Voting has begun in the final of Eurovision 2013 final. As ever, voters and judges have a wide choice of glitz and kitsch, a song inspired by the Greek debt crisis and a gay marriage anthem featuring a lesbian kiss.
Twenty-six countries are battling it out in Saturday's 58th Eurovision Song Contest in Malmö, in southern Sweden.
Bookmakers are tipping Denmark's entry, 20-year-old Emmelie De Forest with her song "Only Teardrops," to take out the competition comfortably. Other hot contenders for the title include Norway, Ukraine, Russia and Azerbaijan.
"It's just a catchy song, it's sort of true Eurovision," Jessica Bridge, spokeswoman for bookmaker Ladbrokes, said of Denmark's entry. "It's euro-pop, and I think it's just struck a cord with people really. I think that's the one."
Lesbian kiss controversy
The evening began with a special Eurovision anthem penned by ABBA's Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, with Swedish DJ Avicii. ABBA won Eurovision in 1974 with "Waterloo," in what was the beginning of one of the most successful pop careers of all time.
France kicked off the 2013 final with a rock song from singer Amandine Bourgeois, with L'enfer et moi (Hell and I). Shortly afterwards, there was a first of sorts for a Eurovision final, with an on-stage lesbian kiss featuring Finland's entry, Krista Siegfrids with "Marry Me." The singer drew international media attention during Friday's second semi-final when she kissed one of her female dancers on stage at the end of her act.
The former reality show contestant said she was using the stage to champion the cause of same-sex marriage and hoped Finland would legalize such unions "as soon as possible," after the issue became the subject of a citizens' initiative which garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures.
Public broadcasters in socially conservative countries announced that they might be forced to cut the Nordic singer's act from their broadcast should she go ahead with the lesbian kiss.
Greek and Turkish newspapers reacted negatively to Siegfrids kissing one of her female dancers, Swedish media reported.
During Friday's rehearsals, two male Swedish folk dancers were seen kissing each other as part of an intermission act.
Greece competes despite crisis
Greece's entry in the competition, Koza Mostra, will perform "Alcohol is Free," a metaphor-laden piece describing the predicament the crisis-stricken country is in. The country had originally announced that it would be unable to send an entry to this year's competition, citing budget cuts.
Germany will be represented by the internationally renowned group Cascada, from Bonn. Having sold millions of albums worldwide, the group was forced to defend itself after allegations were made that their entry, "Glorious," plagiarized last year's winner, Loreen.
The Eurovision Song Contest began in the 1950s with the premise of uniting Europe after World War II.
More than 125 million people globally are expected to watch Saturday's final, which draws a larger crowd than the Super Bowl in the United States.
The ESC has kick-started careers for internationally renowned acts such as ABBA, Julio Iglesias and Celine Dion.
During Saturday's final, viewers across Europe will be able to vote for their favorite act via telephone or SMS. Fans are unable to vote for their own country's entry. Professional judges votes account for 50-percent of the performer's final score.
Two semifinals were held this week, with 20 countries chosen to partake in the final. Britain, Italy, Spain, France and Germany are automatic entries in the final as they contribute the most to Europe's broadcasting union. Host Sweden also automatically qualifies.
The 26 countries competing in Saturday's final are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Moldova, Norway, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, Ukraine and Britain.
jlw, jr/slk (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)