A young man whose family came to Norway as refugees from Iran, won an overwhelming victory at the annual Norwegian national song contest Melodi Grand Prix on Saturday night. Tooji Keshtkar will now represent Norway at the Eurovision Song Contest in May.
The singer, who performs simply as “Tooji,” won 155,480 votes in five minutes during the nationally televised program broadcast live from the Oslo Spectrum Arena. That trounced his nearest rival, Nora Foss Al-Jabri, who attracted just 90,046 votes but had been the contest jury’s favorite.
Al-Jabri, who recently turned 16, had also been favoured along with the rock band Plumbo and a country-western duo comprised of Norwegian singer Petter Øien and American veteran Bobby Bare. All three of them, plus 23-year-old Tooji, had made it into the final four of the 10 performers contending for Eurovision honors.
A professional jury had given the most votes to Al-Jabri, followed by Tooji, Plumbo and the country duo. Things changed quickly, though, when the results of the voting public started clicking in.
Tooji clearly had won the hearts of viewers, perhaps after showing how thrilled he was just to win a spot in the finals. While Al-Jabri seemed flustered and resorted once again to some mild swearing after being named a finalist, Tooji appeared overjoyed and said it would be “an honour” to represent Norway at Eurovision. He also declared with unabashed sincerity how much he wanted to participate in the annual international song contest, which will be held in Baku after singers from Azerbaijan won last year. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) offered a short report on Azerbaijan during the Melodi Grand Prix program Saturday night, but made no mention of the controversy over the venue that’s tied to protests over human rights violations in the country.
That didn’t seem to be on Tooji’s mind either on Saturday. He ended up preforming his song, called “Stay” and written by the Bostrom brothers of Sweden, three times during the course of the program. It’s an upbeat piece featuring energetic dancing both by Tooji himself and several back-up performers.
See a video of Tooji’s performance on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) by clicking on the box below:
Tooji came to Norway from Iran at the age of one, and his proud mother joined him on stage at the Spektrum Arena, before an audience full of Norwegian celebrities and even a few politicians. It’s the second year in a row that an artist with immigrant background has won Norway’s Eurovision preliminary. In 2009, another child of refugee parents from Belarus, Alexander Rybak, went on to win Eurovision itself, by the biggest margin in history.
Like many immigrant children in Norway, Tooji was bullied as a child by ethnic Norwegian children, but he told reporters his success as an entertainer isn’t driven by any lust for sweet revenge. “If I’m driven by revenge, what kind of person would I be then?” he told newspaper VG. “You have to choose yourself what kind of person you want to be, and not be a bully yourself. Revenge, get rid of that!”
Tooji has said his “Persian roots and traditions” have influenced his music. He’s worked as both a model and an announcer on MTV Norge. He released his first single four years ago but also works for the city with children’s welfare issues as what’s called a barnevernpedagog. Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang, who attended the Eurovision qualifier on Saturday, congratulated Tooji via the social media site Twitter and said he could take the day off on Monday.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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