Child queen, U.S. stars to light up Brazil Carnival

Thu Feb 11, 2010 12:11pm EST
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By Stuart Grudgings

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Rio de Janeiro's youngest Carnival queen, just 7 years old, is preparing to share the limelight with pop divas Madonna and Beyonce as Brazil's annual blow-out gets under way this week.

The choice of third-grader Julia Lira to lead the drum corps for the Viradouro samba group sparked controversy and a legal challenge by a children's rights group who said she risked being sexually exploited.

The final word was left to a family court judge, who according to Brazilian media ruled on Wednesday she could join the parade. The judge's office declined to comment.

If allowed, Lira will dance through the Sambadrome stadium after midnight on Sunday cheered by thousands of fans and celebrities expected to include Madonna, who has been pictured in Rio smooching with her 22-year-old Brazilian boyfriend.

In Carnival capital Rio, which has extra reason to party after being awarded the 2016 Olympics last year, masks of late U.S. pop idol Michael Jackson have been flying off the shelves along with those of Brazilian politicians in an election year.

U.S. R&B stars Beyonce and Alicia Keys are also in Brazil to take part in the festival of hedonism before Lent that is thought to have its roots in pre-Christian spring festivals.

The two donned feathered Carnival costumes to shoot a music video in a Rio slum on Tuesday and Beyonce opened the celebrations in the northeastern city of Salvador on Wednesday night with a show in front of 45,000 people.

But it is the much younger diva who has been dominating the pre-Carnival headlines.   Continued...

<p>Julia Lira, 7, drum queen of the Viradouro samba school poses during a news conference in Rio de Janeiro, February 10, 2010. Viradouro is one of the 12 samba schools that will parade along Rio's Sambadrome during festivities from February 12-16. REUTERS/Luiza Barros</p>