Seventeen acts have come to the Junior Eurovision Song Contest 2015 in Bulgaria, but only one will emerge from the haze of fog and pyrotechnics with the winner’s trophy. We have been on the ground watching rehearsals and chatting with JESC stars and now it’s time to share our final thoughts on the ever-unpredictable Junior contest. As the contestants slip into their sequin frocks for tonight’s live show, you can read our country-by-country preview below. We’ve included details of how contestants fared in our fan poll, with the Wiwi Jury, and in our combined results. We’ll be in the arena tonight Instagramming up a storm, so consider all of this our pre-recorded commentary.
Junior Eurovision 2015: Our Top 3
JUNIOR EUROVISION 2015 PREVIEW (BY RUNNING ORDER)
1. Serbia: Lena Stamenkovic – Lenina pesma
Our first impression: Lena is a talented performer. Her voice can go from sweet and delicate to strong and powerful, and she has amazing vibrato. The song is dramatic in a very grown-up ESC way, but Lena can handle it. She never sounds out of her depth and ought to be able to deliver a strong, confident performance.
Our thoughts on her rehearsal: Her staging fits in nicely with the themes of suffering and hope in her song. As it opens, we’re greeted to a desolate backdrop of grey skies, snow and barren trees (yes, yes, more Eurovision trees). But as Lena picks up pace, it explodes into a collection of “shining” red diamonds before these too transform into a skyscape of glittering lights. Lena looks stunning in a red gown, which matches her staging perfectly. Vocally, the girl was flawless. Some had questioned her ability to reach those high notes, they needn’t have worried. All in all, it feels very Polina Gagarina, but with considerable more sass. And remember how well she did!
Memorable lyrics: “This is a song about a world where sun doesn’t shine, where flowers don’t bloom, where children are enveloped in gloom.”
2. Georgia: The Virus – Gabede
Our first impression: Georgia embraces crazy with alpomb and the kids serve major musicality with a healthy side of wackiness. The chorus may be repetitive to some, but it’s a clever device to court votes on replay. These kids love what they’re doing, which makes it difficult not to love them.
Our thoughts on their rehearsal: The Virus spread its unique brand of electro-funk by relying not on LEDs or funky costumes, but instead the natural charisma of its young performers. Much of this hinges on the lead singer Data. His schizophrenic performance, which is filled with exaggerated facial expressions and unpolished dance moves, sees him morph from naughty child to Elvis impersonater. He’s clearly having fun and it’s simply perfect. The three girls in the group bend and snap and clap on cue and their harmonies blow away every other group in the contest.
Memorable lyrics: “Get up and wash your face, the world tells me to get rid of laziness”
3. Slovenia: Lina Kuduzovic – Prva ljubezen
Our first impression: “Prva ljubezen” is a powerful, dramatic ballad and so it takes a skilled singer — junior or senior — to deliver it. Fortunately Lina has what it takes, serving a performance filled with drama and emotion. She has a bit of a junior Céline Dion vibe happening, which can only bode well.
Our thoughts on her rehearsal: The staging is very minimal. Lina Kuduzovic stands alone, dressed in a plain white dress. As she sings “Prva ljubezen”, her ballad to first love, the background changes between various shades of blue, while spotlights shine to the sky. And that’s it. No dancers. No backing singers. With such simplicity, we’re forced to focus on Lina’s pitch perfect vocals. The bigger stage certainly hasn’t dented her confidence, and her delivery is every bit as good as the performance which won her the Slovenian ticket in Mini EMA.
Memorable lyrics: “There is something strange that I feel inside, my heart was never broken”
4. Italy: Chiara & Martina Scarpari – Viva
Our first impression: The Sisters Scarpari flash back to the late 80s with this easy listening, distinctly Italian number. The drama comes 90 seconds in with some lovely chords and a whole lot of mystery. Written without any discernable harmonies, this will be all about power and fist-pumping on stage. Chiara and Martina know how to sing live and they certainly have chemistry: They’ve known each other since before they were born.
Our thoughts on their rehearsal: Twins come in two, but few come packaged with voices like those belonging to Chiara & Martina! These girls brought double the pleasure and double the fun to their first rehearsal, turning what I thought was a dated 80s throwback into something quite fun and, dare I say it, downloadable. The girls seem completely at ease during their first reharsal. They largely stood in place and sung to each other, occasionally spinning in circles around the other — you know, stuff sisters do. There is an innocence that balances out their vocal power. Best of all, they didn’t sound as “shouty” as in some previous recording. Sisters slay! The LED background features purple, red, and orange fan blades spinning with lights cascading down. Occasionally it cuts to a graffiti display that says “Viva”. It’s relatively simple, but totally works — a nice change of pace from some of today’s “busier” screens. The girls wore black boots, tights and skirts, and floral tops — one Scarpari with pink flora, the other with yellow. It should be noted that the girls have incredibly healthy hair: it glistens beneath those lights!
Memorable lyrics: “Laughing hard until it hurts, feeling mature to travel, listening what your heart says, studying English, Life is right here now for us”
5. The Netherlands: Shalisa – A million lights
Our first impression: The smoke. The lights. The piano. J’ADORE. The Netherlands have traded in last year’s clubland banger for a stripped back, electro-piano ballad — and it works! People were yelling hard for Katrina, but she was ratchet — Amsterdam have it down this year and they can smash this on stage. Ballad werk honey, ballad werk.
Our thoughts on her rehearsal: Fans of Shalisa and her Junior Songfestival performance will heartily approve of her first rehearsal at Junior Eurovision 2015. Once again she serves up some Alicia Keys realness, sitting at her piano and tickling the ivories while giving us vocal soul. She looks straight into the camera and dares you not to feel something. The songs translates well to this bigger stage: two backing vocalists and two dancers help fill the space, and spinning camera shots give this more energy than we remember from the national final. All of us non-Dutch speakers can easily discern the meaning of the song, which is about two people who love each other, thanks to the dancers who dominate the LED screen. Cast in black and white and then in color, they create an atmosphere of longing and nostalgia that morphs into celebration.
Memorable lyrics: “I stare over the water, far away from you, here’s where we wrote our names together in the sand”
6. Australia: Bella Paige – My Girls
Our first impression: Start digging your bomb shelter — Australia is bringing a nuke to JESC! Bella’s voice packs a real punch and her song of perseverance will no doubt become an anthem for girls doin’ it for themselves. And while it will resonate with the ladies (and the little ladies), it’s unclear how all that girl power will sit with the guys. No matter. Bella’s vocals alone will secure her a Top 3 finish.
Our thoughts on her rehearsal: The LED screen includes plenty of exploding supernovas, reminiscent of the flames Conchita had en route to victory back in 2014. Vocally Bella was faultless. She didn’t just hit the high notes: she added texture to the song and remained in total control in every register. It’s not the most kid-friendly performance — no circus act here! — but the song screams “radio hit” and Bella delivers it with ease. Elegant with just the right amount of urban edge, it feels very X Factor season finale, which suggests it could pull in viewers — and votes.
Memorable lyrics: “My girls here we go, one voice and one road, no matter how hard, no matter the scars, you’re still beautiful”
7. Ireland: Aimee Banks – Réalta na Mara
Our first impression: Dublin may be a short flight from London, but this song takes us to another world. It’s one of Druid priests, Celtic Warriors and Eimear Quinn. The traditional sound has a new age Enya vibe that raises the bar for a children’s singing contest. Miss Banks will likely cash in on her vocals with the jury.
Our thoughts on her rehearsal: Ireland’s Aimee Banks turned the Junior Eurovisino 2015 stage into a maelstrom of emotion today with her song “Réalta Na Mara” (Star of the Sea). In the number her pain runs as deep as the ocean, so it’s only natural that she’d kick things off with a dark sky and crashing waves, and a ship bobbing out of control. Lost love will do that to you, people. But she’s keen to get back to her beloved: “Somewhere someday, across the wide open blue, through a strong gail, we set sail, warry me away back to you…” And she takes us there. The waves become less ominous as the song goes on, and the white sail becomes a symbol of hope that she just might make it home (wherever that is).
Memorable lyrics: “The wind starts to die, waves begin to subside, shimmering sky from the Northern Lights”
8. Russia: Misha Smirnov – Mechta
Our first impression: Mikhail is a little star. He has great stage presence and I’m already imagining him representing Russia at ESC in 10 years. As a song “Mechta” isn’t especially captivating, but Mikhail works with it and delivers a good performance.
Our thoughts on his rehearsal: Wearing a rather dapper blue suit, he stands centre stage and seems to feel every note and beat, bending and stepping and throwing his arm around like a proper R&B singer. A lady friend in white rocks in a hammock before getting up and stretching out — she’s all pirouettes, spins, and splits. Along with a purple-to-blue sky and plenty of stars, this creates the dreamy feelings he so tenderly sings about. His voice fits the music and the staging quite well. Given Russia’s ever-reliable diaspora, look for this to challenge.
Memorable lyrics: “And so please take me to the blue skies, and we will sing about the place, where the wind plays with the sunlight, touching my hair and my face”
9. FYR Macedonia: Ivana Petkovska & Magdalena Aleksovska – Pletenka
Poll ranking: 14 Wiwi Jury ranking: 17 Overall prediction: 16
Our first impression: “I like what’s happening with this song. The verses have a Balkan style to the melody, before the chorus comes along with a fun 1980s pop flavour. Ivana and Magdalena are a great duo and will surely bring some sass to the Sofia stage.”
Our thoughts on their rehearsal: If Turbo-Folk could be rendered kid-friendly, it might sound something like Ivana & Magdalena’s “Pletenka”. During their first rehearsal at Junior Eurovisino 2015 they threw it down with the help of three (very tiny) dancers, who flip, kick and spin like they’re the fiercest club kids in Skopje. LED hearts and Ivana & Magdalena’s sweet delivery make sure this stays sufficiently juvenile and youth-oriented. The song’s opening is particularly strong and a welcome change of pace from the other acts. It sounds — and I mean this in a good way — like a Eurovision dance entry from Eastern Europe in the early 2000s. At times the girls struggle with their vocals and harmonies, but we’re sure these are just teething problems. Tomorrow is another day.
Memorable lyrics: “Like the blue sky, like the blue sea”
10. Belarus: Ruslan Aslanov – Volshebstvo
Our first impression: “Volshebstvo” shows more refinement than most of the adult songs that Belarus fields at Eurovision proper. Ruslan has a ton of mature tones in his voice and that gives this real depth: when he hits the lower register I see douze points gold. Holding the vocal together will be key for Minsk to net a good result on the scoreboard.
Our thoughts on his rehearsal: Ruslan Aslanov’s first rehearsal made us think of two former Eurovision stars: Boggie from Hungary and Zlata Ognevich from Ukraine. The act opens with light rising on a large LED tree — when it goes green, you’ll be thinking“Wars for Nothing.” Like Boggie’s stage show, this number plays on darkness and light, albeit with a lot more drama. His tree goes from black to green to fiery red before being enveloped by a storm. Pack your umbrellas. As at the Belarusian selection, Ruslan plays on his song title “Volshebstvo”, which translates to “magic.” The mysical sound is backed up by LED effects that jive with his motions — he flicks his hand and glitter shoots out of the tree, he holds out his hand and we see a Zlata-like butterfly land there. He reminds us of her vocally, too: loud to louder, but always on point.
Memorable lyrics: “Fairy tale in the sound of your walk, fairy tale in the warmness of your words”
11. Armenia: Mika – Love
What we said about his song: I’m in love with “Love” and it’s only a matter of time before Europe is too. This song builds from the first note to the last and my only criticism is that I want Mika to sing for six minutes instead of three! Fun, funky, fabulous — this is the closest thing to perfect in this year’s contest.
Our thoughts on his rehearsal: Wearing a pink suit with white sneakers, he was styled perfectly to carry this song, which updates 50s cool for 2015. His performance oozed class from the first note to the last, both musically and visually, and across every single take. The other delegations need to take note. Three dancers — pure sass and energy — support him on stage, and the performance begins with the camera panning up on them. But from the moment Mika enters the frame it’s all about him. Confident and brimming with ambition, he looks straight into the camera and belts out note after note with ease. And he does this while also performing some clever choreography that masks any effort it may take him to bust a move. We see him sidestep and moonwalk with joy and aplomb. He is showing no sign of nerves and seems to be living this performance. As for the LED, it features a grey-and-white globe illuminated with flashing red hearts. They pulsate to the beat before exploding into white and red and white and purple diamond formations. It’s fitting: this performance is one big explosion of love and light.
Memorable lyrics: “We are in a good mood, every day is good”
12. Ukraine: Anna Trincher – Pochny Z Sebe
What we said about her song: Anna is just something else. Her track is serving Lana Del Rey, Gwen Stefani, Fergie realness and she oozes maturity beyond her years. In a kids contest that’s an equal advantage and disadvantage, but I like the finished result. She should smash into the Top 5 with this but televotes might end up holding it back. I think it rocks, so she gets top marks from me.
Our thoughts on her rehearsal: No one quite does staging like Ukraine. In the past they’ve given us hell machines, sand artists and hamster wheels. Now you can add giant lotus flower to the list. As the performance begins, the petals opens to reveal Anna Trincher inside. She’s wearing a peach/salmon coloured chiffon cape, and acts as the flower’s stamen. The background is nothing short of breathtaking. We see an amazing waterfall transform into a shark into a school of fish into a pod of whales. We then leave the maritime setting behind, and head to the plush canopies of the rain forests. However, as “Pochny z Sebe” reaches its dramatic climax, the serenity gives way to scenes of an erupting volcano, lava envelopes everything. But all’s well that ends well. The peaceful imagery returns once more, as we glimpse the earth from outer space. You can even make out the continents beneath the clouds.
Memorable lyrics: “Nobody wants to recognize that everybody should start with themselves”
13. Bulgaria: Gabriela Yordanova & Ivan Stoyanov – “Colour of Hope”
What we said about their song: Bulgaria’s effort could double up nicely as the JESC theme tune. This is a song that I can hear repeatedly, and still #discover new meaning in it. It’s anthemic, uplifting and serves as a beacon of hope for a new generation of singers.
Our thoughts on their rehearsal: The song opens with Gabriella standing halfway down a runway while a cascade of lights fall down her LED. The screen moves from red to green to blue, all beneath said rainbow. As Gabriella belts it out, a series of rhythmic gymnasts work the ribbons and their rubber balls, bending and snapping with ease. We’re talking London 2012 flexibility gold medal realness. Things really come alive when Ivan emerges from out of nowhere. Gabriela seems even more comfortable on stage when he’s there and they bring it home with some epic harmonies that, despite needing a little work, hint at potential magic. At times the stage seems a little crowded and very busy — stars falling, ribbons twirling, ballerinas extending legs above head. It all makes it a little difficult to concentrate on Gabriela’s voice. Hopefully the delegation will strip things back and, failing that, producers can tweak their camera angles to bring Gabriela into sharper focus.
Memorable lyrics: “Today the world is too grey, Too boring and stern, Indifferent and cold And for some – even cruel”
14. San Marino: Kamilla Ismailova – “Mirror”
What we said about her song: I like the dynamics of this song — the minimalist introduction (think “Royals”, “Rhythm Inside”) which bursts into a lush chorus. Kamilla has the tough task of having to sing in two languages, neither of which are her mother tongue, but she’s obviously putting in the hard work there. The song is a little bit bleak at times, but it has a mysterious charm. It will be interesting to see how this comes off live.
Our thoughts on her rehearsal: Call it a case of a dress wearing a girl, rather than a girl wearing a dress. Kamila Ismailova’s stunning white gown, draped in mirrors down the left side, was the centrepiece of her first rehearsal at Junior Eurovision 2015. It’s so big she has to stand on a platform to let it reach full length. The glistening train you see in the opening verse is only temporary: it actually consists of four backing dancers who themselves are wrapped in tin foil and decorated with mirrors. Their faces are obscured with masks to create a futuristic robot effect. It’s slightly unsettling not seeing their facial expressions, but their ability to pop and lock and nail their choreography more than makes up for it.
Memorable lyrics: “On the surface I see you smile, are you hiding darkness inside?”
15. Malta: Destiny Chukunyere – “Not My Soul”
What we said about her song: Destiny is the strongest contender in this year’s competition by far, and probably in the Top 1% of the best JESC contenders ever! “Not My Soul” is universal, it cuts across all demographics and it manages to retain the interest of the religious and secular alike. Destiny’s long wait in presenting her song was a wise move! It highlighted how much better her song was than what preceded it. The end result is a gospel-inspired vintage jam that could easily (and justifiably) secure Malta’s second victory.
Our thoughts on her rehearsal: Malta’s Destiny Chukunyere bobbed her head, dropped some major attitude, and kept her vocals pitch perfect during her first rehearsal. The LED backdrop comes directly from her funky music video: it’s all bright colors, fun lettering, and pulsating soul realness. She stands on stage alone — with a voice that big, you really don’t need help — and does a good job connecting with the camera.
Memorable lyrics: “Everything means nothing if you don’t love what you got in your heart”
16. Albania: Mishela Rapo – “Dambaje”
What we said about her song: Albania is trying something quite different here with an African- and Jamaican-influenced song. Mishela has a rich, soulful voice which really suits this. Sometimes I’m reminded of the Lion King soundtrack, and “Dambaje” will surely bring a chilled-out summer groove to autumnal Sofia.
Our thoughts on her rehearsal: During her first rehearsal at Junior Eurovision 2015, Albania’s Mishela served Carribean realness. As the calypso did its thing, she stood in place and kept the laidback vibe going. It was like a summer breeze! Her dance moves — swaying arm motions, choreographed finger twirls and gentle turning at the hips — takes us to Barbados or Jamaica and feels completely organic to the song. Her vocals were on point, even if she struggled to hear herself in her earpiece — she had to stop the first run-through and let the producers know. The song opens with a black sky filled with green clouds. But baby, the sun is coming! When she reaches the first verse spotlights go yellow and the LED transforms into a stainglass window scene of oranges and yellows, and later greens and blues. It’s simple — perhaps too simple at this point — but she wasn’t wearing her costume, which could be transformative during her next rehearsal. The camera angles, which are typically adjusted as the week progresses, will help give this more pace and drive.
Memorable lyrics: “Brittany hello, let the music united us today”
17. Montenegro: Jana Mirkovic – “Oluja”
What we said about her song: “Oluja” is bouncy, sunny and sweet — everything a song from southern Europe should be. Ballads have become a fixture of JESC, so tonnes of praise to Jana for breaking that mould and bringing something other than a Balkan ballad.
Our thoughts on her rehearsal: A “Storm” is coming and Montenegro’s Jana Mirkovic is at the center of it! During her first rehearsal at Junior Eurovision 2015 she treated the circular stage like a runway, sashaying to the beat while gyrating with her hips. Four backing dancers help fill the space. They strut, strut, strut, but sadly never make use of the two curving runways, which seems like a bit of a waste. No matter. A neon cityscape on the LED gives this an appropriately energetic backdrop.
Memorable lyrics: “I am passing through your life, the storm is all about me”