Gaudy and glitzy, Moscow hosts Eurovision contest

Tue May 12, 2009 9:47am EDT
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By James Kilner

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Popular culture and kitsch will merge this week as the Russian capital opens the 54th Eurovision Song Contest, where issues such as gay rights and spats with neighbor countries have risen to the surface.

When pop star Dima Bilan won in Belgrade last year, Russia earned the right to host the annual Eurovision competition, one of Europe's most watched annual shows with a TV audience of at least 100 million viewers.

Now, 42 countries stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Caspian Sea coast are finalizing months of preparation for the lavish talent competition, being held at a stadium built for Moscow's hosting of the 1980 Olympic Games.

"It's one of the world's greatest television events," Terry Wogan, the veteran BBC television presenter who has commentated on Eurovision since 1971, recently told Reuters in an interview.

Local media have reported that the Russian capital has spent about $42 million preparing for the competition, making it one of the most expensive ever Eurovision shows.

The Russian winner of Miss World 2008 advertises Eurovision on posters around Moscow and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin toured the venue on Saturday to check on preparations.

Barry Viniker, who runs the Eurovision fan website, said Moscow had dramatically improved the quality of the event.

"Moscow is simply putting on the best Eurovision ever."   Continued...