Hartlepool singer Michael Rice is in Tel Aviv for this year's Eurovision Song Contest, where he will represent the UK with his song Bigger Than Us.
Ahead of the competition's live final on Saturday, Martin Phillips is reporting live from Israel bringing the latest updates on all of the build-up to the competition. Stay tuned for more articles from Martin on Michael's journey as the week continues.
Hartlepool’s Michael Rice has been in an Israeli Eurovision bubble for a week now. Despite being in the sunny Tel Aviv, just steps from the beach, he has been shuttling back and forth from his hotel to the Expo Center here in Israel’s party capital.
In a press conference at the Expo Center, the location of the 64th Eurovision Song Contest, Michael lamented that he had seen very little of Tel Aviv or Israel so far, as he has been constantly working with his crew and backing singers to hone the United Kingdom’s entry Bigger Than Us to perfection for Saturday’s final.
The BBC delegation has taken a simpler and more cost-effective approach to the UK entry this year – no additional lighting rigs to pull on stage during the British “postcard” introducing Michael to the 200 million viewers across the world.
They have concentrated on developing the harmonies and the interaction between Michael and his five backing singers – and it’s a very strong performance indeed.
While hopes have been dashed in recent years, many are hoping that Michael could bring the UK back to the left side of the scoreboard, after many years of languishing at or towards the bottom.
It’s 10 years since Jade Ewan placed the UK in the top 10 in Moscow with It’s My Time, and a generation – 22 years since Katrina and the Waves last won with Love Shine A Light – one of the most successful Eurovision songs of all time.
Michael is still adjusting his delivery of the song for the final – admitting in Sunday’s press conference that he was still treating the song with some spontaneity, deciding what works best for him, while relying on his backing singers to provide consistent, reliable support.
By Saturday, he should be sure of his delivery, since Eurovision nerves coupled with the slightest uncertainty could be a recipe for disaster.
Spending almost two hours on the orange carpet at Tel Aviv’s beautiful Habima Square on Sunday night talking to the press lining the barriers, he shared that his crew were trying to keep him from talking too much to protect his voice for Saturday.
Michael was the last to arrive on the orange carpet and was kept talking for so long that he missed most of the opening party, where Dana International and other past Eurovision performers were entertaining this year’s delegations.
The United Kingdom is depending on him to keep his vocal chords in good shape for Saturday, so he is at least using honey to reduce the potential impact of all these interviews.
At Sunday’s press conference, Michael shared his favourite competing songs – the Greek entry, Better Love by Katerine Duska, Run with the Lions by the Lithuanian performer Jurij Veklenko, and Sweden’s Too Late for Love by John Lundvik. He also said he would love to work with Spain’s Miki Nunez, and France’s singer Bilal Hassani.
Sweden’s John Lundvik is close to Michael’s heart, having co-written Bigger than Us – the first time in Eurovision history a lead performer is competing against a song he or she wrote for another country. The two songs do share some similarities – similar tempos and feel, and both opting to do without complicated stage props, while emphasizing delivery with a great team of backing singers providing.
Michael was asked about the emotionally touching video for Bigger Than Us and he said that he had opted for a simple video about “acceptance and being true to yourself”.
He also wanted to raise awareness of the problem of bullying, admitting that he had been bullied himself when he was younger. Personalising it further, his brother, ex-teacher and friends are all featured in the video.
Michael’s mother and Nana are due to arrive on Friday to support him in Saturday's live final.
Michael is also hoping to take a ride in a hot air balloon and looking forward to visiting Jerusalem with other competitors and press on Wednesday. He is also going to be guest of honour at a special at the British Embassy party, where he will perform live for the press and Embassy staff.
*Later this week, we’ll be reporting on more of Michael’s activities, and offering some insights into the performances battling to be in the top five on Saturday. Video by Darron Copeland.