Vienna (AFP) – Swedish heartthrob Mans Zelmerlow is bookies’ favourite to win the Eurovision Song Contest, Europe’s glitzy annual music extravaganza, followed by Russian diva Polina Gagarina and cheeky Italian pop opera trio Il Volo.
Former “Australian Idol” winner Guy Sebastian, given a special wildcard entry for Eurovision’s 60th anniversary year, was close behind with Belgium’s Loic Nottet on the eve of the grand final in Vienna.
“I never believed it until they actually said ‘Sweden’. I’m very happy. Being in the Eurovision final is huge for me,” Zelmerlow said late Thursday after making it through the last semi-final with his song “Heroes”.
Bringing up the rear among the 27 acts for Saturday’s final from 9:00 pm (1900 GMT), expected to be watched by 200 million people worldwide, were Germany, Montenegro and Poland’s wheelchair-bound Monika Kuszynska.
Among the acts who failed to make it through the two semi-finals were Pertti Kurikan Nimipaivat (PKN), a Finnish punk band with mental disabilities who entered with Eurovision’s shortest-ever song at 85 seconds.
Eurovision has evolved over the decades from a restrained, largely serious contest into an uproarious anything-goes festival awash with flamboyant, outrageous or sometimes just plain wierd performances.
With the notable exception of Zelmerlow’s compatriots ABBA in 1974, winning the contest is far from a guarantee of international commercial success however, although some of the songs themselves become hits.
Ireland are overall Eurovision champions with seven victories, followed by Britain, Luxembourg, Sweden and France on five. The Netherlands have four titles, and Israel, Denmark and Norway three.
The 2015 competition is in Vienna because last year’s winner, bearded drag queen Conchita Wurst, is Austrian. If Australia wins, the next contest will however not be held “Down Under”, organisers say.
Conchita’s message of tolerance has been enthusiastically adopted by Viennese authorities, including with special gay-themed traffic lights. There was also a Conchita lookalike contest scheduled for Friday afternoon.