The first thing that strikes you upon meeting Thea Garrett is her flaming red hair. That is, of course, if you haven’t heard her sing, in which case the hair comes second.
Still in her teens, she has achieved much more than any Maltese artist her age could ever dream of, even if the whole experience of winning Malta Eurosong 2010 and representing Malta at last year’s Eurovision Song Contest wasn’t quite as glamorous as most people might think, or indeed as it should have been.
Enough, however, has been said and written of Garrett’s festival-related ordeals; so it made sense to look beyond those issues and find out how she dealt with the overwhelming challenge that being part of such a widely-followed international event must have presented.
“I must admit that winning the local festival came as a shock to me,” she says, adding that she still wonders about it to this day.
“I honestly never thought I would win. To me it was more a case of testing the waters and getting my first festival experience. I was just starting out, so I took part simply to get some exposure.”
Exposure is one thing she certainly got, thanks largely to her soaring, crystal-cut voice. Never mind the fact that not everyone embraced the idea of a birdman accompanying her onstage performance; bear in mind that this is the Eurovision, after all. Where else can one get away with an act like that?
“I’ve forever been a big Eurovision fan, watching and recording each edition religiously,” she says, perhaps in defence of her presentation, but more likely because “getting the chance to be on that stage was literally my dream”. And as I find out later, it isn’t her only one either.
Behind the glitz and glamour, she confides that some things could have been done better, but she puts it all down to experience, which is something she didn’t have this time last year.
“The thing is, I had to grow up very fast, because representing one’s country is a great responsibility to shoulder, especially for an 18-year old with no festival experience,” she says.
So, knowing what she knows now, would she still be interested in Eurovision ever again?
“Eurovision is a very big part of me, and I’m still interested in being part of it. Of course, when I do participate again, I’ll know what to watch out for.”
Garrett’s reign as Malta’s Eurovision Queen came to an end when she opened this year’s event with a performance of My Dream, meaning she now has more time to figure out her next move.
I have no doubt this will involve more music, and this time I am right, and not just because Garrett told me earlier that music has always been a part of her life ever since she came out screaming at birth.
If, like most of Malta’s population, you were watching this year’s Malta Eurovision Song Contest, you would have heard her soon-to-be-released new single, Frontline, which she exclusively performed during the festival.
More importantly, you may have noticed how the song veers away from the classical vocal style that drapes My Dream, and moves closer to a more contemporary urban sound.
“My roots are in classical singing; I’ve been studying and training with Gillian Zammit for the past 11 years,” Garrett explains, when I ask about the directional shift.
“The plan now is to establish myself as a singer; to step outside the notion of ‘Thea Garrett the Eurovision artist’ and develop the other aspects of my singing”.
And Frontline is as good a place to start as any. The song, penned by John Galea and Dean Muscat, has all the requisites that define a pop song, but oozes a certain elegance that should appeal as much to mainstream audiences as it will to Garrett’s established fan base.
Yet pop music and the Eurovision are but mere stops along the path that leads to Garrett’sultimate objective.
“I absolutely love musicals; Mum used to put on Annie or Oliver when I was very little, and that would keep me quiet,” she says.
The way her eyes sparkle when she speaks about musicals suggests this is a subject close to her heart.
“Very much so,” she confirms. “In fact, In Our Love, the duet I recorded with (Polish singer) Marcin Mrozinski actually came about thanks to Phantom of the Opera.”
She says how Mrozinski, who is a high-profile artist in his homeland, heard her warming up in Oslo (for the record,Garrett warms up by hitting the high notes of Phantom’s main theme), and wanted to meet her.
Their love for musicals led to them singing together at thePolish delegation’s Eurovision party, following which he told her they should do something together.
That something is In Our Love, penned by Jason Cassar and Sunny Aquilina (who also wrote My Dream), and due for release in Poland.
With two upcoming releases covering two different musical areas, Garrett’s plans are to pace herself rather than rush into anything – her goal, after all, lies beyond any place these two songs may lead her to.
“I’ve always wanted to be in musicals since I was a child, and I was lucky enough to have studied at Sylvia Young’s Musical Theatre School in the UK, which gave me a boost of self-confidence that I hadn’t felt before,” she reveals.
That boost was also partly induced by the fact that Garrett was picked to sing backing vocals on a recording by renownedSpanish Flamenco guitarist Paco Pena; surely another feather in Garrett’s cap?
“Of course, but as you can see, it’s not been a pleasant ride all the way getting here,” she admits.
“Fortunately, the good times far outweigh the bad ones, and I feel stronger and ready to move on with my life and my career.”