MALMO, Sweden (AP) — An ethno-inspired flute and drum tune from Denmark is the bookmakers' favorite to win this year's Eurovision Song Contest, which also features a bizarre opera pop number from Romania and an Armenian rock song written by the guitarist of Black Sabbath.
Yes, it's that time of the year again.
The televised pan-European extravaganza, known for its kitschy shows, bad taste and bizarre offerings, is still expected to be seen by about 125 million television viewers worldwide Saturday.
This year's contest is being hosted in Malmo, southern Sweden, following the victory of the Nordic country's contestant Loreen last year.
According to bookmakers, the hippie-chic Emmelie De Forest of Denmark is the favorite to win, driving the song "Only Teardrops" with her deep, Shakira-like voice. Her main challenge comes from the clean-cut techno pop tune "I Feed You My Love" by Norway's Margaret Berger, who rose to fame at home after becoming the runner-up in Norway's version of Pop Idol in 2004.
"I will be nervous before going on stage," De Forest said Friday. "I think we have a really good song that can take us far, but let's see, anything can happen."
Finland's Krista Siegfrid provided this year's controversy, ending her bouncy bubble-gum pop number "Marry Me" with a girl-on-girl kiss that some have interpreted as a stance promoting gay marriage. While the show will not raise eyebrows in most parts of Western Europe — where Eurovision has long been a bastion of gay culture — the act may jar sensitivies in parts of eastern and southern Europe.
"The fact is that Finland is the only country in the Nordic countries where gay marriage is not allowed, and I think that's wrong," Siegfrid told The Associated Press. "It's 2013 now and ... I can kiss anyone I want to. It shouldn't be a problem."
This year's competition also sees the return to the international stage of two seasoned European stars. "Total Eclipse of the Heart" singer Bonnie Tyler is representing Britain with "Believe In Me" while Anouk, whose song "Nobody's Wife" was a big hit in Europe in the 1990s, is singing the song "Birds" for The Netherlands.
Among the more notable performances is the Ukraine's Zlata Ognevich with her song "Gravity." Ognevich is carried onto the stage by the tallest man in the U.S. — Ukrainian-born Igor Vovkovinskiy. Vovkovinskiy — who stands 7 feet 8 inches (234 cms) —wobbles onstage in a fur and feathers, placing the fairy-like Ognevich on a rock where she stands for the rest of the performance.
There is also Armenian rock group Dorians, whose gloomy song "Lonely Planet" has been written by Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi.
Romania's Cezar, who resembles a Dracula reborn as a high-pitched vocalist, is apparently a reputable opera singer, but is attempting a crossover opera pop number with techno beats and pyrotechnics. Three muscular male dancers in red body paint are delivered out of a large red cape.
Two semifinals this week have whittled down the contestants from 40 to 26. The winner is picked by juries and television viewers across the continent, and the winning nation will stage next year's event.