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KIEV, Ukraine, May 14, (Agencies): A gentle romantic ballad challenged the Eurovision Song Contest’s decades-long reputation for cheesy, glittery, unbridled excess — and won easily.
Portugal’s Salvador Sobral sang his Amar Pelos Dois (Love For Both) in a high, clear tenor accompanied by quiet strings and a piano in Saturday night’s extravaganza, which was watched by millions around the world.
Unlike the 25 other competitors who performed on a wide stage backed by flashing lights, bursts of flames and other special effects, Sobral sang from a small elevated circle in the middle of the crowd, an intimate contrast to others’ bombast.
“Music is not fireworks, music is feeling,” he said while accepting the award.
Sobral won in a landslide, capturing 758 points, 143 more than second place.
Runner-up Kristian Kostov of Bulgaria wasn’t short on feeling — his powerful song “Beautiful Mess” was awash in melodrama, the singer appearing almost wrung out by romantic turmoil.
Moldova’s Sunstroke Project finished a surprising third in the 2017 contest with a bouncy, jazzy song called “Hey Mama” in which the female backup singers hid their microphones in bridal bouquets.
Francesco Gabbani of Italy had led bookmakers’ tallies for many days leading up to the final, but he ended up placing sixth even though his act seemed the epitome of Eurovision’s cheerfully tacky aesthetics — singing a driving number about spirituality while accompanied by someone in a gorilla suit.
Eurovision, in its 62nd year, is aimed at apolitical entertainment. But those sweet intentions were soured this year when Russia’s participation was scuttled by host Ukraine over the two nations’ diplomatic and military conflict.
Russia is one of Eurovision’s heavy hitters, tied with Sweden for the most top-five finishes this century. But this year’s Russian entrant, Yuliya Samoylova, was blocked from competing by Ukraine because she had toured in Crimea after Russia’s 2014 annexation of the peninsula.
Jon Ola Sand, executive supervisor of Eurovision afterwards praised the “amazing set-up” in Ukraine and Sobral’s performance.
He said the winner was “bringing music back to the Eurovision Song Contest.”
But the glitzy contest was marred by the ongoing fighting with Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko opted not to attend after four civilian deaths.
The annual celebration of catchy europop, ludicrous costumes and glittering divas watched by some 200 million TV viewers was being hosted by Ukraine for the second time.
Bulgaria’s big-voiced 17-year-old singer Kristian Kostov came second with a confident performance of “Beautiful Mess”.
Third was Moldova’s SunStroke Project with a raucous song called “Hey, Mamma” featuring a saxophonist in sunglasses and dancers in wedding dresses and veils.
The latest edition of the contest, that began in 1956 with just seven countries, offered the usual wacky stage acts and cheesy beats.
Italian Francesco Gabbani, who came sixth, invoked Hamlet and Desmond Morris’s anthropology book “The Naked Ape” in his song while a gorilla-costumed dancer boogied alongside him.
Romania came seventh with an unlikely combination of yodelling and rap while Azerbaijan’s act that came 14th featured a man wearing a horse’s head on a stepladder.
Macedonia’s contestant Jana Burceska failed to make the final but stole the show during the semi-finals by receiving a televised marriage proposal and screaming “Yes!” as her boyfriend knelt down with a ring.
Britain may be experiencing a post-Brexit vote chill in Europe, but pulled out all the stops with a big ballad performed by Lucie Jones, coming 15th.
Portugal was celebrating their big win Saturday with President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa saying: “When we are very good, we’re the best of the best. Congratulations Salvador Sobral.”
Ahead of the show, fans streamed into the venue, an exhibition centre outside the city centre, wearing flower garlands and draped in national flags while some waved rainbow gay pride flags.
“It’s just so great. Everyone loves it. And you just wanna be here!” shouted Jasmine from Britain, wearing a garland of ribbons and flowers.
For the contest, Kiev’s main Kreshchatyk Street was transformed into a Eurovision fan zone with a large stage, beanbags and European Union flags.
KIEV: Ukrainian police have detained a Ukrainian prankster for jumping onto the stage at the Eurovision Song Contest and dropping his trousers while singer Jamala was performing, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on Sunday.
The man, identified by Avakov as prankster Vitalii Sediuk, took to the stage draped in an Australian flag and flashed his bottom.
The incident was beamed to an audience of millions around the world and widely shared on social media during Saturday’s show, which took place in Kiev.
Amid heightened security, some 10,000 police were deployed on the streets, some carrying semi-automatic weapons.
Ukraine was hosting Eurovision amid a continuing armed conflict with pro-Russian separatists in the country’s industrial east that has now killed more than 10,000.
A top Ukrainian official said Saturday that “Russian invading forces” had killed four civilians in shelling hours before the contest started.
And that news led President Poroshenko to cancel his appearance at Eurovision.
He wrote on Facebook that “due to the shelling of Avdiivka and the death of peaceful civilians, I took a decision to cancel my presence at the Eurovision final.”
Russia was also conspicuously absent.
Kiev barred Russia’s singer Yuliya Samoilova because she had illegally entered Crimea to perform there after Moscow’s disputed annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine.
Russia responded by refusing to air the contest and viewers in separatist eastern Ukraine were also unable to watch.
Portugal was celebrating its first Eurovision victory on Saturday night, after Sobral won the contest with a ballad sung in his native tongue.
“When we are very good, we’re the best of the best. Congratulations Salvador Sobral,” President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa wrote in a message to the 27-year-old, who suffers from a serious heart condition.
At first glance, Sobral’s decision to forgo the elaborate choreography and heavy dance tempos favoured by most contestants in the kitsch contest had made him a long shot.
But his fado-tinged song “Amar Pelos Dois” scored a crushing victory, winning top marks both from the televoters and the countries’ professional juries.
“A page of history has been written in Portuguese this evening at Eurovision. Bravo Salvador! Bravo Portugal,” tweeted Prime Minister Antonio Costa.
Even football club Benfica took the time to congratulate the singer, shortly after their fans took to the streets in the capital to celebrate a match the team had won a few hours earlier.
“We aren’t the only winners this evening…! Well done Salvador Sobral!,” the team said.
The crooner’s victory was also celebrated further away from home, with British author J. K Rowling tweeting: “Yay Portugal”.