Azerbaijan Wins Eurovision Song Contest

A mother of two and an international relations student from Azerbaijan beat out the much-hyped Irish twins and 23 other finalists Saturday to secure their nation’s first-ever win in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Nigar Jamal and Eldar Gasimov, who go by the name Ell/Nikki, won 220 points for their classic pop ballad with a catchy refrain, “Running Scared,” meaning next year’s songfest will be hosted in Baku.

“I’m the happiest man in the world right now,” Gasimov, 22, shouted to the crowd of 36,000 who packed the Fortuna Duesseldorf Arena to watch the show.

Photo: AP Photo
Nigar Jamal and Eldar Gasimov celebrate winning the final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2011in Duesseldorf, Germany.

In the past three years, Azerbaijan has finished in the first 10 at the songfest, but have never before reached the top.

“Its unbelievable our dream came true,” Jamal, 30, said after winning the title.

“I’ve never been a singer before, I was a housewife, a mother of two children,” she said. “It was my dream to become a singer and now my dream has come true.”

The pair, clad in a white suit and a floaty white gown, were awarded the trophy from Germany’s 19-year-old Lena Meyer-Landruth, who had sought to make history by defending her title for a second consecutive year in a row. She finished 10th with the sultry “Taken By A Stranger.”

Second place went to Italy – back in competition after a 14-year hiatus – with 189 points for Raphael Gualazzi for his jazz number “Madness of Love.” Close behind him in third place was Sweden’s Eric Saade, singing the dance pop song “Popular,” with 185 points.

Azerbaijan had been among the entries favored to win heading into the competition, but other favorites, including the much-hyped Irish duo Jedward, nor the British bookies’ top pick, French tenor Amaury Vassili, came in among the top 10 finishers.

Several entries held up the competition’s reputation for quirky, kitschy costumes, with the boys from Jedward wearing sparkling red space jackets and spiky quiffed hairdos and Moldova’s punk rock entry taking the stage sporting tall, conical caps and featuring a woman on a unicycle.

More than 120 million viewers around the globe tune in to watch the spectacle that has taken place every year since 1951. Organizers said the production cost €12 million ($17 million).

Viewers in the 43 participating nations cast votes by SMS or phone which counted for 50 percent of the contestants’ final score. The other 50 percent had been determined by panels of juries selected by each nation.

Two rounds of semifinals held earlier in the week whittled the competitors down to 25 finalists who took to the stage Saturday for an extravagant sound-and-light display.