Greek singer Helena won the Eurovision song contest early Sunday. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko presented her with the prize for her seductive performance of My Number One, a mid-tempo tune with minor-keyed Balkan flavourings.
|pfoto Winner of the contest Helena Paparizou of Greece performs during the finale of the Eurovision song contest in Kiev, Ukraine, Saturday|
The singer, whose full name is Helena Paparizou, had been seen by bookmakers as the favourite going into the finals. Norway's Wig Wam, seen as her main competition, finished in the middle of the pack. The surprise runner-up was Malta's Chiara. Romania's Luminita Anghel placed third in the continent-wide telephone voting.
Eurovision is one of Europe's most widely watched events, with more than 150 million people tuning in to this year's edition.
"This is the prize for the song that unites all Europe," Yushchenko said in presenting the award. Kyiv hosted the competition this year after Ukrainian singer Ruslana won last year in Istanbul.
Helena's personal history echoes the contest's ethos of uniting Europe's diverse people and cultures: she was born and raised in Sweden and still lives there. Nonetheless, at a post-win news conference, she jumped on a table waving the Greek flag.
"I am happy that this prize finally goes to Greece . . . I wish to welcome you to Greece next year," she said. But, she added "I think this prize is a big honour for Sweden as well."
Other transnational performances were by Vanilla Ninja, from Estonia but representing Switzerland, and by Bosnia-Herzegovina's Feminem, with one of its three singers born in what is now Croatia.
Helena had performed at Eurovision once before, placing third with the band Antique in 2001.
Her winning performance featured her singing and swaying with four male backup dancers. At one point they joined in a line, doing intricate footwork resembling traditional Greek dancing. The accompaniment included both disco-style choppy guitar and modal violin-like figures.
Despite the intense interest in Europe, Eurovision's performers rarely achieve worldwide fame. Some exceptions have been Sweden's ABBA, Britain's Lulu and Celine Dion, who won as Switzerland's entry in 1988.