You may have heard the saying ‘A song is only as good as its singer’. Then again, you may not have, because I just made it up. If it were true, though, then the following ten songs would be the ten best in Junior Eurovision history, given that the 10-15 year-olds who performed them are so vocally talented I want to cry (but won’t *sniff*).
Yep, Eurovision’s younger, more effervescent sibling has seen its fair share of top-notch singing talents between 2003 and 2014 (as well as some kids who shouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near a microphone…but that’s a topic for another post). Those of you who aren’t JESC fans might not be convinced of that, but can I give you some advice? At the very least, keep an eye and ear out for these ten tiny(ish) talents: five + five of the most jaw-dropping vocalists to have competed in JESC to date. If you are on Team JESC, then I hope you’ll agree with me re: their amazing-ness.
#10 | Mariam Kakhelishvili, Georgia 2010
If you don’t like Lady Gaga, you probably won’t like the so-called Baby Gaga either. But since this whole list will be a drag for some of you, what’s one more thing to give the thumbs-down to? Mariam represented Georgia at JESC having previously placed third in Georgia’s Got Talent. She’d definitely fulfilled the brief of that show, so it didn’t come as a shock when Junior Eurovision no. 8 saw her blow the roof off the Minsk Arena with the sheer volume of her voice. I totally get that listening to a precocious tween shout in an imaginary language for three straight minutes is not everyone’s cup of tea (even I can’t watch back her rendition of Mari-Dari if I’m feeling remotely headache-y) but I do think Mariam’s yells were remarkably in-tune. She sang like she was in musical battle – which was more or less the case – and it was not a battle she was willing to lose. Of course, she didn’t win in the end…but fourth place is nothing to do any off-stage screaming about.
#9 | Mimmi Sandén, Sweden 2009
Mimmi’s sister Molly will be a more familiar face to non-fans of Junior Eurovision (what with two Melodifestivalen participations on her résumé, and fellow seasoned Melfester Danny Saucedo as her arm candy) but her own JESC performance in 2006 was far from flawless, vocally – and third Sandén sister Frida’s turn in 2007 was only just above average (which is woeful by Swedish standards). Youngest of the three Mimmi, however, compensated for her sisters’ sub-standard moments, putting in a stellar vocal performance of her electro-pop ballad Du in Kyiv. The song – one of my all-time Junior favourites – sounds like a tough one to tackle, but Mimmi did it with ease, effortlessly belting out the baby notes and the big ones. So talented back then at age thirteen, you can imagine how off-the-charts awesome she is in 2015.
#8 | Krisia Todorova, Bulgaria 2014
Teeny-tiny and absolutely adorable, Krisia is currently the darling of JESC – despite herself, Hasan and Ibrahim narrowly losing out to Vincenzo Cantiello (who may just feature later on in the countdown) in Malta last year. She’ll be performing the theme song of this year’s show. #discover, on home soil in three weeks’ time, and if she pulls off that performance anything like she pulled off Planet of the Children’s last year, those of us tuning in will be in for a treat. The power of the voice that came out of this girl was immense, and the fact that you practically needed a microscope to spot her on the stage gives that massive voice even more of a wow factor.
#7 | Noni Răzvan Ene, Romania 2004
The girls have dominated so far in this countdown – possibly because they aren’t prone to on-stage puberty-related problems (i.e. voice breakages). Romania’s Noni, fortunately, made the journey to JESC prior to his vocal chords taking a trip of their own to the Deep South. ‘Angelic’ is the word I’d use to describe his vocal performance of the powerful Îţi Mulţumesc. He looked as if he might burst a blood vessel before his final note, but his ability to channel that much emotion and effort into his song despite being so young was impressive. And, he trademarked tearing up post-performance at a Eurovision event well before Polina Gagarina (though his moist eyes may have just been due to relief that he DIDN’T explode into smithereens on live TV). It’s no wonder that he’s gone on to be pretty darn successful in his home country, releasing a string of singles and dabbling in television hosting and acting.
#6 | Sofia Tarasova, Ukraine 2013
Now, make way for the Ukrainian child version of Christina Aguilera! Sofia represented Ukraine when they hosted JESC for the second time, and she very nearly scored them a second consecutive win with We Are One. It was a cutting-edge, contemporary number that needed to be vocally nailed if it was going to have an impact, and Sofia did not disappoint. Being the home girl, she’d have received rapturous applause even if she’d trotted on stage and burped the alphabet, but her huge reception was well deserved. She’s a prime example of a small person who can fill a giant arena with their voice alone – no backup dancers or gimmicks (save for a laser light show, naturally…this IS a Eurovision event we’re talking about) required.
#5 | Gaia Cauchi, Malta 2013
Confession time: Gaia’s The Start was my least favourite competing entry of 2013. That may not be much of a confession if you read my scathing review of it back then, but I just thought I’d throw it out there. I wasn’t even in the mood for admiring her vocal prowess in those days, what with that nasal quality to her voice that Ann Sophie couldn’t even compare to. However, I have changed my tune (HA HA) on both song and singer, and I can no longer deny that Gaia is an amazing vocalist, with a seemingly unending supply of oxygen that she can use for show-stopping notes. The Start was full of them, and that impressed both the televoters and juries enough to claim Malta their first win in any competition featuring the letters E, S and C. A year later, Gaia proved her power hadn’t diminished as she returned to JESC as an interval act. You can pretty much expect her to enter Eurovision the second she’s sixteen.
#4 | Federica Falzon, Malta 2014
It’s always surprising when a voice like Céline Dion’s comes out of someone young enough to be Céline Dion’s grandchild – but when the pipes of an ageing opera diva have apparently inhabited that someone, ‘surprising’ no longer covers the feels one experiences. Federica represented the host country last year at the ripe old age of eleven, and her voice has to be heard – and seen – to be believed. Actually, it’s the only one on this list that can be seen, heard, and still not believed because it’s so incongruous with her appearance. If you’re yet to listen to what she has to offer, I recommend you do so right now…just be ready to pick your jaw up off the floor about twenty seconds in.
#3 | Sophia Patsalides, Cyprus 2014
JESC’s last few years have produced some ridiculously talented singers – of the seven I’ve mentioned so far, only three took part prior to 2013. Here’s another voice from the most recent contest (until November 21st has been and gone) who will knock your socks off, if she hasn’t already. Sophia, like Sofia (that’s not confusing at all) appeared all by herself on stage, but managed to get the crowd going while delivering a faultless vocal that would have floored any backing dancers she might have had. Her entry I Pio Omorfi Mera started and ended softly, but packed a punch in between, featuring a key change that seasoned singers thrice her age would have struggled to execute. That turned out to be the goosebump, this-could-win moment for Cyprus. Spoiler alert for the unaware: Cyprus got ripped off big time, finishing 9th…but that key change was still a win-worthy one as far as I’m concerned.
#2 | Ana Khanchalyan, Georgia 2011
If Sofia Tarasova is Ukraine’s answer to Aguilera, then Ana Khanchalyan is undoubtedly Georgia’s. And if you didn’t know her by name, you’d know her by voice once you’d watched her group Candy’s winning performance at JESC 2011. The fivesome blended well together, and all of their solo parts were strong. But Ana was unquestionably the standout, and Georgia used that knowledge to serious advantage when wrapping up the Candy package. Most aspects of this entry really put the ‘Junior’ into Junior Eurovision – Candy Music’s lyrics and sound, the girls’ costumes, etc – so the maturity of Ana’s vocals allowed Georgia to strike a memorable balance between childlike and competent-beyond-their-years. Three years after she took (one fifth of) the JESC trophy home, Ana successfully auditioned for a place on The Voice of Armenia, and went on to win the whole thing. Don’t be shocked if she ends up repping Georgia or Armenia at Eurovision sometime soon.
#1 | Vincenzo Cantiello, Italy 2014
He was number one in Malta last November, and now he’s numero uno again – on this insignificant list that he’ll never know exists and wouldn’t care about if he did! Woohoo! Vincenzo, our reigning Junior Eurovision champ, stood out as the only male main artist to participate last year (my apologies to Bulgaria’s Hasan & Ibrahim, but Krisia was the main attraction there). This kid also shops in the ‘Unbelievable’ section of the singing department, and that obviously struck a chord (pun intended) with the juries in particular, who placed Italy on top of their leaderboard. Vincenzo’s vocals are the kind that send a shiver down the spine of anyone who isn’t a heartless, soulless shell of a human being (in my opinion). Mark my words: he’s going to go far. Further than Sofia, where he’ll be announcing Italy’s JESC 2015 votes – and, hopefully, performing a reprise of Tu Il Primo Grande Amore, a song Il Volo would be proud to have in their back catalogue.
That’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to listing European kids who can sing better than I can even when I’m in the shower (which is really saying something, because I sound freaking awesome with those acoustics) but these ten are my personal favourites.
Let me know below which JESC participants have warbled their way into your heart over the years – or, if you normally recoil at the mere mention of Junior, what you thought of those who made my countdown, if you managed to sit through any of their three minutes (Halloween weekend has just gone, so I thought you wouldn’t mind doing something scary).
Until next time,
PS – Speaking of which…
NEXT TIME JESC avoiders beware! With the Sofia show less than three weeks away, it’s time for me to kick off my Junior Eurovision 2015 reviews – but I’m not doing it alone. I’ve put together an expert EBJJJ (Eurovision By Jaz Junior Jury) and they’re ready to compliment, criticise and score all seventeen songs competing in Bulgaria. And don’t worry: just because there’s children involved doesn’t mean we’re going to hold back (although I do draw the line at swearing…it’s not f%*#ing appropriate)!
Hello again, peeps. Yes, this post was meant to be up on Friday, but here’s my two-word excuse: writer’s block. Sometimes I find it extra difficult to describe how I feel about a song, when ‘I LOVE it!’, ‘I HATE it!’, or ‘meh’ (for those entries that inspire indifference) won’t cut it. But I’ve tried, just for you, to battle through the blockage, and be supremely descriptive and hilarious for this second set of ranked reviews.
This time, it’s feat. my #11 through #6. Here are the standings so far:
#12. Slovenia – 6pts
#13. Georgia – 6pts
#14. Serbia – 6pts
#15. Croatia – 6pts
#16. Russia – 1pt
Now, as the delegations take their first steps on Maltese soil, let’s get on with numero eleven…o.
And what do you know – it’s Malta!
Diamonds by Federica Falzon
What I think: For their first Eurovision entry on home soil, Malta has selected something that may seem out of place in JESC. But Federica isn’t giving seasoned Junior fans their first taste of operatics – if you recall Belarus ’09 and Moldova last year in Kyiv, you’ll know JESC’s seen mini Cezars in the past. Really, Federica’s more of a mini Malena Ernman, and with her flawless, way way WAY beyond-her-years vocal chops, she out-operas all who have come before her in this contest. But is that a good thing? For a start, all I’ve talked about so far is her voice, rather than her song which is what I’m supposed to be reviewing. It’s a voice that I find pretty darn distracting when watching her in action, as my brain struggles to comprehend that it’s coming out of a child. To be honest, it’s hard to take seriously, in an ‘Israel: Eurovision 2004’ kind of way. But maybe the juries and voters will find it impressive rather than unbelievable. I wish I did, because I actually like Diamonds. It’s sophisticated and atmospheric with a decent build, and if you can call something so slow ‘catchy’, then it’s that too. I just don’t know if I need more time to get used to the voice and the song as a double act, or if it’s just not gelling for me.
The verdict: I’m confused by my own opinions on this one, but I guess the bottom line is I do like the song. 6 points.
JESC chances: With the home advantage and all, I can see this in the top 5.
Budi Dijete Na Jedan Dan by Maša & Lejla
What I think: Yep – this brings back memories alright! So many competitors in recent Junior history have taken a more mature approach to the contest, arriving armed with songs that could pass as adult entries after a tweak or two. So it’s nice to hear something that harks back to the days when the music was more kid-oriented. Maša and Lejla, Montenegro’s debut reps, are even demanding that we all be a kid for a day, which I’m more than happy to do (I’m not really a proper grown-up anyway). Their song is young, fun and infectious, not to mention (I say, as I’m about to mention it) totally sing-alongable. And, the fact that it’s reminiscent of JESC’s golden years is a definite plus. A negative which won’t matter on the night, but one that prevented me from enjoying my first listen of the song, is the ATROCIOUS music video in which both the girls look like they want to be literally anywhere else than in it. Granted, more JESC preview videos are bad/boring than brilliant, but sometimes one has to say to oneself, ‘Let’s leave it.’ I.e. ‘Let’s not inflict something so cringe-worthy upon the world’. Negatives more pertinent to how Montenegro will fare in their debut = that spoken English part (cheesy and unnecessary) and the question mark floating over Maša and Lejla’s live vocal abilities. So if I mute the speaking part, then turn the sound up and find the duo harmonising like angels, I’ll be happy and hoping for some success.
The verdict: This is a cute and catchy number made for JESC. 7 points.
JESC chances: And yet, I can’t see it pushing higher than the 9th-place mark.
Breaking My Heart by The Peppermints
What I think: Poor San Marino got a raw deal last year as far as I’m concerned. The magnificent Michael Jackson tribute act that was Michele Perniola missed out on a commendable result by quite a distance – and from time to time, I’m still compelled to sob into my own gold bolero jacket in an attempt to ease the pain. If Michele couldn’t crack JESC, I don’t see how The Peppermints – one of whom is his sister – could, but I’m fond of them all the same. I feel like a lonely advocate for Breaking My Heart, because the majority of fans seem to be praising the girls’ vocals but trashing the song, whereas I’m the other way round. I enjoy the eighties-meets-noughties sound of the song, and I think the title has been used well in the construction, so you quickly get used to the transitions between English and Italian. Sure, the song’s inoffensive, and it’ll have a hard time getting the crowd going…but I think it’s charming. My issue with it is something that may get the crowd going…going as fast as they can out of the Marsa shipyard, that is, and that’s the vocals. The harmonisation in the studio version is off, making it sound like a demo recorded in two seconds by a bunch of strangers who’ve never sung together before, just so it can be rushed off to the actual, seasoned group of performers. Strangely, the girls sounded better live when they sang a snippet at their presentation event, so maybe the studio did them an injustice. I hope so, because I like this entry and I don’t want to spend San Marino’s three minutes with my fingers in my ears (that’s what Russia’s three minutes are for).
The verdict: If you’re not loving this, I might be about to break your heart…7 points.
JESC chances: Not last, not last, not last…come on, get them to 12th or 13th, Europe!
Du Är Inte Ensam by Julia Kedhammar
What I think: BIAS ALERT – I’ve long been obsessed with Sweden and anything that comes out of there (impossible-to-assemble Ikea furniture included) and if you’ve dropped by EBJ before, chances are you’ll know I always root for them in Eurovision events. It may surprise you, then, to see Julia 1.0 (with two Julias in JESC this year, a coding system had to be put in place) at the halfway point of my rankings. Don’t worry though – I will be waving a flag for her, as I do like this song a lot. It’s catchy dance-pop in one of my favourite languages. What’s not to like? However, there are two very similar songs competing, and I hate to admit that both of them are better than this. Du Är Inte Ensam is more repetitive and predictable than the others, and based on the available evidence, Julia 1.0 is the weakest vocalist out of herself, Julia 2.0 and Sophia Patsalides. To succeed, she’ll need to outshine both of them, and I’m not confident she can do it. But a round of applause is in order for Sweden, who have once again delivered a competent entry to Junior that may not have the magic, winning formula, but is a worthy competitor nonetheless. *insert smattering of applause here*
The verdict: Thomas G:son’s originality level ain’t so high with this one, but it appeals to me anyway. 8 points.
JESC chances: It’ll struggle to bypass Cyprus and the Netherlands, methinks. 9th-12th.
I Pio Omorfi Mera by Sophia Patsalides
What I think: Cyprus is one of a handful of countries we’re welcoming back to JESC this year, and based on a) their previous attempts in the competition and b) the quality of Sophia’s entry, I am very happy they made the decision to rejoin the competition. Back when the title of this entry was released, I assumed a sickly-sweet ballad was coming our way, so when the song premiered I found myself pleasantly surprised – even though it is run-of-the-mill dance pop á la the Swedish and Dutch entries. The thing with dance pop is that it doesn’t have to be original to appeal. I Pio Omorfi Mera has all the qualities of the genre that make it work time and time again: an infectious melody, a big anthemic chorus, a thumping beat that makes you want to go totes cray in the club, a…uh…well, that’s about it. But that’s enough! What I also like about it is that while Cyprus has gone down the ‘let’s chuck in some English at the end because we can’ route, they’ve eased the English into the song so it doesn’t seem random and unnatural. The Greek and English lyrics suit the style of the song equally well. Can Sophia sing said lyrics in tune with the energy and enthusiasm required to bring the house down, though? The evidence of her vocal prowess is all over Youtube, but her Junior entry is a challenge. I find it hard to nail in the shower, and I usually sound awesome in there (you’ll have to take my word for that). If S.Patz can do it though, Cyprus could be to the scoreboard this year what Ukraine was to the scoreboard last year. Perhaps being called Sofia/Sophia is a good luck charm?
The verdict: I will be busting multiple moves to this next weekend. 10 points.
JESC chances: It could win, but I’m not 100% convinced it will. 2nd-5th is definitely within Sophia’s reach.
Around by Julia
What I think: My first impressions of the Class of 2014 have changed drastically in a few cases – for instance, there’s a song now in my top five that I hated the first time I heard it. When I listened to the Junior Songfestival finalists for the first time, all I could think was ‘What a snoozefest!’, Around included. But I knew it was the favourite, and I knew it’d most likely win. And here we are. And now I LOVE THIS SONG! I’m not sure exactly when/how it happened, but I have become a little obsessed with it. I can’t really explain why I’ve ranked it above Cyprus – I suppose there’s something about it that seems a little less cliché and a little more cutting edge (even though the dubstep break is soooo 2012). It is one of the most repetitive songs in the competition, but that chorus is so easy to sing along to and so easily gets burned into your brain that I don’t think it’s going to be a bad thing. Julia seems to be a pretty confident, capable performer who should breeze through her performance – JESC’s just a (considerably) flashier JSF, after all. With such a slick, modern number up her sequined sleeve, her main rival when it comes to securing votes will be Cyprus. I’m not sure there’s room for both of them in the top five. Who, if either, will make it should come down to the running order and what happens on the night. But could we not have a repeat of the shockingly average Dutch result from last year, please?
The verdict: Pardon the pun, but I’ve done a complete turnAround on this one. 10 points.
JESC chances: I don’t want to jinx it, so I’m going to predict 6th-10th place.
Well, that’s eleven down! The standings now look like this:
#6. The Netherlands – 10pts
#7. Cyprus – 10pts
#8. Sweden – 8pts
#9. San Marino – 7pts
#10. Montenegro – 7pts
#11. Malta – 6pts
#12. Slovenia – 6pts
#13. Georgia – 6pts
#14. Serbia – 6pts
#15. Croatia – 6pts
#16. Russia – 1pt
You don’t have to be a genius to figure out which countries are missing (unless your definition of ‘genius’ is ‘someone who’s familiar with all sixteen countries competing in Junior Eurovision 2014’). But just in case you’re having a slow day, they are Armenia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Italy and Ukraine. That’s my top five in alphabetical order, but you’ll have to wait another few days to find out how I’ve ranked them.
In the meantime, let me know what you where you stand on the songs above. Has Federica Falzon warbled her way into your heart, or will you be stuffing whatever you can find into your ears when she takes to the stage? Is Sophia Patsalides’ most wonderful day your worst nightmare, or have you got your Cypriot flag at the ready? Whatever your opinions, let me know below.
Until next time…
PS – Only six days to go!