TV preview: Will Europe be Smitten with Molly?

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In recent years, a succession of well-established UK acts have failed to set the Eurovision scoreboard alight.

In 2011, chart-topping boyband Blue hoped to secure a win in Germany with their song I Can. They couldn’t, and came 11th.

In Azerbaijan 12 months later, Engelbert Humperdinck barely made double figures, while last year in Sweden, Bonnie Tyler was totally eclipsed by the competition, including the winning Danish entry.

For the 59th contest, BBC bosses have changed tack and enlisted a relatively unknown singer from Leicestershire, Molly Smitten-Downes.

The 27-year-old will be flying the flag for the UK in Copenhagen on May 10 and performing her self-penned song, Children Of The Universe, in front of an estimated global audience of 180 million viewers.

If she triumphs, she’ll be the first UK winner since Katrina And The Waves with Love Shine A Light in 1997. And if she ends up with the dreaded nul points, at least she’s not the first British entry to do so (that dubious honour went to Liverpool duo Jemini in 2003).

“I wouldn’t say I was nervous just yet – mostly excited,” says Smitten-Downes.

“There are some really good songs and I think I’ve got some stiff competition. It’s not going to be an easy call.”

The singer, who performs as ‘Molly’, has some impressive credentials.

She’s been writing songs for a decade and studied at the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford. As part of the dance act Stunt, she achieved top 10 chart success in 2008 (with Raindrops, a collaboration with German DJ Sash), and she’s supported Tinie Tempah and Labrinth on tour. Smitten-Downes has also done the festival circuit, performing to about 25,000 people, but admits it’s “almost impossible to get my head around” the millions of viewers who will be tuning in to watch Eurovision.

“Hands down, it is the biggest audience I’ll ever have performed in front of – I don’t think it really gets much bigger as a platform.”

After submitting her music to the BBC’s Introducing scheme for unsigned and undiscovered talent, she came to the attention of the corporation’s Eurovision producer Guy Freeman, who asked if she would like to submit a track.

Given Eurovision’s reputation for cheesy staging and novelty acts (who could forget champions Bucks Fizz’s disappearing skirts, or winning Finnish metal band Lordi?), the singer-songwriter had some doubts.

“When I was little, I used to watch Eurovision, but for the last few years I’ve not really engaged with it much,” she admits.

“I wasn’t quite sure at first [when the producers got in touch]. I didn’t know if it was going to be just as a singer or if it was going to be some kind of awful song, a tacky novelty thing. I had a bit of a preconception of what it might mean.

“Then I spoke with them and it turned out that they didn’t have any preconceived ideas, they just wanted it to be a good song and they were interested in me as a songwriter.”

Children Of The Universe, which Smitten-Downes describes as “quite contemporary, with a bit of a tribal feel”, was inspired by Desiderata, a 1927 poem by American writer Max Ehrmann.

“I’ve always found it really inspiring and comforting,” the singer explains, after reciting some of her favourite verses.

“It starts off where you’re in a bit of a bad place and transcends into a sort of awakening, realising that you’re worth so much more than that.”

It’s unlikely that many Eurovision entrants take their cue from 1920s prose poetry, but Smitten-Downes knows there will still be detractors who turn their noses up at her involvement in the contest.

“People can judge what they want and they will, but I’m pleased with this song and I’m confident in it,” she says. “I’m not compromising my artistic integrity at all, which is really important, especially with all the negative Eurovision stigma that can come with it.”

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