Sweden's Loreen has won the Eurovision Song Contest in Azerbaijan, claiming a title first won for her country by pop legend Abba.
In a barefoot performance of her song "Euphoria", the 28-year-old delighted the over 100 million viewers and the contest's professional judges at Saturday's final in Baku, the Azerbaijani capital.
"Wow, I have so many things I want to say to all of you - all of you out there, you people here that believed in me. This is not only about me, this is about us, really, and I'm thankful, thankful to you guys", Loreen said in a news conference following the performance of her emotional song.
Loreen's act included a stage prop of confetti, meant to symbolise falling snow - something that caused the Swedish singer difficulty during rehearsal.
"The trouble I had yesterday was that I swallowed my snow and I - the snowflakes - I got one in my throat. And stuff like that happens, you know, when it's live and so, but it didn't make me nervous at all." Loreen said.
Her victory marks the fifth time Sweden wins the competition.
Saturday's final was staged in Baku's new Crystal Hall concert venue built at a cost $134 million in just eight months to host the contest.
Countless more millions have been spent embellishing the Caspian Sea city and buying a huge fleet of brand new London-style taxis.
But the contest has also shone a light on human rights abuses in Azerbaijan, with reports of people being evicted from neighbourhoods demolished to clear space for the venue.
Loreen last week met activists who accused the government of forcing people out of their homes, earning a reprimand from Azeri authorities, who accused her of making political statements that had no place at a musical event.
"Human rights are violated in Azerbaijan every day," the opposition Azadliq newspaper quoted Loreen as saying. "One should not be silent about such things."
Juries and television viewers from across Europe awarded Loreen a total of 372 points.
Russia's Buranovskiye Babushki - a singing troupe of six elderly ladies - garnered much public affection for their onstage presence, but their folksy "Party for Everybody" could not quite match Sweden's more contemporary club music-lite hit and ended up second on 259 points.
Serbia was third in the 57th year of a contest famous for high levels of kitsch.
But there was disappointment for veteran crooner Engelbert Humperdinck, representing the UK, who scored only 12 points, finishing second-to-last in front of Norway's Tooji who collected just seven points.
After the show, hundreds of people poured into a roundabout in the centre of the Swedish capital, Stockholm, dancing in a fountain, honking horns and waving flags and playing the winning song.
Ben Robertson, who organised a Eurovision Song Contest fan get-together in the old town of Stockholm, said he was already looking forward to next year when, as victor, Sweden will host the competition.
"I'm so happy that it will be here next year and absolutely delighted for the club to be here, it's a great atmosphere. It's just amazing, euphoric and every word you could put into a Eurovision sentence now. We are the winners of Eurovision," he said.
The Eurovision Song Contest, staged annually since 1956, has been a launching pad for several stellar international careers.
Abba earned global fame after winning in 1974 with "Waterloo", while Canadian chanteuse Celine Dion took top honours in 1988 representing Switzerland.
But many more winners have quickly faded into obscurity.
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|William A. Cook|