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Stage set for drama at Eurovision Bearded drag queen draws controversy

COPENHAGEN, May 8, (AFP): The stage is set for a nailbiter as Denmark on Saturday hosts the Eurovision Song Contest — the annual music spectacle known for its heady mix of glamour, politics and outrageous stage costumes. Armenia, Sweden and Ukraine are among those predicted to do well but unlike last year — when Emmelie de Forest took the Eurovision crown with “Only Teardrops — there is no clear frontrunner this time. In a sign that politics remain closely intertwined with voting, audience members at Tuesday’s semi-final booed when it was announced that Russia had made it to the final, and observers believe Ukraine’s entry could benefit from sympathy votes in Saturday’s final.

The unpredictable outcome plays well with public broadcaster DR’s plans for a more dramatic, reality TV tinged framing of what is sometimes billed as the biggest non-sporting television event in the world.
“We’re upping the pace a little to increase the suspense,” executive producer Pernille Gaardbo told AFP.

“When the artists leave the stage we will show their immediate reaction... We want to make it as dramatic as possible,” she added. After the cost of hosting the event began to soar — some estimates put the price tag for regenerating Azerbaijan’s host city Baku at one billion dollars (720 million euros) in 2012 — Sweden last year scaled it down. DR said it has tried to keep it on the same level, pledging to spend around 190 million kroner (25.5 million euros, $35.4 million) on the event, which last year drew an audience of 170 million viewers. Broadcasters in many European countries continue to struggle with budget cuts and Bulgaria, Cyprus and Serbia have all said they will not be competing this year.

The glitzy competition viewers love to hate has gained in popularity since the 1990s, when the European Broadcasting Union scrapped its strict rules on singing in the national language and performing with an orchestra led by a conductor.
But although its mainstream appeal has grown in recent years, the event’s unique blend of humour, fierce nationalism and songs that rhyme “angel in disguise” with “luscious thighs” continue to puzzle many non-Europeans.
“Sorry Euros, but I just don’t get it,” an American expatriate in Copenhagen, Justin Cremer, wrote on Twitter during Tuesday’s semi-final.
“Tuned in out if curiosity and just couldn’t believe how terrible it is. I lasted just over two songs,” he added.
In the wake of their independence, Eurovision has become particularly popular in the countries of the former Soviet bloc, who typically take it more seriously than countries like Britain, where many associate it with the sardonic commentary of broadcaster Terry Wogan.
Denmark last hosted Eurovision in 2001 after the Olsen Brothers won with “Fly on the Wings of Love”.
Many Danes still remember BBC commentator Wogan’s scathing reference to the host couple as “Dr Death and the tooth fairy”, after they were ridiculed for introducing every song in rhyming couplets.
This year the organisers have enlisted a trio of hosts including Pilou Asbaek, known to international viewers for his role in Danish political drama “Borgen”, and reactions on social media were overwhelmingly positive after Tuesday’s semi-final.
Copenhagen’s main shopping street has been converted to a buzzing “fan mile”, and so far things have run smoothly at the Eurovision venue — a previously untested and rather unglamourous former shipyard in an industrial area.
“We thought it was a super exciting place, a very inspiring space. It’s very masculine and raw,” Gaardbo said.
“The audience sits relatively close to the stage. Even though there are 11,000 people it has a relatively intimate feel,” she added.
Austria’s bearded drag queen Conchita Wurst has hogged the limelight ahead of Saturday’s Eurovision Song Contest final, but things have gotten hairy for her among socially conservative Europeans, including some gays.
“I created this bearded lady to show the world that you can do whatever you want,” said Wurst, the drag persona of 25-year-old Austrian singer Tom Neuwirth, at a recent press conference in Copenhagen.
“If you’re not hurting anyone you can do whatever you like with your life and, it’s so cheesy, but we’ve only got one (life),” she added.
Wurst’s James Bond theme-like ballad “Rise Like a Phoenix” is widely expected to make it through Thursday’s semi-final in the Danish capital, but few pundits believe she will take the Eurovision crown.
 However, comments by Armenian Eurovision hopeful Aram MP3 — one of the bookies’ favourites this year — that Wurst’s lifestyle was “not natural” have boosted her profile, even though the stand-up comedian later claimed his comments were a joke.
“He apologised by saying his comments were a joke and badly translated,” Wurst said.
“I have to say that if it’s a joke it’s not funny ... but he apologised and that’s fine for me,” she added.
There have also been petitions to have her removed from the competition in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia,

here a law banning “gay propaganda” was signed by President Vladimir Putin last year.
St Petersburg lawmaker Vitaly Milonov reportedly asked his country’s Eurovision selection committee not to send any Russian musicians to the event, which he accused of being “blatant propaganda of homosexuality and spiritual decay”. The outrage highlights a cultural divide between eastern Europe and the countries of the west, where the camp spectacle’s large gay following is often acknowledged by organisers, local businesses and performers. The city of Copenhagen has said three gay couples from Russia will get married there in the days leading up to Eurovision as part of an event celebrating 25 years of same-sex unions in Denmark. Last year, Finnish singer Krista Siegfrids courted the pink vote by entering a gay marriage anthem.

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