Ultimately, this show is not for you – and be you, we mean most of the Eurovision fervent fandom.
Whilst Junior draws upon the format of the Adult contest and its production and namesake, we cannot honestly have the same expectations between this and Eurovision which has over 60 years of history and development, working its way into the psyche of Europe, with possible kitsch connotations and developing its cult following with the gay community.
The key Junior Eurovision market is identified as people between the ages of 7 and 15, which seems a small age span, but it may as well be 100 years difference in the marketing world. Those 8 years, both in the viewer base and the contestant ages, also has some great differences in education, worldliness and interest in fashion, music and hobbies. And it draws upon a powerful consumer base that few television channels specifically cater programming to and harness appropriately.
Childrens television channels exist in every market in which it is broadcast, and in many cases, the show is specifically televised through those mediums – not the more mainstream channels that Eurovision enjoys. That niche is inevitably going to result in a much lower viewership, thus cannot be compared to its big brother of the events. The most recent Junior Eurovision viewing figures (dating from 2016) suggest an audience of approximately 4 million viewers over just 14 countries, compared to the more recent Eurovision, which enjoyed an audience of approximately 250 million. Nevertheless, broadcasters will continue to be drawn to the Junior brand simply because, it represents a opportunity to have soft politics on display, it allows them to build connections with other broadcasters and, in many cases, it is a cheaper option to buy into for production – one specifically tailored to their audience age range – than to produce their own content.
It is also important to acknowledge that from a Western view, there is a cultural barrier in the acceptance of adults watching young people performing. This has been built from witnessing youth beauty contest culture and many reality TV shows where you have parents and coaches on display ultimately pushing children into uncomfortable situations or beyond their limits. From movies such as ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ to series including ‘Here Comes Honey Boo Boo’, the negative painting of contests involving youth comes across loud and clear. This overview isn’t necessarily shared by Eastern nations, who have a long history of child talent on screen, and which may go some way to explain the disparity in numbers of East vs. West countries in attendance.
Any need to compare the audiences or to judge the two contests against each other would be a unfair and calls for the Junior event to cease would be unfounded. The best recommendation one can give if this is how you feel is to accept and move on, rather than continue to hope for something it is not and will never be. Instead, we should be looking at the benefits for it to remain.
Testing ground of EBU
As we have witnessed over the course of its 15-year history, Junior Eurovision is very much a testing ground for the larger contest. Many of the new technologies, voting methods, and indeed entrants, have been seen on the Junior stage before going onto Eurovision proper.
We would fully expect that before we see any electronic voting method take place in May, that it would be first used here in November. We already have a second year of app testing occurring, and this may be just the right space to give the opportunity to be tweaked, load tested and put in place fail-safes to ensure that it can not misused.
For 2018, we have special guest Kazakhstan join the party, leading many to make the connection that should they reach the podium whether that results in a further invite to the Eurovision Song Contest in 2019. We may know soon enough.
The Contestant Experience
Speaking to the artists here in Minsk, whilst they are proud to be representing their country at the event, most also have plans well into the future to pursue careers in the music industry. They all see Junior Eurovision as essential stepping stone for this, not the echelon of their career.
Artist development is key to Junior as much as it is for Eurovision proper. Junior is a far more relaxed atmosphere and pace, but the lessons are the same – it gives them the stage time, they learn the craft of speaking to media, and the opportunity to have a say in how they are perceived moving forward as an artist.
Few, if any, of this years contestants have the sheen of being forced through a route of talent schools or beauty pagaents. These are confident young individuals – all wanting to be here on their own terms. If anything, it is the parents who accompany them who are far more nervous in the lead up to the Sunday show.
Speaking to Australias’ Jael she clearly states that this is the path she chose and no-one else. Watching Eurovision this year, she pointed out to her family watching Jessica Mauboy that it was her aim to be there on stage in the future; and is surprised even now to find herself in that very place so soon. Her hope is to return home with a greater experience for large events, and new experiences and friendships to draw from to inform her songwriting for the future, something which she does in conjunction with her father who also produces her music.
It is clear that Junior Eurovision exists well beyond just the need for entertainment from a European Broadcasting Union standpoint, and by no means is ‘winning’ the sole aim. Looking back at the values of the original contest where it seeks to bring people and specifically Europe closer together, it is evident that this exists at Junior as well. Here children, who you may think are thrust into a heavily competitive environment, are free from the politics and much of the PR pressures, instead having the time and opportunity to form close friendships with the other contestants, and appreciate each other’s work over the course of a week.
This is reiterated best with Jon Ola Sands’ speech at the opening ceremony; “when I look at all these young talented artists, it makes me so proud. So proud to be a part of this and to follow you from here into the next steps to your career cause I know it will be there and you will make great progress”.
The Children Are Our Future
It is hard to deny that ambition is not on display with the entrants, but it’s just as important that the viewers see that camaraderie and individuality of those here.
Seeing people your own age achieve feats such as representing your country in the Arts, shows what is possible, gives them a specific event to strive for and sets up the next generation of singers, songwriters, and potential contestants.
Many of the songs at this years contests speak of experiences and make references to youth culture that are easily recognisable to the market allowing for a bond between viewer and entry. As discussed earlier, the show’s market is a narrow span but also one that carries with it a great disparity of experience between its lowest and highest age points. As a contestant, one of greatest challenges is to come to the contest and find appeal across the whole span; that is where the true competition lies.
One of the best examples in how to speak to the market this year is the Portuguese entry ‘Gosto de Tudo (Já Não Gosto de Nada)’ by Rita. It uses imagery from social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook Live to demonstrate not only the themes discussed in the song but to connect directly to the audience. And as a performer, Rita appears confident and happy, which also builds a greater connection and allows for overall potential show influence on viewers.
Additionally, messages that would ordinary be seen as foolish or provocative at the Adult contest, can be sung at Junior. Albanias’ entry from Efi may appear child-like on a first reflection, it actually speaks about her wish not to be seen as a Barbie doll but a strong and independent girl (which I argue is the little sister version of Nettas’ winning song ‘Toy’). Likewise, Ukraines’ song ‘Say Love’ by Darina makes a direct call for her wish for people of the universe to lay down their arms and bring peace to the world. It’s not done through a sphere of some peace-hippy-chic imgery, but rather it’s loud and aggressive, spoken through a megaphone and drowned in a deep shade of red. Neither of these are the naive entries that people who deride the contest believe are on display. Instead, these are powerful, intelligent and positive messages that you do find our out there amongst youth but many times are not heard.
Age Is No Limit
It is important that there is an outlet for children to be children, and to see others who they can see themselves in by on display. When Eurovision put in place a rule regarding age after Belgiums’ win with Sandra Kim in 1986, it essentially cut off large swathe of creativity. It was done with the right motives in mind, but in recent times at Eurovision we have seen that some of the youngest contestants, such as Kristian Kostov (17) and Nadav Guedj (16), bring to the stage some of the best entries and strongest performances. The existence of Junior Eurovision recognises this – it understands that age is not a definer of talent, and it gives those who are not fortunate enough to be 16, the opportunity to fulfil their dreams and to display it in an appropriate outlet to their peers.