Millions of music fans are expected to tune in tonight to the Eurovision Song Contest, in which singers from 25 nations will vie for victory at the finals in Oslo.
Eurovision is Europe's biggest pop music contest and one of the world's most-watched events on television, with some 125 millions viewers annually.
This year's contest is held in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, after Norwegian violinist Alexander Rybak won last year in Moscow.
The finals will open with Azerbaijan's Safura, who has emerged as a favorite.
Safura says she is confident her English-language song, "Drip Drop," will take first prize.
According to betting agencies, the singers from Armenia and Germany also have good chances of winning in Oslo.
The Armenian contestant is 22-year-old Eva Rivas, with a song about her homeland titled "Apricot Stone."
Speaking at a news conference on May 28, Rivas said she was bracing for a tough battle tonight. "I think that all of them are very strong and that the final will be very, very hard. I think it will be a real battle," she said.
Germany is represented by 19-year-old Lena Meyer-Landrut, who is in the middle of preparing for her high school exams and has admitted to having stage fright. She will perform a quirky song in English, "Satellite."
The Russian contestant, Peter Nalitch
, is considered a more unconventional choice who forgoes the glamour and expensive production numbers of most of the performers. A trained architect, Nalitch shot to fame three years ago after an amateur music video of his song "Guitar" became wildly popular online.
Eurovision, which began in 1956 as an elegant black-tie event, has grown into a huge music extravaganza that some criticize for what they say are kitschy acts and interchangeable pop songs.
Despite the number of television viewers surging 18 percent last year, organizers have had to scale down this year's contest due to the global financial crisis.
Its budget shrank considerably compared to 2009, and four countries have dropped out due to funding woes.
Last year, Eurovision host Russia spent a record $43 million on the glitzy show. Norway is spending $32 million on this year's contest.
with material from agency reports