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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Finnish Monster Band Sweeps Eurovision Contest

ATHENS -- Finnish rockers Lordi won the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest late Saturday -- a stunning upset in a competition better known for bland dance music and bubble-gum pop.

The cartoon metalheads, who sport latex monster masks and spark-spewing instruments and sing about "the Arockalypse," fought off a strong challenge from Russian heartthrob Dima Bilan to take the 51st annual music prize. Some Russians complained Sunday that the vote was skewed against their country.

"This is a victory for rock music, ... and also a victory for open-mindedness," the lead singer of Lordi, Mr. Lordi, told a news conference after the win -- Finland's first.

"We are not Satanists. We are not devil-worshippers. This is entertainment," he added.

Bosnia-Herzegovina's Hari Mata Hari was third in the contest, which was decided by phone and text message votes from viewers in 38 European countries.

The phantasmagoric Finns, who scandalized some compatriots when their song "Hard Rock Hallelujah" was chosen to represent the Nordic nation, was the surprise hit of the competition.

Combining crunchy guitars, a catchy chorus and mock-demonic imagery, Lordi is reminiscent of U.S. '70s stars KISS -- an inspiration acknowledged by Mr. Lordi, who comes from Lapland, in Finland's far north.

Band members never appear without their elaborate masks and makeup, and do not reveal their true names.

Lordi beat an unusually eclectic 24-nation field, which ranged from the perky pop of Danish teenager Sidsel Ben Semmane and Malta's Fabrizio Faniello to the balladry of Ireland's Brian Kennedy and the country-pop of Germany's Texas Lightning.

Lordi received 292 points, the highest score in the contest's history.

Greek contestant Anni Vissi, who drew the biggest cheers from the Athens crowd, finished a disappointing ninth.

"It doesn't matter that we lost, we are also winners because Greece put on a great show," Vissi told state-run NET TV. "Those monsters -- I, for one, loved them."

Malta came last, with one point -- but at least it avoided the dreaded "nul points," or no points, a mark of Eurovision shame.

Since 1956, Eurovision has pitted European nations against one another in pursuit of pop music glory. Previous winners include '60s chanteuse Lulu, Sweden's ABBA -- victors in 1974 with "Waterloo" -- and Canada's Celine Dion, who won for Switzerland in 1988.

Some 13,000 fans from across the continent packed Athens' Olympic arena for the three-hour contest, broadcast live in 38 countries to an audience estimated at 100 million.

Eurovision victory is no guarantee of fame. Dion and ABBA went on to glory -- as did Olivia Newton John, who lost to ABBA while competing for Britain in 1974. Other winners have sunk without trace, victims of the "curse of Eurovision."

Athens is hosting the event because Greece won last year in Kiev.

U.S. broadcaster NBC announced plans earlier this year to replicate the formula -- a forerunner of "American Idol"-style talent contests -- in the United States, with acts from different U.S. states competing for viewers' approval.

On Sunday, some callers to Ekho Moskvy radio proclaimed Dima Bilan's superiority to Lordi; one aggrieved woman said the result was the latest in a series of anti-Russian moves by Europeans.

"'We are first!' That's exactly how many Russians are reacting to the results of the international contest" the anchorwoman for state-run Channel One -- which broadcast the contest live -- said as the channel led its noontime newscast. "Many specialists considered the vote for the victor to be a protest vote," she asserted.

"The sense is that the contest was more about circus performers, clowns and pyrotechnic effects, and not a song contest," Yury Aktsyuta, a top music producer at Channel One, said in televised comments.