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AKIPRESS.COM - When Austria's entry takes the stage Thursday at the Eurovision Song Contest in Copenhagen, the spotlight will slowly reveal a figure with wide eyes, glossy painted lips, high cheekbones and a man's full dark beard, Kansas City reported.
Conchita Wurst – the alter ego of 25-year-old Austrian Thomas Neuwirth – already has shocked audiences by challenging stereotypes of masculine and feminine beauty with the song “Rise like a Phoenix”.
Pushing the boundaries of gender identity is nothing new at Europe's annual song contest – an extravaganza known for its eclectic love songs and pop tunes. But the backlash this year against Wurst highlights a rift between Europe's progressive liberal side and the traditional values.
There's been actually a lot of transsexuals, transvestites and drags in the Eurovision Song Contest, including Israel's 1998 winner Dana International, who had male-to-female gender reassignment surgery several years before competing.
Meanwhile, the annual competition is supposed to be completely removed from politics. Neither Russia's entry – teenage twins Anastasia and Maria Tolmachevy – nor Ukraine's Mariya Yaremchuk, whose routine includes a dancer running in a giant hamster wheel, allude to the recent tensions between Moscow and Kiev.
At Tuesday's semifinal, the audience booed when it was announced that the Tolmachevy twins had qualified for Saturday's final but cheered when Yaremchuk got into it too.
Bookmakers place Ukraine in the top 10 and Russia at the bottom.
The winner is picked by juries and television viewers across Europe. The final tally for each country is a 50/50 combination of the telephone votes and votes of a national jury. A country that received a good result in the telephone vote could still be left with no points in the overall tally if the jury gave its highest points to other contestants.
Contest watchers believe Wurst will advance from the second semifinal Thursday. Others considered strong contenders include Armenia's Aram MP3, who fuses a traditional piano ballad with contemporary dub step beats; a haunting melody with traditional sounds from Azerbaijan; a bluegrass tinged World War I homage from Malta and Hungary's New York-born singer Andras Kallay-Saunders, whose high-energy song about domestic violence could end up being a chart hit across the continent.
The competition is hosted by Denmark, the winner of last year's contest. Organizers say they expect 180 million television viewers this year.