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Joining the Fashion Police to take on JESC 2016: My top 10 best-dressed acts of this year’s contest!

If your guilty pleasure is the ‘What Are They Wearing?’ pages of trashy gossip magazines, and you don’t mind comprehensive critiques concerning children, then a) you might actually be me; and b) this list is for you.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I can’t help commenting on the costumes that grace the Eurovision stage, as well as the music/dance moves/everything else in the mise-en-scène – the more hideous they are, the more fun the conversation generally is. But when it comes to Junior Eurovision, strangely, there’s never as much hideousness to be found (which is probably one of the reasons there’s no official version of the Barbara Dex Award for JESC). So I’m going to celebrate that AND my love for chatting clothing today, by counting down my favourite costumes from the contest we’ve just witnessed. Anti-Junior + anti-fashion fans: avert your eyes!

 

  

#10 | Albania’s Klesta Qehaja

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I don’t know if the thought of being in Malta had everyone busting a gut to dress like Gaia Cauchi (circa 2013) but there was a definite trend going down in Valletta of ballad-belting brunettes wearing voluminous white dresses. Klesta’s bow-tied confection was perhaps the cutest of them all, and emphasised her childlike innocence – something that made it all the more shocking when THAT VOICE came out of her.

6.5/10

 

#9 | Serbia’s Dunja Jeličić

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I’m guessing Dunja’s glittery jacket-and-scalp combo wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but I really liked it because it was the party version of Fiamma Boccia’s outfit. And as somebody who has a sequin-covered blazer of their own hanging in her closet, I’m not about to question Serbia’s choice of shiny silver apparel. It may have been a bit too glam to coordinate with the urban graffiti graphics in the background, but looking at the costume only, the ‘YAAAAS!’ box gets a tick in it from me.

6.5/10 

 

#8 | Bulgaria’s Lidia Ganeva

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See what I was talking about with the white dresses? Lidia’s looked like it had been mistaken for a blank canvas at a watercolour painting workshop – and the result was actually super pretty! It was one of the more princess-like dresses worn on JESC weekend, but the pastel palette on the skirt stopped her from giving off ‘entitled teenage debutante’ vibes, instead keeping things light, bright and youthful. Basically, the relationship between the song and the costume was rock-solid.

7/10

 

#7 | Georgia’s Mariam Mamadashvili

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The white dress strikes yet again! I kind of like the fact that Mariam didn’t end up in predictable yellow/gold/orange/red, since Mzeo means ‘sun’ – though I wouldn’t have complained if she had. My favourite thing about the dress she did wear was the feel of classic JESC Georgia it had about it, while still fitting in with the style of the song. What I mean is that what we saw had an element of quirk in the shape and appliqués, but it was as classy and elegant as what we heard.

7/10

 

#6 | Ukraine’s Sofia Rol

bdukraine

The Fairest White Dress of Them All Award – a category with a seemingly endless conveyor belt of competition – goes to Sofia, for her bridal chic take on the trend. I’m surprised she didn’t go as far as to wear a veil and carry a bouquet given Ukraine’s tendency to opt for OTT (the oversized umbrella/mime combo is testament to that) but I’m relieved at the same time. Pretty and understated, this dress was a winner even though Planet Craves For Love wasn’t.

7.5/10

 

#5 | Armenia’s Anahit & Mary

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You’ve got to love a concept outfit at Eurovision (junior or senior – it’s always awesome). That is, one that does more than just look nice, by bringing a song’s lyrics to life. Yep, you better believe that Armenia’s funky costumes (before they became less funky but more sparkly) were deep and meaningful. Well, they illustrated the personality differences between the characters Anahit & Mary were playing through Tarber, anyway. Circus clown couture FTW!

8/10

 

#4 | Poland’s Olivia Wieczorek

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‘Unplucked swan princess’ may not sound like an appealing look for…well, ANY occasion. But Olivia’s blush pink feather-fest winged its way to JESC and worked very well indeed. A ballad as powerful as Nie Zapomnij practically demands a dress worthy of a diva (even if said diva was born post-2000) and I’m pretty sure even Mariah Carey herself would be happy to wear this one (after a few alterations, if you know what I mean). The girl was living her/my fairytale fantasy.

8/10

 

#3 | Australia’s Alexa Curtis

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I really don’t think – despite being an Australian who should unconditionally scream ‘AUSSIE AUSSIE AUSSIE’ whenever one of our ESC/JESC entries is mentioned – that Alexa’s We Are stood out much in Valletta (though according to the scoreboard, I am clearly wrong). Her choice of clothing, however, was a standout selection. The perfect combo of glitzy and relaxed (i.e. it was a sequined playsuit), it allowed Alexa to move freely on stage but still fit in at such a glam event.

9/10

 

#2 | Macedonia’s Martija Stanojković

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If there’s anything I possibly love more than a sequined playsuit, it’s a sequined jumpsuit – and when said jumpsuit is ROSE FREAKING GOLD, well…I’m dead. You just can’t get more gorgeous than that (although Macedonia’s costumes are my second faves from this year’s contest). Martija’s look echoed the effort her delegation put into her song and choreography, being encrusted in embellishments and matching both her boots and backup dancers. I’m in ljubov.

9.5/10

 

#1 | Russia’s Water of Life Project

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Yeah…the ‘a rose gold jumpsuit is the pinnacle of perfection when it comes to the sartorial side of a song contest’ thing was a lie. For me, it would seem that exquisite, tribal-printed maxi dresses feat. intricate hair braiding and unconventional tiaras are superior. What can I say? The Water of Life Project looked incredible, in an extended + edited version of what Sofia wore in the Russian NF when she was a soloist. I’m asking Santa for a rip-off dress for Christmas (orange, please).

10/10

 

 

Okay – I think I’ve gotten all the clothing talk out of my system. But have you? Cast your vote in my poll and see how your outfit opinions compare to everybody else’s.

 

Now, if you paid even a tenth of the attention to the JESC 2016 costumes that I did, then let me know which ones were on fleek (The Netherlands are solely responsible for my use of that term) enough to be your favourites. Alternatively, were they all so ugly that you’ll be listening to future run-throughs of the contest rather than watching them? I know it’s children we’re talking about here, but they have to learn to take criticism! That’s so they won’t turn out like me and burst into tears when someone tells them they’ve got their shirt on backwards or that no, they can’t take that puppy home because it actually belongs to someone else. It’s a tough world out there, kids, so you gotta get used to it.

Anyway…fashion! Discuss it down below! I definitely don’t have any psychological problems!

 

Until next time (assuming you actually come back to this house of crazy feat. Eurovision)…

 

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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…

 

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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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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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THE EBJ JUNIOR JURY REVIEWS | Armenia, Georgia, Poland + Ukraine

Hi there, whoever you are and whichever hemisphere you’re in. Welcome to the first episode of four to feature complimentary and catty critiques targeted at children who may cry if they catch sight of the latter (I’m sorry, but I appear to have misplaced my maternal instincts).

Yes, it’s Junior Eurovision pre-party time again! For those of us who love JESC and cannot keep our opinions about it to ourselves, that means reviewing and ranking the competing entries – a solid seventeen, in 2016’s case – possibly in an attempt to figure out what will go down on judgment day. This year, that’s November 20th in Malta (take two for the tiny island), and funnily enough, that date is creeping closer rather than disappearing into the distance. So I’ve got to get reviewing and ranking, like, right this second.

Just before I do, an FYI: to help me out here, I’ve assembled a globe-spanning (a.k.a. mostly Australian with a few other nationalities thrown in ‘cause that’s just how things panned out) JESC jury to score each and every entry alongside me. Together, we’ll award an average rating that will go on to determine where each country sits in the prestigious *cough* EBJ Junior Jury Ranking. I’d like to thank all of my jurors for taking the time to do some Molly Sterling-esque playing with numbers as a favour to yours truly. Props bigger than Ukrainian hamster wheels and Montenegrin Trojan horses go to all of you!

Now, before it’s literally too late, let’s get started.

 

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It’s all about girl power today as Armenia, Georgia, Poland and Ukraine face the music. Read on to find out what me and my crew think of the songs Anahit & Mary, Mariam, Olivia and Sofia are set to perform in Valletta in ten days’ time.

If you need a musical reminder so you can deliver your own verdict, then check out the official JESC Youtube channel’s playlist here.

 

armenia

My thoughts Armenia is one of a handful of countries that just “get” JESC. Year after year, whether they’ve nailed or failed adult Eurovision, they serve up something fun and infectious at Junior that always ends up being in the mix to win the whole contest. So have they done the same in 2016, according to moi? You bet they have! Tarber is a song with the distinction of being both upbeat pop fluff (I use the word ‘fluff’ here positively) and a song that’s likely to tick multiple boxes on the jury’s criteria list – critical for the win considering there’s no televoting this year. The latter is obvious from the second it starts, with Anahit and Mary belting out an intro worthy of a Christina Aguilera/Mariah Carey duet (which they will need to pull off live, or Armenia could suffer a serious scoreboard slump for the first time in forever). That soon gives way to a funk-inspired main event, complete with an incredibly catchy chorus and enough repetition to make the three minutes cohesive, but not boring. The fairly well-written English lyrics squeezed in towards the end (a tactic also used by the likes of Bulgaria, Italy and Russia) are the cherry on top of a cake that I suspect the jury will find pretty appetising – if not the most appetising of the competing seventeen. Overall, I’m a big fan of this song, having enjoyed it more on my first listen than I did last year’s runner-up Love. If the girls have staging up to usual Armenian standards to present in Valletta – and if they can sing close to studio-perfect live – then I think they’re on track to get Armenia inside the top five for the eighth time out of ten participations. That’s what I’ll have my fingers crossed for, anyway!

My score 10

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

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

 

 georgia 

My thoughts Here’s another country that could do Junior Eurovision blindfolded, and do it well (they have had unimpressive results for the past few years, but Georgia still has a stellar record to look back on). Only this time, I’m not so sold on their contribution to the potluck dinner of JESC 2016. I don’t hate Mariam’s Mzeo so much as I have extra-mixed feelings about it. On one hand, I think it has a nice melody and builds beautifully. Then there’s the lushly layered orchestration, which gives it a depth that you don’t find in stuff like the Netherlands’ Kisses and Dancin’ (more on that in another post). Really, it’s an IRL Disney ballad, and Mariam’s the princess with a heap of pent-up emotions to purge on stage. However, there are aspects of this song that turn me off in a big way. It’s almost too dramatic, and gets very shouty towards the end (which, seems to take a looooong time to arrive). It doesn’t capture my attention enough to keep my mind from wandering/wondering (what’s next, song-wise). I also think it’s verging on being too mature for JESC thanks to the old-fashioned, Hollywood musical sound. I know the last three or four winners haven’t exactly put the ‘Junior’ into Junior Eurovision, but they’ve all retained a sense of youth somehow. I’m not sure this song does, Mariam’s slightly squeaky voice aside (something else that stops me from enjoying Mzeo too much). To tell the truth, I prefer the weird, off-the-wall JESC Georgia. The Georgia that has won the comp twice thanks to kids in wasp costumes and kids who really, really like candy. Can we please have that Georgia back next year?

My score 6

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 1
  • James, UK – 2
  • Joshua, Australia – 3
  • Matthew, Ireland – 5
  • Michael, Australia – 1
  • Penny, USA – 8
  • Rory, Ireland – 5

 

poland

My thoughts First things first: POLAND IS BACK IN JESC, AND I AM JUMPING FOR JOY! It’s always great to have somebody rejoin the party, but Poland’s comeback is particularly noteworthy due to the mahusive gap between their last participation (2004, in case you were unsure) and this one. Their entries in ’03 and ’04 scored six points between them, so it would be mighty fine if Poland could improve on that unfortunate record enough to make them want to embrace (HAHAHA, see what I did there?!?!?) Junior Eurovision in 2017 too. Although it’s not the tallest of orders, I think Olivia + Nie Zapomnij = a good chance. The song is a pretty, hopeful ballad, but it’s got some guts courtesy of the beat that kicks in, driving it home; and thanks to Olivia’s powerful, dynamic vocal, which is in keeping with the power and dynamism present in most other aspects of the package. The fact that it’s totally in Polish may make it a little inaccessible to those of us whose brain-boxes can’t comprehend a word of the language (TBH, I have no idea how born-and-bred Poles can wrap their head around it) but it also gives it a mysterious allure – kind of like the one Festivali I Këngës winners have prior to the inevitable unveiling of their mediocre English versions. The thing I like most about this song is that you’re not always sure where it’s going. It almost seems like a couple of songs rolled into one, without being messy. Having said that, I don’t think Nie Zapomnij is the most memorable ballad competing in Valletta, and I worry that it will pale in comparison to much of what follows it if it’s placed early on in the running order. Then again, I could be wrong and it could walk the whole thing (I have been known to make a “few” mistakes when making Eurovisual predictions). I guess we’ll have to sit tight and see what happens…

My score 8

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

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

 

ukraine

My thoughts Next year’s adult Eurovision hosts are also one of my favourite JESC countries. It’s been a long time since I haven’t fangirled over the song they’ve sent to Junior, so I was pretty keen to find out what they’d choose in the wake of Jamala’s victory. Planet Craves For Love (AWKWARD ENGLISH TITLE ALERT!!!) was their pick, and – even sweeping any potential biases under the shagpile rug for the sake of objectiveness – I absolutely adore it (imagine me saying that in a very posh British accent, if you don’t mind). To me, it’s Anna Trincher’s Pochny z Sebe with the rock elements removed and the traditional Ukrainian sounds ramped up. The two songs are even thematically similar (though Anna’s was more intense in lyrical content as well as in the number of guitars being thrashed in the background). It remains to be seen whether Sofia will emerge from a giant lotus flower á la Anna, but even if the comparison stops when she steps on stage, it’ll still have a lot to do with the way I feel about her song. Excluding the title, there’s nothing I don’t like about it. Melodically, the verses, bridges and chorus are stunning; there’s multiple money moments throughout that make it memorable; the music is as organic and sweet as the fruit at a farmer’s market (if that makes any sense); and the tempo ensures it’s a sleepy ballad that won’t actually send you to sleep. Quietly powerful, it’s a song I intend to support via ultra-enthusiastic flag-waving on the day. I do have some reservations about Sofia’s live vocal abilities, but if she and her peeps have spent the last few months shaping and tightening up both sound and staging, well…I, for one, will be happy about it. I’m not sure how Ukraine will score in 2016 given Anna’s middling result in Sofia (that’s Sofia the city), but I’d love the jury to respond to them like they did in Stockholm.

My score 12

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 0
  • James, UK – 10
  • Joshua, Australia – 2
  • Matthew, Ireland – 4
  • Michael, Australia – 12
  • Penny, USA – 10
  • Rory, Ireland – 6

 

Four down, thirteen to go! And with that, we arrive at the exciting part of this post – if the reviews themselves weren’t exciting enough in your opinion (in which case, whatever. I don’t even care. *weeps silently*). It’s the EBJ Junior Jury ranking for this round, and it looks a little something like this: 

  1. Armenia (9)
  2. Ukraine (7)
  3. Poland (7)
  4. Georgia (3.87)

Georgia hasn’t offered up the level of quirky fun this year that we’re used to, and the EBJJJ didn’t reward them for it. Ukraine and Poland end this episode neck and neck, but I’ve broken the tie on countback (ESC-style, of course) and ranked Sofia above Olivia. That leaves Armenia as today’s champ. I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to pull a Barei and say ‘YAY YAY YAY!’.

Next time, the EBJ Junior Jury and I will cast our eyes and ears over Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland and Russia. Does one of those countries have the power to eject Armenia from the top spot? Drop by in a few days to find out!

In the meantime, let me know which is your favourite entry of today’s four. And while you’re at it, which of the juror’s scores do you agree with, and whose have you questioning their sanity? Naming and shaming (in a nice, respectful way) is totally cool in my comments section.

 

Until next time…

 

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