

  

Finally – the five things I’m most looking forward to seeing when JESC meets Malta again!

Because ten’s too many, and one would just be lazy.

  • Finding out how Malta has approached JESC in 2016 versus how they approached it in 2014. Will it be similar, yet somehow very different – and in many ways, so much better – as with the ESC in Malmö VS in Stockholm?
  • Finally checking out the performances from my favourites – and some of my non-favourites – after not watching any of the rehearsals in order to maintain an element of surprise. Russia, Poland, Macedonia, Cyprus and Australia (obviously) are among the countries I can’t wait to see on the stage for the first time.
  • Werking it when Poli Genova does her duty as an interval act. There’s no doubt she’ll bring back fond memories of the awkward white girl dancing I did during her opening party set at the Euroclub in May. SUCH GOOD TIMES.
poli_genova_at_jesc_2015

From last year’s host to this year’s ESC, Poli’s come full circle and rejoins the JESC party for 2016. Say yay!

  • Seeing some familiar faces back on the JESC stage – albeit as spokespersons when the adult jury points are announced. The 2015 artists who have been chosen to make a comeback of sorts are Mika from Armenia, Misha Smirnov from Russia, Ruslan Aslanov from Belarus (my winner of last year) and Anna Trincher from Ukraine. Reigning JESC champ Destiny Chukunyere will also be there to announce the kids jury results (after joining Poli as an interval act) and it’s always great to see her smiling face.
  • Watching the results unfold in a year with no precedent for what will take place. Honestly, I’ve based a big chunk of this post on wild guesses because I have no clue what the ending to the JESC 2016 story will be. It could be a happy one, if Russia, Bulgaria, Armenia or Poland take the win (to name a few); or an unhappy one, if Malta manage to do the double with a song that would be the Running Scared to Not My Soul’s Euphoria, if you know what I mean. I’m practically dying of curiosity at this point, so bring it on, Valletta!

What are you most looking forward to this afternoon/tonight/tomorrow morning/whenever? As long as it’s Junior Eurovision-related, I want to know. Although if it’s about your dog, I’m happy to have a conversation about that too.

 

Wherever you are and however you’re tuning in, I hope you have a very merry JESC, and get the results of your dreams (unless they’re different to the results of my dreams, in which case SCREW YOU I WANT IT TO GO MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY!!!).

 

Enjoy the show.

 

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THE EBJ JUNIOR JURY REVIEWS | Australia, Israel, Macedonia, The Netherlands + Serbia

This is (almost) it – we’re just about to arrive at JESC weekend, people! With all of the 2016 acts in Valletta and rehearsing like mad, it’s still impossible to predict who will win the contest in two days’ time. But that’s what makes the countdown that much more exciting.

As there aren’t many digits left in that countdown, I need to move right along with the Typically Jaz™ pre-show ramblings. On the schedule today? The fourth and final round of the EBJ Junior Jury’s reviews, feat. Australia (can I be impartial? You’re about to find out), Israel, Macedonia, The Netherlands, and Serbia.

 

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So, Alexa, Shir & Tim, Martija, Kisses and Dunja – if you happen to be reading – let’s see what the EBJJJ thinks of the songs you guys are competing with on Sunday…

 

 

australia

My thoughts As an Australian, I try to be objective when reviewing our ESC or JESC entries, and I’m pretty sure I can do it this time. It might be unfair to assume this after only two attempts, but I don’t think Australia really ‘gets’ Junior Eurovision. Apparently we get the absolute crap out of the adult contest (and I reserve the right to brag about that at every opportunity). But our mediocre result with Bella Paige’s My Girls, and the fact that we’re sending something just as “uplifting” and pseudo-inspirational to Valletta – perhaps not learning from our mistakes – is evidence that JESC may not be our thing. Alexa’s We Are seems like the result of what a few ill-informed people considered to be the ultimate contest song for kids. I don’t know if that’s actually the case, but the cheesy and clichéd lyrics, and the been-there/heard-that pop ballad style (yes, it really is My Girls all over again) give that impression. The song coasts along, doing a semi-decent job for what it is – and Alexa definitely sings it beautifully – but it doesn’t stick, and it has pretty much zero x-factor. It isn’t terrible; I was just hoping for an improvement on 2015 rather than a carbon copy. As Einstein once said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result…so unless Alexa can pull off a performance that ticks every box – feat. perfect graphics, costumes, props and vocals – I think Australia is destined to get bogged in the sand of the average result range. How can Tania Doko, the woman largely responsible for this 90s masterpiece, also be largely responsible for We Are? PS – Is anyone else put off by the lyric referencing driving? Alexa’s not even old enough to get her learner’s permit, let alone to use operating an automobile as a meaningful metaphor in her music.

My score 6

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 4
  • James, UK – 5
  • Joshua, Australia – 3
  • Matthew, Ireland – 6
  • Michael, Australia – 7
  • Penny, USA – 6
  • Rory, Ireland – 7

 

 

israel

My thoughts In a move that has officially crowned them the Azerbaijan of JESC, Israel kept us waiting as long as possible before unveiling their second-ever Junior song, following on from 2012’s Let The Music Win. We could even call Shir & Tim mini Ell & Nikki, but that’d only be because they’re a female-male duo (not because Shir struggles to sing live, which I’m sure she doesn’t). Follow My Heart wasn’t exactly worth such a wait, but I’m a fan of it anyway. What it has working in its favour includes: a) a mystical, minimal beginning that builds into something packing a punch; b) excellent use of English that emphasises the title and makes the song more interesting; and c) two voices that work well both separately and together. I feel like this is the sort of song that will thrive on being performed live, with audience and artist interaction making it more of an audiovisual spectacle. There’s room for really interesting stuff to be done with the staging too, so I hope the Israeli delegation and the Maltese techies will do it justice. Look what atmospheric staging did for Made of Starsin Stockholm! I appreciate Israel trying a different tactic for this comeback, and I think it could pay off…but a lot needs to go right at the right time for that to happen. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for Shir & Tim though, as their song has the potential to grow on me and become one of my favourites of the year.

My score 7

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 6
  • James, UK – 4
  • Joshua, Australia – 10
  • Matthew, Ireland – 3
  • Michael, Australia – 8
  • Penny, USA – 7
  • Rory, Ireland – 2

 

 

macedonia

My thoughts More so than any other country that competed in JESC 2015 and is about to compete in JESC 2016, Macedonia has proven that a lot can change in a year. They’ve completely turned the tables on last year’s Pletenka – one of those ‘Junior of Yesteryear’ kid-pop songs that was enjoyable, but inevitably finished last – and recruited a girl with a more mature look and mature voice to sing a considerably more current tropical dance track. I really, really like Love Will Lead Our Way, and will probably drop the other L-bomb on it any day now. It takes the radio-friendly nature of Ireland’s entry and combines it with the youth and fresh feel of Armenia’s song to produce something infectious and fun, while still taking the contest seriously. Like Israel, Macedonia has used English cleverly for the title of the song – a title that goes on to be repeated throughout and becomes a memorable hook to reel us all in. The phrasing of both English and Macedonian in the chorus is simple but effective, making it feel like you’re listening to one language rather than two. The icing on the cake is that on-trend riff that makes me want to hit up a beach party in the Bahamas (the intended destination may have been the Balkans, but too bad). Oh, and did I mention that Martija is super-duper pretty, and that the camera loves her? Well, she is, and it does. I will admit that LWLOW probably plateaus too much to give it a winning edge, but if it doesn’t catapult Macedonia out of the bottom five and closer (or into) the top five, I will be 110% done with 2016. Love it! *drops the big L-bomb as promised earlier*

My score 10

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 1
  • James, UK – 8
  • Joshua, Australia – 10
  • Matthew, Ireland – 6
  • Michael, Australia – 12
  • Penny, USA – 7
  • Rory, Ireland – 8

 

 

netherlands

My thoughts I’m not ashamed to admit that I LOVE how The Netherlands take on JESC. They don’t always finish at the top of the scoreboard (they actually haven’t had a top five finish since 2011), but their entries are consistently competent, polished and enjoyable. They’re also usually radio-friendly teen pop – think 2014/15 – or old-school Junior musical balls of energy, á la the unforgettable Double Me from 2013. This year, the Dutch have stayed true to type with the incredibly catchy Kisses and Dancin’ by Kisses (who clearly have something in common with Water of Life by The Water of Life Project). It’s the closest thing you’ll find to fairy floss in this year’s buffet, so if you have a sweet tooth, this is probably in your personal top five. I do, and it’s definitely in mine! It reminds me so much of Belgium’s Get Up!, sent to Junior all the way back in 2010, and that was a song I was obsessed with at the time (not so much these days since it’s not exactly a timeless classic, but temporary gratification is better than none at all, right?). Both songs have a similar subject matter and call to get up and/or dance that I find irresistible, but this one is even more infectious. The mix of Dutch and English is better here too. Throw in a carefree nature, positive vibes and instant memorability, and this becomes a serious competitor without taking the contest too seriously. What we’ll get as a result (keep in mind that I haven’t watched any of the rehearsals) is a feelgood, smile-provoking performance that may not have the legs to lead the pack, but should make Shalisa’s second-last place last year a distant memory. It was the televoters who led to her downfall, while the juries bumped her up – so with only juries to win over and a song that is much more childlike than Shalisa’s, it’s hard to say how high Kisses can go. But given that we are talking about Junior Eurovision, and that we have kids juries in play, I’d like to think they have an audience in the voting population who will clap-clap along with them and send some double-digit scores their way.

My score 8

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 7
  • James, UK – 6
  • Joshua, Australia – 5
  • Matthew, Ireland – 8
  • Michael, Australia – 8
  • Penny, USA – 6
  • Rory, Ireland – 4

 

 

serbia

My thoughts Serbia is another country that has pinballed in a different direction, after trying something dramatic (that could have passed as an adult Eurovision entry with an age-appropriate singer) at JESC last year. Flamboyant hand gestures and massive money notes are out; hoverboards and sassy summer sounds are in, via Dunja’s U La La La. Lightening things up was a move that’s likely to pay off – even I can see that, despite this song not being one of my favourites. Dunja is a girl with grunt in her voice and more attitude than most of the other artists combined, and the song is a perfect fit for her personality and vocal talents (in studio, at least). It’s youthful, catchy, and a good combo of contemporary pop and vintage JESC kid-pop (the kind I get a kick out of because it brings back memories of when I discovered mini –Eurovision). As I said, I’m not head-over-heels in love with it, although if I tried out Dunja’s hoverboard I would definitely end up head-over-heels. But I do think it holds its own as one of the ‘fun’ songs on offer, and that it stands out style-wise. Serbian really shines in an urban-sounding song, and I respect the fact that there’s no English awkwardly inserted at the start, in the middle or at the end – it’s that native tongue all the way through, making U La La La one of just three entries to stick with a language other than the most accessible one possible. I’m not saying that will benefit or disadvantage Dunja, but I admire it no matter how she scores. I don’t really have anything else to say about this, other than ‘I last listened to it five days ago and the chorus is STILL stuck in my head’, which has to count for something.

My score 7

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 8
  • James, UK – 7
  • Joshua, Australia – 10
  • Matthew, Ireland – 6
  • Michael, Australia – 12
  • Penny, USA – 12
  • Rory, Ireland – 5

 

 

Now, with those sentences about/scores for Serbia dealt with, I finally get to say this: seventeen down, zero to go! The ranking for this round is as follows:

  1. Serbia (8.37)
  2. Macedonia (7.75)
  3. The Netherlands (6.5)
  4. Israel (5.87)
  5. Australia (5.5)

Serbia takes out the top spot this time, with fellow ex-Yugo Macedonia snapping at their heels (or hoverboards – take your pick). The Netherlands didn’t kiss or dance their way beyond the halfway point, sadly, but they’ve got a good chance of doing so in the actual show (and the actual show, I’ll admit, matters a little bit more than the EBJJJ ranking). Israel and Australia *is outraged despite not loving the song* bring up the rear.

Stay tuned, because this weekend – just before the contest kicks off – I’ll be unveiling the Junior Jury’s complete 17-song ranking for you to feast your eyes on (and probably disagree with in a major way). I’ll also be posting my predictions for upper crust, bottom crust and filling of the scoreboard sandwich – i.e. which country will end up where once all of the esteemed jury members (and Jedward) have had their say. These predictions are going to be so hilariously inaccurate, you won’t want to miss them.

While you’re waiting, let me know which of today’s reviewed entries is your favourite – or which one makes you want to invest in a very high-quality pair of earplugs. Does one of these five have what it takes to win Junior Eurovision 2016? If so, say so – I need all the help I can get in finalising those pesky predictions…

 

Get ready to #embrace, everybody!

 

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THE EBJ JUNIOR JURY REVIEWS | Albania, Belarus, Italy + Malta

I bet you didn’t see this coming. Regardless and right on schedule, round three of the EBJJJ judgments has arrived!

Today, it’s time for a few of last year’s JESC success stories; host country Malta; and Italy (who neither did brilliantly in 2015 or are hosting like they COULD HAVE in 2015) to be picked apart by me and my posse of Europop aficionados. Prepare for highs, lows and mixed emotions, people.

 

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Without further ado, let’s jump in to judging Klesta, Alexander, Fiamma and Christina’s songs for Europe. And Australia. And any other country that happens to be broadcasting JESC this year.

 

 

albania

My thoughts Last year, I staunchly supported Mishela Rapo and her dibi-dibi-Dambaje as they ventured forth into the bloody musical battle that is…not JESC (blood-drawing = not so child-friendly, and probably frowned upon by the EBU). The haters did hate, but she went on to finish 5th, equaling the best-ever ranking in a Eurovision event that Albania secured with Rona Nishliu in Baku. Funnily enough, their Junior entry for 2016 reminds me of Suus, for several reasons. But am I intending to sing its praises the way I did with Dambaje (and yes, Suus, once my ears became accustomed to Rona’s tuneful but still very loud wailing)? The answer is ‘kind of’. In my opinion, there’s more to like about Klesta’s Besoj than there is NOT to like about it, but it isn’t flawless. Let’s start with the good stuff, though. A mature, sophisticated and B-I-G ballad bursting out of a precious-looking little girl (in glasses, no less) has been a secret to JESC success lately – think Gaia Cauchi’s 2013 win or Slovenia’s song from Lina Kuduzović last year. So there’s that. Then there’s the fact that this ballad features multiple moments of melodic magnificence throughout, particularly between the choruses. The choruses do have their strengths, as they’re a dynamic contrast to the softness of what surrounds them, exploding out of nowhere and allowing Klesta to reach her full vocal potential (surprising unsuspecting viewers in the process). It’s a statement song, that’s for sure. But I have to point out its flaws if I want to get all of the cattiness out of my system before these reviews reach their conclusion, and these are the most obvious: firstly, the somewhat strange use of English in amongst the Albanian – ‘believe’ popping up in that first chorus instead of ‘besoj’ is too random for my tastes. Secondly, the second half of the chorus, where most of the power is packed, is OTT enough to give me the beginnings of a headache by time the song’s over. Still, my personal ratio of like to dislike here is about 85%:15%, which ain’t bad for Albania. It just means that the more people who feel the way I do, the more likely they’ll have to settle for a less impressive result than last year’s. I’m not sure if it would be a help or hindrance if Klesta took even more cues from Rona Nishliu and appeared on stage with her hair forming part of her costume…

My score 7

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 6
  • James, UK – 6
  • Joshua, Australia – 12
  • Matthew, Ireland – 7
  • Michael, Australia – 4
  • Penny, USA – 10
  • Rory, Ireland – 10

 

 

belarus

My thoughts This is old-school Junior Eurovision right here, folks! From 2003-2010 (ish), pre-teen pop was the core of the contest. Nowadays, we’re lucky to get two or three tracks per year that bring back those memories (the trio of 2016 being Belarus, The Netherlands and Serbia). Alex’s homeland came third in 2013 with something similar, and I’m guessing he’d like to do the same or better. Sadly, I’m about to burst his bubble, because Muzyka Moikh Pobed is only okay, and certainly no Poy So Mnoy (then again, what is? That was BOSS). It’s a mid-tempo, pretty well-sung and performed song with a reasonably catchy chorus, and I do get a kick out of it – just not  a hard one. More like a gentle poke with the toe, if you were after specifics. There’s nothing about it that’s memorable, even though comparing it to anything else in the competition would be like comparing Lordi and Boggie. It would make a great Sing It Away­-style opener for the show because it’s energetic and sets the mood switch to ‘Party Time!!!’, but can then promptly be forgotten about by everyone and eventually putt-putt to a halt in 13th place because it’s disposable. I don’t want it to fail – if an outcome like that would be considered a fail – but I don’t see it having the steam to climb much higher. That doesn’t mean Europe should stop sending kid pop: it can be done in a memorable way that still scores serious points. It just means that…well, you can’t take a top 5 spot every single year. Unless you’re Armenia.

My score 6

The EBJ Junior Jury says… 

  • Dara, Australia – 5
  • James, UK – 7
  • Joshua, Australia – 10
  • Matthew, Ireland – 5
  • Michael, Australia – 8
  • Penny, USA – 7
  • Rory, Ireland – 5

 

 

italy

My thoughts Nobody does class like Italy. It consistently ensures they get great adult Eurovision results (when they don’t, those are the exceptions, not the rule) and even won them the Junior Eurovision title on their very first try in 2014. Fiamma Boccia’s ballad, which is an ode to her mother (see, Axel Hirsoux…it CAN be done in a non-creepy way!), is nothing if not classy. Yet it still manages to be age-appropriate for the twelve-year-old, who actually looks younger than her years (she may be asked for ID upon entering the Mediterranean Conference Centre for the first time). To be honest, I thought Cara Mamma was an unfortunate sweet-and-savoury combo of sugar and cheese back when it was presented, and if it was entirely in English (against JESC rules, I know, but I’m talking hypothetically here) I probably still would. But further listens have somehow changed my mind, and I’m really digging it now. It is sweet, but the Italian, as always, adds an aspect of beauty that’s very appealing. The chorus is soaring and melodic without being overblown or melodramatic. And the softness of the verses that is echoed when the song winds down gives me a satisfying feeling that the entry has come full circle, returning to its roots and making it more meaningful. Italy also makes excellent use of the little English they’ve opted for, as it doesn’t feel like it was crammed in just to increase the song’s accessibility. Fiamma is pretty darn cute, and has an emotional presence – at least in her music video – that reminds me of Alisa Kozhikina, who represented Russia the year Italy won JESC (albeit with a ballad that was too mature and melodramatic for my liking, but still finished 5th). I think she has one of the best ballads of the year up her sleeve, but with tough competition coming from Albania, Bulgaria and Poland, she needs to pull off a top-notch performance to give herself the best shot of outdoing the others. I’d like to see her do well, and I bet her mother would too (her father, who’s probably feeling a little left out, may be less supportive).

My score 8

The EBJ Junior Jury says… 

  • Dara, Australia – 5
  • James, UK – 12
  • Joshua, Australia – 7
  • Matthew, Ireland – 10
  • Michael, Australia – 8
  • Penny, USA – 8
  • Rory, Ireland – 4

 

 

malta

My thoughts Malta has been hyped a heap at Junior Eurovision recently, and usually they live up to that hype by winning or doing very well indeed. Destiny’s Not My Soul wasn’t my favourite entry last year (far from it, in fact), but she certainly fulfilled expectations, and did deserve to win as far as I’m concerned. But if Christina Magrin does the double on home soil with the frequently-fangirled-over Parachute, I will be FURIOUS. To cut what could be a long story short, I hate this song. So much so that I’ve taken to calling it Parashite (hoping that Christina never finds out, because I’m not a monster who wants to hurt a child’s feelings). I seem to be in the minority, but to me the song is annoying, vacuous, derivative crap. And what the heck is up with that ‘Ew ew ewhew ewwwww’ part of the chorus? I mean, yes, it accurately describes my attitude towards the whole thing, but what does it add to the track? It’s like the writers couldn’t for the life of them think of any more lyrics for that section, so they decided to string out the last syllable sung instead in the most irritating manner known to man. All in all, this is bubblegum pop that should stay stuck to the underside of a school desk somewhere. Maybe this rant makes me a distant relative of Satan himself, but I have to tell the truth! I will admit that Christina is a great singer, as is everyone under the age of sixteen who calls Malta home. But her vocal gymnastics can’t somersault the song into my good graces. Worryingly, the last time I felt this strongly about a Maltese JESC entry in a negative way, it was 2013 and Gaia Cauchi’s The Start went on to win with ease. So if Parachute does the same¸ y’all can go off and celebrate and I’ll just be crying in a corner, cursing the juries under my breath.

My score 2

The EBJ Junior Jury says… 

  • Dara, Australia – 5
  • James, UK – 10
  • Joshua, Australia – 6
  • Matthew, Ireland – 12
  • Michael, Australia – 6
  • Penny, USA – 8
  • Rory, Ireland – 3

 

 

And with that controversial ending to today’s round of reviews (direct all hate mail to me and expect a falsely polite reply within six to eight months), there’s now twelve down, five to go for the EBJ Junior Jury.

Our ranking after scoring this group of four looks like this:

  1. Albania (7.75)
  2. Italy (7.75)
  3. Belarus (6.62)
  4. Malta (6.5)

It’s the ballads that have reigned supreme, with Albania and Italy equaling each other’s scores. Albania gets the top spot on countback, but the gap between the two is barely there. Belarus and Malta keep each other company in the lower half, with very little separating them as well.

How do they all fit in to the full EBJJJ ranking for 2016? Well, you’ll have to wait and see – but don’t worry, there’s not long now until I reveal all. The final five left to be reviewed are Australia, Israel, Macedonia, The Netherlands and Serbia. Maybe we’ve saved the best until last….maybe we haven’t. Either way, you won’t want to miss it.

 

Did Albania deserve to take out today’s top honours, or should Malta have been the cream of the crop á la Destiny? Perhaps Italy or Belarus have won you over instead. Let me know what you’re thinking in the comments!

 

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THE EBJ JUNIOR JURY REVIEWS | Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland + Russia

Bonjour, people who don’t hate song contests for kids aged 10-14! I’m back, and so is the EBJ Junior Jury. We’re just over a week away from setting foot on Maltese soil (metaphorically…most of the people actually attending who I hate with a passion will be touching down well before then) and finding the fourteenth winner of the Junior Eurovision Song Contest. Will it be one of the countries the EBJJJ and I are reviewing and ranking today?

 

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The countries in question are Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland and Russia. That’s a mixed bag of competitors who’ve often dominated the contest, have recently proved to be worth watching, or who’ve just joined the party and are still finding their feet. Read on to find out what me and my slaves – I mean, scoring buddies – think of what’s on offer from Lidia, George, Zena and Sofia, and whether any of them have a chance of taking the most precious trophy on the planet back home to their parents’ display cabinet.

 

 

bulgaria

My thoughts I’m not sure how Bulgaria stumbled across the formula for JESC success, but they’ve definitely done it. I actually reckon they’ve always had it up their sleeve, despite that not being reflected in their results 100% of the time. Since their second comeback in 2014, they’ve put extra effort into their entries, and it’s easy to forget that they didn’t actually win with Krisia, Hasan & Ibrahim last time Junior traveled to Malta. So can they replicate Planet of the Children’s stellar second place with the more upbeat – and in a lot of ways, just as impressive – Magical Day? Let’s just say I wouldn’t complain if they did. And then say more stuff, because that hardly constitutes a comprehensive song review. This song is absolutely adorable, and so is Lidia (so say dobŭr den to a cuteness overload). It’s so happy and heartwarming, nobody could hate it (unfeeling, soulless psychopaths aside), and with that Gravity-like tribal beat helping it strike a balance between youthful and mature, it never feels too sugary even though it is very sweet. As with Armenia’s song, the English lyrics that finish this off are thematically predictable, but well-written enough to make them a benefit rather than a detriment to the entry. The verses are pretty and the chorus is catchier than a beach ball covered in super glue. Basically, Bulgaria has kicked butt once again, and I hope the juries reward them for it (assuming that all of the other elements of the entry are up to par when it counts). Surely even Christer Björkman will defrost during Lidia’s performance?

My score 10

The EBJ Junior Jury says… 

  • Dara, Australia – 6
  • James, UK – 8
  • Joshua, Australia – 5
  • Matthew, Ireland – 7
  • Michael, Australia – 8
  • Penny, USA – 8
  • Rory, Ireland – 12

 

 

 cyprus

My thoughts Cyprus has been doing the hokey-pokey with JESC lately: one year they’re in, the next they’re out. They made a cracking comeback in 2014 only to be robbed of the top five placing they undoubtedly deserved (don’t try to argue with me on this. I have claws and I’m not afraid to use them!). Then they opted to stay home rather than send someone to Sofia in 2015. Now, in 2016, they’re back again, and I’d like to say it’s with a bang…but I just can’t. Don’t get me wrong – there’s a lot to like about George’s Dance Floor. The title certainly vouches for its unflagging energy, which is a welcome relief from all of the ballads in the comp. It even helps the song stand out next to the likes of Armenia, The Netherlands and Malta, thanks to the intensity of the beat and an ethnopop aura that Sakis Rouvas would be proud of. The verses are also a strong point, with their melody promising good things. Unfortunately, those promises are swiftly snapped in half by a chorus that can best be described as a non-event. It is cool to hear something so minimalist in JESC, but there’s probably a reason why that kind of approach is rarely taken in this context. Plus, this particular bare-bones, mostly musical chorus is the weakest, least memorable part of the song when it should be the opposite. Based on how catchy and unique the verses are, it’s disappointing to have the rest not measure up to the same standard. I won’t write Cyprus off as total failures yet, since a sensational live performance – feat. the difficult combo of excellent vocals and dance moves from George – could secure them a better result than the song alone would. But, prior to seeing how Mr. Michaelides will tackle his JESC trip and discovering where he’s sandwiched in the running order, I’m thinking they’re in trouble.

My score 6

The EBJ Junior Jury says… 

  • Dara, Australia – 3
  • James, UK – 4
  • Joshua, Australia – 1
  • Matthew, Ireland – 4
  • Michael, Australia – 3
  • Penny, USA – 6
  • Rory, Ireland – 3

 

 

ireland

My thoughts It’s fantastic to have Ireland – a country I never thought we’d see in JESC once upon a time – back for attempt number two at finding a kid who can outshine a bunch of other kids from across the continent (and Australia). As they did for their debut, Ireland put actual, televised effort into choosing their entry this year, via a national final of Melodifestivalen proportions (at least in terms of its length). The fruit of their labour was Zena Donnelly and Bríce Ar Bhrice, and together, singer and song have potential…to not finish last. In a departure from Aimee Banks’ classical stylings, this song is pure and simple pop (feat. a tinge of folksiness), and it’s nice enough to listen to. But it never explodes into something spectacular. There’s always a song or two like this participating in JESC (not to mention the handful that appear at adult Eurovision) but they don’t tend to compete very well – they don’t have the spark required to really fight for a good finish. I think Zena’s song is lacking that x factor. Remember The Netherlands’ entry from last year, Shalisa’s Million Lights? That was the same sort of radio-friendly, inoffensive, contemporary-but-not-cutting-edge pop song that is enjoyable, but wasn’t expected to set the scoreboard alight. As such, I could easily make a case for Ireland slotting into the 14th-16th results range next weekend. Personally, I do like this track, but I don’t love it – and if the jury members feel the same way, then Ireland will miss out on hearing their country’s name and ‘twelve points!’ called out in the same sentence. Unless that sentence is ‘Our twelve points go to…someone other than Ireland’.  But good luck to the Emerald Isle anyway. I invite them to prove me wrong!

My score 6

The EBJ Junior Jury says… 

  • Dara, Australia – 7
  • James, UK – 8
  • Joshua, Australia – 7
  • Matthew, Ireland – 7
  • Michael, Australia – 10
  • Penny, USA – 8
  • Rory, Ireland – 6

 

 

russia

My thoughts I could harp on about Russia’s JESC history, and how they came to be sending Sofia and Team Water of Life (that’s #teamwateroflife on social media, because if it can’t be hashtagged, does it even exist?) to Malta, et cetera, all in order to maintain a sense of mystery before I actually unveil my verdict on Water of Life. But I won’t. Not when I can get straight to the point by saying that I am completely, utterly, 110% head-over-heels in love with this song. It’s my favourite this year by a mile, and I’ll be cheering Russia on to win the whole contest without doubt. The package of this entry is the most well-wrapped, delightfully-decorated one in the pile, and it contains everything I’m looking for in a competition song. It’s exotic without being inaccessible, as a pop-power ballad punctuated by that ethnic riff; it’s melodic, with the verses melting into the pre-chorus and then into the chorus itself effortlessly; it’s powerful and dynamic, especially now Sofia’s being vocally and visually supported by other singers; it’s memorable, with a chorus that sticks in your mind even in Russian….I mean, I need to be forcibly restrained from complimenting it any further! But since nobody’s here to do that, I’ll carry on. The revamp that added the other girls to the line-up, mixed up the language and switched the title from Zhivaya Voda to Water of Life improved on perfection, retaining the essence of what led the song to win the Russian selection in the first place. And I’m pretty sure it’s going to look great on the JESC stage: it’s a song big enough to fill the space, and would have been even if Sofia had gone solo. I’m only worried about what it might sound like live, as four voices are harder to whip into shape than one, and we’re yet to hear Sofia AND The Water of Life Project in action outside of a recording studio. But I’m so biased at this point, I’m going to pretend that a dodgy vocal performance isn’t even a possibility. Water of Life is Belarus’ Sokal from 2014 – a song I also loved – but even better, with a greater chance of winning. As you’ll have figured out by now (both because I implied it and actually said so), I hope it does. At the very least, a repeat result from one Eurovision event to the next should be in store for Russia. But their bronze from Stockholm really deserves to become gold in Valletta.

My score 12

The EBJ Junior Jury says… 

  • Dara, Australia – 12
  • James, UK – 12
  • Joshua, Australia – 12
  • Matthew, Ireland – 12
  • Michael, Australia – 12
  • Penny, USA – 10
  • Rory, Ireland – 5

 

 

Eight down, nine to go! Time flies when you’re being too harsh on children and their musical talents (or lack thereof). Let’s have a look at the ranking for this round of reviews, shall we?

  1. Russia (10.87)
  2. Bulgaria (8)
  3. Ireland (7.37)  
  4. Cyprus (3.75)

Clearly the best was saved for last today, with Russia steamrolling straight into the top spot. Last year’s host country Bulgaria snap up second place, not too far ahead of second-timers Ireland. Poor Cyprus falls far behind in what could be an unfortunate foreshadowing of their actual result.

Stay tuned to find out how these figures fit in to the EBJJJ’s full ranking, which will be revealed alongside my predictions for the show next Sunday. Before that time comes, there’s more critiquing to be done – and next time, it’s Albania, Belarus, Italy and Malta’s turn to be judged. You won’t want to miss it, because it’s obviously going to be an irresistible hybrid of hilarious witticisms and high-class journalism.

 

*cricket chirps/throat-clearing/clusters of tumbleweed a’ tumbling*

 

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