Every Eurovision season, the island is more bilaterally divided than it is around an election (or on the pronunciation of ‘Spinola’). During May, you’re either a naysayer or an apologist, and both sides will stick to their guns and complain that “we’re wasting money” or “kulħadd imaqdar u ma jifhimx”. But the truth, like learning how to dance a week before a huge performance, can be a little hard to pick up on.
This article isn’t here to go into the merits of the singing competition; I’m clearly a fan and think we should continue taking part (as long as Madonna is never asked back). But it is also a good reminder of the fact that we have a nation-wide issue with on-camera and on-stage confidence. Michela Pace is a young talent, with a voice that’s of an international caliber, but she was let down by a societal lapsus that left her completely unprepared for the eyes of millions.
There can be no denying that the young singer gave it her all (a feat worth applauding), and everyone will jump to her defence and tell you her performance on Saturday was better than during Thursday’s Semi Final… but that’s not saying very much.
This year, Cyprus boldly sent a remake of 2018’s Fuego, but Tamta’s delivery made sure we didn’t linger on that minor detail for too long.
And while her vocals were weak enough to help Madonna relax just a little bit, there’s nothing about her three-minute spectacle that didn’t scream star quality.
Contrast that performance with Michela’s (which was bafflingly called energetic by several local news outlets) and you’ll see a huge difference in the two up-beat numbers for 2019’s competition. Firstly, your ear drums will have a much better time with Chameleon rather than Replay, but on mute, you’ll notice that Tamta either drank Michela’s Red Bull in the greenroom, or was fortunate enough to have been taught some form of public speaking during her time at school.
Michela’s performance seemed all too familiar, not because we’ve all seen our drunk aunt’s dance moves at a wedding, but because what we saw is the same character shift and freeze-up that most Maltese people undergo as soon as a camera is pointed at them. And the really sad part is that it’d be so easy to fix if we’d start from a younger age.
Our in-built fear of looking stupid in front of others prevents us from taking risks – and without risk there’s no reward.
We run away when a phone is pointed at us because we don’t want to show in a video. A Vox-Pop camera heading straight towards us is a literal waking nightmare. We freeze up when getting ready to present anything to a crowd of more than 10 people because we’re afraid to say the wrong thing.
Our accent changes and becomes weirdly American when we’re speaking on our Insta-Stories because we worry what we naturally sound like isn’t good enough.
All these doubts constantly bombarding our brains result in a nation of performers with crazy amounts of talent and no way to deliver it. Of course, there are always exceptions and examples of Maltese people who were literally born to be on stage. Ira Losco barely scrapes past five-feet tall, but on the stage, she’s a Goliath who could get an audience moving with barely a nod.
You can say Italy’s Mahmood was overly cocky, but his cool demeanor on stage spontaneously caused a minimum of three pregnancies in the audience and hospitalised at least four gays in the process. While neither of those facts is independently verifiable, what is true is that the kind of stage presence he exuded is very much a trained skill and not something we should write off as a fluke.
Spending more time teaching our children how to be present and a presence in all situations is a much more useful life skill than learning how to memorise a whole essay for Malti Lit.
While the obvious advantages would be felt by performers and public speakers, getting a solid grip on good communication and understanding how to pass on any message will help create more holistic youths across the board.
This won’t win us the Eurovision (honestly, if Angel couldn’t, I’m not sure what can), but it will be a win that would put us on the map in the long run.
The problem with Michela’s performance was definitely not a lack of effort. If you’ve followed her journey you can tell that from the day after she won the X Factor, she dove headfirst into her big next project. She learnt the dance moves (which I’m guessing took a while), she worked on her voice (which is also saying something, cos it was pretty good to start off with), the song itself is a hit, and you could see her confidence was already way better than it was back in January.
But why wasn’t it enough? Stripping all the half-truths we tell ourselves about neighbours and politics, realistically it all boils down to a lack of presence.
And if the Eurovision doesn’t convince you our public speaking needs a tonne of work, just pay attention to the Best Man’s speech at the next wedding you’re invited to and you’ll realise how piss poor it really is.