Brilliant and bonkers - yep, it's Eurovision time (+photos)

The Tolmachevy Sisters represent Russia during the first semifinal of the Eurovision Song Contest in Copenhagen. Photo/AP
The Tolmachevy Sisters represent Russia during the first semifinal of the Eurovision Song Contest in Copenhagen. Photo/AP

They're coming from points as diverse as Albania and Ukraine, prepared with everything from hi-tech DJ shows to tributes to Slavic women to country-inspired ballads.

They're the contestants in this year's Eurovision Song Contest, the televised music event that draws about 170 million dedicated television viewers a year inspired by the camp, the music or the sheer over-the-top nature of the show.

While Australia and New Zealand can't compete in the European competition, the region will be represented by Australian singer Jessica Mauboy, who will perform as the interval act during the second semi-final. The semi-finals and the finals are screening live on UK TV in New Zealand.

Meanwhile, the competitors continue to raise eyebrows.

This year, there's Austria's Conchita Wurst, as Tom Neuwirth is known on stage. The 25-year-old sports a well-groomed beard, flowing hair and an evening gown. Wurst says the pieces of the ensemble represent symbols of tolerance.

Armenia's entry Not Alone, performed and composed by Aram Sargsyan - known as Aram MP3 - opens the first semi-final at the B&W Hallerne, a former shipyard. The hi-tech stage features more than 1000 square metres of LED screens.

Sargsyan is one of the favourites to win, judging by online betting sites.

In all, 37 countries are entered for this year's edition and were formally welcomed at a red carpet event on Sunday.

Twenty-six will compete in Sunday morning's final after two semi-finals decide which 20 contestants join the six countries with an automatic berth: Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, and host country Denmark.

The host is decided by last year's winners. Singer Emmelie de Forest's 2013 win made the country a three-time champion. This year, the country is represented by Anis Basim Moujahid, a 21-year-old singer with Moroccan background. Basim co-wrote Cliche Love Song, a pop song which he says has a flavour of soul and R&B.

The youngest act is from Russia - 17-year-old twin sisters Anastasia and Maria Tolmachevy with their song Shine. Despite their youth, the two have experience, having won the Junior Eurovision Song Contest in 2006.

Poland's entry is My Slowianie (We Are Slavic), a tribute to Slavic women by rap artist and producer Donatan and singer-songwriter Cleo.

A racy video clip has generated 40 million clicks since its release last year, featuring close-ups of buxom milkmaids and their cleavages, and a chorus line, "Now shake what your mama gave ya!"

Germany's entry, Is It Right, is performed by Elaiza - a trio comprising of singer-songwriter-pianist Ela Steinmetz, Yvonne Gruenwald on accordion and Natalie Ploeger on contrabass. They formed a year ago and are on a roll after winning the German nationals, qualifying via YouTube in competition with more than 2000 entries.

Calm After the Storm is the title of the Dutch entry. It is a country-inspired song that differs from the standard fare of power ballads, pop and ethnic tunes. It is performed by The Common Linnets, a duo, comprising Ilse DeLange and Willem Bijkerk - better known as Waylon, in honour of the late US country singer Waylon Jennings.

Danish producer Jan Lagermand Lundme said Danes want to show Europe "that we are cool". Eurovision is open to all countries that are members of the Council of Europe or which fall within the European Broadcasting Area, which means that several countries that are not technically European send acts to compete.

The contest was launched in 1956 as a showcase of national talent.

Topping the list of winners is Ireland with seven wins, while Britain, France, Luxembourg and Sweden each have five wins.

This year is the 40th anniversary of Swedish pop group ABBA's win with Waterloo. Other stars to have performed in past Eurovision contests include Celine Dion, Cliff Richard and Julio Iglesias.

Among countries missing from this year's edition are Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Serbia due to austerity measures.

* Eurovision airs in New Zealand on UK TV, with an encore screening of Semi-final tonight at 9.30pm. Semi-final 2 screens live on Friday at 7am, with an encore at 9.30pm. The finale screens live on Sunday at 7am, with an encore at 9.30pm.

Watch highlights from all 16 artists performing during the first semi-final:


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