Latvia Wins Eurovision Song Contest

The Eurovision Song Contest trophy remains in the Baltic States, as Latvia was a surprise first-time winner at the 47th annual competition, held Saturday in Tallinn, Estonia. Riga-born Marija Naumova,

The Eurovision Song Contest trophy remains in the Baltic States, as Latvia was a surprise first-time winner at the 47th annual competition, held Saturday in Tallinn, Estonia. Riga-born Marija Naumova, known professionally as Marie N, co-wrote and performed the Latin-tinged winning song, "I Wanna." Latvia's victory follows last year's surprise win by neighboring country Estonia.

This was only Latvia's third turn at competing in the pan-European song competition, which was first telecast in 1956. In 2000, the Latvian rock group Brainstorm placed third with the pop song "My Star." In 2001, singer Arnis Mednis' "Too Much" came in 18th, a score that would have cut off Latvia from participating this year. When 17th-ranked Portugal decided not to take part, Latvia earned a berth in the 2002 contest.

Early predictions had Sweden's disco-influenced "Never Let It Go" by Afro-Dite as the favorite to win Eurovision. During the week of rehearsals leading up to the big event, Estonian entry "Runaway" performed by Swedish-born Sahlene was tipped to win. Bookmakers in Sweden offered 44-1 odds that Latvia would claim victory, and singer Marie N hoped at best for a placing in the top seven.

"I never thought the song would be first," she told Billboard.com. "I'm still in shock," says the singer, who was greeted by a cheering crowd of 5,000 people in Riga's Old Town square when she returned home on Sunday. She also received a personal phone call of congratulations from Latvian president Vaira Vike-Freiberga.

This year's Eurovision turned out to be a two-country race. Cyprus was the first country to report its points, followed by the United Kingdom. From that point on, it was apparent that Latvia and Malta were the only serious contenders. Malta took the early lead, but was eventually overcome by Latvia.

The Maltese entry, "7th Wonder," performed by Ira Losco and written by Philip Vella and Gerard James Borg, finished second and is Malta's best placing ever, after ranking third in 1992 and 1998.

The live broadcast of the Eurovision Song Contest was seen by more than 161 million viewers across Europe. While there is no label deal for the winning song outside of Latvia, where it is released by Baltic Records Group, the song is available along with the other 23 Eurovision entries on a BMG/Ariola compilation, "Eurovision Song Contest Estonia 2002," released throughout Europe.

The Eurovision competition is credited with launching the career of ABBA, the Swedish quartet that won the 1974 contest with "Waterloo." Other well-known names have competed over the years, including Celine Dion, Julio Iglesias, Lulu, Cliff Richard, and Olivia Newton-John. The first international hit to come out of Eurovision was "Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu (Volare)" by Domenico Modugno. Although the Italian entry only ranked third in 1958, it became a No. 1 hit on Billboard's Hot 100.