In May, Finland will compete at the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon. They’ll be represented by Saara Aalto and her song ‘Monsters’. It’s a pairing that seems so natural, but it’s a situation that took a hell of a long time to get to. A music career played out on television over a period that spans more than a decade. So many opportunities taken, each one as a result of the previous opportunity having not played out quite as planned. And yet with everything seemingly having happened for a reason. Culminating, to date, in this.
How Saara Aalto got to this point today is an interesting story. And here’s how it has all come to be;
01: HER FINLAND’S GOT TALENT INTRODUCTION
In 2007, the Got Talent phenomenon arrived in Finland. For its first series, Saara was first in line to audition (figuratively speaking – though in all honestly, we wouldn’t be surprised). After spending her early years working in Finland and abroad as a singer, a backing vocalist, a theatre actress, and even as a member of a group that tried their luck at going to Eurovision for Finland, Got Talent was Saara’s first proper shot at big-stage stardom. She auditioned with, and continued to compete with, self-penned Finnish language songs which she performed at her piano. The Finns fell hard for her talent, and she eventually finished in second place in the grand final.
02: THE FIRST ATTEMPT TO REPRESENT HER COUNTRY AT EUROVISION
Three years after her stint on Got Talent, and Saara contributed a song to the Finnish national selections for Eurovision 2011. She entered ‘Blessed With Love’, which, true to form, she composed herself. A tune that sounded like it was tailor-made to accompany a Disney film – and genuinely could have been, it’s really that good. In September 2010, YLE announced the artists and songs who would be competing, and Saara had made the list. She ended up qualifying from her heat, and making the final. But again, she placed 2nd (behind ‘Da Da Dam’ by Paradise Oscar). Sensibly, she used the opportunity as a platform to get more music out there. And later in 2011 she released her debut album, also called ‘Blessed With Love’. An album which she later found success in China with, having re-recorded the title track (and some of the other songs) in Mandarin. As one does.
03: HER VOICE OF FINLAND JOURNEY
Later in 2011, another international TV talent competition rolled into Finland – The Voice. And fresh off her Eurovision national final success, THE voice of Finland, Saara Aalto, decided to put herself through the competition process again. Anyone who has ever heard her sing, will know full well that she excelled at every challenge, song, and performance thrown at her. That is, until she made the grand final. Where she finished in second place. Once again.
04: STARRING AS PRINCESS ANNA IN THE FINNISH DUB OF FROZEN
Between Saara’s stints on Got Talent, UMK, and The Voice, Saara’s work as a musical theatre actress didn’t diminish, and she starred in national productions like Wicked and Jesus Christ Superstar. The big call however, came from Disney, when they asked her to play the voice of Princess Anna in the Finnish dub of Frozen. Uhhhm – YES! Though not a Princess Anna song in the film, our Saara got wise to the soundtrack’s big hit, ‘Let It Go’, performing the song on various TV shows and other gigs. And eventually going on to learn it in 15 different languages. Cos that’s a pretty cool thing to be able to say – and watch;
05: SAARA’S SECOND ATTEMPT TO REPRESENT HER COUNTRY AT EUROVISION
Right then. Let’s give this Eurovision thing another shot, shall we? I’m Princess fucking Anna, ffs. For the Finnish national final in January 2016, YLE once again held heats from which songs could qualify to the final. Saara swept through to the final with ease, with her (once again self-penned) song ‘No Fear’, mixing up her theatrical sound and style with elements of dance music. She gave an incredible, Eurovision-ready performance in the final, and went on to win the public televote. Hooray – a win, finally! Oh – no – wait, hang on. There’s a jury voting element as well? And they’ve voted for ‘Sing It Away’ by Sandhja instead, which came 3rd in the televote? Ok, so what’s the final score when it’s all balanced out? Sandhja wins. Saara Aalto comes second. This is exhausting. And beyond parody now. Time to switch things up. Time to see what else is out there. Outside of Finland.
06: THE UK X FACTOR AUDITION
Mere months after once again crashing out in second place in a Finnish public televote, Saara Aalto found herself in the UK, auditioning for Europe’s most famous TV talent show – Simon Cowell’s UK X Factor. She charmed judges and fellow auditionees with a stunning rendition of Sia’s ‘Chandelier’, and made it through to the next round. The next round was a little trickier however, as, like all contestants, she was handed over to a mentor. Her mentor though, was Sharon Osbourne, who hadn’t been present at Saara’s initial audition. And, failing to connect with Saara at the next round of auditions, Sharon sent her home. This being X Factor though, rules aren’t rules at all – or at least they’re changed and twisted every step of the way. Fortunately for Saara, 2016’s series had a ‘wildcard’ element. And due to insistence from Nicole Scherzinger (absolute queen that she is), Saara was given the wildcard slot for Sharon Osbourne’s category, eventually progressing to the big one – the live shows.
07: THE X FACTOR RIDE
Our Saara didn’t have the best start at the live shows in X Factor, bless her. Due to a seemingly disinterested Sharon Osbourne, and – well, a nation that voted for Brexit – Saara ended up finishing in the bottom two in her first week and second week. An impressive sing-off was enough to save her though, because really – WHO could out-sing Saara – and she made it to a third week. And that’s where the team behind her (we’ll give Sharon no credit here, cos at this point she was literally calling Saara by the wrong name AND referring to her as Norwegian, live on air) decided to switch things up. They decided to play up to Saara’s playful, eccentric personality. And went FULL. BAT. SHIT. CRAZY with it. The charm of Saara finally started to shine through in each of her performances, and in weeks three and four, she actually finished second (lol) in the vote. A minor blip occurred in week five, when she finished in the bottom two again, but obvs she recovered from that just fine. And from then on in, she sailed through each week and eventually made the grand final. She ended up finishing second, because where else. But she became a star in a whole new country, and a national treasure in her native Finland. And it turned out to be the best thing she ever did. So far, anyway.
08: POST-X FACTOR SUCCESS
Following on from her runner-up status at UK X Factor, Saara Aalto’s 2017 mainly consisted of capitalising on this at home and abroad. In the UK and around Europe, the LGBTQ circuit took her in most, and she headlined and performed at countless Pride festivals all over the continent, plus the annual, televised QX Gay Gala in Sweden (performance below). Back in Finland however, every TV show wanted a piece of her. And most of them got it. She also made a return to Finnish TV talent shows. Though, mercifully, this time not competing in them. On Tähdet Tähdet, she got drafted in as a guest coach on ‘musical theatre week’, and she even got to perform as the interval act at the live show that week, singing ‘Defying Gravity’ to adoring TV viewers. On top of this, Finnish X Factor (now in its second series) sensibly drafted her in as a full-time judge – because in Finland, Saara Aalto IS the X Factor, thank you very much. You can watch a clip of her on the judging panel, offering advice to a Saara Aalto super fan right here.
09: THE SONG SELECTION FOR EUROVISION 2018
In mid-2017, Finnish broadcaster YLE had to once again start thinking about the following year’s Eurovision Song Contest. And like every production team on every programme on every network in Finland, Saara Aalto was the name on everyone’s mind. They wanted her. And there was only one way to get her. So in an unprecedented move, YLE abandoned the traditional national selection for Eurovision, and told Saara that if she wanted the gig, it’s hers. The only catch was that the Finnish public would need to have a hand in choosing something – the song. Saara accepted, and the race was on to find suitable songs. She worked with the likes of Xenomania, Joy & Linnea Deb, Thomas G:son, Bobby Ljunggren, and Tom Aspaul, and eventually, three songs were selected by YLE and released in the weeks leading up to the national song selection. The banging dancepop anthem ‘Monsters‘ was an early favourite with fans, and in the run-up to the live TV show, it was trouncing the other two in YouTube views, Spotify streams, and Finnish singles chart positions. It was the obvious choice. But as we’ve already learned in this lengthy piece, Finland doesn’t always go for the obvious choice. In the end though, ‘Monsters’ won both the public vote and the jury vote. Special mention must go to ‘Domino’ though. Not only for being equally as brill, but also for finishing up in Saara Aalto’s spiritual position – second place;
10: HER EUROVISION SONG ‘MONSTERS’ PERFORMED IN 34 DIFFERENT LANGUAGES
And so here we are. Next month, Saara finally represents her native Finland at the Eurovision Song Contest, with the best song that Finland has sent to the contest in a very long time. ‘Monsters’ is already a huge fan favourite, and whatever happens in May, our Saara is already milking the opportunity for all it’s worth. At the end of April she performed a headline show in London, and last week also saw the release her debut international album, ‘Wild Wild Wonderland’ – an incredible record, check it out in full here. Also this month, as if to take a break from all of the plans around May’s pyrotechnics, lazers, costumes, wind machines (ok, this is mainly just us daydreaming here), Saara released a video to take it all back to where it started. Her, sat at a piano, to perform a song that she had co-written. Here she is singing her Eurovision song ‘Monsters’, in 34 languages – all of the languages of the 43 countries competing in Eurovision this year. An enormously impressive, truly breathtaking performance that reminds us of how much of a talented artist she really is. She’s worked tirelessly to get to this point today, and we’re fully behind her for a win in Lisbon. And everything beyond!