Although Sahlene (Anna Cecilia Sahlin) is only 26 years old, she already has a long career behind her. Born into a family of talented singers, the brown-eyed Swede appeared on screen at the age of nine as one of the main characters in a children's movie based on the book "The Children from Noisy Village" by Astrid Lindgrens.
She's performed at Eurovision twice as a backing vocalist. This time she will represent Estonia. Why her?
The Estonian songwriters from the band 2Quick Start couldn't find a singer to perform their song at the preliminary local contest, Eurolaul. The team had almost lost hope when they turned to a Swedish record company a day before the competition.
Sahlene was highly recommended, and the Swedish publicist called her on the evening of Jan. 26 to ask if she could go to Estonia. Sahlene was very surprised and wondered whether she could represent another country at all.
She listened to the song, liked it, took a plane at 6.00 a.m. the next morning, and did it. Although Estonian telephone voters liked other pieces better, the international jury decided on "Runaway," Sahlene's song, and she was in.
You've been asked a hundred times, but how do you feel about representing Estonia as a Swede?
I feel very proud. Most of the Estonian people have accepted me as one of their own. I think this shows a great hospitality, which I really admire. I was, of course, very happy when I won the initial Eurolaul contest, but I didn't think too much of the consequences. Now I can truly say that my heart really beats for Estonia and nothing else.
You've said that if Sweden didn't give you the maximum 12 points you'd move to Estonia. Is that true?
It was a joke. Maybe it was wrongly quoted or I said it in an ironic way. But we had a band in Sweden called Antique, which competed for Greece last year since their parents were Greek, and the Swedish judges gave them 12 points. So I hope the Swedes will support me this time, and Estonia, and give me 12 points. "Runaway" has had a lot of positive coverage in the Swedish press and the most influential music critics really like the song.
One of your biggest advantages compared to the Estonian candidates was your acting experience and your charm on stage. How important is appearance and performing skills at Eurovision?
I think it's extremely important. The song is important and the artist as well. That's what makes it so scary in a way. You have two minutes and 50 seconds to show it to the audience. One part is to be a good singer. The other is to have a great stage presence and show the audience what kind of artist you are. And also to try to get that out into a TV camera, which may not be the easiest thing.
Take the Latvian girl, for example. I'm not sure if her song is actually the strongest. But she's a very good stage person and people remember that. People decide according to who they like first of all. So I think it's a good combination that half of the countries have jury votes and the other half have popular votes.
The jury obviously consists of the most respected music people in the country and they have had the chance to listen to the songs over and over again, and give them a fair chance without seeing the artist or thinking that someone is looking better than the other.
Who are your biggest competitors?
I've only seen about 10 or 11 of them. I like the English song, but I don't think it's a Eurovision song. It's more like a radio pop song. The three transvestites from Slovenia are cool, and look so pretty I want them to score high as well.
Any songs you don't like?
Well, yes, the Greek song. They have these "Star Trek" suits. It's some kind of Greek-style Modern Talking. But it's fun.
Have you thought about your career? How long would you like to continue singing? Would you like another career?
I have thought about that a lot. But the only thing I want to do is music, because I've been brought up by musicians and I've been studying singing since I started walking. I haven't found an alternative career I want to do. I had good grades at school and I could probably have had a good education, but I chose not to. I want to follow my heart.
The music business can be very tough. I have had my tough years, when I almost didn't have any money. I told myself never to give up, even if it was hard. I don't think I need another career to think about, because I'm so determined that I won't ever give up. Even if I'm not going to be a big star I still want to work with it, maybe on a smaller scale, as long as I can survive.
But the other thing that interests me is archaeology. I might even take a university class in archaeology in 10 years, because that interests me a lot.
What are your impressions of Estonia's music industry?
I've tried to listen to as much music as I can here, but unfortunately I don't have an overall picture of it. You have some big bands like 2QuickStart and Ines, Maarja and that Slobodan River.
I saw at the Estonian music awards that most of the music was of the same category. There are a lot of bands of other styles that haven't really made it. I would like to see some really good Estonian hip-hoppers or rockers there, too. You have a very fine musical tradition and there are a lot of good classical musicians.
How do you feel about Estonia and Estonians in general? Was it your first time in Estonia when you arrived for Eurolaul?
Yes, my first time. I've been thinking a lot about why I hadn't taken a boat and gone to Tallinn, but somehow it never happened. My first visits here were only related to work and I didn't see much, so my first impressions were of people.
Swedes and Estonian are very much like each other. Estonians are reserved in the beginning and maybe a little shy, but after a while you can see they have good hearts and are genuine.
One thing I don't really understand - I say this although I know I shouldn't say anything bad - is the patriotism many Estonians talk about. That doesn't sound good to my ears. In Sweden patriotism is something that is not so accepted. It's related to not liking foreigners. But I've analyzed it a lot and I can see it has a different meaning here, because we have totally different histories. To say you are a patriot in Estonia is more accepted and good, because you were under Soviet occupation and were always being invaded by someone - by Sweden, for example. So I guess it means being proud of being an Estonian. If that's the meaning, then I'm fine with it.