Does the future of pop have an Eastern European accent?
Before you answer, you should probably watch this video of Georgia’s Mariam Kakhelishvili. On Saturday the 14-year old singer will battle it out against national winners from 13 other countries at Junior Eurovision—the world’s largest song contest for children. Watched by more than 20 million viewers annually, it’s the miniaturized version of the wildly popular Eurovision Song Contest, which helped launch the careers of musical icons like Céline Dion and ABBA. (Watch videos of the Top 10 Most Outrageous Eurovision Performances Ever.)
In a bid to win Europe’s hearts and minds (and, more importantly, its votes), national broadcasters from Sweden to Latvia sink big bucks into their contestant’s music video which they hope will go viral. Mariam’s popularity in online polls suggests that Georgia’s PR blitz is working: the blogosphere has dubbed her “Baby Gaga” in honor of her eccentric idol Lady Gaga and she’s emerged as the front-runner in this year’s contest.
But Junior Eurovision is about more than funky costumes and the promise of pan-European celebrity. As Maia Baratashvili, the head of Georgia’s Junior Eurovision delegation, told TIME at the 2009 contest in Kiev: “The West is leading today, so the countries of the former Soviet Union want to see themselves as a part of Europe. We can compete. We have a talent, and we also have an aspiration.” (Read TIME’s article “Junior Eurovision: Schoolyard Crushes with Glitter.”)
They’ve also got some serious competition. Belgium’s 2010 entry—the duo Jill and Lauren—have released a glossy video for their song “Get Up!” It’s already been watched more than 750,000 times on YouTube, and the single has gone platinum.
TIME’s Eurovision correspondent will be reporting on-the-ground from the contest in Minsk, Belarus this weekend. Check back Saturday evening to find out if Baby Gaga prevails. (Update: Find out who won by reading TIME’s article “Baby Gaga and Tributes to Mama at Junior Eurovision.”)