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Thea Garrett's dream night

Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi.

Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi.

Eurosong newcomer Thea Garrett thought veteran contestant Lawrence Gray would win the contest on Saturday night. Never in her wildest dreams did she think that it was she who would carry off the crown.

"I thought maybe I would place third, fourth or fifth," said Thea yesterday, still trembling with excitement and the shock of winning.

In fact, she had already been thinking about a song for next year's contest.

"The song (on Saturday) is about my dream but I never expected to win. My plan was to enter the contest again next year, and little by little get more support and maybe, one day, win."

But it was first time lucky for the 17-year-old from Tarxien, whose song - My Dream - spoke of her aspirations to make it big in the music world.

"This is my dream, I want to make it really happen and make my dream come true! This is my dream, I'll make it if I just believe it," she sang in her extraordinary voice.

She has now been catapulted into an unfamiliar world, greeted by cheering neighbours as she returned home early yesterday morning. There were congratulatory notes stuck to the front door and amid the cheering the sound of a champagne cork being popped.

Yesterday was a whirlwind for the teenager, whose phone did not stop ringing. Just hours after waking up, she was on national television for Dopo Festival, a programme about the show.

An hour before that, Thea had walked into Unique Fashion Studios, in Paola, to have her hair and makeup done. Still wearing the makeup from the night before, her twinkling eyes gave away her excitement.

Her win had only just started to sink in. She had to watch a recording to really come to terms with it. "I asked my mum to pinch me to make sure that I was not dreaming."

Until yesterday morning, Thea, who loves to listen to musicals, did not even know the date of the Eurovision Song Contest, that will be held in Oslo on May 29. "I read it this morning in the paper," she said.

But this apparent nonchalance stemmed from her lack of expectations and not from a disinterest in the Eurovision. In fact, she has been recording the festival since 1997, when she was just four years old.

That was even before Thea sang her first note, aged five, mesmerising her mother, Marion, with what came out of her mouth. A year later she started taking lessons to develop what can today be described as an angelic voice, inching closer to her dream of performing in London's West End, preferably in The Phantom of the Opera.

Her first big break came last year when she was chosen to perform on stage with Gigi d'Alessio, who selected the teenager to perform with him a second time. Thea had turned the Neapolitan singer's Apri le Braccia (Open Your Arms) into a classical version, to better suit her singing style.

Her love for the classical genre is perhaps why she believed Lawrence Gray would win, she said.

The admiration is reciprocal. Yesterday the veteran singer said on television that had he won, he would have considered taking Thea with him as one of his backing vocalists.

The winning song was originally intended for last year's festival. But Thea could not take part since she was competing in Voice Of Tomorrow, where she came close to winning a prestigious scholarship at London's Royal Academy of Music after placing among the first 20 from some 22,000 contestants.

"I practised for another year...," she said, her voice trailing off.

The plan to take part in the contest had been brewing for some years, when Thea was 14 and first met Jason Cassar, who wrote the song with Sunny Aquilina. "I wanted to get some studio experience and went to Jason's to record the Ave Maria. He liked it and said that when I was a little older, he would write me a song for the festival."

Thea, who turns 18 in three weeks, wants the song's video to reflect her journey in music, which, she says, has not been all rosy. "Even though I have barely started, there have been people who tried to trip me up, stop me and use my talent for their own benefit," she said, although she would not elaborate.

She expects more rough times ahead as the winner. "I expect haters and lovers. All winners have to go through that. It is incredible how Maltese people try to put people down." But she is prepared for obstacles, admitting that she would not have participated otherwise.

One of her disappointments now is having to let down some people who had booked her to sing at their wedding. "I feel really bad about it," she said.

But she is looking forward to Oslo, a place that she has never visited before.

Asked what changes she thinks the song needs, Thea was quick to reply. "I do not want to change much because I like it as it is. Maybe we can add some instruments, but this is the song that people voted for, and it should remain as it is."

What will surely remain is the white seagull, performed by Jes Sciberras, that fluttered its wings behind Thea as she sang performed on Saturday.

"It is part of me and will remain with me," she said adamantly.

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