MOSCOW (AP) - A boyish, fiddle-wielding Norwegian singer won the Eurovision Song Contest in Moscow on Saturday night, his bouncy ditty the highlight of the musical bonanza studded with pyrotechnic artistry and stunning electronic visuals on an epic scale.
Twenty-five performers from across Europe competed in Moscow in a musical bonanza that is one of the most watched annual television events in the world, despite being written off by some as European kitsch.
"Fairytale," penned and performed by 23-year-old fiddler Alexander Rybak, blew away competition from Iceland's Yohanna, who finished second, and Azerbaijan's AySel & Arash, who was third, with a folksy melody to the accompaniment of an acrobatic dance routine and two blonde female support singers.
The elfin-faced Rybak, the winning graduate of a Norwegian television talent show in 2006, accrued the most points in Eurovision's 53-year history, outstripping Finland's Lordi in 2006.
"Thank you so much, Russia. You are just great, thank you," an emotional Rybak, said, speaking in Russian from the stage after the result was announced. "You are the greatest public in the world," he proclaimed, before launching into a repeat performance of the winning entry.
Russia was trying to capitalize on the prestigious event to showcase the nation's hospitality and growing role in modern society, but those efforts were undermined several hours earlier when riot police attacked gay pride rallies in the capital.
Gay rights activists sought to use the international competition to draw attention to what they call widespread discrimination against homosexuals in Russia. No injuries were reported.
Police hauled away around 40 demonstrators, including British-based activist Peter Tatchell and American activist Andy Thayer of Chicago, co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network.
"Today's arrests go against the principles of Eurovision, which are about peace, harmony, cooperation and unity between all the peoples in Europe," Tatchell told The Associated Press after being released by police.
Rybak criticized the protesters for choosing the same day as the contest—which has a large following in European gay communities—to vent their frustrations.
"I think it is a little bit sad that they chose to have (the protests) today. ... They were spending all their energy on that parade, while the biggest gay parade in the world was tonight" at Eurovision, Rybak said
Minsk-born Rybak, who left Belarus when he was four years old with his musician parents, earned the maximum number of points from several of the participating former Soviet satellite countries.
His performance was greeted by rapturous applause from the spectators thronging the Olimpiisky Sports Complex in central Moscow. The crowd heard a wide array of songs, ranging from traditional cheesy pop to tear-jerking ballads and ear-piercing operatic melodies.
Norway last won the competition in 1995 and as winner will host the show next year.
Russia was pinning its hopes on "Mamo," an overwrought ballad composed by a Georgian songwriter and partially performed in Ukrainian by a Ukrainian-born artist Anastasia Prikhodko, but she could only muster 11th place.
U.S. burlesque artiste Dita Von Teese, ex-wife of rocker Marilyn Manson, spiced up Germany's act by straddling a shiny lip-shaped black plastic sofa. In an apparent concession to the organizers' sensibilities, Von Teese toned down her initially planned performance, which involved her stripping off her top down to just sparkly nipple warmers.
The winner of the competition was picked by a combination of telephone voting and official juries from national broadcasters in the 42 nations that originally took part.
Britain had been billed as a favorite for the contest, but its entry, singer Jade, could only manage fifth place, despite composer Andrew Lloyd Webber writing her song.
Bookmakers had also favored Greece, which was pinning its hopes on an elaborately choreographed stage performance involving a giant flashing treadmill.
Israel made an appeal for peace and harmony with "There Must Be Another Way," sung in Arabic, Hebrew and English by Arab-Jewish duo Noa and Mira.
In a Eurovision first, crew members of the International Space Station gave the command to start telephone voting in a video message from the orbiting science laboratory.
Moscow authorities splashed out 24 million euros ($32.5 million) on the show and a weeklong series of decadent parties.