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Dima Bilan, whose real name is Viktor Belan, was one of the most successful Russian pop singers of the mid-2000s. Originating from the Karachai-Cherkess Republic, Dima Bilan finished music school in Kabardino-Balkaria and then completed his studies at the famous Gnesins Musical College in Moscow. A good-looking graduate with a sweet voice, he attracted the attention of a prosperous producer, Yury Aizenshpis, well known for his work with Kino, Technologia, Vlad Stashevsky, and many other Russian pop groups and artists. With an inherent grasp of potential openings in the Russian pop music market, Aizenshpis created an image for Bilan that was romantic, rowdy, strong, courageous, and tender at the same time. Dima Bilan debuted at the 2002 New Wave International Song Contest in Latvia and took fourth place, and his first albums, Nochnoi Khuligan (Night Hooligan) and Na Beregu Neba (On the Heaven's Shore), released in 2003 and 2004, respectively, gained wide public admiration. During 2005 Bilan won a number of pop music awards. His songs and image were similar to Vlad Stashevsky's, but since Stashevsky had stopped musical activity in 1999 and had thus been largely forgotten by the general public, this comparison did little to affect Bilan's career. Simple melodious songs of love, coupled with Bilan's pleasant voice and appearance, allowed him to climb to the top of the charts -- despite his sometimes weak vocals and simple lyrics and melodies. After Yury Aizenshpis' sudden death in September 2005, his successors decided to end their support for Bilan -- nevertheless, Bilan's previous huge commercial success helped him to gain the attention of young producer Yana Rudkovskaya. In 2006 Dima Bilan won second place at the Eurovision Song Contest and issued his third album, Vremya Reka (Time River), despite the fact that he and producer Rudkovskaya were subjected to court challenges regarding their use of the Dima Bilan "brand." ~ Dmitriy Tselikov