A 21-year-old singer from the North East of England with very strong connections to Athlone is set to make a bid to represent the UK at the 64th Eurovision Song Contest Final in Israel in May.
Michael Rice is grandson of Carol Conroy, who grew up in St Joseph's Villas in Athlone, before emigrating to Hartlepool over 40 years ago, and he is one of six Eurovision hopefuls who will take part in the live national finals of the prestigious song contest, “Eurovision: You Decide” on Friday night of next week, February 8 on BBC 2 television.
This is the fourth year in a row for the UK to select their Eurovision entry by means of a public vote, and Michael Rice admits to being “over the moon” at being one of the six finalists. Speaking to the Westmeath Independent this week from his grandmother's home in Hartlepool, a delighted Michael said he was initially invited by the BBC to attend auditions for the Song Contest on the strength of winning last year's BBC 1 Talent Show “All Together Now.”
“I had a six hour car journey to London for the auditions and I was 15 minutes late, so I was in a bit of a panic and I wasn't sure if I had done enough to get through, but I was thrilled to get a call from the BBC before Christmas to say that I would be one of the six finalists they picked,” he says.
The young Durham County singer is no stranger to performing, and has appeared on stage in such prestigious venues as the 02 in London, Wembley Stadium, Newcastle Arena, as well as making it to the bootcamp stage of the X-Factor after auditioning in February 2014.
The biggest break of Michael Rice's career to date came in March of last year when he won the Grand Final of the BBC One hit talent show “All Together Now” picking up a cheque for £50,000 sterling in the process.
“That was a wonderful experience from start to finish,” he says, adding that he hopes his appearance in the UK Eurovision Finals will open up a whole new world of opportunity for him. “It would be such an amazing honour for me to represent my country in the Eurovision Finals in Israel, so I am determined to give this opportunity everything I have.”
Michael was actually just putting the finishing touches to his new album when he got the call to go to auditions for the UK Eurovision, and he is hoping to release the album later in the year.
“He has always been music mad,” says his proud nana, Carol “and the whole family both in Athlone and over here in the UK are so proud of him, we support him all the way, and always have done.” Carol is planning to attend the UK Eurovision National Finals, which will be televised live from Manchester on Friday night of next week, along with her daughter, Stephanie, who is Michael's mother, and a family friend. His stepdad, Steven, and siblings, 19-year old Cameron, Ellie (14) and Ethan (9) will watch the finals at the family home in Hartlepool, as tickets for the live finals are “almost impossible to get” according to his nana.
Carol Conroy, who admits that her heart is “still in the Irish Midlands” says she still travels home to Athlone as often as she can, and Michael has visited Athlone also, and was even taken on a tour of the Dean Crowe Theatre in the town by his grandaunt, Olive Martin!
“We are very grateful for all the support we have received from extended family and friends in Athlone, and Michael has actually mentioned his connection to Ireland and to Athlone in all his media interviews over here,” says his proud nana “so we hope that everyone will tune into BBC on Friday night of next week for the UK Eurovision Finals, and will vote for him if they have the opportunity to do so.”
The format for the UK Eurovision Finals will be the singing of three songs by six singers, with each duo having to compete against each other by singing the same song in two different styles. Michael Rice will be singing a love ballad called “Bigger Than Us” and will be pitting his vocal talents against a girl called Holly Tandy from South Yorkshire who too part in the X Factor in 2017 when she was just 16 years old.
At the time of writing, Michael Rice remains one of the bookies favourites to win the coveted chance to represent his country at the Eurovision Finals in Tel Aviv, Israel in May.