All opinions expressed in this article are those of the person quoted and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the other team members or ESC United as a whole.

It’s 2 days to go until Junior Eurovision 2020, and we are counting down the 12 nations participating in this year’s remotely held and Warsaw, Poland hosted contest on Sunday, November 29, 2020.

Every day we will do an overview of a participating nation in alphabetical order, recapping how they got to Junior Eurovision, a brief history of the nation’s participation, a brief biography of the artist, and finally, our “expert” panel of editors give the entries a score out of 10 and a brief review.

Today we look at our final Junior Eurovision entrant: Ukraine.

Ukraine’s history at Junior Eurovision:

Ukraine debuted at Junior Eurovision 2006 with Nazar Slyusarchuk’s “Хлопчик рок ‘н’ ролл” (“Boy rock ‘n roll”). It had a goofy charm despite being a bit of a mess of disco with an electric organ in a song title with “rock ‘n roll” in it?

Victoria Petryk came in 2nd in 2007 with “Матроси” (“Sailors”), an appropriate song as she was from the port city of Odessa, Ukraine. Her performance had backing dancers doing a routine to mimic day-to-day ship chores. An odd choice. As was the rap part at the bridge, and then the tempo shifting last third. It’s a memorable entry, not least because it leaves you as much out of breath as Victoria did performing this crazy song.

After a last place in 2010 (Yulia Gurska’s bizarre ballet dancers on a funk song with a piano solo entry “Мій літак” (“My Plane”)) and a couple other middling results, Victoria’s younger sister Anastasiya did one better and won Junior Eurovision 2012 with “Небо” (“Sky”), which dabbled with dubstep after the second verse. A surprise in a bombastic ballad such as this and the low notes she can hit.

Sofia Tarasova came in 2nd in 2013 with “We are one,” but since then it’s been middle of the pack for Ukraine. Darina Krasnovetska bucked that trend last year, though, coming in 4th with “Say Love.”

Despite a lot of pre-contest critical praise, Sophia Ivanko came in 15th at Junior Eurovision 2019 with “The Spirit of Music.” It is Ukraine’s lowest placing, though their 14th place in 2010 is technically worse as it was last place that year.

Before Junior Eurovision 2020:

Ukraine had a national selection, and yes it was something of a debacle as usual. However, in comparison to improper vote tallies and Joseph McCarthy-esque hectoring of artists’ patriotism, this one’s transgression is mild: the winner of the online vote was such that the jury’s vote could not overcome it, and the winner was known four days before the national selection final.

The list of jurors for the ultimately futile vote were:

  • Alina Pash – Ukrainian Singer
  • Dmytro Shurov – pianist in the band Pianoboy
  • Jamala – winner of Eurovision 2016 for “1944”
  • Larysa Kliuievska – Music editor for UA: Radio Promin
  • Liubov Morozova – Music critic and hostess of UA:KULTURA TV channel
  • Ruslana Khazipova – Actress and singer
  • Taras Topolia – Lead singer of the band Antytila
  • Timur Miroshnychenko – Eurovision 2017 host commentator

The Artist:

However he got to Junior Eurovision 2020, it should not take away from talented 14-year-old Oleksandr Balabanov that he co-wrote the music for his own entry, “Vidkryvai (Open Up).”

Another strong point: he wrote his own song, but he is also persistent on top of being talented. He had previously entered the national selection for both 2018 and 2019, having entered “My dity zemli!” and “Power in You,” respectively.

He was born on July 5, 2006 in Donetsk, Ukraine, and is currently studying music in high school.

The Song:

“Vidkryvai (Open Up)” was written with Mykhailo Klymenko, who co-wrote Ukraine’s 2018 entry “Say Love,” and also co-wrote KRUTЬ’s “99” for the 2020 Ukrainian national selection for Eurovision 2020, which came in 3rd to “Solovey” by Go-A.

The Reviews:

Now with the introduction out of the way, what do we at ESC United think of this particular entry? Judging the JESC entries this year are ESC United Editor-in-Chief Sean Tarbuck, ESC United’s Instagram Account Manager Melanie Otto, writer and YouTuber Roy Postema, ESC United’s Twitter and Facebook Account Manager Connor Terry, and writers James Maude and Daniel Montoya.

Connor – 6- “Hot dang this kid has range which is impressive! I wasn’t a big fan of this song when it first came out, but since the music video came out and they touched it up a bit I’ve really come to enjoy it a bit more. I’m not sure where this will stack up in the full line-up but I think it has a path to placing in the top half…but it would require many other entries to falter for it to happen. Overall memorable but just alright.”

Daniel – 8.5 – “This song is rather unique, it has a heavy jazz and 90’s R’n’B vibe that make it even more unique with his higher pitched voice and in Ukrainian. This song is a grower and it has something about it that makes it such an interesting and unique addition to the contest which I highly appreciate. The voice might be the interesting factor and I cannot wait to see how he will deliver and do well.”

James – 6 – “Oleksandr shows the benefits of being a 14-year-old, the top end of the contest’s age range, by pulling off both some great high notes while also introducing some low notes into his repertoire. That element of his vocal performance makes him stand out. Sadly, that’s the only thing that stands out as the track is a little too loungey and gets lost in a competition against ballads with singers who have even more tricks up their sleeve or tracks with modern flair. However, as an artist, I think he is going in the right direction and may find more success in the senior version once he refines his songwriting craft even more from his already impressive level. He’s an artist of great promise, but there’s some better realized songs for a childrens’ contest this year.”

Melanie – 7 – “I have days that I really love this song, but I also have days that I don’t understand why this is competing at Junior Eurovision. Oleksandr’s voice immediately grabs you from the first note, even though you like his voice or not. Sometimes I have the feeling that the notes are too high for him, because I really like his voice better in the lower register. The song itself is built nicely and has a really great mellow vibe over it. I’m just scared that it
doesn’t appeal to the Junior Eurovision crowd. It’s sounds maybe too mature for junior Eurovision.”

Roy – 8 – “Yes! Yes! Yes! Ukraine, I love how you just go with something that is unique like this. It is nothing like any of the other songs and it feels like it fits Alexander’s voice so perfectly. A lovely lounge-y atmosphere while he delivers some really interesting and unique vocals. There is a lot of potential to make this a cool performance on the stage as well. The only issue that I am foreseeing is it not being catered to a kids-audience, but who knows? I’ve seen bigger surprises in the past! This is definitely one of my favourites and I have my fingers crossed that it will do well!”

Sean – 7 – “Wow! I did not even realise this was a boy’s voice at first, great job Oleksandr! He’s got soul and passion that’s for sure, and the 90s feel of this track resonates well with me. I fear perhaps that people may find this a little too boring and I’m struggling to imagine a performance for it, but I like the integrity of this one a lot!”

And that concludes our final review of the 2020 season, with Ukraine popping into our Top Half in 5th place. Which means that Kazakhstan, represented by Karakat Bashanova, wins the JESC 2020 poll by ESC United!

1.) KAZAKHSTAN – 51 points (Average = 8.5)

2.) GEORGIA – 50 points (Average = 8.33)

3.) SPAIN – 49.5 points (Average = 8.25)

4.) BELARUS – 47.5 points (Average = 7.92)

5.) UKRAINE – 42.5 points (Average = 7.08)

6.) MALTA – 41.5 points (Average = 6.92)

7.) FRANCE – 40 points (Average = 6.67)

8.) POLAND – 39 points (Average = 6.5)

9.) THE NETHERLANDS – 38.5 points (Average = 6.42)

10.) GERMANY – 34 points (Average = 5.67)

11.) RUSSIA – 32 points (Average = 5.33)

12.) SERBIA – 28 points (Average = 4.67)

Do #YOU think Oleksandr’s “Open Up” has enough to stand out at JESC 2020? Do #YOU agree with the ESC United rankings, and if not how would #YOU rank this year’s dozen acts? Let us know in the comments below, on social media, or in our forum.

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