(Reuters) - Be it bat or ball, Britain and Australia have long enjoyed a fierce sporting rivalry but when it comes to facing off behind the microphone in the kitsch pop music world of Eurovision, some aren’t so keen to play along.
Comedian Graham Norton, host of British television coverage of the annual musical showpiece, sparked debate between newspaper columnists in the two countries earlier this week when he described Australia’s inclusion as “kind of stupid”.
But European voters and national jurors disagreed with the Irish presenter as they put Dami Im through to Saturday’s 26-song Grand Final in Stockholm after judging her ballad “Sound of Silence” among the top 10 of Thursday’s 18-song semi-final.
The song was written by two Sydney-based composers and performed by the South Korean-born Im, who won Australia’s X Factor in 2013.
Im said her adopted country was delighted to be taking part in the annual contest which was watched by almost 200 million people last year and is famed for its regional bloc voting and flamboyant costumes.
“Australia has been a big fan of Eurovision since the 1980s, we love watching Eurovision,” she told reporters after edging eight countries, including Norton’s Ireland, for a final berth.
“We just love the concept of coming together and playing music. I am personally just very grateful to be able to be part of this.”
Australia is taking part for a second year after accepting an invite from organizers, the European Broadcasting Union, who have previously discussed expansion of the event first staged in 1956 and hosted by the winners of the previous edition.
Eclectic former winners include a Finnish hard rock band and a bearded Austrian drag queen, while the show has helped launch the careers of Swedish pop group ABBA and Canadian singer Celine Dion, who won for Switzerland in 1988.
Azerbaijan and three-times winners Israel will join Australia as non-European entries in Saturday’s final (1900 GMT).
Reporting by Reuters TV. Writing by Patrick Johnston