HELSINKI - Serbia's Marija Serifovic won the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday, beating competitors from 23 other countries in a three-hour televised mishmash of power ballads, ethnic rhythms, and bubble-gum pop.

Serifovic, 22, scored 268 points from telephone voters in 42 countries with her potent but simply staged ballad "Molitva," or "Prayer."

"I honestly think that a new chapter has opened for Serbia and not only in music. I'm proud," Serifovic told a news conference after the contest, broadcast live across Europe to an estimated 100 million viewers.

Serbia spent the 1990s embroiled in Balkan wars and largely isolated internationally under Slobodan Milosevic, and its transition to democracy has been marked by failed elections and political assassinations.

It was Serbia's first solo appearance in the contest, held this year in the Finnish capital Helsinki after monster-masked rockers Lordi secured Finland's first win last year.

The contest is a live showcase for pop music talent selected by each nation in preliminary rounds.

An elegant black-tie event throughout the 1950s, the flagship of the European Broadcasting Union's light entertainment programming is now widely derided in Western Europe for often trite and lightweight performances.

But it has drawn increasing interest from viewers in Eastern Europe and thousands of fans and journalists travel to the host country.

Serbian fans were delighted at Serifovic's victory.

"She has a great voice, and it was a great performance. Finally a great song won the ... contest," said Aleksandar Miscevic, a 22-year-old airline steward.

"Serbia had a great song, we really showed Europe what we can do. It was the best song, and she is one of the best singers anywhere," he said.

While most Eurovision winners quickly, and perhaps deservedly, fade back into obscurity, the contest helped launch the careers of ABBA and Celine Dion.

Serifovic's somber performance was in stark contrast to Ukrainian drag queen Verka Serduchka and his bombastic techno-dance tune "Dancing Lasha Tumbai," which finished second with 235 points.

Russian pop trio Serebro finished third with 207 points.
In 2004, Ukraine won and Serbia and Montenegro came second.
Lordi reprised last year's winning song "Hard Rock Hallelujah" pyrotechnic-filled opening number in front of an audience of 10,000 in Helsinki's Hartwall arena.

Nearly 25,000 fans watched the show on giant screens in the city's central square.
All countries in this year's contest avoided the dreaded "nul points." Ireland, which has won seven times, was last with five points.

Britain and France jointly finished in the next spot up from Ireland with 19 points. Eighteen countries were eliminated in semi-finals on Thursday.

(Additional reporting by Sakari Suoninen)