Norway sending Tooji to Eurovision Song Contest

Norway has selected 24-year-old one-time refugee Tooji Keshtkar to represent the country at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

Norway sending Tooji to Eurovision Song Contest
Photo: Trond Reidar Teigen/Scanpix

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”.

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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Norway’s Eurovision hope struggles with mental ‘hell’

Agnete Johnsen, who is representing Norway at next week's Eurovision Song Contest 2016, has cancelled all public appearances ahead of the big show.

Norway's Eurovision hope struggles with mental 'hell'
Although she is struggling mentally, Agnete Johnsen said she is still in it to win it. Photo: Julia Nagelstad/Eurovision

The 21-year-old singer from Nesseby said that her mental health is struggling in the run-up to the contest in Stockholm and has pulled out of all national and international activities, including interviews and concerts.

“I appreciate the interest in my participation in Eurovision but right now my only focus is to do what I love most – signing on stage. I hope people can understand that I need to do that now,” she told broadcaster NRK.

Johnsen, whose song 'Icebreaker' won Norway's national competition in February, said that she has long battled depression and suicidal thoughts.

“For many years, I have been struggling mentally and I can't always control my thoughts as mush as I'd like to. When it happens, I am not capable of thinking positive and I will mentally go to a very dark place,” Johnsen told VG. 

“Everything is just negative. A pure hell,” she added. 

Johnsen said she hopes that pulling out of the promotional events in Stockholm ahead of the big show will allow her to focus on her performance. 

According to her managers, Stein Vanebo and Espen Nystad, the singer's decision to focus on her mental health ahead of the contest has the full support of the Norwegian delegation.

“All of us who are going to Stockholm are united in giving her all the support she needs to bring the victory home. And let there be no doubt – Agnete is competing to win Eurovision,” they said in a statement to NRK.

Johnsen will perform 'Icebreaker' in the second semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest on May 12th in Stockholm. The final round is on May 14th.