French Eurovision favourite admits to nerves

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The French favourite admitted Friday to being slightly anxious on the eve of Europe's unashamedly extravagant 56th Eurovision Song Contest, a spectacle watched by tens of millions of people around the world.

"I've been the favourite now for two months," floppy-haired Amaury Vassili, 21, told AFP in an interview ahead of Friday's last dress rehearsals for the 56th annual competition in Duesseldorf, Germany.

"Just as long as I give a good performance I'll be happy... But I'll be very disappointed if I finish lower than 10th."

With a first album that went double platinum, selling more than 200,000 copies, his career is not dependent on his song "Sognu" -- sung in the Corsican language --- winning Eurovision, one of the world's longest-running television programmes.

This is just as well, because victory is more usually followed by a return to obscurity rather than a glittering pop career, ABBA in 1974 and Celine Dion in 1988 being the rare exceptions.

If Vassili's pop-opera song does win though, it would be France's first Eurovision victory after more than 30 years of pain.

"I've been watching (Eurovision) since I was small," Jean-Pierre Perez, one of a group of 130 diehard French fans to have made the trip to Duesseldorf, told AFP.

"I think this year is the one."

But he faces some tough competition from among the other 24 nations contesting Saturday evening's competition from 9:00 pm (1900 GMT), not least from some spiky-haired Irish twins Jedward and their song "Lipstick".

Bookmakers also give Azerbaijan's duo of Ell and Nikki a fighting chance of winning the country's first title, along with recently reformed British boy band Blue and Estonia's Getter Jaani, a winner of "Estonia's Got Talent" TV show.

A ska number from Zdob si Zbub, a group of lively Moldovans in pointy hats -- they say are "cosmic antennae" -- and a unicycle also have strong offerings, as do Icelandic five-piece Sjonni's Friends and Italian crooner Raphael Gualazzi.

But Germany's homegrown Lena may present the biggest challenge as the 19-year-old tries to become the first ever person to win two Eurovisions in a row, although her "Taken by a Stranger" lacks the quirky catchiness of 2010's "Satellite."

One contestant who didn't make it through to the grand final is Israeli transsexual pop diva Dana International, the 1998 champion whose victory ruffled feathers among the country's influential ultra-Orthodox community.

Bookmakers had given "Ding Dong" long odds of 200-1.

"Is it going to be worth it?" wonders Vassili. "We won't know until midnight but it's so massively important for France."

© 2011 AFP

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