Michael Rice, who won BBC talent show All Together Now last year, has been chosen to fly the flag for the UK at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.
The 21-year-old from Hartlepool, who was also on The X Factor in 2014, was picked in a TV viewers’ vote on Friday.
He will now travel to Israel in May in the hope of impressing Eurovision fans with his rousing anthem Bigger Than Us.
The UK has struggled in recent years – it has not won for 22 years and has not finished in the top 10 for a decade.
Rice won the £50,000 prize on All Together Now in March 2018, and used the money to take his family to Disneyland and to set up a shop selling ice cream and waffles.
Below, he reveals that he went to Europe for the first time two weeks ago (and broke his toe while away), says his Eurovision song is dedicated to his late father – and insists he has a chance of winning.
Are you in it to win it?
Yeah, definitely. I believe in this song 100%. It might just be a ballad but that song’s got a big message and I can’t wait to perform it and show the rest of the world what this song’s all about.
You weren’t born the last time the UK won Eurovision, so all you’ve ever known is British failure. How do you get such positivity?
I think you have to be positive when it comes to stuff like this. Some people do take the mickey out of it and these other countries really do take it seriously.
We might have lost loads of times, but I think, why couldn’t it change? Why can’t we make this different? We’ve got the best music industry – Adele, Sam Smith, The Beatles – why can’t we send someone and hope for the best?
What do the song’s lyrics mean to you?
I grew up with my mam, and my dad had drug problems and stuff like that, and later on I got to know him. He used to know I was singing and he was dead proud of me. When I’m singing them words at the beginning – “Hear these words that I sing to you” – it just reminds me of him.
He’s passed away, and winning All Together Now, and if he could see this today, it would make his world.
Have you been to Europe much?
Not really – two weeks ago was my first holiday with my friends and we went to Tenerife. It was the best time. I broke my toe as well. I fell in the pool. You couldn’t write my life.
Did you do karaoke in Tenerife?
Yes I did, in the resort. I love Tina Turner, a bit of Whitney, just fling it at me and I’ll give it a crack.
You used to be a busker. Do you still busk?
Yeah, on a weekend sometimes I’ll just pop down to York or to Newcastle and go busking. Sometimes it’s really nice because people recognise you and say, “I remember you from that show” or, “Do you want to play at my wedding?” I really love it.
Is it a good earner?
Yeah, sometimes you can make £250, maybe £300 for half a day or a day. At York Races, when they do the big races and everyone’s dressed up and drunk, they just fling tenners in.
What are your ambitions for your longer-term career?
I finished my EP just before Christmas so hopefully now I’m doing Eurovision I can experience all this and then hopefully release an album and stuff like that, and see where it takes me because I’m still only young.
There might be an odd atmosphere this year because of Brexit – do you think that will play a part?
I’m not really into politics and stuff because I just don’t have a clue about it. It’s a singing competition and I’m just thinking, work hard and get the best result and hopefully turn a few heads and see if we can get a better score.
There have been protests about the fact Eurovision’s being held in Israel, with some saying it should be moved because of the treatment of the Palestinians – what’s your response to that?
I’ve seen a lot of things on social media, but it’s not really my place to say. I don’t know a lot about what’s going on over there, and music unites everyone so hopefully we can do something positive.
You also fronted an anti-bullying campaign – tell us about that.
When I was growing up at secondary school I used to get bullied a lot – in Year 7 and Year 8. When I left school, I did The X Factor and I got loads of hate from that, and it really sparked me on to go to schools and tell people my story and inspire them.
Rice will be hoping to improve on last year’s UK performance, when singer SuRie finished 24th out of 26.
Her performance was interrupted by a stage invader, who grabbed her microphone and shouted slogans about the media.
The contest was eventually won by Israeli singer Netta with her quirky song Toy, which encouraged people to celebrate their differences.
The winning country hosts the following year’s competition, and the 2019 event will take place in Tel Aviv on 18 May.
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