Norway, Greece in Eurovision Race

KIEV, Ukraine -- A group of middle-aged metalheads from Norway and a glamorous Greek chanteuse were bookmakers' favorites ahead of Saturday night's Eurovision Song Contest, the annual pop music competition that glues a large chunk of the continent's people to their television sets.

As technicians and sound engineers checked lighting and sound systems in the Palace of Sports in downtown Kiev, finalists made a last test of their riffs and outfits for the final round. More than 150 million people are expected to watch the show of musical acts from 25 countries.

Norway (l) and Greece (r)

British dance star Javine said she will wear a golden silk costume decorated with Swarowski crystals. "It's really bling bling," she said as quoted as saying on Eurovision's Web site.

Norway's Wig Wam and Greek singer Helena are seen as the top contenders, with Hungary's Nox, a black-attired ensemble mixing folk tunes with electronica, considered a dark-horse possibility. The winner is determined by telephone voting.

Despite the intense interest in Europe, Eurovision's performers rarely achieve worldwide fame. Some exceptions have been Sweden's ABBA, Britain's Lulu and Canada's Celine Dion, who won as Switzerland's entry.

Last year's winner was Ukraine's Ruslana. She startled the audience in Istanbul, Turkey, with her "Wild Dances," a hectic workout based on music from the wild Carpathian Mountains region.

Ukraine is unlikely to notch a second consecutive win. Kiev hip-hop band Greenjolly will perform a song that was the unofficial anthem of the last year's Orange Revolution protests.

"We will cheer our band, but let us be honest, they have no chance against other performers who offered real pop-songs and not just a bunch of revolutionary slogans," said Svetlana Dmytrenko, a student from Rivne who traveled to Kiev to watch the contest.

The government of President Viktor Yushchenko, who was elected after the protests, is eager to use Eurovision to promote his drive to bring the former Soviet republic closer to Europe. City authorities have decorated downtown Kiev with orange ribbons -- Yushchenko's campaign color and even traffic policemen donned caps decorated with orange ribbons.

On Saturday riot police stepped-up security around contest's venue after Thursday's clashes with opposition supporters loyal to former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych who tried to protest alleged persecution of political opponents.

Several police river boats were seen patrolling the Dnipro River and the banks of the Trukhaniv island just outside city center, a home of a tent camp erected as an alternative accommodation for anticipated thousands of Eurovision fans on Trukhaniv Island, just outside the city center.

The camp was however largely deserted late Friday with authorities registering a meager total of 350 guests, including only 80 foreigners.

Because of overbooked and overpriced hotels and lack of proper accommodation in the city many foreign visitors simply canceled their trips to Ukraine and decided to watch the event from home.dle-aged rockers.

Source: CNN International