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YouTube Sensation Becomes Russia's Low-Glamour Eurovision Candidate

Peter Nalitch performs at a dress rehearsal for the Eurovision Song Contest in Oslo.
Peter Nalitch performs at a dress rehearsal for the Eurovision Song Contest in Oslo.
The Eurovision song contest has often been mocked for its "bubblegum" pop music and kitschy acts. But this year's Eurovision contest is not entirely glitz and glitter.

Among the 25 performers selected for the May 29 finals in Oslo is Russia's Peter Nalitch, a trained architect who shot to fame three years ago after posting an amateur music video on YouTube of himself and his friends performing his song “Guitar."

For the finals in Oslo, the 29-year-old will sing "Lost and Forgotten," a sentimental ballad in English the singer composed himself.

Nalitch, who performed the song in this week's semifinals dressed in casual clothes and his trademark scarf, is decidedly low-key compared to Eurovision's traditionally over-the-top acts, and he stands in sharp contrast with past Russian candidates.

His only special effect was a piece of paper pulled out of his pocket to represent a photograph and a few snowflakes, prompting some skepticism in Russia as to whether Nalitch was a suitable choice for the contest.

Russian pop singer Dima Bilan, who represented Russia in 2008, won the contest with an extravagant performance featuring a violinist and Olympic figure skater Yevgeny Plushenko on a custom-built ice rink

Bilan has dismissed Nalitch's song for Eurovision as "pretty weak."

Nalitch, however, says he is confident he and his band can grab Eurovision's top award.

"I think there aren't any weak points in our number, it's a good song and we sing quite well already,” he told RFE/RL from Oslo. “We watched our performance and we think we met all the important criteria; we did everything we had planned in terms of vocals. On the whole, I think we're doing well. Our act isn't garish, but it's nice."

Soviet Domination

Winning Eurovision is a matter of national pride for most former Soviet countries. The contest, which began in 1956 as an elegant black-tie affair, has since grown into one of the world's most-watched events, with more than 100 million people tuning in to each year's televised contest.

This year, finalists from the ex-Soviet region include Belarus, with a song by the band 3+2 titled "Butterflies;" Moldova with "Run Away" by Sunstroke Project & Olia Tira; and Serbia with a catchy folk act by singer Milan Stankovic.

Despite Eurovision's reputation for low-grade pop and Nalitch's initial misgivings about taking part in the contest, the singer says he has found Eurovision to be a highly professional, smoothly run operation featuring many talented artists.

And whatever critics might say about Nalitch's musical style not being in the traditional Eurovision mold, he says he certainly doesn't feel out of place in Oslo.

"In fact it's a very serious battle; there are very good, talented, and interesting performers,” he said. “I don't know whether this was the case in previous competitions, but this year there are many different musical genres. So I wouldn't say that we are the black sheep here."

Nalitch describes his musical style as a fusion of different genres ranging from ABBA to the Beatles to opera and traditional folk music from Russia, Ukraine, and the Balkans.

Many in Russia see Nalitch’s music as a breath of fresh air in the country's over-commercialized pop scene.

The low-cost music clip that made him famous overnight, "Guitar," was shot on an amateur camera at his family dacha outside Moscow.

Nalitch, who sings in exaggerated pidgin English, is seen dancing in a field and sitting in a cramped Lada, which the song likens to a Jaguar.

Intrigued by the mysterious YouTube singer, hordes of Muscovites stormed his first concert in one of the capital's clubs.

Nalitch now offers free downloads of his songs from his website, and he and his band have become a popular fixture on Moscow's live music scene. President Dmitry Medvedev himself is reportedly a fan.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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