Brooke Scullion has barely had an opportunity to draw breath since she was selected to represent Ireland at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Turin.
“It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever entered in my life,” says the 23-year-old, over Zoom from her home in Bellaghy, Co Derry. “I honestly had no idea what I was getting into. It’s unbelievable. I’ve never had as many experiences, so many opportunities. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done, genuinely.”
In Italy, Scullion will be singing That’s Rich – a witty kiss-off to a time-waster boyfriend which she wrote, as a lark, over Christmas 2020. The song placed first in somewhat controversial circumstances on the Late Late Show in January, when the in-studio RTÉ panel gave top marks to another entrant only to be vetoed by a panel of Eurovision experts and by the general public, voting from their couches.
Scullion takes a lot of confidence from the fact the punters had her back. She’d rather they supported her and that the ‘official’ panel was lukewarm, rather than the other way around. “If there’s any number of votes that you want from a certain body, the public is the only valuable one in my eyes. The European Eurovision audience voted me [full marks] as well. But it was the public that counted. If I received 12 points from the Eurovision jury and the ‘in-house’ jury, and a low one from the audience, that’s not going to inspire anyone to represent the country.”
Ireland could do with a Eurovision good news story. Having won three titles on the trot in the 1990s, Ireland’s recent record has been lamentable. We’ve finished in the top 10 just once in the past 14 years, when Jedward finished eight in 2011. Worse yet, Ireland has failed to reach the final on a disastrous nine occasions since the introduction of semi-finals in 2004. In that time, we’ve also finished bottom in the final twice. For the country that gave the world Dana, Johnny Logan and Michael Flatley and Jean Butler at the Eurovision 1995 intermission, it’s a lamentable fall from grace.
Scullion is nervous ahead of her semi-final this Thursday, where she goes on tenth, between Cyprus and North Macedonia. If she does well it will be an upset as That’s Rich is not among the favourites. Bookies expect Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra to sweep to victory in a show of support for the country after the Russian invasion. In fact, of the 40 entries, Scullion’s tune has the fourth worst odds. And with so much expectation, Scullion is frank about the pressure she’s under.
“I feel stress about lots of things. But every time I started to talk about the competition, I do get really sick. I can’t control what I’m doing yet. I haven’t done my rehearsal. And when I can’t control something, it is a very different experience.”
With a background in acting, she understands the importance of appealing to the cameras as much as to the audience at the 13,500 capacity PalaOlimpico venue. The trick is to win over the crowd whilst also delivering a performance that makes for memorable TV. “The thing is, there is an audience in the arena. And there are 200 million people watching behind the screen. You have to play to both. I’m going to play with a lot of camera angles. And make it a fun, lively performance that is going to catch people’s attention. Ninety-five per cent of people tuning in are going to never have any clue about anybody on the show. They’re going to watch on face value. At the end of the day, it’s a competition.”
Scullion isn’t new to performing under the spotlight. She placed third in the BBC talent show, The Voice, in 2020, when she was mentored by Meghan Trainor, whose take-no-prisoners attitude she has incorporated into her own music. That series has a nerve-wracking gimmick whereby judges sit in swivel chairs with their backs to the singers. If a ‘voice’ meets their approval, they swing around and give a thumbs up. And yet, for all its profile, it doesn’t come close to Eurovision for scrutiny, she says.
“ The Voice – everyone did everything for you,” she says. “Whereas, with Eurovision everything is on your shoulders. I know it’s only one song. And on The Voice you do loads of songs. But none of them are your own. And none will create the impact of Eurovision . Plus, no one has ever done well out of The Voice, apart from Becky Hill. You look at Eurovision and you’ve got Céline Dion, Abba, Måneskin. It’s such a great opportunity.”
Scullion was born in March 1999 and studied drama at Ulster University before working briefly as an estate agent. Music is her first love – but she has also pursued acting, with small parts in Derry Girls and Game of Thrones.
“I was on Game of Thrones for eight months. And all of season two of Derry Girls. I thought I was going to be an actor. The whole singing thing, I didn’t think my voice was strong enough or that I would be able to do this competitively against people. But I knew in the industry somewhere there was a place for me. I thought acting was the future. The Voice thing came from my friend entering me for it. I’ve always sang. But I thought this [a career] was completely unattainable.”
She’s is already feeling the pressure – and in s