A Galway star in the making is bidding for Eurovision glory – at just thirteen years of age.
Talented Moycullen singer Aimee Banks will make history as Ireland’s first ever entry in the Junior Eurovision Song Contest, which will be held in Sofia, Bulgaria on Saturday week.
Seventeen countries will take part in the event in what is the thirteenth year of the competition – and Aimee has already come through quite an audition to make it to this international stage.
Young singers and songwriters were invited to attend nationwide auditions, from which 32 entries were chosen to go forward in the televised heats on TG4.
Each performer was required to sing an original Irish language song before a panel of judges that included former Eurovision winner Niamh Kavanagh, Brian Kennedy and Stiofán O’Fearail.
And last weekend, the talented thirteen year old from Moycullen was chosen to represent Ireland in Sofia with Réalta na Mara (Star of the Sea) which she co-wrote with Niall Mooney, Jonas Gladnikoff and Brendan McCarthy.
The song, she says, is about “travelling home from sea, in the midst of the gales of the ocean not knowing if you will make it, hoping you have luck on your side and being guided by the ‘Star of the Sea’. It is a metaphor for life, there are rough patches but things work out.”
Aimee is well spoken, polite and appreciative; she listens to classical music and says her dream is to be the next Maria Callas – not your average thirteen year old.
She’s been singing since she was six when the family still lived in Killbegs before moving to Cartoor, Moycullen some years ago – too young to be part of things officially, she badgered the curate to let her sing in Church and ensured there wasn’t a dry eye in the house with her version of Sarah McLaghlan’s Angel.
Junior Eurovision isn’t the teenager’s first brush with success; this year alone, Aimee has secured eight titles at Ireland’s prestigious Feis Ceoil as well as winning the Overall Vocalist Award and Bursary 2015 for Midlands Feis Ceoil.
On top of that, she was recently awarded first place for the International Vocal Competition ‘American Protégé’ and will have the honour of performing in the legendary Carnegie Hall on December 19.
“I’m so excited, my whole family; my cousins and aunties and uncles are coming. I also have American relatives coming, and some of my Nana’s friends,” she says.
Her ‘Nana’, Nuala Quinn played a pivotal role in the young singer’s life. Aimee recounts that her maternal grandmother was her biggest fan as well as her biggest source of inspiration. Nuala was an alto choir singer and member of the Ancór music ensemble.
And that’s the one part of this that is tinged with sadness because her grandmother passed away last April. “This year has been amazing but it’s also been difficult,” she admits.
The close bond they shared is clearly evident; she speaks of her ‘Nana’ with fondness and love. Aimee’s mother says ‘Nana’ “would have been beyond proud to see her perform at the Eurovision and Carnegie Hall”.
Aimee released an album last year, she donated all proceeds from ‘My Classical Spirit’ to the Laura Lynn Children’s Hospice.
“Sadly, in Ireland, there are loads of kids dying with cancer; Laura Lynn is Ireland’s only children’s hospice where services are provided free to families of sick children,” she says.
Aimee was in Dublin to film a segment for RTÉ’s ‘Two Tube’, but remains unfazed by the hype. Performing it seems, comes naturally for the young singer.
“It’s not a chore for her, she absolutely loves it. Her dream is to perform in La Scala, the famous Italian Opera House,” says her mum, Alyson.
Alyson is understandably very proud of her daughter, but remains most proud of her caring and generous character.
“She won’t mention her achievements; she tends to downplay her success. The wonderful thing about Aimee is that she will always try to include everyone, especially her twin sister Anna and her younger brother Ross,” she says.
And as if to prove the point, when asked about her twin, Aimee replies “she’s an amazing singer” who prefers the jazz/blues genre.
Anna will join Aimee in Sofia, and not just as supportive sister but also to fulfil her role of ‘Arts Ambassador’ – whereupon she will read out the votes.
Aimee does not attempt to conceal the thrill and delight she feels at having her sister involved in the Junior Eurovision. “We’re best friends,” she exclaims.
The twins, accompanied by the entire Banks family – parents Alyson and Jeff and siblings Anna and Ross – as well as Aimee’s singing coach Michel Durham, will fly to Sofia this Saturday.
Entrants will have one week to rehearse and get to know one another.
“We will be with them (other contestants) all week” she says, adding that she will undergo four rehearsals during that time period.
Aimee’s dress for the Eurovision is being designed by Niall Tyrell of Bespoke Couture.
The show will be a live broadcast from the Armeec Arena in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, in a two hour ‘spectacular’ show which can be viewed on TG4, on Saturday week, November 21, at 6.30pm.