From Austria to Australia, Eurovision casts net wide for 60th year

Vienna is ready for the Eurovision Song Contest as fans flock into the city and the last tickets are being sold for the annual music festival watched by more than 195 million people in 40 countries.

VIENNA, AUSTRIA (MAY 23, 2015) (REUTERS) – A slice of Swedish electro-pop, Italian ‘popera’ and a pop star from Australia, about as far from Europe as you can get, are among the favourites for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, held in Vienna later on Saturday (May 23).

The annual kitsch-fest, watched by more than 195 million people in 40 countries — more viewers than the Superbowl — was won last year by Austria’s bearded drag queen, Conchita Wurst, bringing the show to the Austrian capital better known for its classic elegance.

Incessant rain on Saturday (May 23) somewhat spoiled the pre-contest party but failed to dampen fans’ spirits.

“You never know what’s gonna happen, it’s always so different, every year is so different, the songs are different, the people are different but the main thing is everybody is so friendly, everybody is so accepting, everybody is so tolerant of each other and I I think everybody is really supportive, it’s really really a good atmosphere. I love it”, said British fan Chris Allen who will be supporting the United Kingdom.

While viewers are often puzzled by the inclusion of countries outside Europe, such as Israel, which qualifies thanks to membership of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), this year the net has been cast even wider.

To mark 60 years since the first Eurovision in 1955, Australia has been given a wild card entry and singer Guy Sebastian and his up-tempo song “Tonight Again” is one of the favourites.

Eurovision is hugely popular in Australia, where about 3 million people watched it last year, and broadcaster SBS is an associate member of the EBU.

“Eurovision is quite a fun event, it’s about 5 a.m. back at home when the final is on and we know people that are having parties and getting up early so it’s fun for us to be here,” said Australian fan, Ive Ingless, who has travelled with a group of friends from Melbourne to cheer Guy Sebastian.

“Yeah, we’ve come from Melbourne Australia to support Guy, it’s really, really big time for us ’cause we are finally in Eurovision, we’ve been invited, we are guests so it’s really cool. It’s taken us ages, I mean it’s a big trip but it’s really exciting to be here and hopefully we’ll get more than one point tonight”, said Melissa Watson, who arrived in Vienna with a group of friends from Melbourne to support Australia’s entry.

Australia faces tough competition from Italy and Sweden, which are among the most successful countries with five wins, including ABBA with “Waterloo” in 1974 and the most recent in 2012 with “Euphoria” by Loreen.

Sweden is represented this time by 28-year-old Mans Zelmerlow, whose electro song “Heroes” has accompanying on-stage animation, while Italy’s pop opera trio Il Volo are hoping to emulate the 1958 winner “Nel blu dipinto di blu”, better known as “Volare”.

Bookmakers Paddy Power, which expect to take 500,000 pounds in bets by Saturday night have Sweden as 15/8 favourites, with a quarter of all bets being placed on the country.

Traditionally, the winning country stages next year’s show but should Australia win, the contest would be held in Europe.