Why Haven’t We #Embraced The Junior Contest Yet?
Ellie: Ok Ross. Neither you nor I have given JESC much serious thought before, but now we find ourselves giving it a serious go for the first time. What’s your level of experience with it?
Ross: That’s quite right, barring the appearance of the winner in the main Contest in May my experience is zero. I tried to watch some 2015 Contest earlier and had to turn it off.
Ellie: I almost went to JESC in 2012 when it was in Amsterdam, but chickened out. I still don’t really know why.
Ross: I think if Ireland were to win I might go based purely on ease of getting there.
Ellie: Maybe we can talk through what is stopping us appreciating this perfect scale model of the grownup contest?
Ellie: I think for me, there was some discomfort that these under 15s might not be very good, and that I would feel really bad for them. I wouldn’t want to see some really young people fail hard on a big stage.
Ross: I can entirely relate to that view. One would like to think that those performers in May who may not deliver a pitch perfect performance can deal with it. Manel Navarro seemed to embrace his failure to hit the high note during Do It For Your Lover. If you had an 11/12 year old doing the same thing on the big stage they may not be able to deal with it in quite the same fashion.
Ellie: Some of these kids are really young too – last year’s winner Mariam from Georgia only had her tenth birthday the month that she performed. I think I might be underestimating some of them though – certainly a lot of the Georgian kids are stage schooled and might even have more performance experience than our pal Manel.
Ross: To be fair to Mariam I think we actually got to see just how talented she is when she appeared on stage at Kyiv. As a child I could barely muster a few words in French about what I do at the weekends and what my Dad did for a living. There she was presenting a link a show being watched by millions right around the world in perfect English. It says a lot when she showed up the actual professional television host.
Ellie: Yes, clearly we need to watch out for Mariam and her colleague Lizi Pop when they’re old enough to do the main show in May. They’re total pros. That seems to be the case for most of the young competitors, but I would want to know that the contest and delegations have some thorough safeguarding and support services for any of the young people competing.
Ross: You’d surely have to assume each delegation should be providing some kind of support network to these young ‘uns. Again, casting back to the Adult Contest in May we saw exactly what can happen when a young performer doesn’t have that level of support behind them. Poor Blanche ending up pulling out one of the performances of the night given just how much she’d had to go through. Thanks heavens for Henric von Zweigbergk. It would certainly feel exploitative of these kids if there wasn’t a proper team behind them to ensure they can handle it.
Ellie: I think the emotional risk level inherent in the situation might be part of our woolly Western European liberal problem with JESC. We’re used to kids participating in TV in a different way. I can’t think of any UK TV programs that put individual children under as much pressure as representing their country on live TV. Junior Bake Off? The Voice Kids? Maybe?
Ross: No, there do seem to be some safeguards in place in the UK TV system. I bemoaned the over 16 limit to be a contestant on Who Wants to be a Millionaire as a child, but as an adult I can make sense of it now. We do see very young contestants competing in shows such as The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent though. I believe there is a very low age limit on X Factor but you do get kids on BGT. I can recall one or two young contestants in tears trying to perform live on Got Talent, it is perhaps these performers that have influenced me swerving JESC in the past.
Ellie: That’s certainly a troubling aspect. But maybe our JESC apprehension is less sinister than that. Maybe we don’t expect the songs to be very good?
Ross: There is that. I tried to watch the 2015 Contest earlier (picked that one for Poli, obviously) and had to turn it off after five songs. I was tiring of wincing at these poor bairns struggling to hit high notes and stretch their voices beyond what they could reasonably manage. People struggle in the adult Contest too, of course. The difference being I have no qualms with criticising them. If I were to sit there and be frank with my opinions on Junior if feel like a cruel old bully.
Ellie: I think I am worried that the songs are either going to be maudlin Disney ballads or variations upon hideous advertising jingles. But again, I’m not giving the kids enough credit here. They’re working with professional composers & producers on their songs and I just don’t think anything truly embarrassing can make it to the stage. Hopefully?
As an experiment, I’ve just put Portugal’s ‘Youtuber’ on. This is the only one this year I’ve seen a lot of complaining about on social media.
Wow. I was expecting it to be The Social Network Song pt 2, but it’s actually quite a nice summery inoffensive number.
Ross: You could say the exact same thing about Adult and well, less said the better. This is probably one of the key reason why Junior Eurovision has never really caught my imagination, it’s not meant. When we get down to basics, this is a children’s show for children. The television programmes and indeed the pop music made to appeal to children and early teens isn’t meant to appeal to people who are one or two decades further. Unsurprisingly music made to appeal to a younger market would very rarely find it’s way onto my Spotify.
Ellie: Children’s musical tastes are much closer to adults these days though – tweens, teens and thirty somethings can all appreciate Taylor Swift, Carly Rae Jepsen, Zara Larsson, etc.
Ross: That’s true, in theory they can. In practice though I’m afraid I don’t.
Ellie: This is where we might get different end results in this experiment.
Ross: It would seem so, it’ll take something fairly special to get me on side. Saying though I’d never thought I’d break down in tears to Portuguese jazz. Never say never!
Ellie: Also with the homogenisation of the child and adult pop markets, we get to another of my worries about Junior. I really don’t want to see pre-teen girls dressed like fully grown popstars. The fear of Minipops runs deep.
Ross: Here we hit another reservation we share. Something like Minipops should be consigned to the past. Another one of our shared passions also occasionally crosses this line. I have a real love for Strictly Come Dancing but once in a while for Children in Need or when they have time to fill on a results show out come the little mini ballroom dancers in full dance regalia and full fake tan. There is something inherently creepy about children dressed like adults. Many would think it cute in a schmaltzy way but I find it nothing but uncomfortable and unsettling.
Ellie: It’s just not nice, is it? I know that when you’re a kid you can’t wait to be an adult, but I hadn’t realised when I was a kid prancing around in heels and mum’s lipstick was how horrifying it looks to adults.
Ross: But, of course because they’re your parents they have to humour you. Same as paintings on the fridge or homemade calendars with painted pieces of pasta stuck to them.
Ellie: I wouldn’t want to stop young people exploring how they want to express themselves, but I would certainly want to protect them from having that recorded for TV or having it pushed on them by a delegation head.
Ross: Very much so, it’s not about stifling young creativity but it’s doing so in a safe, non-exploitative fashion.
Ellie: So how about we make an agreement that we can stop watching and go and make a cup of tea if one of the performances triggers that creeped out response?
Ross: I’ve got another issue with Junior. Adult is a party for me. When I don’t like a song it’s time for a prosecco or a beer. Junior it would be a tea and a biscuit.
Ellie: I reckon that JESC calls for proper party food. Cheese and pineapple onna stick, party rings, iced gems, pickled onion monster munch. Plus lots of candy for the Candy Music.
Ross: Also cocktail sausages, hula hoops and a Colin the Caterpillar cake. Oh and squash, lots of orange squash.
Ellie: What do you expect to get out of this experiment of giving JESC a serious go?
Ross: I would like to feel the same excitement I feel for Adult. I can accept that the music may not be to my taste and I can accept that these talented young things may not be not perfect but I want it go to the voting and feel that same slightly sick to the stomach level of excitement I feel in May.
Ellie: I wish I knew some kids that I could host that JESC party I was talking about for. I mean, I can invite you round for a cheesy pineapple hedgehog, but there would be something slightly sad about that without any kids to enjoy the show.
Ross: That could well be a fairly haunting tableau.
Ellie: Regardless of the surroundings, I think we’ll have to go in to the show with open minds. I’ll certainly find that easier to do after a couple of years backstage at the grownup contest. I find that I can’t even be particularly harsh to the most lacklustre of ESC contestants – everyone is putting so much of themselves into putting on this show, and there’s almost always something to appreciate in every routine.
Ross: And if I’m truthful with myself I am being somewhat hypocritical. Especially somewhere like the UK we spend so much time have to convince family and friends to take the Adult Contest seriously and give it a chance so they can see it the way we see it. For me to then get to November and never give JESC the same credence there is a certain duplicity at work.
Ellie: That’s so right. If I can decide to not go out on a Saturday night between January and March so that I can watch every heat of the Lithuanian national final, I can give these talented young people an afternoon of my time.