When I was asked to suggest a candidate to perform at Australia's (now confirmed) 2022 national final, 'Eurovision - Australia Decides', one name sprang to mind: Johnny Manuel.
Yes, I'd love to see Dami Im throw her hat back into the Eurovision ring. Would I love to see, amongst others, Electric Fields, Jaguar Jonze, Casey Donovan and Diana Rouvas back on that Gold Coast stage? Absolutely!
But if we're looking for someone new to join the Australian Eurovision family, then Johnny Manuel gets my vote.
And a quick look at his credentials, I think, supports that choice.
Has he got a beautiful voice with a stunning range? Yup!
Can he bring the "wow" factor to a live performance? Yes siree!
Does he have experience on the Eurovision stage? He sure does!
What about that all-important likeability factor? No problemo there!
And would he continue Australia's strong record of representing diversity? He sure would!
Who is Johnny Manuel?
Johnny Manuel is a 36-year-old singer-songwriter from Flint, Michigan (USA).
After signing a record deal and releasing his debut album whilst still in his teens (!), Johnny toured the United States as a support act for major rap and hip hop acts under the mentorship of top record producer Jermaine Dupri, who has worked with, amongst others, Mariah Carey, Jay-Z and Janet Jackson.
However, it wasn't until much more recently that Johnny really garnered international attention, thanks initially to his incredible rendition of Whitney Houston's 'I Have Nothing' in the twelfth season (2017) of 'America's Got Talent', a performance that saw him receive a much-deserved standing ovation and worldwide acclaim.
Although Johnny did not make the AGT Finals, that clip was viewed the world over raising his profile significantly.
After relocating to Australia, he took to the reality TV stage for a second time in 2020, delivering - in my humble opinion - one of the most spine-tinglingly awesome blind audition performances in the history of 'The Voice Australia' with his cover of the Diana Ross hit 'Home' from the musical 'The Wiz'.
This time, Johnny did make the final four, having opted to join the team headed by Australia's debut Eurovision competitor Guy Sebastian. Although he wasn't ultimately crowned the season 9 winner, Johnny did win himself a host of new fans and receive countless but entirely deserved plaudits from the series judges.
Johnny went on to release the single 'Say It' which, like 'Blind Faith' (2017), came in the immediate wake of his television appearances. But the story doesn't end there! More recently, 2021 has already seen the release of two new tracks by the artist: 'Lost in the Music' and the lyrically-beautiful 'Sober'.
What does Johnny bring to the party?
Well, aside from undeniable powerhouse vocals, a range most artists would kill for and the ability to emote through song (a relative rarity, in my view!), there is no question - based on the video clips above - that Johnny can perform incredibly well live.
Further evidence of that live performance pedigree lies, of course, in his hand-picked membership of the "common framework" (yeah, still no idea here either!) that performed under the name 'Equinox' for Bulgaria at the 63rd edition of the Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon.
Whilst the song 'Bones' did just miss out on making the left-hand side of the 2018 Grand Final scoreboard (finishing 14th) in Lisbon, singing live before a packed arena and a global TV audience of some 186 million is no mean feat and further testament to Johnny's talent as a performer.
"But he's not Australian ..."
Yes, I'm going to address what perhaps for some would be the biggest sticking point to a Johnny Manuel bid to represent Australia at Eurovision 2022: he's not (yet?) an Australian citizen.
However, as Johnny made clear to a local Queensland newspaper earlier this year, Terrigal Beach on the state's Central Coast is his home.
Through his membership of singing group the California Crooners Club he met his partner Chris, whose family is from and still live in the seaside town and who has been a rock for the artist (a story told in the lyrics to 'Sober').
Nor was - quite rightly - being born abroad a barrier for two of Australia's Eurovision alumni (Guy Sebastian and Dami Im), and many artists at Contests past have represented a country with which they have far less of a connection than Johnny. Céline Dion for Switzerland and, more recently, Flo Rida for San Marino anyone?
So, will we see Johnny at 'Eurovision - Australia Decides' in late February next year?
Who knows? But this writer would be far from disappointed if he were to witness an emotive Johnny Manuel live performance showcasing his exquisite voice "just down the road" from his new home.