A pair of wildly coiffed Irish twins and a French opera singer are among the favorites to prevent German pop princess Lena Meyer-Landruth from defending her title at the Eurovision Song Contest this weekend.
More than 120 million viewers from Israel to Ireland are expected to tune in Saturday night to watch 25 finalists belt out ballads and bubblegum pop in the hope of wresting the title from Lena.
The 19-year-old German, who won the 2010 competition by a wide margin in the Norwegian capital Oslo with dance number "Satellite," is hoping the audience will fall for her sultry "Taken By A Stranger" in the final, being held in the western city of Duesseldorf.
The contest _ held annually since 1951 _ is known for over-the-top exuberance in costumes, lighting and set design. The winner is determined by the votes of national judges panels and televoters in participating countries. Fans cannot vote for their own nation.
Lena faces stiff competition this year. French tenor Amaury Vassili topped British bookmakers' odds on Friday, with his dramatic, operatic track "Sognu," sung in Corsican.
A pair of 19-year old Irish twins _ John and Edward Grimes, performing under the name "Jedward" _ were the second favorite. Known for their quiffy blonde hair, they will perform the upbeat song "Lipstick," which is also one of Lena's favorites.
"I like the Irish boys, and I was the one who told everyone that they are going to be so great," she told reporters ahead of the competition.
Lena and Jedward were tied atop Google's predictor Friday afternoon, having continually swapped first and second place in the vote-generated forecaster over the past few weeks. Google has accurately predicted the past two year's winners by soliciting votes ahead of the final.
The contest, however, is not without controversy. In the last days, questions and doubts have come up regarding the lyrics of the Belarusian entry for the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest. Today, BTRC has announced that the lyrics of the song have been officially changed.
Finalists were selected from the pool of 38 contestants in semifinal rounds held on Tuesday and Thursday in the Duesseldorf Arena, where the final will also be staged.
The venue can hold up to 24,000 spectators, even with the elaborate stage set up. Organizers estimate the production will cost euro12 million ($17 million).
The annual song competition has launched several European pop music careers _ most famously, Abba.
Ireland holds the record for the most overall wins, with seven titles.