MOSCOW (Reuters Life!) - Sometimes glitzy, often kitsch and always contentious, the Eurovision Song Contest is the very height of light television entertainment, Britain’s veteran commentator Terry Wogan said on Thursday.
Moscow will host all 42 entrants next week for the 54th Eurovision Song Contest -- which attracts at least 100 million television viewers each year -- after singer Dima Bilan won for Russia in Belgrade last year.
“It’s the world’s greatest international television event,” Wogan told Reuters by telephone.
The veteran broadcaster, radio and television personality was renowned in Britain for his tongue-in-cheek approach to commentating on the contest for the BBC.
“You could take it seriously as a production and that would be the right thing to do but you must also take it lightly. It’s not a feast of fantastic music, it’s light entertainment and it’s fun.”
But the 70-year-old Wogan, who has commentated on the Eurovision Song Contest since 1971, will not be traveling to Moscow for the competition this year. He will be replaced by TV chat show host Graham Norton.
“I decided that having done as many years as I have since about 1971, that it was time to make for the exit before somebody showed it to me,” he said.
This year entrants from Portugal to Israel will compete at a stadium in central Moscow, built for the 1980 Olympics and nestled between a green mosque and Soviet highrise buildings.
A Belarussian singing in English for Norway is emerging as one of the favorites to win.
The Eurovision Song Contest started with 14 entrants in 1956 when it was hosted and won by Switzerland.
The competition’s success as an entertainment event has been matched by its staggering growth, Wogan said, recalling his first Eurovision in Dublin, his home country.
“It was in a music hall which took no more than about 500 people and had about 18 countries taking part,” he said.
“If you compare that with Copenhagen (in 2001), which had about 30,000 people in a football ground, it has become enormous.”
This year about 16,000 people are expected to watch the live final in the Olympic stadium.
The competition draws criticism for its voting patterns, allegations of bias toward neighbors, historical allies or similar ethnic groups. A western European country has not won the competition since Britain in 1997.
But Wogan said viewers, judges and participants should not get obsessed about the patriotic aspect of the competition.
“What everybody should be voting for is the best song and not necessarily their next door neighbor or the country they have been allied for the last 500 years,” he said.
Unlike last year’s final, half the votes on May 16 will come from professional judges from individual countries, as well as the regular voting awarded by the public.
“Moscow is an important one because the voting has changed,” Wogan said. “But it’s not about flag waving, it isn’t about national pride, it’s about having fun, it’s a light entertainment program.”
Editing by Paul Casciato