Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst, popularly recognized as “the bearded lady,” won the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday with the James Bond-theme-like ballad “Rise Like a Phoenix”.
Wurst, sporting high heels, butterfly eyelashes and a full beard, topped the Netherlands’ modern-country duo the Common Linnets, who sang “Calm After The Storm”. Sweden’s Sanna Nielsen came in third with her new-age pop song “Undo”.
“For me, my dream came true,” Wurst, 25, whose birth name is Tom Neuwirth, told a news conference after the win. “But for our society, it just showed me that there are people out there who want to go into the future and go on, you know, not stepping back or thinking in the past.”
The Danish organizers had declared tolerance a main motif for this year’s event, and the rainbow-colored flag symbolizing gay pride has been flying in many homes in Copenhagen during the past week.
“I hope we can convert just a few creative thinkers,” said Wurst’s agent René Berto. “It is just a lady with a beard. But it is like we have landed on the moon.”
Wurst, Austria’s first Eurovision winner since 1966, received the biggest cheers from the interview, but also raised controversy in some states.
Online petitions were taken up in Belarus, Armenia and Russia – whose government gave a law last year banning “gay propaganda” among minors – to have Wurst removed or cut out of broadcasts in their nations.
The Eurovision competition, which has been held annually since 1956, was created to help foster unity after World War Two and is meant to be non-political. But political strife slipped between the cracks at this year’s contest.
Many in the audience hissed when the Russian contestants, the 17-year-old Tolmachevy twin sisters, were represented at Saturday’s opening ceremony and again when they were awarded points from other, mostly neighboring, nations.
It was widely speculated that Russia’s entry could suffer for the country’s annexation of Crimea in March and the government’s intransigence on gay rights. Eurovision is hugely popular in the gay community.
“The two Russian girls are fresh, and it is not their mistake. But this is a party for everybody. Russia doesn’t get that,” said one of the booing spectators, a gay Dutch fan who named himself as Xander.
Ukrainian singer Mariya Yaremchuk, 21, got huge cheers at her execution.
“It could be in the favour of Ukraine, that people vote for Ukraine and people don’t vote for Russia because they don’t like the political situation,” said another Dutch fan, Patrick Van Der Ploeg.
Appending to the controversy, organizers said voters from the Crimea count as Ukrainian voters, because tallies are based on existing national telephone codes.
Ukraine’s song was voted the sixth best of the 26 songs, and Russia’s came in at seventh.
Since politics had played a part in the voting in the past, half the full stops are directly presented by professional judges and half by the public via phone and SMS.