And the best European song of the past 50 years is... "Waterloo." That was the judgment of millions of European and Middle Eastern television viewers Sunday night, who named the ABBA hit the best song ever performed at Eurovision. The European song competition celebrated 50 years since its creation with a special minicompetition in Copenhagen, where 14 alltime favorites competed to be named the best song in the contest's history. Best known for its performers' kitschy costumes and even kitschier songs, Eurovision attracts tens of millions of television viewers each spring, who vote by telephone and text messages for their favorite song.
A mix of original performers and cover singers performed at the event at Copenhagen's Forum, with Dana International, Israel's most recent Eurovision winner, taking the stage in a characteristically eye-popping outfit to sing "Diva," the song voted best of the competition in 1998. The transsexual singer drew condemnation from religious groups after being chosen as Israeli's representative seven years ago, and she arrived in style for Sunday night's performance, wearing arm-length black gloves, fish net stockings and a black lace hat as accessories to her miniscule black leotard, parts of which were see-through. Her breasts were covered by pasties and thin ropes, which dangled purposefully from the singer's massive hat.
While her outfit was a stunner even by Eurovision's famously flamboyant standards, Dana International was not among the five performers selected to appear in a final round of competition. Italian singer Domenico Modugno's "Nel Blu di Pinto di Blu," the winning song from 1958, took second place behind "Waterloo," and Ireland's Johnny Logan took third with "Hold Me Now," the contest viewers' favorite in 1987. The most recent entry in Sunday's competition was "My Number One," Greece's winning song from the 2005 contest, which joined "Diva" in failing to make the final round.
Although the contest is typically credited with launching ABBA to international stardom, members of the Swedish pop group declined to take part in Sunday's competition or afterparty. Famous past winners Cliff Richard and Celine Dion - who sang Switzerland's winning entry in 1988 - also declined to appear at the event, though pre-recorded messages from both singers were aired during the two-hour broadcast.
Israel fielded its first Eurovision competitor in 1973 and took top honors in 1978 and 1979 before Dana International's 1998 victory. Past Israeli representatives also include Shlomo Artzi, Ofra Haza and Sarit Hadad.
Though originally designed to promote friendship and cultural exchange between countries, Eurovision has also earned attention for the political undertones which appear to influence each year's results.
Nations with friendly relations frequently award each other top points in the voting portion of the contest, while rivals countries tend to snub one other.
Represented by Shiri Maimon, Israel earned its best result this year since Dana International's victory, with the blonde singer taking a surprise fourth place following a year in which Israel failed to make the finals. The lead-up to the competition was marred, however, when Lebanon withdrew from the competition rather than broadcast a song performed by an Israeli singer. Contest rules require that every country air the performances of every other participant.
The mood was light in Copenhagen, however, even if Israel didn't make the final cut. Dana International was joined for the festivities by Zvika Pick, who wrote the music for "Diva," and Yoav Ginai, who wrote the words.
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