By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times*
Elena Gheorghe will represent Romania at the Eurovision semifinal in Moscow in May with the song "The Balkan Girls" after winning the national competition against 11 other acts on January 31.
The jury and the public gave her 22 points total, with their votes having equal weight in the final decision. Romania came in 20th in last year's competition in Belgrade, a position that compels this year's representative to sing first in the semifinals.
"It is the most beautiful moment of my life; my heart stopped with happiness," Gheorghe said immediately after word of her victory. Among her rivals in the May 10 to 16 competition in the Russian capital will be French singer Patricia Kaas.
"The Balkan Girls" owes its melody and lyrics to Laurentiu Duta, the lead singer and founder of the pop band 3 Sud-Est. Gheorghe will go on a promotion tour in Germany before heading to Russia and will work with experts from state TV to improve her choreography and wardrobe. She sang with the Latino band Mandinga before embarking on a solo career.
Romania historically has not fared well at Eurovision. In 2005, Luminita Anghel and the band Sistem came in third, the best showing so far.
The next year, Romania's representative -- Mihai Traistariu -- slipped down one notch to fourth place, although his song "Tornero" soon became a hit across Europe. Romania's worst performance was in 1998, when its entry took 22nd place.
Previous nationwide contests in Romania almost inevitably sank into controversy and scandals, with critics taking potshots at the jury for imposing its unilateral choice regardless of the viewers' say. Last year, cynics said a nativist-minded jury picked Nico and Vlad Mirita to represent Romania, since a Swedish band, Biondo, had appeared likely to win. Foreign groups can compete in Romania's Eurovision selection process.
This year was not completely free of controversy. Gheorghe won the most points from the jury but polled second among the public. Irate hackers posted offensive messages on her web site the next day, apparently frustrated that their favourite band, Blaxie Girls, had lost.