It’s fair to say that the acts that take the stage at Eurovision relish the opportunity to perform here. But for Australia’s Sheldon Riley, taking the stage with his song 'Not the Same' is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
You know that thing in your mind that you never think you’re going to achieve, but you strive for it anyway? That was Eurovision for me. I never thought it was going to happen. I was one of those kids who’d read all of the blogs and watch all of the interviews. If I’m getting emotional, it’s because I’ve made a dream come true.
Sheldon’s coming to Eurovision with a deeply personal song with lyrics that he wrote when he was just a teenager. The self-affirming poetry that he wrote bubbled back up to him years later as he revisited old social media posts.
I wrote the song when I was 15. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s at a really young age, and I also grew up in a really reserved and religious family. I come from public housing, we had no money, and I was being told that there were so many things I couldn’t achieve. I told everyone in the world that I wasn’t going to be this quiet person anymore who’d be defined by what I couldn’t do. Once I did, I had friends and I was talking and I had a job, and I posted it on Facebook that I was so proud of myself. ‘You’re not the same, and that’s ok.’ Later on, I opened my old account and found this post, and thought, ‘this has to be a song’! And now it’s the song representing my country, and I couldn’t be more honored.
While Not the Same could certainly be interpreted as a message of LGBTQIA pride, Sheldon feels that the song goes way beyond sexuality, and is an anthem for simply being your most authentic self in every way.
I want to spread the message that you can be unapologetically yourself. A lot of us hide behind masks and would love to come out as who we want to be. I remember watching Conchita when I was young, and it was everything that I wasn’t allowed to watch. That was the moment that changed my life. There could be a little kid out there who’s watching me, and it would mean the absolute world to know that I’m just showing something that’s a bit different. Come out as yourself!
Now that Sheldon’s made it to Eurovision with a song that carries such an impactful message, he’s made the decision to go big visually, as well!
I’ve wanted to do this for so long, I told everyone that if I’m gonna do it, it’s going to be huge! I wore a black dress in the National Final, but I realized that the song really isn’t that dark. It’s powerful, and there’s a lot of light to it, so we wanted to switch the colour to white. I didn’t want the song to make you feel sad by the end, I wanted people to feel empowered. The dress weighs 40 kilos…it’s so heavy, and so big, with hundreds and thousands of crystals. No airline wanted to take it, it’s so extra! It’s like a wedding dress, but bigger!
Big, bold, epic…words that describe both Sheldon’s gown and his voice! Be sure to watch him perform Not the Same for Australia during the Second Semi Final of the Eurovision Song Contest on Thursday 12 May.