Wicklow singer earns ‘absolutely incredible’ opportunity in Junior version of song contest
Ireland’s recent track record in the Eurovision has been nothing short of dismal. We’ve gone from topping the scoreboard to considering it an achievement if we make it out of the semi-finals.
But enough of the doom and gloom. Hopefully, we can fare a little better in this year’s Junior Eurovision.
The mini-me version of the high-camp song contest was launched in 2003 in Denmark and shares many of the traits of the main event.
This competition, which was the subject of acclaimed 2008 popumentary Sounds Like Teen Spirit, is open for performers from the ages of 9-14.
This year we are being represented by teenager Maiú Levi Lawlor, Greystones, Co Wicklow.
Maiú (14) won the televised finals of Junior Eurovision Éire on TG4 last month and will take to the stage at La Seine Musicale in Paris on December 19 with his song Saor.
It won’t be Maiú’s first time performing in front of a huge crowd, though. Far from it.
In 2017 he was one of the breakout stars of The Late Late Toy Show when he belted out Don’t Rain on My Parade from the 1964 film Funny Girl.
Four years ago, he auditioned for Britain’s Got Talent in the London Palladium. Simon Cowell was so impressed with his performance he requested Maiú sing a track from The Greatest Showman for his young son Eric, who was celebrating his birthday.
Needless to say, Maiú has a serious set of lungs and knew he wanted to perform from the age of four.
“My parents brought me to see The Wizard of Oz in the West End. The lights went down and then that was it,” he says. “I knew that was the life for me.”
Within six months of seeing the show, he had learned the entire score by heart.
“From there he was always a song and dance man,” his mum Dawn says. “He had his pretend Fisher-Price microphone and would be giving it loads.”
Growing up, he attended local drama and performing groups. But Eurovision, Maiú says, is on a different scale to anything he’s ever done before.
“I am nervous but I think the excitement overrides it. It is something I always wanted to do and it is such a joy.”
The second-year student applied in 2019 for Junior Eurovision Éire and made it through, but the competition was delayed due to Covid. While this was frustrating, lockdown gave him the time to “press pause”, focus on his songwriting and learn the piano.
When his name was called out in the finals, Maiú was overjoyed. “It felt absolutely incredible. I really couldn’t get over it,” he says.
His classmates at Coláiste Ráithín in Bray were delighted too – his win resulted in them all getting a ‘no-homework’ pass for the day.
“The whole school was buzzing, they even played the song in the canteen. Everyone was cheering. It was such a wonderful experience. The head principal came on the intercom and he actually said, ‘I am going to give everyone the day off homework to congratulate Maiú’.”
Maiú lives with his parents Dawn and Sheila and younger brother Reuben (9). His family has been obsessed with Eurovision for as long as he can remember.
“It was always a huge thing in our house,” he says. “We are the type of family to get out pieces of cardboard to write up the scores during the voting.”
The entire family will be heading over to Paris for the Junior Eurovision, and Reuben will also have a starring role, announcing the Irish tele-voting results live on the night.
Dawn says she is still getting used to her new role as ‘momager’ to Maiú, although she is about as far from a pushy stage parent as you can imagine.
Dawn and Sheila always follow Maiú’s lead and wait for him to show interest before rallying behind him.
“He sets the pace,” Dawn says.
They are realistic, however, recognising rejection can be part of the cut and thrust of show business, and this can be particularly tough for young performers.
However, Maiú is fortunate not to have experienced any negativity yet. Dawn thinks this is because younger generations are more open-minded and supportive of one another.
“They embrace difference,” she says.
Not so long ago in Ireland, growing up with two mums could have resulted in a degree of prejudice. But Maiú says thankfully that has not been the case for him.
“People have been very accepting. I am quite lucky actually to be surrounded by those people,” he says.
Maiú was eight years old when the historic referendum on marriage equality was passed with a 62pc vote in favour. Dawn says the vote was hugely important.
“That was a wonderful thing. To know, for a family like ours, that you had the support of your country,” she says.
“I think especially because the kids were small and there was something very nice about having experienced that.
“Knowing that you are an accepted part of society. And there are so many people out there who felt so strongly to go out and put their tick on the ballot paper.
“I suppose the perception was that Ireland was light years behind the times. But then in a very short period, we were at the top.
“We were one of the first countries in terms of a public referendum and that’s something every Irish person should be proud of.”
Sticking with the guidelines of the competition, the song Maiú sings is partly sung in Irish. It is inspired by the lockdown and the palpable sense of freedom that comes as restrictions ease.
“I think everyone can relate to it because it’s something we are all going through together,” he says.
“There is a long way to go but we are strong and the message of the song is you can’t make us disappear, which everyone can relate to on their own level.”
:: The Junior Eurovision will be broadcast on Sunday, December 19, at 3pm on TG4