Drag queen ends Austria's Eurovision drought
BEARDED Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst won the Eurovision contest early yesterday with the song Rise Like A Phoenix, beating expectations that the eye-catching performance would be too controversial in socially conservative countries.
The 25-year-old performer, whose real name is Tom Neuwirth, took the Eurovision crown in Copenhagen with 290 points, compared to 238 points for runner-up the Netherlands, represented by Ilse DeLange and Waylon performing as The Common Linnets, in what Eurovision fans had anticipated would be a more closely fought race.
It was Austria's first Eurovision victory in 48 years.
"We are unity, and we are unstoppable," Wurst said after winning the glitzy competition.
The win was also a victory for all people who believe "in the future of peace and love and tolerance", said Wurst after the live broadcast, which showed her crying in front of the cameras.
"I said to myself, 'Just this time, please, just let me be the one with the gold'," she said.
The Eurovision winner secured most of her "douze points" top scores from Western European countries including Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands.
However, she emphasised that she also had fans in countries perceived as being more conservative.
"It doesn't depend on a country, there are people... also in eastern Europe who believe what I believe."
In fact, for viewers in Russia, Wurst was the third favourite in text voting.
The Ukrainian entry came fourth in Russia, while Russia's song was voted third best in neighbouring Ukraine.
Eurovision organisers said that votes cast in the Crimea region, recently annexed by Russia from Ukraine, were counted as Ukrainian votes for technical reasons.
The bearded Austrian diva was among the top six picks in all participating countries except in Estonia, where the transvestite came eighth.
Austria last won Eurovision back in 1966, with Merci Cherie by Udo Juergens, and news of the victory was well received by revellers in Vienna.
"It's just great that a guy can perform like a woman like this, he has such a great presence," said Karin Springer, who had gone to a bar with friends to watch the event. "It's been 48 years since Austria won the Eurovision so it's fantastic to get it back."
Others emphasised the message of tolerance Eurovision was sending to its viewers.
"I think it's important that she won because she represents a different part of society that not everyone accepts," said Fidan Aliyeva from Azerbaijan, who recently finished her studies in Austria. "She proved that in Europe, everyone is accepted."
Since the contest was launched in 1956, voting has often been tied to politics and this year's event was no exception, with the audience jeering countries that awarded points to Russia.
The growing popularity of Eurovision, and a desire by some countries to use it as a national showcase, has led to soaring costs, but host Danish public broadcaster DR's 190 million kroner (S$43.7 million) budget was considered relatively modest.