The Junior Eurovision Song Contest is a bi-product of the ESC, originally intended to inspire kids to write songs and perform. To give them an arena to try their wings and yet remain kids.
Up until 1990, children were allowed to take part in the real ESC as well. Monaco, Spain and Denmark have all played the "cute kids" card in some form, and a bunch of other countries have had successful, but not winning, entries of the same kind in their national finals.
Of course, the most famous singing child in the history of the ESC is Sandra Kim, only 13 years of age when she won with "J'aime la vie" back in 1986.
Sandra Kim - J'aime la vie (Belgium 1986)
Maybe Sandra's victory worked as inspiration because in 1989 two countries decided, simultaneously, to take the idea too far. Both Israel and France decided to enter singing children - Gili Natanael won the Israeli final while Nathalie Pâque was internally selected to represent France.
Gili & Galit - Derech ha'melech (Israel 1989 NF)
At first, the children were regarded with quite a lot of media interest and I suppose I was not the only ESC-loving child who found a hero in Gili or a heroine in Nathalie. They were there doing what I secretly would have wanted to.
However, during the week in Lausanne, the tone shifted and the press became more critical. Most reporters (as well as delegates from other countries) did not like what they saw, how these children were treated, how much pressure was put on these 12-year-olds.
Nathalie was yet to turn 12, in fact. The Swedish commentator made a special remark about the effort the French delegation had made in order to make the child look and sound like an adult, clearly showing he was not amused. Dieter Bohlen, composer of the German and Austrian entries of 1989, asked at a press conference who would pick up the pieces of the little girl once the show was over.
Nathalie Pâque - J'ai volé la vie (France 1989)
Maybe Dieter Bohlen wouldn't have wanted such a clear answer so soon after his question. Once the show was over, Nathalie Pâque broke in to tears, reduced from singing sensation to the disappointed child that she was. At least in Sweden, pictures of security guards trying to comfort the girl got more press attention than the winning song.
Another Swedish entertainment magazine described the week of the Israeli delegation as verging on child abuse. The composer/conductor had poor Gili rehearse at ever given moment, also between stage rehearsals. Come Saturday, his pretty boy soprano was tired and didn't carry anymore.
Gili & Galit - Derech ha'melech (Israel 1989)
The year after, the EBU decided to have a lower age limit, stating you had to reach the age of 16 within your year of participation. Some years ago, it was sharpened - now you have to be 16 on the day you perform on your final/semi final.
Back in 1989, "Derech ha'melech" was my big favourite. It made such an impression on me that I couldn't stop singing it. When I watch the preview clip, I can still feel the taste of a certain pear-flavoured ice-cream that I ate when I watched the previews with my cousin.
I related so much more to him than to Nathalie, probably because he was so much more obviously a child in looks, actions, movements. I think I even found him cute, even though I wouldn't have put that word on it back then.
In many ways, Gili is still my hero. He did the best he could, there and then. But I am very happy about the current age limits. Let children be children, far away from the Eurovision stage.