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Eurovision singer draws controversy

COPENHAGEN -- Austria's bearded drag queen Conchita Wurst has hogged the limelight ahead of Saturday's Eurovision Song Contest final, but things have gotten hairy for her among socially conservative Europeans, including some gays.

“I created this bearded lady to show the world that you can do whatever you want,” said Wurst, the drag persona of 25-year-old Austrian singer Tom Neuwirth, at a recent press conference in Copenhagen.

“If you're not hurting anyone you can do whatever you like with your life and, it's so cheesy, but we've only got one (life),” she added.

Wurst's James Bond theme-like ballad “Rise Like a Phoenix” is widely expected to make it through Thursday's semifinal in the Danish capital, but few pundits believe she will take the Eurovision crown.

However, comments by Armenian Eurovision hopeful Aram MP3 — one of the bookies' favorites this year — that Wurst's lifestyle was “not natural” have boosted her profile, even though the stand-up comedian later claimed his comments were a joke.

“He apologized by saying his comments were a joke and badly translated,” Wurst said.

There have also been petitions to have her removed from the competition in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, where a law banning “gay propaganda” was signed by President Vladimir Putin last year.

The outrage highlights a cultural divide between eastern Europe and the countries of the west, where the camp spectacle's large gay following is often acknowledged by organizers, local businesses and performers.

The city of Copenhagen has said three gay couples from Russia will get married there in the days leading up to Eurovision as part of an event celebrating 25 years of same-sex unions in Denmark.

Wurst said her own song reflected the experience of growing up as an outsider in rural Austria.

“It's a story of going through bad times and struggling through difficult things, and growing out of it and hopefully becoming a better person,” she said.

Conchita Wurst first appeared in 2011, when she made it to the final of another reality show. The following year she came second in the TV program that selects the central European country's Eurovision entry.

Although much of the controversy over her appearance has centered on eastern Europe, it hasn't always been smooth sailing in her home country.

The leader of the right-wing FPO party, Heinz-Christian Strache, called her “ridiculous” and threw his support behind another singer, Alf Poier, who suggested she needed psychiatric help.

“A lot of people say: 'I'm also gay but I don't need a beard and a dress to express that,'” Wurst said. “I can just say to those who don't really realise yet if they are gay or not, you know, and a bit scared of this change: I don't want to scare them.

“I just want to show them that they can be accepted in any way. They are allowed to do anything,”

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Singer Conchita Wurst representing Austria performs the song “Rise Like a Phoenix” during a rehearsal for the second semifinal of the Eurovision Song Contest in the B&W Halls in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Wednesday, May 7. (AP)

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