Destiny Chukunyere from Malta, winner of Junior Eurovision 2015

Looking back on Junior Eurovision 2015

I’m planning on writing an extended piece on ESC Insight about my experience out in Sofia attending Junior Eurovision. That should be available in the next few days. But, in the meantime, here are some thoughts which have come to mind on the journey back to London.

Fans

I’ve had a number of preconceptions confirmed true over the weekend. The most potent was when I realised my assumption about how some people in TV production have an underlying contempt of self-confessed fans of a television programme. I always questioned that assumption, believing it was a reflection of my own insecurities. When an anecdote shared with me at JESC (not about it, I hasten to add) illustrated my assumption, I ended up feeling rather gutted. 

The term ‘fan’ is often dished out as an insult (I’ve heard plenty of professionals use it as such). It reminds me of conversations I experienced myself many years back when I was trying to beat a path and make an impact in the early stages of my BBC career. Those of us with passion and knowledge are often looked upon suspiciously by those who recognise how they are lacking. It’s certainly not confined to the Eurovision world – I’ve seen it raise its ugly head in plenty of other places. It saddens me that it occurs in so many places. It seems like such a prosaic way of thinking that I’d hoped it would have burnt itself out by now.

What I’m reminded of once again is how blinkered that contemptuous view is. How much it extinguishes the possibility of collaboration, denying all the possibility of realising creative aspirations. The view and the hurtful words which follow it extinguish progressive thinking. We must all of us be vigilant and call it out when we see it. Or, if we don’t feel bold enough to do that or confident it will have an effect, we need to commit to surrounding ourselves with those who understand the power of collaborative thinking.

The kids deserve more

Off the back of the School Report filming I undertook recently, I’ve reflected more on how we do young people a massive disservice. People of my generation (especially those of us who aren’t parents) are at risk of holding on to a pre-conception about the next generation. In my opinion, that’s down to a media narrative built on clichés and stereotypes, not just in consumer outlets like broadcasting, advertising and design, but in business documents purporting to summarise characteristics of audience demographics. 

My generation has a responsibility to think carefully about the way we think, talk and write about young people. We need to credit the younger generation with more than the usual lazy view “they’re just the mobile generation, glued to their tablets, prepared to pay no more than three minutes of attention to something. In our desperate race to be concise we insult young people with over-simplified copy based on our own ill-informed, poorly researched assumptions. We are at risk of alienating the next generation (assuming we haven’t done already) because we’ve wrongly assumed that they’re not interested in anything other than what’s on their mobile phone.

Seeing Maltese singer Destiny (pictured above) sing her winning song at the end of Junior Eurovision song was a significant moment. Destiny has an amazing voice with a refreshingly authentic and sincere presence on stage. Beyond the Eurovision stage it was clear to see how her energy was a powerful force for young audiences. A role model for kids in a TV format I hadn’t previously imagined would be a platform for role models. And she has a remarkable voice, way better than anything I’ve seen come out of talent shows in the UK.

Doing the right thing

The other real insight for me during my weekend at Junior Eurovision? It was actually triggered by something which happened back at home. I got in entangled in an email exchange with someone who was at best demeaning and condescending and, at worst, aggressive, intimidating and patronising.

The height of the exchange – the white heat of it, if you will – was the most surprising for me. Not in terms of its content, more my reaction to it and subsequent action. The words of the message made me recoil. Instinct kicked in. I deleted the message and chalked it up to experience: the person I’d previously thought was someone I admired was in fact a bit of a bully whose ego had been allowed to get out of control.

Aimee Banks sang for Ireland at the Junior Eurovision Song Contest 2015 in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Trips like the one I’ve been on often end up juxtaposing different aspects of my life in quite bizarre ways. Real insights emerge as a result. On this occasion it was the stark contrast of interviewing a 11 year old Aimee Banks who sang for Ireland (pictured above) and her proud mother about her experiences singing from the Arena Armeec stage. Here was someone who could quite easily have let her TV experience go to her head (or go to her mother’s head), but hadn’t. 

Twenty minutes in their company and I wasn’t just impressed by the girl’s composure and her mother’s obvious level-headedness. I felt healed by the experience. The ill-thought out ego-driven words of the person I’d been in email contact with first thing in the day (10 minutes after I’d woken up, as it happens) had been put into perspective.

And a lesson had emerged: we might as well consider looking for inspiration from those younger than us rather than assuming that those in positions of seniority, leaning back on their years of experience, are the ones we should be looking up to.

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