Initial Review: “Not the Same” by Sheldon Riley (Australia)

The single show contest that is Australia Decides was one of the ones cancelled in 2021 due to the pandemic, meaning that 2020 winner Montaigne was able to compete in the 2021 contest, albeit remotely. Last weekend the fledgling national final returned for its third outing on a particularly rainy Gold Coast, this time with 11 acts performing, the broadcaster having decided to add a wildcard selected from TikTok entries.

In what is now a common phrase in the Eurovision community, the bookmakers’ favourite Sheldon Riley “did a Jamala” by finishing as runner-up in both the televote and jury vote, yet still gathering enough points overall to win, just as Ukrainian singer Jamala did in the 2016 contest. He was narrowly defeated in the jury vote by Jaguar Jonze, the only returning artist from the 2020 contest, and lost out to Perth band Voyager in the televote. However, in Eurovision it is the balance between the jury vote and the televote which is a strong indicator of success, and Australia seems to have found that in Riley.

This wasn’t one of my absolute favourites going in, but I could see Riley’s talent and skill, and the performance lived up to that promise, with an outstanding vocal sure to win over almost anyone who appreciates that side of a song. Hopefully, the staging isn’t so dark at the actual contest, though. Riley definitely was one of the 3-4 acts who were ready for Eurovision, and I’m very pleased that he is such a fan of the contest. Australia still has a fair share of hearts to win over there given that each year there’s a chorus of complaints about the country not being in Europe (admittedly, this chorus is getting smaller by the year), so an ambassador like him can only help matters.

Thus far the general fan reaction has been positive, and I think all being well this should be a relatively straightforward qualification for Australia. The lyrics of this song describe the pain of being ostracised for being different, something which I suspect will resonate with several groups of Eurovision fans, and the staging has a dramatic element which makes the visuals memorable when the recap comes around. How well this does in the final will depend on other big ballads sung by men like the entries from Poland and Italy and whether this ends up being in direct competition with them.