Thursday, March 5, 2009
The small archipelago of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea takes the Eurovision Song Contest very seriously. Leading a fight to remove a cap on the number of competing countries brought them back to the Contest in 1991 after a 16-year absence, and ever since the nation has had perfect attendance.
Since then, Malta’s dependable “shining star” has been Chiara Siracusa, who goes by her first name in her music career. First competing in 1998 at the age of 21, she was pushed to the brink of victory until the votes from the final country that evening leveled her placement to third. Her rendition of the song “The One That I Love,” and the recognition she received not only for herself, but for her country, made her a star in Malta overnight, and helped her launch a singing career in Europe.
She would later return to the Contest in 2005 with “Angel,” an anthem she penned herself, and achieved second place. Now, in 2009, she will be going back to Eurovision for a third try, hoping for the “3-2-1” charm and a victory — something that has eluded her thus far. Her entry, the ballad “What If We,” has special memories for Chiara; it is dedicated to her father, who is recently deceased.
What if Chiara could take home the gold in Moscow; for Malta, for her father, and for herself? Only time will tell. Chiara took time out of her Eurovision promotional schedule to answer some questions from Wikinews’ Mike Halterman about her past performances, and most importantly, her upcoming one.
((Mike Halterman)) You’ll be going to Moscow for a third try at possibly winning Eurovision. Why did you decide to compete this year? How did your partnership with Marc Paelinck and Gregory Bilsen come about?
Chiara: Well, I met Marc Paelinck long time ago through a friend in Belgium. We started working together and it brought us to this collaboration today. I was thinking of going back to the festival [for a long time] and this year felt like the right year to do so.
((Mike Halterman)) Eurovision fans from across Europe picked you as the wide favorite to win Malta’s preselection this year. Were you as confident? Were you nervous about competing in the semi-final rounds this time around, or did you think this was something you could handle?
Chiara: When I go into a competition, I always go to win, but I was nervous like everyone else…I think [when] you win a festival, [you win] for what you present, not for what your history is.
((Mike Halterman)) Growing up, did you always want to become a singer? Who were your musical influences, and what genres do you think are your favorite? Do you think these preferences have molded you into the singer you are today?
Chiara: Definitely. My mum always says I used to sing and dance for them all the time since I was a baby, and I’ve always loved ballads. In fact, my favourite singer has always been Whitney Houston.
((Mike Halterman)) How did you come to the decision to enter the Eurovision pre-selection for Malta back in 1998? What kinds of feelings did you experience during the path you took to eventual victory in the national final?
Chiara: 1998 was my first time in the festival. I was very young and I felt I could never win it. I wanted just to try and be there with the big names of those times. It was very scary and overwhelming, [and] then I won.
((Mike Halterman)) Did you feel overwhelmed performing in front of an international audience in Birmingham? What kind of personal feelings and emotions made you relate to the song you sang, “The One That I Love”? There were remarks afterwards that your performance was great, but your dress had similarities to Barbara Dex’s from five years before (and she has become well-known for her “fashion don’t”). Looking back on it, what did you think of that dress?
Chiara: Well…looking back I remember that I was completely overwhelmed [singing] in front of so many people. I was very scared but managed to do well. As for the dress, they were different times [back then] and it was beyond my control.
((Mike Halterman)) You came very close to winning the Contest for Malta back in 1998. When you didn’t, how did it make you feel? Did you feel “robbed”? As an addenda, some Wikipedians I’ve talked to have hypothesized that tabloid hype before the event helped Dana International win; in other words, she would not have won had she not been a transsexual. Do you feel that’s true, and did you like her song?
Chiara: I know a lot of Maltese who voted for Dana because they liked the song and for no other reason. The song was good and we still hear it today.
Obviously when you are so close to winning something and you don’t, yes, you feel a bit robbed, but [then there’s] the moment [when] you realise you did well and you are happy.
((Mike Halterman)) After Eurovision, you made a transformation from an unknown singing hopeful to a true recording artist. Tell us a bit about your transformation, and how you felt during this time. Also, around this time you started to perform in concerts and festivals abroad. What was your best memory from this time, when you were performing abroad and people from outside Malta not only knew who you were, but were interested in your life and music.
Chiara: Everything came like rain in my life, from one thing to the other, and before I knew it I became “Chiara of Malta.” I loved it, but I didn’t have much time to think about it. It came quickly; I went to a lot of places and sang with many people but I think what I will always remember is the concert I did with my band, where Seal was as well in the same event, in Frankfurt. It was incredible.
((Mike Halterman)) In 2005, you entered the Contest again, this time with a song you wrote yourself. What is the meaning behind “Angel,” and what kind of story do the lyrics tell about your own life and experiences?
Chiara: “Angel” is a love song and it will always have a special place in my heart. It’s about the love you give someone without wanting anything back, and the unlimited support too.
((Mike Halterman)) You achieved the best placing for Malta in Eurovision history with your performance in 2005. What did you learn from your experiences in 1998 and, in your mind, how did you improve to become more successful in 2005?
Chiara: I think it’s the maturity and the experience. [Through] the years, without knowing, you [gather] so many lessons and behave better and take things a bit more serious and so on.
((Mike Halterman)) Surely you’ve read not only supportive comments, but negative ones as well, particularly concerning your weight. At the same time, however, you have become a role model of sorts for fuller-figured women across Europe, who aren’t accustomed to seeing “people like them” at Eurovision. How did you deal with the negativity, both in the context of the Contest and in your personal life, and what message do you hope to give to full-figured women who look to you for inspiration?
Chiara: Well, I have always been “full figured,” as you put it. I have spent time in my life trying to become as thin as I could, but I could never make it. Through the years I have learnt to accept myself and love me for what I am and how I look. I feel I have nothing less than others and my advice is to be happy with yourself, and love yourself, because you can never get someone to love you if you yourself don’t.
((Mike Halterman)) Tell us about the emotions you convey in the song “What If We.” Every song has a story, so what is the story played out in this song?
Chiara: The story for me with this song is completely about my father. He was the one to contact Marc [Paelinck] and he was the machine behind Eurovision for me, so he’s entirely what this song is about for me and being that he passed away three months ago, well, it makes the song very special when I sing it.
((Mike Halterman)) If you had to absolutely pick one song, which of the three songs you’ve submitted is your favorite, and why?
Chiara: The three songs [each] have a story of [their own]. “The One That I Love” gave me my whole career, my fame and everything I am today so i can never forget it; “Angel” is too special because it’s like my baby, I wrote it myself; and “What If We” is very deep in my heart because of my dad, so I can never choose between them. Sorry!
((Mike Halterman)) What are your plans for after the Contest? What kinds of projects would you like to pursue? Have you considered launching a singing career in the United States?
Chiara: My immediate project after the festival is an album which I have already started working on, in my style [which] is completely ballads, then wherever that takes me I’ll go, [whether it be] the U.S. or elsewhere.
((Mike Halterman)) Finally, what would you like to tell all of your fans, awaiting your performance this May in Moscow?
Chiara: I would like to thank them for the ongoing support they have always showed me, and promise them I will give them my all on the performance night in Moscow.