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Television viewers around the country chose the son of Black Hebrew immigrants from Chicago as Israel's Eurovision song contest representative Wednesday night in Jerusalem.
Eddie Butler, a 34-year-old Dimona native, watched in suspense as the results of telephone and text message voting were tallied live on Channel 1.
Until almost the very end of Kdam-Eurovision, the contest in which music fans choose the country's Eurovision contestant, Butler watched as the lead rotated among himself, senior Israeli musician Zvika Pik and pop groups The Gameboys and Diamond'z.
Athens will host the May 20 Eurovision final on the basis of its first-time victory in last year's competition, which saw Israel surge back to near the top of the rankings with Shiri Maimon's rendition of "Hasheket Shenishar."
Maimon was on hand Wednesday night to witness the selection of her successor, and also contributed a thumping pop performance as voting totals were verified prior to their announcement.
Other guest performers included Yehoram Gaon, Shlomi Shabat and Yael Bar-Zohar, the model-turned-actress who emceed the event alongside former MTV Europe hostess Eden Harel.
But the star of the night was ultimately Butler, who performed seventh in the line-up of 11 competitors, among them Mizrahi artist Avi Peretz and mother-daughter duo Maya and Aviva Avidan.
Dressed in a white suit and accompanied by four black clad back-up singers, Butler received warm applause for his performance of "Zeh Hazman" (This is the Time), which he composed with the help of Galit Burg.
Written in a mix of Hebrew and English, the rhythm and blues-inflected song declares, "Now is the time to come together... this is the time to open your heart."
Kdam-Eurovision attracted a respectable audience during its two-hour and 40-minute run, drawing an estimated 388,000 viewers, according to figures released by Channel 1. The show's ratings peaked with just over a 20 percent share at 11:29 p.m., when Butler's victory was announced.
The outcome proved a source of satisfaction for Channel 1, which had considered cancelling this year's broadcast due to poor ratings over the last several years.
Donning an Israeli flag draped over him by his ecstatic wife, Butler closed the broadcast with a declaration of love for Israel and a second rendition of his winning song.
Because Maimon placed in the top 14 in last year's Eurovision, Butler, as Israel's 2006 representative, bypasses the semi-finals and automatically qualifies for the final round.
Butler will seek to better his own previous Eurovision result, which came in 1999 when he appeared as part of the soul-tinged group Eden, which included his older brother and two singers from Tel Aviv.
That performance earned fifth place in front of a home crowd in Jerusalem - not as good as Israel's victory the previous year, but easily the country's best result until Maimon's fourth-place finish a year ago.
Israel will join 37 European countries at this year's contest, the fifty-first installment of Eurovision. Founded in 1955 to foster positive international relations, Eurovision features competitors from across Europe and parts of the Middle East and is famous for helping to launch the careers of such performers as Abba, Cliff Richard and Celine Dion.
Israel joined the contest in 1973 and has won three times, most recently in 1998.
The competition was marred a year ago when Lebanon withdrew its representative rather than allow the broadcast of a song from Israel. According to the Eurovision Web site, Lebanon will sit out the contest again this year.
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