Sarah Bonnici won the Malta Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday evening and will be representing Malta at the annual festival in Malmö, Sweden in May. 

Bonnici performed the song Loop, obtaining a total of 102 points, beating out Matt Blxck's Banana, which got 80 points. Ryan Hili placed third in the contest with his song Karma, garnering 71 points overall. 

Bonnici brought energy, fun, and dance moves to the Eurovision stage.

The 25-year-old Gozitan singer started her journey back in 2009 when she first participated in the finals of the Malta Junior Eurovision Song Contest and placed third. 

She also participated in last year's competition with the song Heaven

Voting was split between a professional jury panel and nationwide televoting. 

Photo: Chris Sant FournierPhoto: Chris Sant Fournier

Bonnici's performance won over the judges who awarded her the highest scores with a total of 79 points. 

But Matt Black emerged as an audience favourite, with the highest share of televoting votes, 29, going to him. Blxck briefly held a one-point lead above Bonnici, where he topped the list momentarily with 80 points. 

However, Bonnici's strong lead with judges' votes pushed her into a comfortable lead with an additional 23 points from the audience vote, securing her the win. 

Ryan Hili, a former X-Factor Malta winner remained steady in third place, getting 51 points from the judges and 17 votes from televoting.  

Miriana Conte, Denise, Matt Blxck and Ryan Hili celebrate Sarah Bonnici's win. Photo: Chris Sant FournierMiriana Conte, Denise, Matt Blxck and Ryan Hili celebrate Sarah Bonnici's win. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Pre-recorded performances get a thumbs-down

Saturday’s finale was different compared to previous years, as the final was not a live performance but a live-on-tape performance streamed to audiences. 

Instead of performing in front of cheering fans and an eager audience, the artists' pre-recorded performances were aired at the TVM studios in Guardamangia. The singers provided their interpretations of their songs. 

But viewers taking to social media weren't shy about expressing their displeasure that the local competition had deviated so drastically from its usual form. Many said that they flat out did not enjoy the new format, particularly the fact that the singers were not performing to a live audience. 

“With all due respect to all the performers, but I don’t think that they deserved this after all the work they put into it, to have a final like this,” one woman said. 

“This is not a festival but a joke and without an audience it just sucks.” 

One man felt that this year’s edition of the festival was hell-bent on ensuring Malta placed “dead last” in the European competition, based on Saturday’s show. 

Another woman concurred that the lack of an audience took something away from the show. 

“In my opinion, the emptiness of the audience was felt, especially by the singers,” she said. 

“The sum of a song isn’t just a music video but also how it translates live with an audience. At the Eurovision, there will be thousands of people watching you.”

Denise. Photo: PBSDenise. Photo: PBS

Illness holds back strong contender 

The competition also failed to run smoothly for Denise, who hours before the show aired, took to social media to tell her fans she had been battling bronchitis. 

She said she lost “full control” of her voice and vocal range, which has had a severe impact on her performance. 

“I have even seriously considered withdrawing out of Eurovision Song Contest completely, till a few hours ago,” she wrote. 

“I have battled many emotions and doubted myself in more ways than one. However, although it wasn’t an easy decision to take after so many efforts, for many months this is what Mara stands for.”

She said due to the illness, the performance will not reflect her artistry but will reflect her perseverance and the meaning of the song.

Denise was eventually awarded nine points from the audience and 30 points from the judges.

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