Amongst the roster of West End pros and experienced backing singers announced for this year’s National Final in the UK, one artist immediately caught my eye. 16 year old Asanda Jezile was first introduced to reality TV in the 2013 series of Britain’s Got Talent when she was 11 years old. Videos of her performances show a confident girl with a really strong voice, and of course she’s grown and developed as a vocalist between then and now. In fact, I have no doubt that on stage in Brighton (and potentially Lisbon) she’ll be absolutely great. However, we know that there is more to representing your country at the Eurovision Song Contest than just being a great singer.
Asanda’s song ‘Legends’ has been a subject of low level rumours for some time now. It’s the one which will be undoubtedly going into ‘Eurovision You Decide 2018’ as the favourite, but it’s really still anybody’s game. Now that we’ve all heard ‘Legends,’ it’s fair to say it’s a good song but there’s no knowing how it will be received by the voting public. Hearing the studio version now with Asanda’s vocal confirms that she was the right choice of vocalist for the song, but is the song itself strong enough to win the UK ticket to Portugal?
It’s More Than The Song That Matters
Before we all get too carried away with it all there are a few things to remember. Firstly last year we had another 16 year old with the alleged most favoured song. Olivia Garcia with the song ‘Freedom Hearts’. From the studio versions and the general buzz, I think most of us knew this was the favourite and was expected to win, but on the night Olivia missed out to Lucie Jones.
We don’t have a results breakdown from last year’s ‘Eurovision: You Decide‘, so it’s possible that ‘Freedom Hearts’ was only second by a very small margin. However, it’s also possible that ‘Freedom Hearts’ was on the bottom of the pile and picked up very few points, we simply don’t know. But what we do know is that the perception is the ‘favourite’ song was given to the youngest artist and it didn’t make it through.
Probably the biggest of my concerns for Asanda is how she’ll cope with the blanket negativity from the UK tabloids towards the Eurovision Song Contest and especially the UK representatives. Let’s start with Dan Wootton’s Bizarre column in the The Sun. Just a couple of weeks ago a piece appeared in The Sun leaking the name of one of the singers. The language and style of the reporting is part of the reason I’d be super cautious putting a very young artist in the mix in the UK:
“The BBC once again seems determined to consign the UK to near-certain failure at Eurovision – by pinning our hopes on more no-marks. Raya, will battle five other nobodies in the Beeb’s You Decide.
“The Beeb’s signing of Rachel comes after it chose six X Factor flops to battle to represent us last year. They’re kidding themselves though if they think unknowns like Rachel represent a nation that has produced talent such as The Beatles, The Spice Girls, Adele, and One Direction.”
Wootton is probably aware that his calls for the BBC to book big name artists are unlikely to be granted while he provides one of the major reasons why established acts can’t take the risk of negative publicity from being associated with the United Kingdom’s Eurovision entry. This is why the BBC turns to less established artists with experience of live stage vocals to compete. At which point Wootton has fulfilled his own prophecy and the loop of expectation, hype and disappointment begins anew.
This kind of hype and outrage cycle is great for selling papers but has very little to do with improving the BBC’s approach to the contest. At the minute, all the Corporation can do is provide a comforting hand through the hostile atmosphere for our hopefuls.
New Media Has Just As Many Flaws
The collective impact of online commentary may also make it difficult for newer, less protected performers in the Eurovision world. The online response to some Song Contest performers has sometimes not only thrown them off their game at the Contest but caused some to leave the entertainment industry all together.
Take the example of Bianca Nicholas from Electro Velvet, who represented the UK in 2015 with ‘Still In Love With You‘ when she was 26. She came back from Vienna and retired from professional performing. Not because of the result, but because of the constant grinding down effect of months of negative media coverage.
In 2017 Belgium’s Walloon broadcaster selected 17 year old Blanche to represent them in Kyiv. Her haunting, modern electro song ‘City Lights’ garnered many fans, and she went into the pre-season parties as a strong contender. Blanche’s road got decidedly more bumpy when she encountered the full force of social media scorn following a hesitant performance at London Eurovision Party. Her nervousness became visible in everything she did, and it looked like ‘City Lights’ might become one of Eurovision’s great lost masterpieces.
Perhaps the turning point was when her team took Blanche out of the Eurovision bubble to relax by the beach for the weekend… perhaps it was the positive fan experience she had on the EscXtra livestream… or was it the comforting presence of stage manager par excellence Henric von Zweigbergk just offstage throughout her time in Kyiv. No matter her anchor, her velvety vocals and amazing song got her through the Semi Final and into a triumphant Grand Final performance that earned her an excellent fourth place.
Which delegations are able to coach a very young artist through tremendous and unpredictable ups and downs like this?
Of course, I am not saying that it ought to be taboo to comment on the work of a young artist in case you upset them. Many Eurovision viewers are lucky enough to live in countries where we have freedom of speech, thought and opinion, and without the freedom to like or dislike songs, there’s sort of no point in the whole Eurovision business.
My message is that a delegation needs to do some serious preparation work if they are going to send a very young artist to Eurovision.
This doesn’t necessarily mean avoiding all contact with the press, shielding the artist from their social media or preventing them from performing at preview parties. What it does mean is having the care, support, and backup for the artist built into the team that surrounds them.
A Beautiful Mess Is About Right
Bulgaria in 2017 should be looked at as a good example of how to manage a young artist at the Eurovision Song Contest. Kristian Kostov became the first ever Eurovision artist who was born this side of the year 2000. As a 17 year old, Kris was very much in charge of his own social media, where he would take pictures and share to Instagram and interact with his fans online all the time. Even at 17, he was already in the second decade of his performing career, so BNT knew that they had selected an independent and professional young man. The delegation put complete trust in him, allowinghim to do interviews, and interact with press and fans – but this was balanced by making sure that he had his Mum and Aunt around to give him the support he needed to keep him grounded.
Obviously not all 16 and 17 year olds are the same, because humans vary infinitely. Some young people are equipped to handle the pressures of a career in the entertainment industry and some would not enjoy it at all. Each broadcaster must have a duty-of-care to their artist throughout their time at the Song Contest – from auditions and rehearsals, through National Finals, on to promotion, and getting them home mentally and physically after the Contest is over. Arguably there is a duty to support an artist’s ongoing career, no matter what the result on the big night, but this duty is even more vital when the artist is very young.
To answer my own question, is sixteen too young to be competing at the Eurovision Song Contest? Personally I would say yes. Not because of the stage time, but because of everything that happens around the Song Contest that can impact on an individual.
But the thing is, if I was a sixteen year old being asked that same question, I would be running like a legend towards the big stage.
Eurovision: You Decide will take place on Wednesday 7th Feb at 8pm, broadcast on BBC. Performing for your votes will be be Asanda, Goldstone, Jaz Ellington, Liam Tamne, Raya, and SuRie. You can listen to all six tracks on YouTube.