Hartlepool’s Michael Rice, 21, will represent the UK at the Eurovision Grand Final in Tel Aviv, Israel on Saturday 18 May.
The former busker and McDonald’s worker, who won BBC1’s All Together Now talent contest in 2018 and appeared on the X Factor in 2014, makes his bid with the rousing anthem Bigger Than Us.
Last month, we caught up with the rising star to talk about his moving new music video and turning the ‘gimmicky’ reputation of Eurovision in the UK on its head…
Eurovision is huge with the LGBTI community. Have your LGBTI friends and family been expressing their excitement?
Definitely. Everyone’s been so buzzing. I didn’t think it was going to be me to be fair. But it’s a big honour. We’ve just shot the music video, and the story connects with the LGBT+ community. It’s a tearjerker, a proper story! It was important to get the music video message across before Tel Aviv. It’s not just singing a song, there’s a message.
Why did you decide to do that?
Because the message to me, this song, it represents love and uniting people. Especially with everything going in Brunei, politics, Brexit – it’s ‘push it aside for a second.’ Every interview is like ‘Brexit, Brexit.’ But it really is just about music for me. I’ve got passion. This song means to me, you can be whatever you want, however you identify. So we sat down and decided what we wanted the video to be. I’m only in it for a split second!
My little brother plays a younger me. Then we’ve got a little girl who’s Thai. She moves to the school, she gets bullied, they become friends, her parents are two gay men. The little boy, his parents are totally against gays. These kids run away together one night after school on their bikes and end up at the planetarium. Then the parents find the kids.
Is this a message about your own sexuality?
Definitely not, no. I have a lot of gay friends who have really struggled coming out themselves.
So this is for them? This is about your straight allyship?
Great! So what’s next for you?
All the traveling. Rehearsals. Meeting the backing singers. I’ve heard they’re amazing. The album will be coming out soon.
What’s your message to people who aren’t watching Eurovision because of the host city or are calling for others to boycott it?
First of all, it’s a music competition, and I’m just a musician. I’m just going to sing a song. This competition was started because of the World War, and bringing everyone together. It should just be about music and it shouldn’t be about politics. Politics, just take a step back a bit and focus on music. There’s some really talented musicians in the world.
Is it something you’ve thought about a lot?
It’s all new to me. I’m only 21. I’m not really into politics and all that. I don’t have any political family members. But even before winning the show [Eurovision: You Decide], everyone was talking about it.
How are you feeling, separately from that?
Really excited. It’s been a crazy few weeks of traveling Europe. We’ve been to Israel, Croatia, Amsterdam. TV shows: Lorraine Kelly, Graham Norton… the list goes on. It’s just mad. More than I ever imagined. I never thought I’d have fans for a start.
What have been your best and worst fan interactions?
I haven’t had a bad one! I went out last night for a cig, and one of the fans came over and was hugging me… Someone from the BBC had to get them off! They were like, ‘I love you! I will vote for you from Poland!’
Who have been your most-loved Eurovision entrants of years past?
Definitely Dami Im, Australia – she’s an amazing vocalist. I met her last year. She was totally different to everyone else. My first memory of Eurovision was my mum showing me ABBA on the laptop!
Where were you two years ago?
Working at McDonald’s, busking, getting buses from Hartlepool to London to busk outside St Paul’s Cathedral! It’s mad to think how far I’ve come in such a short space of time.
You’ve spoken before about experiences of bullying. Have you had any negative feedback since winning Eurovision: You Decide?
Some people have the same mindset of ‘nil points’, ‘Brexit’, politics… But it’s just changing perspective on the whole of Eurovision itself. I was with Bilal – as soon as he won that show he was famous in France. In the UK, people see Eurovision kind of as a gimmick.
Do you think it’s older people being critical?
I think so. These younger fans are really supportive!
Catch Michael on the Eurovision Grand Final on Saturday 18 May on BBC1.