Sheldon Riley is living his dream, representing Australia in the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest; an honour that comes with a massive amount of pressure.

“I’m running on adrenaline,” Riley says, “but honestly, I am loving every second.” Riley has just returned home after an appearance at a Eurovision pre-party in Israel, an event that surprised the singer by its sheer scale.

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“It was at the Menorah Stadium; 10,000 people. There were more people in that audience than there will be actually at Eurovision. It was huge,” he says. “It’s kind of like the Olympics. It’s crazy. People go all out. Outfits, PR, red carpets, everything. It’s mini-Eurovision, but not so mini.”

‘The Little Things That Make Me Who I am Play a Big Part in the Way I Perform’

 

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“I would never call myself famous, and I never probably will, but overseas people really know me, and I had to be on the ball at all times and to be super on it.”

“We haven’t had an Australian artist go over and attend these pre-parties and be a part of Eurovision for a few years now. It meant a lot for me to go over there and be involved. Everyone knows how much I have wanted this, so everyone is so proud that I have made it happen.”

Riley’s family are among his biggest supporters. “They know how long I’ve wanted this…I’ve got a great relationship with my Dad. I love my Dad to bits. He’s been really supportive, really proud. I come from a pretty religious and reserved kind of family, but at the same time, my happiness was very important to him. He’s been a part of my journey for a long time now, especially through The Voice. He was the one who designed a lot of the sets that I had in the background and the outfits that I wore. He’s been very involved in my creative journey.”

It’s A Big Part Of Being On The Spectrum

 

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Part of Riley’s journey has also been learning to incorporate being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome into his life. “I don’t think I would be the person I am today without it,” he says.  “I have never let it set me back ever…I have never told myself, ‘I can’t do this.’”

“The little things that make me who I am play a big part in the way I perform. When I’m performing, it’s just me. I can shut everybody out…I don’t stop working when I’m being creative; I don’t sleep, I don’t eat, I just keep going, going, going. It’s a big part of being on the spectrum as well. I understand the little things people said would set me back, and trust me, they still do, but overall I am very grateful that I am the person that I am.”

While Riley is proudly out, he says, “The gender of the person that I love has no effect on the way that I dress, the way that I sing, or the way that I perform…honestly, I don’t talk about it all that much because I guess I am just so obviously gay.”

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Riley gives much of the credit for his success to his partner. “I was a child before I met Zac. He’s very business savvy…He’s also the love of my life. I could not have done Eurovision without him…I’m very grateful for him everyday.”.

Eurovision: A Culmination of a Lifetime Dream

Being part of Eurovision is the culmination of a lifetime dream for Riley. “It means the world. I’m an independent artist. I have wanted to do Eurovision since I was a little kid.”

“It’s really exciting. Have you ever had a dream that you thought was super, super unrealistic and then it kind of just happens? I remember knowing when I was a little kid ‘you’re going to be up there.’”

Performing Original Song Not The Same at Eurovision

Riley’s extensive television experience with highly successful runs on The X-Factor, The Voice and America’s Got Talent has allowed him to focus on his one true dream. “I said to Iggy Azalea that I really want to do Eurovision. I said it to Adam Lambert. I said it to Boy George. I said it to Simon Cowell.” While Riley admits that winning those shows would have been great, he just had one main goal. “I just wanted to be recognised enough so that I can compete in Eurovision,” he says.

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Riley is performing his original song Not The Same at Eurovision, which he wrote when he was 15. “It was kind of a congratulations to myself. I had come out to my family; I had a boyfriend, I had friends; all the things which I thought I would never have.” 

“It was never supposed to be the Eurovision song. I never thought I would be brave enough to put it out there because I never thought I would talk about autism or mental health, but I did. I chose it, and now I talk about it everyday.”

So where does Riley go from here? “I would like to be living in Europe full-time. I feel like I have found my people that understand what I do. I love Australia, and I will always call it home, but I find in Australia, I often find I have to explain who I am, and then people love it. In Europe, I don’t have to explain anything, and they are just happy that I am there.”

But first Eurovision calls, and Riley is ready. “This is my impossible dream. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for; not just waiting, but working hard for.”

The 66th Eurovision Song Contest featuring Sheldon Riley will be broadcast live and in primetime, exclusively on SBS and SBS On Demand from 11 to 15 May.

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