Kitschy, glitzy and kind of gross

Finnish rockers Lordi won the 2006 Eurovision song contest late Saturday night – 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. «This is a victory for rock music… and also a victory for open-mindedness,» lead singer 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 American 1970s stars KISS – an acknowledged inspiration of 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. Many Finns were delighted. «I think it was so great because we are always the losers in Eurovision and now we’ve got the most points ever in Eurovision history,» said Nina Nezeri, 26, who was watching the televised contest at home in Helsinki with a group of friends. «It’s a good song. They look scary and everything but it’s a good song.» Greek contestant Anna 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,» a mark of Eurovision shame. Since 1956, Eurovision has pitted European nations against one another in pursuit of pop music glory. Previous winners include 1960s 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’s Olympic arena for the three-hour contest, broadcast live in 38 countries to an audience estimated at 100 million. Some had come to cheer on their nation’s competitor, others to soak in the atmosphere of an event adored by fans of camp and kitsch around the world. «It’s the campiness, the glamour, the glitz, the sparkles. We come every year,» said Jude Habib, a communications consultant from London, attending her fourth Eurovision with friend Mandy Norman. «Our friends think we’re mad,» she said. «But for one week a year, we can be completely silly.» The show opened in true Eurovision style, with a garish musical number inspired, organizers said, by Greece’s rich history, mythology and sparkling seas. The hosts, Greek pop singer Sakis Rouvas and American «Access Hollywood» correspondent Maria Menounos, were flown in from the wings onto a set inspired by ancient theater. Associated Press writer Brian Church in Athens contributed to this report.