MALMO, Sweden Denmark's Emmelie de Forest has won this year's Eurovision Song Contest with her ethno-inspired flute and drum tune "Only Teardrops," despite tough competition from spectacular stage shows by performers from Azerbaijan and Ukraine.
Juries and television viewers across Europe awarded the barefoot, hippie-chic 20-year-old for the catchy love song that is driven by her deep, Shakira-like voice. She received a total of 281 points in the glitzy music battle, which also featured a bizarre opera pop number from Romania, the comeback of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" star Bonnie Tyler and an Armenian rock song written by the guitarist of Black Sabbath.
"It was overwhelming and I could really feel the fans and the audience and the people in the arena," de Forest told reporters after the winners were announced early Sunday.
"Of course I believed in the song and I thought we had a great song, but that's the exciting thing with Eurovision, you never know what's going to happen," she added.
De Forest grew up in northern Denmark and has been singing since she was 14, touring around Denmark with the Scottish musician Fraser Neill. She said it is important to be persistent to succeed as a young musician.
"I just called and emailed like a lot of festivals, music places and a lot of times I got no, but you just have to believe in yourself and keep trying, trying, trying be outgoing and talk to new people, just call them and don't be afraid," she said.
De Forest was followed by second-place winner Farid Mammadov of Azerbaijan, who got 234 points for the song "Hold Me," which he performed on top of a glass cubicle containing a male dancer. The Ukraine's Zlata Ognevich and her song "Gravity" finished third with 214 points.
Ognevich was carried onstage in Saturday night's finals by the tallest man in the U.S. Ukrainian-born Igor Vovkovinskiy. Vovkovinskiy who stands 7 feet, 8 inches (234 centimeters) wobbled onstage in a fur and feathers, placing the fairy-like Ognevich on a rock where she stood for the rest of the performance.
The televised extravaganza, with an audience of 125 million worldwide, is now in its 58th year. Once again without fail, it produced a mix of bubble-gum pop songs, somber ballads, bagpipes, accordions and bizarrely kitsch musical productions.
In an opening video, soccer great Zlatan Ibrahimovic welcomed the viewers to the competition in his hometown Malmo, in southern Sweden. The Nordic country hosted the event because its contestant Loreen won last year with "Euphoria."
This year's event also saw the return to the international stage of two seasoned European stars. "Total Eclipse of the Heart" singer Bonnie Tyler represented Britain with the sleepy love ballad "Believe In Me," while Anouk, whose song "Nobody's Wife" was a big hit in Europe in the 1990s, performed the song "Birds" for The Netherlands. Tyler ended in 19th place, while Anouk finished in the 9th spot.
Finland's Krista Siegfrid provided this year's controversy, ending her bouncy pop number "Marry Me" with a girl-on-girl kiss that some interpreted as a stance promoting gay marriage. While it did not raise eyebrows in most parts of Western Europe where Eurovision has long been a bastion of gay culture the act jarred sensitivities in parts of eastern and southern Europe. Her cheesy tune didn't win the hearts of Europeans, however, and she ended up third to last with only 13 points.
Romanian opera singer Cezar gave one of the more remarkable performances. He resembled a Dracula reborn as a high-pitched vocalist, attempting a crossover opera pop number with techno beats and pyrotechnics that landed him in 13th place. Three muscular male dancers in red body paint were delivered out of a large red cape.
Two semifinals this week had whittled down the contestants from 40 to 26. The voting is shared equally between professional juries in all participating countries and viewers using their telephones to pick their favorites.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who watched the competition in Malmo Saturday, called it a unique event that unites Europe.
"We see the old Yugoslavia, now independent states, after a decade of war they always vote for each other in Eurovision, " Bildt told The Associated Press. "That I think is fun."
Having won five times, most famously with ABBA's Waterloo in 1974, Sweden is a veteran of Eurovision. It took the opportunity on Saturday to showcase some of its big music acts. At the opening of the competition, contestants marched into the stadium with flags, Olympics-style, accompanied by a choir singing a song especially composed by Swedish super DJ Avicii and ABBA members Bjorn Ulveaus and Benny Andersson. While contestants waited for the votes to come through, Swedish singer Sarah Dawn Finer sang ABBA's hit tune "The Winner Takes It All."
Yet the event with a price tag of around 153.5 million Swedish kronor ($23 million) didn't measure up to last year's lavish competition hosted by oil-rich Azerbaijan in its capital, Baku.
"We have attempted to host Eurovision with less money to show that it is possible to do this without it being too painful for the host country," said Jan-Erik Westman, a spokesman for host broadcaster SVT.
The festive atmosphere was visible throughout the city of Malmo on Saturday, where residents and visitors blended on the sunny streets waving the flags of their favorite countries.