Eurovision Extravaganza Europe's Schmaltz Contest to Climax in Moscow

This year's Eurovision finalists have been chosen -- and Saturday's showbiz spectacular should be nothing short of everything.

Violinist and singer Alexander Rybak has become a fantasy figure in his homeland of Norway -- in fact his fiddling wizardry has earned him the nickname "Harry Potter." And judging from an exuberant audience response to his song "Fairytale" at yesterday's semifinal, Harry may very well have cast a winning spell on this year's Eurovision Song Contest.

Rybak himself evidently ascribes magical powers to the song. The 23-year-old told the dpa news agency that his song was "about the positive feeling of first love and has given me lots of good fortune."

But Norway was not the only lucky nation on Thursday night. In the Olimpiyskiy Indoor Arena in downtown Moscow, the last 10 finalists for the world's largest musical competition were determined. Among the winners were Greece, Albania, Croatia, Azerbaijan, Lithuania, Moldova, Denmark and Estonia.

Eurovision is one of the most-watched television events in Europe, with nearly 300 million viewers around the world. In its 53-year history, the sometimes trashy contest has managed to launch world careers, like those of Celine Dion and Abba. A recent system of selecting Eurovision winners based on telephone voting alone has been changed this year, to level the playing field: All decisions will now be filtered through national juries as well as TV viewers punching their phones.

And a German Burlesque Act

After Russia's opening performance on Thursday -- complete with pomp, ballet, and folklore -- candidates from nine countries were eliminated. Cyprus, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia and Slovenia all failed to make the cut.

Also missing from this year's final competition will be Ireland, whose past glory has recently been obscured by odd candidates like last year's puppet act, "Dustin the Turkey." The Dutch flopped as well with their '70s-style glitz in the number "Shine."

In Saturday's final Eurovision showdown, acts from 25 different countries will be competing, out of a total field of 42. Ukrainian Svetlana Loboda will perform "Be My Valentine! (Anti-Crisis Girl)" -- accompanied by go-go dancers clad in gladiator garb -- while Sasha Son, a sort of Lithuanian Elton John, and Estonian schmaltz-rockers Urban Symphony, should provide a dose of sentimental cheese.

The 10 winners of the first semifinal will join the new candidates at Saturday's show, along with performers from Germany, France, Britain, Spain and Russia.

German duo Alex Swings Oscar Sings will compete with their song "Miss Kiss Kiss Bang," and appear onstage with burlesque babe Dita von Teese, who says her performance was inspired by '30s-era Berlin cabaret. "I'm not here to save Germany from placing badly -- the boys can do that themselves," the American striptease artist told reporters in Moscow on Friday.

jcm -- with wire reports


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