I was 13 years old when the first edition of the Junior Eurovision Song Contest hit screens across the continent. I was already an avid follower of the main contest and I was incredibly excited about the spin-off that would feature people of my age; more than ever I would be able to live through these kids and believe that it could be me up there living the dream. As someone in my early teens I was bang in the middle of the target audience for the show – so on paper, given how much I loved the adult version of Eurovision, it was maybe surprising that I completely detested it.
I think as somebody the same age as the contestants myself I was insulted that somebody somewhere thought that this garbage was what I wanted to watch. I felt patronised that all this kiddy-pop was being thrown at me as some sort of runner-up prize because the real contest was too beyond my years. After that first contest my interest rapidly declined, and I never again watched a contest in full. I had an awareness of what was happening and the songs that were doing well, and nothing I saw changed my opinion. Eventually, I just lost interest completely and wrote Junior Eurovision off as completely irrelevant.
I know that I wasn’t alone in feeling this way either. Viewing figures declined, broadcasters shafted the format to lesser channels and countries were dropping out in their droves; just a couple of years ago, Junior Eurovision was on life support, and it seemed like the plug was about to be pulled. Yet still a faithful core support group of Eurovision fans had faith in the format, and not only followed it with interest, but enjoyed it. Constantly I was told by these people that Junior Eurovision was changing, that it was given an unfair rap, and looked at for what it was it was a very good evening’s viewing. I certainly didn’t buy it: if I had no interest as a child, what hope was there for me as an adult?
However, the more I was told by people that it was worth an explore, the more I was worn down. My interest was certainly piqued when I saw that countries were coming back to give this show another try, and new countries were throwing their hat into the ring for the first time. I listened to some of the songs (out of necessity much of the time since I needed to report on them), and found myself enjoying some of them, then enjoying more of them. Suddenly my protestations were becoming more feeble – “OK, it’s a decent song, and she’s a good performer, but it’s all so…JUNIOR” is a typical, pathetic example – and it’s only recently that I’ve truly seen what a new lease of life this contest has been given.
I think the main problem beforehand was a fundamental misunderstanding of the contest’s target audience. Children like music that is in the charts, and children watch and enjoy the adult contest – just think how many Eurovision artists, commentators and fans talk about fond memories they have of watching Eurovision with their family when they were little. Music does not have to be geared specifically towards children for children to enjoy it, and it so often misses the mark anyway. A major rule change a few years ago was the decision to allow professionals to help the children in the composition of the songs. To what extent they are “helped” of course is debatable, and Ben Robertson from our friends at ESC Insight wrote a great article about this recently, but in theory, a balance has been struck between allowing the kids to have their own voice, singing what they want to sing about, and making the songs themselves as professional and listenable as possible for junior and senior ears.
Whether it’s a conscious decision by the organisers or a coincidental collective decision by broadcasters, these kids have been allowed to perform music that they would listen to, and for the most part there is no pretence or pressure on them to be premature adults. They’re just kids, enjoying themselves, singing mostly good songs – not only is that more appealing to children themselves, surely the major target audience for this, but it’s much more palatable for adults as well.
Don’t get me wrong. I still feel slightly uneasy about adult Eurovision fans who follow this in the same way they do Eurovision proper, making Facebook posts about poor rehearsals, speculating about supposed sabotage in the running order and such. The contest is not made for us, and if you want Eurovision dolls to play with and make fight with one another, then you’ve got Eurovision proper for that, with grown-ups who are equipped to deal with that kind of pressure and obsession. Because let’s face it, some of the 14-15 year-olds in this contest would be more than capable of performing in the adult version, and not long ago I would have made the case for just lowering its age limit and ditching Junior completely. However, not all young adolescents have the maturity, stamina and steel to deal with the full-on setting of adult Eurovision; the Junior contest allows them to live their dream, whilst having fun in a much more supportive and nurturing atmosphere.
Yes, it’s taken a long, very bumpy decade, but finally Junior Eurovision has arrived and become what it should have been all along – simply a spin-off of Eurovision for young people, no complications or pretence beyond that. It’s been a long journey for me too, but I’ve actually become one of those fans advocating the contest and telling others they should give it a try. Indeed, that’s partly the purpose of this article. So if you’re not doing anything tonight, and you’ve never watched Junior Eurovision or, like myself, gave up on it long ago, why not give it a try? Don’t judge it alongside the adult version, because let’s face it, what could possibly compete? Just enjoy the music – because if you’re a Eurovision fan, it IS enjoyable – appreciate this unique platform for kids to do what they love and maybe spot some Eurovision stars of the future!