One of Malta’s successful Eurovision composers has warned that the country’s plans to choose its next representative to the festival through the X Factor are “a guarantee for failure”.
“I think the X Factor would be a good opportunity for Maltese singers but I have a problem with the winner going to the Eurovision,” said Philip Vella – who composed five winning Maltese Eurovision songs, including Ira Losco’s 7th Wonder throughout his career.
“The Eurovision was turned from a song selection into a singer selection when PBS started organising it 10 years ago, and changing the format into the X Factor will only cement that. You cannot just rely on the singer’s voice though; after all they’ll be competing against 42 other good singers at the Eurovision.”
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From experience, Vella said the only way to tell whether a song is the right fit for a singer is through trial and error, after the singer actually performs on stage.
And while the X Factor Malta organisers have not yet confirmed how the winning song will be chosen, it will be decided behind closed doors if they decide to stick with the traditional X Factor format.
“I used to work with singers for years before we got the style and song right, including Ira Losco,” he said. “We have a limited number of singers, composers and resources in Malta so we need to invest time in refining the product.”
“Nowadays though, composers from all over the world send singers readymade songs in the belief that the singer’s voice is all that matters in the festival. As fantastic as their voices may be, I’ve heard amazing songs in studios that just didn’t work out on stage – Ira’s Walk on Water a case in point.”
Philip Vella and Gerard James Borg famously wrote Ira Losco’s 7th Wonder – which finished second in the 2002 Eurovision
“Also, you need originality to win the Eurovision. How, for example, will the X Factor allow us to send a gimmick or six singing nuns who will create a story at the festival?”
“The Eurovision is not only about the singer and making it so is a guarantee for failure.”
Moreover, he warned that the Eurovision is an extremely daunting experience and has proven too big of an occasion for some Maltese singers in the past.
“Some of the singers they’re up against, in particular the Eastern European ones, have studied at conservatories and are extremely professional. You need to be trained psychologically or the occasion will get to you and you might lose control of your voice without you even being aware of it. Plonking up and coming singers on the Eurovision stage is a recipe for disaster.”
Composer Gerard James Borg
Gerard James Borg, who has worked with Vella on several Eurovision songs, warned the new X Factor format risks closing off a major avenue for Maltese songwriters.
“I understand it’s an interesting idea but one should not forget that Malta is a very small market when it comes to songwriting – and the local contest is also a big launching pad for up and coming and established songwriters who want to write for other artists, new or established,” he said. “This format will limit songwriters, unless there is an open call for songwriters to write songs for the winning artist.”
“On the other hand, it can ignite songwriters and established artists to find other channels where to pitch their music. But the reality is this is Malta, and we do have our limitations, and a very small market, so I guess Eurovision is one of few opportunities. In the past, I have co-written with some foreign writers who live in bigger countries, and have also written for some known artists, who too see Eurovision as a channel where they can get their music heard by many just as artists use it to market their singing abilities.”
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Other top composers contacted by Lovin Malta raised similar concerns; Paul Giordimaina warned the X Factor revamp has essentially put established composers and singers on hold, while Elton Zarb and Cyprian Cassar both said it will limit the market for Maltese composers
However, Zarb argued the main drawback for local composers is the lack of legislation on royalties, which would give them more finances to back up their projects. As for Cassar, he pointed out the shortage of Maltese music on local radio stations and called for a French-style law dictating minimum percentages for the broadcasting of Maltese talent on radio stations.
Meanwhile, Valletta 2018 chairman Jason Micallef hit out at the X Factor Malta from another angle, warning it is actually the brainchild of former PBS chief executive Anton Attard.
“PBS is publicly obliged to come clean on who is behind this contract, how much it is paying Anton Attard, who pressured the PBS Board to appease Attard, and how much money it will fork out for the X Factor license,” he said. “These are shameful manoeuvres from a circle of people with common commercial interests. Disgrace.”
Applications for the new X Factor are open until Thursday, and hopeful singers must send in a short video of themselves singing on this website or via WhatsApp on 77062018.
The competition will start in October and run for 12 weeks, with televoting only introduced towards the end of the show. Singers must hold Maltese citizenship, be it single nation or dual. In groups with more than two singers, only the lead singer must be Maltese, with a maximum of six performers joining him or her on stage. The judges have not yet been confirmed but Ben Camille was announced as the show’s presenter today.