The crew behind SBS’s Australia Decides have always been keen to push boundaries when selecting songs to compete for the right to represent Australia at the Eurovision Song Contest.
From Electric Fields mixing a dance-floor banger with singing in language to Kate Miller-Heidke’s opera princess on poles to Montaigne’s indie performance art Don’t Break Me — which sadly never had a chance to be performed on the Eurovision stage thanks to COVID-19 — there has never been simply a generic line-up of pop songs.
This year the mix is familiar but different yet again.
There are familiar names through reality TV, some experienced performers and some new faces.
There’s piano-balladry and prog metal, gospel and dance, and a series of firsts: the first duet, the first girl group and the first verse in Spanish thrown in for good measure.
So you can’t say there’s a lack of choice on offer. Let’s look at the 11 entries for this year’s Australia Decides.
With any open Eurovision final there are two challenges for the songs: they need to be instant enough to grab a solid audience for the public component of the vote.
But what hits home with the viewing public doesn’t always make it a Eurovision contender, so it has to also appeal to the music industry “jury” that makes up the other 50 per cent of the vote.
When Montaigne won the last Australia Decides two years ago with Don’t Break Me, she came first in the jury vote, and had the second-highest score in the televote. Combined, it was enough to beat Casey Donovan’s ballad, Proud, by seven votes.
Who will strike the right balance on the Gold Coast? The number in brackets after the song name is the order in which they are drawn to be performed on Saturday night, from 1 (first) to 11 (last).
Sheldon Riley — Not the Same (6)
The hot favourite to grab the ticket to Turin for this year’s contest is Sheldon Riley.
As someone who has performed on the eponymous reality TV show, Sheldon certainly has the voice to carry off this big number.
The vibe is huge for him from overseas Eurovision fans, including those who have been taken by his various TV performances, such as stint on America’s Got Talent.
As a performer, he has a strongly-defined sense of style, combining his music and the fashion he wears.
For Australia Decides, he will wear a gown designed by Anthony Capon, paired with a crystal mask.
Sheldon said Eurovision wasn’t really accessible in his family when he was growing up, until one year he saw an ad for the show at his grandparents — and was quickly hooked.
The big moment for him, though, was in 2014 when Conchita Wurst won for Austria with Cry Like A Phoenix.
“It’s not just because of Conchita being LGBT, I just fell deeply in love with the song, and how she performed and the whole James Bond sound of it,” Sheldon said.
“That was it. I get up at 5am [to watch the contest live]. I’m so excited to see what’s there each year.”
Not the Same came out of a post he put on an old Facebook account years ago.
“It was a message to myself of how far I’d come,” Sheldon said.
Sheldon then turned it into a song when he was 18, but it was so personal that he never thought he’d release it — until it came up with SBS during the process for Australia Decides.
Now he’s set for the big “reveal” on national TV and all he can say is that there will be a “massive element of surprise” with what we see on stage.
Jaguar Jonze — Little Fires (8)
Jaguar Jonze has an advantage over everyone else in this weekend’s field — she is the only entrant to have already performed at Australia Decides, with her song Rabbit Hole in 2020.
The Brisbane-based performance art musician has hit headlines at the centre of the #MeToo movement in the music industry.
She went public with the story of her own alleged sexual assault, and has used her platform to advocate for change and more support for female performers.
Her song Little Fires doesn’t sound similar but shares a focus with Kate Miller-Heidke’s Zero Gravity, revealing the emotions behind a dark period in her life. It’s a strong song, and should have a striking staging.
Jaguar Jonze will be hoping not to repeat one element of her previous Australia Decides — in 2020, she dislocated her shoulder on TV during the opening section of Rabbit Hole and bravely kept going to finish the performance.
Voyager — Dreamer (10)
The Western Australia-based prog metal group Voyager has been around for more than two decades — they made it close to cracking the final field for Australia Decides in 2020.
This time, the five-piece outfit — who mix metal, pop and an 80s sound with keytars and have made seven albums — are dark horses to be representing Australia in Turin with their catchy entry, Dreamer.
The song has synth, driving guitars, and an ear worm melody — hopefully, for them, it means the audience will remember it when they come to vote.
Lead singer Danny Estrin said of that musical mix: “It equals Eurovision — it’s the best of all things that people like, whether you like heavy music, or pop music, electronic music, just smashing all those things together is a really unique thing as well. I like to think of Voyager as pop on top and prog [metal] underneath.”
Voyager’s interest in Eurovision isn’t new. Estrin and the band’s drummer went to the contest in 2019 and saw the dress rehearsal for the final, and came away thinking of it as “one of the greatest shows on Earth”.
G-Nat!on — Bite Me (1)
This is a new element to Australia Decides, with the first girl group to make the final selection.
G-Nat!on came on the scene last year with some strong performances on The Voice — the six-piece group combined great harmonies with solid choreography and an eye-catching attitude.
Bite Me is a catchy number with more than hint of K-pop that has great potential to be lifted by their staging and performance.
Don’t count them out.
Charley — I Suck At Being Lonely (4)
The young singer-songwriter has made her mark with a couple of solid singles in the past 12-18 months.
Charley has a great voice and has already shown her ability to move between the sparkling upbeat number Hard For Me … to her description of social anxiety, Arizona.
This one is different again, three minutes of beautifully sung heartbreak with lush orchestration — the question will be what direction she goes for with her staging.
There is plenty of love around for this entry, but it remains to be seen if it can match it with the top chances for the win on Saturday.
Andrew Lambrou — Electrify (5)
This final selection has brought together people from very different musical approaches.
Lambrou is one of those who has used online communities to build a profile — particularly on TikTok, where he has more than 670,000 followers, and Instagram, where more than half a million people follow him.
He does have a reality TV credit with X-Factor Australia, but it was his cover versions online that kickstarted things, to the point where he signed with a label and has released three of his own singles.
Electrify is a pop banger with a Mediterranean sound — Lambrou is of Greek-Cypriot background and he has a thing for languages. This has led him to achieve a first for Australia Decides because he will sing one verse in Spanish.
This has the potential to take some decent market share — if Australia’s not looking for a ballad this time round.
Paulini — We Are One (7)
Paulini made her introduction to the music industry on the first season of Australian Idol, coming fourth behind Guy Sebastian.
She has been around the music business for the two decades since, releasing music and latterly starring in a string of Australian musicals — now her entry, We Are One, is set to get the crowds going on the Gold Coast.
Her disco-gospel banger is definitely meant to be danced to — even though the audience on Saturday night will only be able to seat-dance due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The song gives her room to open up with a big vocal and she’s expected to have backing dancers to make for an active staging for the live final.
Paulini has the name recognition to do what Casey Donovan did in 2020 and be right in the mix for a win, but the query is whether she will be able to get enough of the jury vote to succeed.
Jude York — I Won’t Need to Dream (11)
York is a young singer-songwriter from Toowoomba, who was originally listed as the composer of this entry before eventually being selected as the performer.
A fan of 30s and 40s music, York has penned this ethereal piano ballad that fits in with that genre, before soaring in the middle with an almost anthemic effect.
The 21-year-old performer will be focusing on creating his own world on stage at the Gold Coast.
It will be interesting to see what he does with the presentation, but if he nails the vocal on the night, this could do very well.
Isaiah Firebrace and Evie Irie — When I’m With You (9)
Isaiah represented Australia in 2017 with the R&B song Don’t Come Easy. He qualified through his semi-final, and then came ninth in the final behind Portuguese winner Salvador Sobral with the song Amar Pelos Dois.
Firebrace is back this year, this time in a duet with up-and-coming pop-punk artist Evie Irie, who is best known for her single The Optimist.
Their duet is radio-friendly and relatable. The pair’s vocals blend very well together — the question is whether it can garner enough of the vote to challenge the likes of Sheldon Riley and Voyager.
Seann Miley Moore — My Body (3)
The Indonesian-born performer with a Filipino mother and a British dad made his name with a memorable audition for Britain’s X-Factor back in 2015 — and, more recently, has been on Australian screens in The Voice.
The WAAPA graduate has a powerful voice which he has used in musicals, mostly recently in Rent last year.
My Body is a uplifting pop number that builds and gives Moore a chance to show off his vocals.
It’s not among the favourites at this stage, but it won’t be lacking in energy.
TikTok wild card: Erica Padilla — To The Bottom (2)
Padilla took the 11th and final spot in the line-up after winning the TikTok WildCard contest.
Her R&B-Gospel-tinged number delivers a message about avoiding a return to her lowest ebb, that she won’t let herself “fall back down to the bottom”.
It’s a solid entry, and could make some inroads with the televote, but may struggle with the jury.
Talking about the newcomer, co-host Myf Warhurst said she was blown away by Padilla’s voice in rehearsals.
“Musically, TikTok is such a huge presence. I think that was a really wise thing to get that element on board [for Australia Decides],” Warhurst said.
“Like, I didn’t know much about Erica before this, but she’s got like a million followers on TikTok. And she can sing! She has got pipes! I was astounded.”
Hosts happy to be back live on the Gold Coast
Warhurst and co-host Joel Creasey are back for the live final on SBS and, as Warhurst said, they can’t wait to get back live for Australia Decides after a long two years.
“It’s huge — not just from the perspective that we haven’t done this for a couple of years now — but coming from Melbourne … we’ve pretty much been two years in lockdown. The fact that I can even get on a plane and stay in a hotel and host this personally is a big deal,” Warhurst said.
“It’s such a big deal for all of us. It’s a sign, I think, that we’re still here, and we still want [Eurovision] and we are still super, super keen [to be part of it]. And we also really need to be able to let our hair down and have a good time!
Along with the excitement, Warhurst has one major worry.
“The [public] televote is going to be very tight — and that terrifies me, because I’m terrible with numbers! You do the whole show and I have a great time, but then you’ll see me and realise I’m trying to get my head around the numbers and I’m looking at Joel going, ‘Please help me!’.”
You can watch Saturday’s live final for Eurovision — Australia Decides on SBS. The broadcast starts at 8:30pm AEDT, 8pm ACDT (SA), 7:30pm AEST (Qld), 7pm ACST (NT) and 5:30pm AWST (WA).