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Maarja-Liis Ilus Full name:
Maarja-Liis Ilus
In Tallinn, Estonia,1980-12-24
Family: Märt (dad), Merle (mum), Ingrid (sister)
Best subject in school:
Hardest subject in school:
Maths and chemistry
Maarja's Car:
Fiat Brava
Squash, movies, theatre, ballet, fashion
Favourite vacation destination:
Dream destination:
Australia and Japan
Favourite colour:
Favourite artist:
George Michael
Favourite actor:
Nicolas Cage and Demi Moore
Dreams and aspirations:
"That my album "First In Line" will sell a lot and that people will like my music."
Maarja-Liis Ilus

Maarja-Liis Ilus Maarja sings lush pop songs that stick like glue. It's not surprising, then, that she's an international pop sensation. The surprising thing is where this pop sensation is from: Estonia.

"Estonia is just south of Finland and east of Sweden, across the Baltic Sea", explains Maarja, whose name is pronounced Mar-ya. "It's one of the three Baltic States, and it was the first to break away from the Soviet Union in 1991. I was quite young at the time - ten years old - so I don't remember much about it. I do know that it was very hard to get anything from the shops, we couldn't travel and I couldn't do the things I'm doing now".

"I'm the first Estonian in pop music to have an international career", she says in measured but perfect English, one of five languages she speaks. And she's well aware of the responsibilities that come with that unusual position: "I know people are expecting a lot, and I really don't want to disappoint them".

In fact, being a cultural ambassador has its complications. "The population of Estonia is very small, one and a half million people", she points out. "But that's still a lot of opinions to contend with. There are Estonians who don't like that I sing in English, and there are others who think what I'm doing is great. It's always that way, though, no matter where you're from; there will always be people who love you and people who don't. I just have to accept that and be myself".

Maarja has gone through many years of training as a performer, including eight years of classical piano study. "My mother was a singing teacher," she elaborates. "When I was very young, she put me in a singing group for children". This experience, as well as her warm, winsome voice, are showcased to great effect on Maarja's debut album, First In Line (released by Geffen Records Aug. 25, 1998). Maarja In Eurosong 1997 In Dublin, Ireland
The disc features "Hold Onto Love", which Maarja took to the finals of the prestigious Eurovision Song Contest in 1997 (she also made the finals in 1996). "The songs are all very different", she says, "but when I sing, I go to the deepest part of myself, and that's the same on every song. That's how I make each one my own". (Three of the songs on the American album - "Candle", "Tell Me Why" and "I Wonder" - are her own compositions or collaborations).

Despite the achievement of this first album - it has topped charts in Japan and received significant airplay in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Germany - and her busy schedule of performances and promotional events, Maarja insists she's just a normal teenager. "Maybe I appear older than I am to some people because I have a profession and because I spend much of my time working with adults. I do have to think about things that most teenagers my age don't, she concedes. "But when I'm with my friends, I don't think about my career; I lose control and get crazy. We go to the movies and do the same things other young people do.

Maarja She says she'd like to study law someday to better understand the intricacies of the music business, but for now artistic aspects of her chosen field. "My aspiration is to keep on singing", she confirms. "I want to constantly push myself to improve. No matter what I do, I will always love music and the opportunities it has brought me".

Chief among those has been her ability to travel. She recalls: "When I was seven, my parents went to the United States. It was very hard to do at that time. They left with one suitcase and came back with seven! There was so much to buy, and I was crazy about the things they brought back. They told incredible stories and showed me pictures of thinks I never could have imagined - the shops, the restaurants, everything America has to offer. It's such a thrill to be able to go there myself on my own adventures".

That level of appreciation is a constant in Maarja's life. She attributes it to the difficulties of growing up in a country where people did not enjoy the freedoms most Americans take for granted.

"I'm very proud that Estonia maintained such a strong national culture in the face of Soviet domination", she says. "We had to do everything in the Russian way - we weren't even permitted to celebrate Christmas. But the point is, we did it anyway. Those sorts of restraints made Estonian culture even stronger because we had to fight to keep it alive. It was a very good lesson for me. I learned what it's like to not be able to do something you really really want to do. Being deprived of something you want so badly makes you value it much more when you get it. That's why I feel incredibly lucky to be able to sing and why I must always try harder and harder to do my best".

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