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Another Shrimp On The Bulgarian Barbie: Dissecting Australia’s Junior Eurovision Entry Written by on October 22, 2015 | 6 Comments

Following its ‘one-off’ appearance in Vienna 2015, Australia debuts at the Junior Eurovision Song Contest this year. The story of the antipodean act will be one of the many tales told in Sofia, but the ongoing engagement of Australia and Eurovision naturally leads to Stockholm 2016. Settle down, as Jasmin Bear opens up the story songbook from Down Under…

Are you an adult Eurovision devotee who avoids The Junior Eurovision Song Contest like it’s a precocious, pint-sized plague? Do you recoil in horror at the prospect of miniature Dima Bilans and Emmelie De Forests dueling over a dinky trophy that will go on to gather dust on Mum and Dad’s mantelpiece? Even if you are and even if you do, you’re probably familiar with this year’s Twitter-friendly tagline ‘#discover’. It’s an apt verb to associate with Eurovision’s much younger sibling, particularly given that November’s show will be held in Bulgaria – until now, uncharted territory for any Eurovision event.

One thing those unopposed to Junior Eurovision will be dying to #discover next month – aside from how many lev they’ll require if they’re after an alcoholic beverage in Sofia (that’s an adults-only discovery, of course) – is where Australia’s debut entry will end the evening, scoreboard-wise. As announced by the EBU and Australian broadcaster SBS a fortnight ago, we’re officially in it to win it. We’re also stealing the spotlight from fellow first-timers Ireland in the process, but another participation in a Eurovision event by a purported one-time-only anniversary guest is kind of a big deal. And that puts a lot of pressure on a young pair of Aussie shoulders.

Bella Paige, Australia JESC 2015  (image: EBU/Andy Baker)

Bella Paige, Australia JESC 2015 (image: EBU/Andy Baker)

Australia’s Singer And Song For Sofia

Those shoulders belong to thirteen-year-old Bella Paige, runner-up of ‘The Voice Kids 2014′. She wasn’t an unlikely suspect, Australia is lacking in both New Wave-type competitions and vocal-based TV talent shows for kids, so ‘The Voice Kids’ alumni list was the logical port of call for SBS. Lo and behold, it yielded our young star for Sofia.

Bella’s song, ‘My Girls’, is a belter of a ballad co-written by Delta Goodrem (Australia’s Sanna Nielsen) and ticks a ton of JESC-oriented boxes. Such practice of taking a child from a TV talent program, and sourcing for/creating with them a song co-credited to a well-known singer or songwriter is common in the contest – Junior Eurovision 2014 saw Russia send their ‘Voice Kids’ champ Alisa Kozhikina to Malta, with a song penned by Serebro’s Olga Seryabkina. In Bulgaria, Bella will compete against Slovenia’s Lina Kuduzović, a ‘Slovenia’s Got Talent’ graduate whose song has been co-written by Maraaya, just as Ula Ložar’s ‘Nisi Sam’ was last year.

No doubt she’ll fit in fine with Lina and the other participants, but can Bella beat them all in order to triumph on her country’s first try? There’s certainly enough potential in the Australian package to allow her to follow in Vincenzo Cantiello’s footsteps. She’s a customary small (and middle-aged by JESC standards) child with a big voice, and ‘My Girls’ is a catchy mid-tempo track with a strong chorus and hook.

Vincenzo Cantiello's next performance to RAI will be a rendition of 'Why Me'

Even without a single televote top score Vincenzo charmed people to vote for him from every competing nation.

Sure, the lyrics are a little clichéd and pseudo-inspirational, but such qualities didn’t prevent Malta from winning the contest in 2013 (and there are only so many ways to craft lyrical content suitable for children). Basically, Bella’s entry is bang-on target, and could easily win. Call that a biased judgment, and I’ll throw on my ‘Team Bella’ t-shirt and hit you over the head with an inflatable kangaroo before you can prove yourself right.

SBS is clearly taking Junior Eurovision seriously, just as they did for Vienna . Their method of selection  mimics their method of selection in recruiting Guy Sebastian – though there was no mad dash to write a song that wouldn’t send Europe to sleep this time. That infamous spur-of-the-moment songwriting session did serve Australia well in Austria, so the fact that ‘My Girls’ has been circulating for a while – and been rejected by other artists – could put an end to our beginner’s luck. The song does seem more suited to being a Junior Eurovision entry than an album filler for an adult act, which SBS should be praised for recognising.

The broadcaster should also receive a high five for their willingness to foster young talent, going a step further than just screening The Junior Eurovision Song Contest. It may not be their main motivation, but by undertaking the journey to Junior Eurovision, SBS is giving Bella Paige a golden opportunity, plus some excellent padding for her résumé. One week in Bulgaria will more than measure up to her ‘Voice Kids’ experience, providing her with international exposure and allowing her to meet and make friends with kids from Armenia to Ukraine and at least fourteen other places in-between.

I wonder if she could fit me in her suitcase?

But Why Is Australia Still Here? Wasn’t It A One-Off?

Building relationships between different countries and cultures is a big part of the SBS ethos, so it’s not surprising that they accepted the EBU’s invitation to enter the Junior Eurovision Song Contest. It’s had a mixed reception from the community, which gives me a strong sense of déjà vu.

Australia’s addition to the Vienna 2015 participant list was both welcomed and criticised, in and out of the Contest bubble. But, as it was marketed as a one-off occurrence, the backlash didn’t last long. The criticism this time is easier to comprehend, and may have greater longevity. Justifying Australia entering Junior Eurovision if permanency in the adult Contest isn’t on the cards is a tough task… and if permanency is imminent, the day the news drops won’t be a Lizi Pop-level happy day for everyone.

I’m not even sure how I’d feel about it, and I’m a) Australian, and b) occupied by thoughts of Eurovision 24/7.

SBS Australia and Eurovision (image: SBS PR)

SBS Australia and Eurovision (image: SBS PR)

Australia isn’t your average Junior newcomer, so rather than questioning who will present our jury-awarded points (Lee Lin Chin would hardly pass for under sixteen unless the Arena Armeec lights dipped at just the right moment), fans are asking why we’re appearing at all. Such querying of our debut is understandable, but somewhat pointless. Australia has an entry, Bella’s bags are practically packed…it’s happening. Defending our presence in Sofia is about as futile as attempting to snaffle Jemini a retrospective point or two. But it is a curious case we’re dealing with here, and there isn’t necessarily negativity behind all questions.

When it comes to the why of Junior Eurovision and Australia appearing in the same sentence, I’d start by saying it’s nothing to do with the EBU trying to make up numbers. Without us, Sofia would still have had sixteen countries on board – more than enough to make for a satisfactory contest, and equaling the number of participants present in 2003, 2005 and 2014. The fact that Australia has increased the total to seventeen, meaning the 2015 field eclipses that of multiple past editions, is just gravy for a contest recently at risk of cancellation due to disinterest.

Is Australia taking part because SBS weren’t satisfied with one success at adult Eurovision? Possibly, but it was the EBU that invited us to Junior. To my knowledge, SBS did not push for a place. Junior’s Executive Supervisor Vladislav Yakovlev said the invite was extended to Australia to help continue our story, and if that story is going to be a War and Peace-type epic, then SBS opting in to The Junior Eurovision Song Contest makes sense. It demonstrates their desire for permanency in adult Eurovision in a way that will be looked upon favourably by the EBU.

Guy Sebastian | Eurovision 2015 Australia

Guy who? Paul Clarke (l) is back  (Photo: Eurovision.tv)

So too, I’m sure, is the affection SBS has shown Junior Eurovision recently. The broadcaster has screened it consistently since 2003, but for the past few years, they’ve done so on a delay of hours instead of days or months – and at night, rather than in a dead daytime slot.

In addition, 2013 saw SBS provide Aussies with our own commentary team for the first time, and Andre Nookadu and Georgia McCarthy have continued to irritate us all ever since. To be honest, I wouldn’t want things any other way unless there’s a vacancy for the position, in which case I’m fully available. Junior Eurovision has far greater clout in Australia now than it did five or ten years ago, and Bella’s presence in Bulgaria should further increase awareness and interest in the contest as a result of the accompanying media coverage. In fact, it already has, thanks to Bella’s interview on national breakfast TV. Anything that contributes to fewer exclamations of “There’s a Junior Eurovision?” can’t be all bad, can it?

The Benefits Of A Pint-Sized Soldier

Journeying into the wonderful world of Junior Eurovision is a top idea if SBS want Australia to become a full-time Eurovision family member. But that isn’t the only benefit the broadcaster will reap as a result.

Financially, it’s safe to assume that they’re hardly splashing out here. While we don’t know the exact sum of Bella’s bill for Bulgaria, we do know that paying a broadcasting free and a participation fee – as every competing country must – can hit a hip-pocket hard. Given that the Australian government’s 2014 budget slashed SBS’ funding by $54 million over five years, it doesn’t seem right for the broadcaster to finance yet another trip to a Eurovision event.

But SBS didn’t pay for Australia to participate in Vienna. They dropped cash in order to screen the show, as always, but Guy Sebastian’s record label Sony paid his participation fee. It’s likely that Bella’s will be paid by her label Universal, or even by Delta Goodrem’s (Sony, again). And, if Australia wins, the second-placed country may end up hosting JESC 2016 on our behalf, with just a little financial aid from SBS. Alternatively, Australia might celebrate winning on our first try before declining any hosting responsibilities and allowing the runner-up to host at their own expense. Isn’t that how we came to be Bulgaria-bound?

If SBS was to finance our Junior Eurovision trip, it might actually be worth it anyway. Our guest appearance at Eurovision in Copenhagen saw a spike in Aussie viewing figures, but it was nothing compared to the stats when we competed in Vienna. Figures increased from 2.7 million in 2014 to 4.7 million in 2015, and the final leapt from the 17th rung of the ratings ladder to 10th. That gave SBS a rare 12% share of the Sunday night audience. If that’s any indication, then the more involved Australia is in Eurovision events, the higher SBS’ viewing figures for adult Eurovision will be each year.

SBS Australia and Eurovision (image: SBS PR)

Julia Zemirro SBS Australia and Eurovision (image: SBS PR)

Speaking of viewers…what are the benefits of this Junior Eurovision jaunt for sofa-bound spectators? Well, there’s SBS’ decision to screen the show live, for one. If you’re Australian and happy to haul yourself out of bed at 4am for the cause, go forth and set a ridiculously early alarm in anticipation. You won’t be able to vote á la Vienna, but that does mean you can snooze through the recap.

Aussies can also look forward to more Eurovision coverage than ever before in the wake of our debut in Sofia. A high audience return rate from Eurovision 2015 to Junior Eurovision 2015 and then on to the Stockholm contest will translate directly into dollars for SBS. That means compensation for the budget cuts, and consequent continuation of quality multicultural programming – and that programming will likely include a whole lot more Eurovision.

Of course, these advantages don’t apply to non-Aussie viewers. But Bella is off to Junior on our behalf whether the majority like it or not, so looking on the bright side is crucial. Her performance of ‘My Girls’ will be an extra one for you to enjoy on November 21st, and as you do, you’ll be witnessing something never seen before – and I’m not referring to Vegemite raining down on the crowd in place of pyrotechnics.

What About Australia’s Future In May?

As we all know, Australia was formerly invited to join the Eurovision family on the basis of no win, no return. Yet here we are, joining Junior. We haven’t been confirmed or denied entry to the 2016 Adult Contest, but as the EBU’s stipulation of a single entry has already been discarded (if you consider Junior Eurovision to be Eurovision-enough to be a backtrack on the no-return policy). In light of that telling statement from Vlad Yakovlev – I imagine that ‘My Girls’ is a three-minute, child-sized, glitter-encrusted gateway to Eurovision permanency.

Globen Arena Complex

Globen Arena Complex

It was incredible being able to support Australia in May, and vote for Sweden and Italy (my votes were very carefully allocated and only seventy-five percent based on how attractive I found particular artists) in a Contest I’ve been devoted to for a decade. Nobody could avoid being swept up in the atmosphere of such legitimate involvement, and it would be hard to bid that feeling farewell. But the thought of Australia competing in The Eurovision Song Contest, and in The Junior Eurovision Song Contest, year after year, is bizarre. And it must be acknowledged that the original purpose of our invitation has been fulfilled, and doesn’t factor into this Junior participation.

The bottom line is that if you do view Aussie permanency in adult Eurovision as positive, then the pros of us joining Junior Eurovision will outweigh the cons. It’s as simple as that – once you’ve come to terms with the complexities, that is.

There is certainly a lot to #discover before, during and after this year’s edition of Junior Eurovision. The continuation of Australia’s story plays a significant part in that, and I for one am interested in reading on. You can’t deny it’s a page – or, for our purposes, a Bella Paige – turner.

You can follow Jasmin’s Eurovision adventures down under at eurovisionbyjaz.com

About The Author: Ewan Spence

British Academy (BAFTA) nominated broadcaster and writer Ewan Spence is the voice behind The Unofficial Eurovision Song Contest Podcast and one of the driving forces behind ESC Insight. Having had an online presence since 1994, he is a noted commentator around the intersection of the media, internet, technology, mobility and how it affects us all. Based in Edinburgh, Scotland, his work has appeared on the BBC, The Stage, STV, and The Times. You can follow Ewan on Twitter (@ewan) and Facebook (facebook.com/ewanspence).

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6 responses to “Another Shrimp On The Bulgarian Barbie: Dissecting Australia’s Junior Eurovision Entry”

  1. Interesting article, especially as it’s by one of my favourite bloggers – I’ve no problems with Australia being in JESC (I suspect it was always ‘part of the deal’) and it sounds as though they’ve gone out ‘all guns blazing’ again…

    I’m still very, very unlikely to listen or watch JESC though…

  2. Ewan Spence says:

    Not even if Friend of the Parish ‘Luke Fisher is on commentary? ::halo::

  3. Ali Nella Houd says:

    Excellent post, Jaz – as always.
    On a very minor point of terminology:

    Can we find another distinguishing expression for the ‘May’ ESC rather than ‘adult ESC’, which makes it sound like:

    (a) it should only be frequented by furtive men in raincoats; and/or

    (b) one can only take part in it if one is 18 or over (which is obviously not the case).

    To brainstorm some possible alternative options (not all of them entirely serious):

    (i) May ESC (as opposed to November);
    (ii) Senior ESC (as opposed to Junior);
    (iii) Major ESC (as opposed to minor);
    (iv) Old ESC (as opposed to young = ’56 v. ’03);
    (v) Grown-up ESC (as opposed to not yet grown up);
    (vi) Mature ESC (as opposed to immature);
    (vii) Big ESC (as opposed to little = 40+ v. 17 entrants);
    (viii) Over-15s ESC (as opposed to under 16s);
    (ix) Spring ESC (as opposed to autumn);
    (x) Etc.

    Take your pick, or you can no doubt think of something even better.

    😉

  4. Robyn says:

    Yeah, JESC doesn’t need Australia to make up numbers, but Australia is a relatively wealthy country with the motivation and resources to create a really good entry. As with their appearance at ESC, it will lift the overall standard of the show.

    I’d say SBS’s eagerness to participate is part of their overall lobbying to get added to the permanent ESC line-up.

  5. Martin says:

    Ali, how about Eurovision and Junior Eurovision? 😉

  6. Ali Nella Houd says:

    Hmm, radical idea, Martin – I like it! And it seems to have worked (more or less) for the last dozen years or so. Let’s see if it catches on (again)! 🙂

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