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Bearded Austrian drag queen wins Eurovision

COPENHAGEN--Bearded Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst won the Eurovision contest early Sunday with the song “Rise Like a Phoenix,” beating expectations that the eye-catching performance would be too controversial in socially conservative countries.

The 25-year-old performer, whose real name is Tom Neuwirth, took the Eurovision crown in Copenhagen with 290 points compared to 238 points for runner-up the Netherlands, in what Eurovision fans had anticipated would be a more closely fought race.

It was Austria's first Eurovision victory for 48 years.

“We are unity, and we are unstoppable,” Conchita said after winning the glitzy competition.

When asked what she would tell Russian President Vladimir Putin — who last year signed a law banning “gay propaganda” — Conchita replied: “I don't know if he's watching, but if so, I've made clear, we're unstoppable.”

The win was also a victory for all people who believe “in the future of peace and love and tolerance,” said Wurst after the live broadcast, where she cried in front of the cameras.

“I said to myself just this time please just let me be the one with the gold,” she said.

The Eurovision winner secured most of her “douze points” top scores from Western European countries including Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands.

However, she underlined that she also had fans in countries perceived as being more conservative.

'A great presence'

“It doesn't depend on a country, there are people ... also in Eastern Europe who believe what I believe.”

In fact for viewers in Russia, Conchita Wurst was the third favorite in the text voting.

The Ukrainian entry came fourth in Russia while Russia's song was voted third best in neighboring Ukraine.

Eurovision organizers explained that votes cast in the Crimea region, recently annexed by Russia from Ukraine, were counted as Ukrainian votes for technical reasons.

The bearded Austrian diva was among the top six picks in all participating countries expect in Estonia, where the transvestite came eighth.

Austria last won Eurovision back in 1966 with “Merci Cherie” by Udo Juergens, and news of the victory was well received by revelers in Vienna.

“It's just great that a guy can perform like a woman like this, he has such a great presence,” said Karin Springer, who had gone to a bar with friends to watch the event.

“It's been 48 years since Austria won the Eurovision so it's fantastic to get it back,” she added.

Others emphasized the message of tolerance Eurovision was sending to its viewers.

“I think it's important that she won because she represents a different part of society that not everyone accepts,” said Fidan Aliyeva from Azerbaijan who recently finished her studies in Austria.

'In Europe everyone is accepted'

“She proved that in Europe everyone is accepted,” she added.

Since the contest was launched in 1956, voting has often been tied to politics and the 2014 event was no exception, with the audience jeering countries that awarded points to Russia.

Azerbaijan and Belarus both gave top marks to Russian entry “Shine” by the Tolmachevy Sisters.

Austria's colorful competitor didn't become one of the bookies' favorites until Thursday's semifinal, amid reports that the drag act had prompted shocked petitions in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

Even in Austria, the leader of the right-wing FPOe party had called the act “ridiculous.”

“I have very thick skin. It never ceases to amaze me just how much fuss is made over a little facial hair,” Wurst told AFP on Friday.

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Singer Conchita Wurst, representing Austria, who performed the song “Rise Like a Phoenix,” listens as points are announced during the judging at the final of the Eurovision Song Contest in the B&W Halls in Copenhagen, Denmark, Saturday, May 10. (AP)

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