Lithuania's Jurijus Veklenko will perform his Eurovision song, Run with the Lions, for TV audiences across Europe (and Australia) on May 16, the second semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest.
Before departing for Tel Aviv on Sunday morning, the singer spoke to LRT last week, telling his fans about preparations for the contest, the changes in his life following the victory in the national competition, and the challenge ahead.
All the 41 participants are coming to Tel Aviv two weeks before the Eurovision is due to start, in order to rehearse on the grand stage at least twice.
Additionally, Jurijus will go on several press tours in Israel, give press conferences, and take part in the official Eurovision opening event this coming weekend.
“I am not nervous. I'm in a competitive mood, eager to step onto the stage as soon as possible, if only for a rehearsal, to look around and get a sense of what it's like.
“I've had no time to think about tension, April was all about running around and trying to be on time. The key is to stay sane and mind my health.
“These last days, I'm trying not to stress my voice, to be silent as much as possible, to talk in an even and low tone. I sound strange, an acquaintance said I should work at a sex line,” Jurijus laughs.
In April, he went to several concerts of other Eurovision participants in London, Amsterdam, and Madrid, where he performed his song and spoke to the media.
He says he hasn't made friends among the rivals yet, but is friendly with Kobi Marimi of Israel. Nor has Jurijus listened to all the other songs. However, when asked to name one he finds memorable, the Lithuanian singles out Arcade by the Dutch performer Duncan Laurence. “Because it has high notes and the mood is similar to my song's,” he explains.
His all-time favourite Eurovision song is Amar pelos dois by the Portuguese Salvador Sobral, who won the the Eurovision Song Contest several years ago.
Jurijus' first visit to Israel was in early April, to film the video that will be broadcast before his performance.
“Interestingly, I went for a walk in a market and, within minutes, people I did not know started instagramming my pictures.
“It was incredible – more than a month before the contest, but people were already recognising me. [Tel Aviv] is beautiful, the minute I landed I was glad I'd have two weeks to spend there,” Jurijus says.
In Lithuania, music fans knew his name before he won the national selection – Jurijus performed as a solo singer, took part in a number of TV projects, and was part of the band Rollikai – but his fame truly took off afterwards.
And he likes it.
“People on the street notice me more often, come up to shake my hand, stop me on the street to wish me luck, to thank me for representing Lithuania.
“It's a wonderful feeling. I walk smiling like an idiot for ten minutes after these brief encounters. I see sincerity in people's faces,” the singer shares.
Girls notice him more, too. Although Jurijus admits that he is still single.
Some people he doesn't know even offer advice for the performance in Tel Aviv.
“Some suggest I should wear a lion costume, other think I need Savannah grass or sand on the stage. But it will be all simple and pretty. Depending on the capacity of the stage, our show will be slightly bigger. But I'm not going to dance or show off my choreographic talents – let others do it, someone like Donatas Montvydas.
“We have several outfit options, we'll pick one once we're in Tel Aviv. It is going to be a simple outfit, I'm not wearing a suit. Suit and tie is my worst punishment. Torture for me is being invited to a wedding with a formal dress code,” Jurijus laughs.
He is not a Eurovision novice – Jurijus has already performed twice on the big stage, as a back singer for Andrius Pojavis in 2013 and for Vaidas Baumila and Monika Linkytė in 2015.
Back then, Jurijus says, the burden of responsibility was very light and he was not nervous at all. It's going to be different this time.
“I was madly proud to be on the stage then, too, but it felt like a dress rehearsal.
“This time, I'll be alone on the stage. There will be back singers, but they won't be visible. I've no one to hide behind – and I like it. This allows you to channel the song through yourself, to show it to the audience,” Jurijus says.
He refuses to speculate about how well he will do in the contest.
“No one knows if I will make it to the finals, but I hope I will. I'm there to fight and I know that I've got two hurdles to clear. First, the semi-final.
“I'd love to make it to the final and then, to be in the top ten. That would be a great result,” Jurijus muses.
He says he is not worried by the fact that his performance in the semi-final will be followed by the Russian Sergei Lazarev, one of the favourites to win Eurovision.
“It doesn't make any difference, my job is to perform as best I can and what happens afterwards is beyond my control. It would be silly to worry about that,” he shrugs.
When Jurijus is not performing, he works in IT.
“I work in an international company and I like this double life. Simple daily office work helps me stay on the ground,” he laughs.
And what does he do outside work and music? Jurijus' plan for the eve of his departure for Tel Aviv is to see the new Avengers movie.
“I am a huge fan of the comic books it is based on. I know that I will not be able to stay in Tel Aviv for two weeks without knowing what happens. I must see it.”