21 year-old Michael Rice is an X-Factor veteran and winner of last year’s Altogether Now contest. An anti-bullying advocate, Michael is an all-round nice guy who gave his contest winnings to his Mum. He emerged victorious from the BBC’s Eurovision – You Decide contest last month with Bigger Than Us, beating a country/dance version of the same song (featuring some rather nice gyrating cowboys) to represent the UK.
In this, its “anthemic belter” form, the song has a lot going for it – a strong simple melody with lots of room for vocal extemporising, sweet short verses that lend themselves to emotion, a lower register beginning that moves up an octave, a good hummable chorus, a key change like a truck changing gear three-quarters of the way through and a universal message about love conquering all. However, it doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s a very satisfactory example of the “less is more” theory; reminiscent of Isaiah's Don’t Come Easy, but with no bridge and fewer lyrics. Bigger Than Us is melodically accessible, pleasantly predictable and is this year’s prime suspect for a mighty “cigarette lighters aloft” crowd sway.
(and let’s face it, with the UK there’s always a “but”)
… Michael Rice just isn’t doing it for me. That opening verse is pitched WAY too low for him, and without some serious practice in loosening up the vocal cords, he’s going to struggle on the night. Yes, he nails the big notes, but towards the end, you’ve noticed some rather annoying quirks; the Mariah Carey Hands, the kneel that doesn’t quite work, the “pointing out my trills”, the posturing and oversize clicking … it feels like he’s so self-conscious up there that he has to hide behind some hackneyed "Pop-Idol-by-Numbers" routine. I don’t believe he feels the words for a minute – there’s none of what Conchita would call “authenticity”, and once you realise his pants have had an argument with his sockless ankles, and some sadistic hairdresser has talked him into a really unfortunate amount of neck-stubble, it’s difficult to focus on a potentially moving song.
For the sake of what may be the UK’s last ever entry into Eurovision (seriously, who know what’s going to happen after Brexit?), I really hope he manages to tone it down a bit and let the music speak. Bigger Than Us is currently hovering around the middle in most “My Top 24” video compilations these days, but in its current form, I can’t see this song getting onto the right side of the score board. Not unless Michael realises that this song IS bigger than him, and stops trying to upstage it.