Norway sending Tooji to Eurovision Song Contest

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Photo: Trond Reidar Teigen/Scanpix
14:59 CET+01:00
Norway has selected 24-year-old one-time refugee Tooji Keshtkar to represent the country at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

Tooji, who came to Norway from Iran at the age of one with his mother and older brother, was the surprise runaway winner in the national final on Saturday night.

With more than 155,000 votes, Tooji proved three times more popular than pre-final favourites Plumbo, who slumped to fourth place.

“This victory is dedicated to absolutely everybody who believed in me and voted for me. There’s nothing better than people believing in you,” a tired but contented Tooji told news agency NTB on Sunday.

Tooji trailed Nora Foss Al-Jabri after the jury vote but eventually swept to victory with the overwhelming backing of the general public.

The duo consisting of American country legend Bobby Bare and Norwegian singer Petter Øien took third spot.

The winner’s performance so impressed Oslo mayor Fabian Stang that he gave Tooji the day off from his job as a child welfare worker.

Tooji said he had always intended to combine his pop career with a day job working for the child welfare services. After securing victory at Oslo's Spektrum Arena, he said he now wanted to use his new-found celebrity for the greater good.

“I’ve always had a lot on the go at the same time so I think it will work fine. I need the substance that the child welfare service gives me; it’s an anchor that gives me perspective on things and ensures I’m always developing,” said Tooji.

A former model and MTV presenter, Tooji feels he has every chance of winning the Eurovision for Norway with his song “Stay” when the continent’s contestants gather in Baku, Azerbaijan, in May.

“I want to take the country to victory with a song that has broad international appeal, and with a very fine mix of east and west that could reach a broad range of people of different ages and from different cultures, said Tooji, who wrote the song together with Peter and Figge Boström.

His proud mother has described Tooji as a young man with “an iron will and the dreams of a bird”.

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As his victory started to sink in, Tooji said his longer term dream was to become an ambassador for the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF.

“By having a profile I can do something positive for society. There are plenty of problems to tackle, whether substance-related or psychiatric, or what’s really important to me: namely young people and mental health, especially in relation to asylum cases.”

Tooji said he had quickly realized that he would struggle to make an impact if his name meant nothing to people.

“It’s very strange how quickly it’s happened. Two weeks ago nobody knew who I was,” said Tooji with a smile. 

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