The Lithuanian Selection process “Eurovizijos Atranka” is well underway and this weekend we see Heat 4 where another 11 acts will compete for 6 qualifying spots through to the semi finals which will be held on February 9th and 16th, prior to the Grand Final in The Grand Studios, Vilnius on February 23rd
One of the Heat 4 artists is returnee Valerija Iljinaite. Valerija is 22 years old and splits her time between Vilnius and London. We managed to grab her in the middle of her hectic schedule to chat about her entry “Scars Are Beautiful” and the harrowing story that makes this song so much more to her.
Valerija, welcome back to Eurovizijos Atranka! We last saw you in 2017 with your song “You Made Me Glow”, how was that experience for you?
It was such a positive experience for me. I had my song produced by a Swedish production company, so I had a lot of support from them, also there were a lot of other people involved and their support was everything. I was so happy that we had such a long journey here. It was really a nice journey where I’ve met so many different people. The jury supported me so much in the competition and that meant really a lot.
Of course, you first came to recognition through the Voice of Lithuania in 2012 at the age of just 16 where you wowed the audience with your big vocals! What can you tell us about that time?
Yes, but not a lot of people know that I have participated in a couple other TV projects even before that. My first ever TV show was when I was only 14 years old, I participated on a project called “Lithuania’s Got Talent” which is kind of a copy of “Britain’s Got Talent”, I got through to the semi-finals there. After that there was a big project called “Choir wars” and I was invited to join one of the choruses. So even before The Voice I had a lot of experience on stage, on TV.
Of course, the attention that I received in The Voice was completely different back then. Honestly, I did not expect that this project would be so challenging in so many ways. Even though, I had such a nice time there. The creating team was really supportive and I met one of my teachers of life Merunas Vitulskis, who then was my teacher in the project and still is a friend, a teacher until today.
I think in some other ways, I was just too young to handle all the pressure that television, attention and social media even then did put on a young kids shoulders. That lead me to a period of deep depression and eating disorder. Show business is a tough place and the aspiration for perfection is really hard to handle sometimes.
You have spent some time living and studying in London, was this always in your plans?
Yes, I did. That was kind of my dream since early early childhood. Since I was a young kid I always wanted to spend some time, or even live abroad, but when I had chances I never felt ready for it. So my first time abroad was when I lived in the USA for about half a year. I was absolutely alone there and it was such an experience. I worked there and then stayed in New York, went to AMDA workshops, observed so many different musical theatre classes and workshops, watched many musicals. I fell in love with New York so much then, that I decided that I want to get back to that feeling. I was trying to get into a school in new York and stay there to study, but it was so expensive then and I did not have that kind of money, so I thought okay, I can go to London. It was such a long journey, but all in all I ended up in London a couple years later from then.
Studying there was a bizarre experience. I loved every second there. I think every young person should go to New York, London, Tokyo and cities where everything is already one step ahead. It really helps you grow as a person and an artist. I still live between London and Vilnius, always flying back and forth, because I met a lot of people and there are some projects I am still working on in London and well in Lithuania I have to keep on working with my career already.
Moving on to your song for 2019 now, “Scars Are Beautiful”. It has a very impressive pedigree being written by national final veterans Ylva & Linda Persson and with lyrics by Charlie Mason who wrote, among others, “Rise Like a Phoenix”. How did this song end up being your entry?
Well when I first heard this song, the thing that caught me was the lyrics. I did not like the arrangement that I heard because it was completely not my style, but I knew how I would like it to sound. And I knew who I want to do it with. So the sound that you hear today is done by one of the best of today’s music producers, in my opinion, Kaspars Ansons. He did such an amazing job with this song, the song has so much power now. I think the song is written with so many feelings and depth in it. I did not know that Charlie wrote the lyrics of the song until very late on, I think it was when we were planning the music video. But of course, it added some courage and confidence to the whole team. Ylva and Linda are good with creating teams and collaborations, so yes, the whole project is pure joy for all of us.
“Scars Are Beautiful” is a mid tempo powerhouse of a track which, I think, showcases your vocals beautifully, what does the song mean to you?
I think it does not show off my vocals at all! I believe that the songs that show off my vocals are musical theatre, or operetta songs. But this song is all about lyrics, meaning, the message. We did present an acoustic version in Lithuanian morning show, that was absolutely different from the original. But the Eurovision version is all about message. This song is like a final closing of the chapter where I talk about the dark period of my life, when I was ill, when I had depression and eating disorders.
With this song I am closing that chapter and making a promise to myself to never open it again. So this is what it means to me. A final acceptance of my scars and all the past. This is where I am finally letting myself fly and dance, as you can see in the video.
The official video for the song takes place in a theatre and includes a spoken-word beginning which I found quite dark and painful to listen to. What was the inspiration behind this and the video as a whole?
The inspiration was my journey. Here in Lithuania, when I opened up about having an eating disorder and having a break from television and stage, it resonated with a lot of people. The inspiration is my own life and the monologue in the beginning is an honest confession made of the sounds I used to hear in my head. I wanted to show the darkness. Like if you would analyze the video well, you would see that there is a part of me which is just watching a show that is happening on the stage and not even participating in it, there is a part of me that is playing with the mirror and trying to catch the dark side, but it hides all the time. And there is a confident woman with a crown, which is me today, a grown up woman telling her teenage stories and saying good bye to them with acceptance, scars are beautiful – she will never hide them, she will show them off, because that is what she made off today, that is who she is today, with all the experiences, with all terrible things, but that is who she is, and she is smiling, she will never look back.
For your appearance in Heat 4 this coming Saturday, what can you tell us about how you will present “Scars Are Beautiful”?
My performance was directed by my dear friend and colleague choreographer Paulius Sinkunas. I completely trust him and we have such a good vibe creating things together. I understand him and he understands me. There will be a dancer and well, I will also be dancing a little bit. I think it will be a dark warrior performance.
We know that you have history with the Eurovision Song Contest, having performed with Alexander Rybak amongst others, but what does Eurovision mean to you?
Yes. Alexander was a very nice person. I was really shy and young when I met him, so he was really supportive and happy for me. He said that if I can be the same person all the time I will achieve a lot of things in the future, only because there are not a lot of people who are honest and true in this industry. I think I kept my promise to him, and I am still (or again) the same young girl I was back then in 2012.
Eurovision is my childhood dream which I will achieve by any price. Even if it will take 10 or 20 times, because what I’ve learned in my life is that only the ones that never give up in this life achieve everything they want to. The most important thing for me is to have song that I do believe in, if I have one – I will participate and participate until I win. There are no compromises on that.
And finally, what do you have in store for us in 2019, beyond Eurovizijos Atranka?
When I got accepted to London College of Music I had to postpone my album’s recording and release, so my biggest plan now is to continue recording it and finally have it released… I have many songs that people will have a chance to hear very soon! Also soon there will be a very interesting TV project which I will be joining together with a talented colleague. I can not wait 😊
Thank you Valerija for such an open and honest account of your journey so far. We wish you all the best with your continued recovery, and of course, for Eurovizijos Atranka!
Watch the official video for “Scars Are Beautiful” here, and remember Valerija’s story when you do…
Watch Eurovizijos Atranka Heat 4 tonight from 2000CET using this link and don’t forget to follow us on ESCBubble as we live blog the show and bring you the results as they happen.
We will also have a team at the Grand Final on February 23rd bringing you exclusive content, live from Vilnius 😊