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 favorites for this year's Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna.
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.
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 favorites.
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.
Australia faces tough competition from Italy and Sweden, which is 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 favorites, 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.
“It's a very big cultural landmark event, it needs to remain Europe-based,” EBU head of media Jean Philip de Tender told Reuters ahead of the final.
Recent hosts have spent an average of 25 million euros on staging the event. But de Tender said it was possible to host it for 11 million euros, allowing the host nation to breakeven, meaning even small or cash-strapped countries have a chance.
“We've created the basic budget, the breakeven budget, so that it's possible for every country to host the event,” he said.