Portugal’s Salvador Sobral won the 62nd Eurovision song contest, as Israel’s entry failed to wow judges at the annual event in Kiev, Ukraine, Saturday night.
Scoring 758 points with his ballad “Amar Pelos Dois,” Dobral beat out competition favorites Italy and Sweden, who came in at sixth and fifth respectively.
Israel’s entry Imri Ziv finished a disappointing 23rd out of 26 countries competing, scoring just 39 points in total after being the first act of the night.
Announcing Israel’s scores for the other countries, Channel 1 host Ofer Nachshon noted that “after broadcasting the competition for the last 44 years, this will be the last time,” with the Israel Broadcasting Authority closing down Sunday as part of a major media reform that will see it replaced by a new public media corporation, known as Kan.
Immediately after the show, the channel stopped broadcasting entirely, ending its 49-year run.
Nahshon’s emotional announcement reflected confusion over whether Israel will indeed be able to field an entry in the contest.
While Kan is hoping to take over broadcasting rights for the competition next year, it is unclear whether it will qualify as a member of the European Broadcasting Union — broadcasters must be members in order to transmit the feed of the competition produced by the EBU — due to a lack of a news division.
The Knesset overnight Wednesday-Thursday voted to excise the news division from the new public broadcaster and establish a separate news department in its stead, a proposal put forward by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Ziv, 25, won a trip to the finals of the song contest Thursday night after belting out an assertive rendition of his dance anthem “I Feel Alive” during the second night of the semifinals, also hosted in Kiev.
In February, Ziv beat out three other contestants on the reality television show “Next Star” (“Kochav Haba”) when Israeli viewers chose him as their representative to the contest.
He had previous experience at Eurovision, having been a backup singer for the Israeli entrants Nadav Guedj in 2015 and Hovi Star last year in Stockholm.
Ziv competed in the first season of talent show “The Voice” in 2012, reaching the battle round. Along with others, he sang in a promotional video for the IDF in 2012.
Despite Israel’s relatively poor showing in the competition, Israeli and Jewish music fans still were still able to celebrate the success of Belgian contender Blanche, a member of the Zionist youth group Hashomer Hatzair (“the young guard”), who finished in an impressive fourth place.
According to the group, Blanche, aka 17-year-old Jewish singer Ellie Delvaux, has been an enthusiastic member since the first grade, and this year became a counselor for eighth graders.
Delvaux performed in Israel in April as part of public diplomacy initiative Israel Calling 2017, which hosts many of the Eurovision singers in the Jewish state for a number of days.
Another contestant who scored a surprise high placing was Roma singer Joci Pápai, the first Roma to represent Hungary in the continental song competition among 42 countries.
Roma and Jewish groups in Hungary were celebrating Pápai’s eighth place finish, though many had hoped a win would send a political message to Budapest.
“If he wins that contest, and because of this Hungary would be the host of the next contest, then it would be really something,” Adam Schonberger, a Hungarian Jew who runs Aurora, an organization that encourages dialogue and cooperation between Roma and Jews, told JTA ahead of the contest.
Winner Sobral’s romantic ballad challenged the event’s decades-long reputation for cheesy, glittery excess.
Sobral sang his Amar Pelos Dois (Love For Both) in a high, clear tenor accompanied by quiet strings and a piano.
Unlike the 25 other competitors who performed on a wide stage backed by flashing lights, bursts of flames and other effects, Sobral sang from a small elevated circle in the middle of the crowd, an intimate contrast to others’ bombast.
“Music is not fireworks, music is feeling,” he said while accepting the award.
Israel first appeared in the Eurovision in 1973 and won the competition three times, most recently in 1998, when Dana International, a trans woman, won with “Diva.”
From its launch with seven countries, Eurovision has grown to include more than 40 states, including non-European nations such as Israel and — somewhat controversially — far-off Australia.
The contest helped launch the careers of Sweden’s ABBA — victors in 1974 with “Waterloo” — Canada’s Celine Dion, who won for Switzerland in 1988, and Irish high-steppers Riverdance in 1994.