France favourites for 56th Eurovision Song Contest
The Eurovision Song Contest will on Saturday for the 56th time demonstrate its enduring appeal as 25 contestants battle it out with some 125 million people watching live around the world.
Bookmakers indicate that France's Amaury Vassili with his operatic "Sognu" ("I Would Dream About Her") -- belted out in the Corsican language -- is the favourite to take top honours in Duesseldorf, western Germany.
"I don't have a perfectly trained opera voice yet but my voice is really well adapted to performing in front of large audience," said Vassili, 21. "I will give it my very best."
But stiff competition comes from Ireland, who have won Eurovision a record seven times. This year the Emerald Isle's hopes rest on quiffed twins Jedward and their song "Lipstick".
The 20-year-olds appear to have more of a chance than 2008's shouting-and-farting Irish entry, Dustin the Turkey, who managed a surprisingly good 15th place with "Irelande Douze Pointe".
Making a Eurovision comeback meanwhile is Israeli transsexual pop diva Dana International, the 1998 champion whose victory ruffled feathers among the country's influential ultra-Orthodox community.
Bookmakers give her latest effort, "Ding Dong", long odds of 200-1, however.
Also having another go is Germany's homegrown Lena Meyer-Landrut, who won last year in Oslo with her ueber-catchy ditty "Satellite", this time performing the darker "Taken By A Stranger", still in her slightly Bjork-esque accent.
It is because of Lena's victory that the competition is being held in Germany this year, since the winner's country automatically becomes host for the next Eurovision, one of the world's longest-running TV shows.
The competition is broadcast live throughout Europe, but also in Australia, Canada, Egypt, Hong Kong, India, Jordan, Korea, New Zealand and the United States, even though these countries do not participate.
This week, a series of qualifying rounds have been whittling down the 43 official entries to 25 for Saturday evening's grand final. The "Big Five" of Britain, France, Spain, Germany and Italy automatically qualify.
Viewers at home and juries from each of the 43 countries then vote on each song, ranking them from their favourite, which gets a full 12 points, to the biggest howler, which gets zero. The results are also announced in French.
All the entries can be seen on the Eurovision website, www.eurovision.tv, where the final can also be watched live.
Britain, which last year came last, is hoping for fewer "nul points" scores with squeaky-clean boy band Blue and their upbeat "I Can". The last British victory was Katrina and The Waves back in 1997.
Another favourite is Finland, hoping for a repeat of 2006 when rockers Lordi, dressed as orc-like creatures, won the competition with "Hard Rock Hallelujah".
This time Finland is sending Paradise Oskar with his song "Da Da Dam", a environmental ballad about a nine-year-old boy who "went out in the world to save the planet" and who "ain't coming back until she's saved".
Victory at the Eurovision can be the start of a glittering career, as it was for Sweden's ABBA, who won in 1974 with "Waterloo", or Canadian Celine Dion, who won for Switzerland in 1988. But for many, it is their one moment of fame.
© 2011 AFP