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May 23, 2015 3:26 PM

Wurst lookalikes galore ahead of Eurovision Song Contest

The Associated Press

VIENNA (AP) Will the real Conchita Wurst please stand up?

Bearded ladies and men dressed like bearded ladies popped up all over downtown Vienna as fans of the cross-dressing Austrian diva celebrated Saturday night's Eurovision Song Contest by paying homage to her and her victory last year.

Wurst was live at the Stadthalle to open the show, and the 10,000 fans crowding the giant convention center cheered as she intoned the opening bars of the fest's theme song "Building Bridges" while invisible cables slowly hoisted her into the air. More cheers erupted as each candidate was introduced.

Outside, sudden showers and cool temperatures failed to stop the extravaganza from taking over the Austrian capital, as die-hard Eurovision fans draped in their country's flags roamed the city's streets.

The most Wurst wannabe sightings appeared to be in the giant City Hall Square, set up as the main public viewing area. Under a sea of umbrellas, beards were worn knitted, tied, glued or painted.

But even those without fake facial hair raved about Wurst and the tolerance she has grown to represent.

"She is simply a symbol for acceptance and she shouldn't let anything stop her," said German fan Peter Wacker.

While none of this year's acts are emulating Wurst in pushing the frontiers of gender tolerance, the festival could make history in a different way. Australia is participating for the first time, given a wild card due to its strong fan base.

If Australian Guy Sebastian wins for the Land Down Under, Australia will return next year, although even then the contest will remain in Europe.

About 200 million people worldwide are expected to watch on TV as the 27 finalists battle it out musically.

The winner will be decided by votes weighed equally between those from a jury and those called in by viewers. To eliminate the population advantages of larger nations, viewers cannot cast ballots for their own country.

Fan Sissel Dahl of Norway already has a favorite. She spoke enthusiastically of her encounter earlier in the day with Serbian entry Bojana Stamenov, who has captured many Austrian hearts with impromptu bursts of yodeling while being interviewed.

Stamenov is a "beautiful little lady," she said.


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