Michael Rice considers the UK's chances at this year's Eurovision Song Contest…
It's been a whirlwind 18 months for Michael Rice. The 21-year-old singer from Hartlepool first gained recognition last year when he won BBC1 talent show All Together Now with his powerful rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.
And after winning Eurovision: You Decide back in February, this Saturday night Michael will be flying the flag for the UK as he sings epic power ballad Bigger Than Us at the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv, Israel.
"I don't think it's sunk in yet that I'm actually doing it," a nervous Michael tells TV Times when we meet at a London hotel to chat to him. "It's getting more and more real now the event’s getting closer."
With a global TV audience of around 180 million viewers, Eurovision is arguably the biggest show on earth.
And, as we quiz Michael Rice on what’s to come, it's clear the reality is setting in…
What does it mean to you to be representing the UK at Eurovision?
Michael Rice: "It’s a real honour. I remember, growing up as a kid, me mum used to have Eurovision on in the background, so it’s mad to think I’m actually doing it now! I haven’t watched loads of Eurovision because I’m only young but I loved Netta’s winning song, Toy, last year. I’d say my first proper memory of Eurovision was my mum showing me on a computer ABBA singing Waterloo. Since finding out I’d be doing this, I’ve tried to get my knowledge up to date."
What is it about the song Bigger Than Us [written by this year’s Swedish entrant John Lundvik] that will help the UK stand out in the competition?
"Bigger Than Us is a simple song but it has a really powerful message behind it. It’s telling a story. It’s about sexuality, race, religion, everything. I think it’s gonna touch a lot of people."
Do you think all the drama around Brexit could impact on the UK’s chances of winning?
"Everyone keeps talking about Brexit and how Eurovision is ‘political’. I’ve also heard talk of people wanting to boycott this year’s competition because it’s in Israel. But I’m just trying to focus on the singing, the staging and making sure everything is perfect for Tel Aviv."
You were born in 1997, the year the UK last won Eurovision [Katrina and the Waves with Love Shine a Light]. That could be a good omen…
"Ha, ha! Yeah a lot of people have said that! Every winner from the past few years has been totally different. You can never judge it really."
So do you think you could be the one to break ‘the curse’?
"Hopefully. I’m ready to just go out there and smash my performance really. I don’t really see it as a competition. I’m just there to sing my heart out and try and get us a good result. I want to make a change…"
How will you feel if the UK gets 'nul points'?
"I'm not bothered. As long as I give it my best, it'll be a performance I can be proud of in years to come. I’ve recently signed a record deal so I’ve got something to looking forward to after Eurovision. I suppose I’d like to aim for the left-hand side of the leaderboard… as high as possible!"
What do your family think of your newfound fame? Will they be coming to support you in Israel?
"They think it's crazy and they're really proud of me. The night I won All Together Now, me nanna was in shock. I think she was more shocked than me! She’s from Ireland, who always REALLY get behind Eurovision. Me mum and me nanna will be coming out to Israel. And, back home in Hartlepool, the locals are gonna put up a beer tent with big screens outside, so that everyone can come and watch Eurovision by the sea."
The Netherlands (subject to qualifying) Act: Duncan Laurence Song: Arcade
The Netherlands haven’t won Eurovision in 44 years but the bookies reckon Duncan – who reached the semi-finals of The Voice of Holland in 2014 – could change all that with his heartfelt ballad, Arcade.
Russia (subject to qualifying) Act: Sergey Lazarev Song: Scream
Sergey has some experience of Eurovision coming third in 2016. Could Sergey’s rousing ballad, Scream, see him place runner-up this year – or even win?
Germany Act: S!sters Song: Sister
First things first: This duo are NOT actually sisters. Since 2015, Germany has finished in last place twice but Carlotta Truman and Laurita Spinelli are hoping to end Germany’s run of back luck with their dramatic ballad, Sister.
Italy Act: Mahmood Song: Soldi
Mahmood’s moody mid-tempo number, Soldi, will certainly get people’s toes tapping but the lyrics are hardly uplifting – it’s his personal tale of having an unreliable father who was obsessed with money.
And the weirdest… Iceland Act: Hatari Song: Hatri? Mun Sigra (Hate Will Prevail)
Synth-punk rockers Hatari are out to cause a stir at Eurovision. Dressed head-to-toe in leather – including masks – the menacing-looking trio will take to the stage to sing (or should that be scream?!) a song about Europe crumbling.
The Eurovision Song Contest can be seen on Saturday May 18 at 8pm on BBC1.
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