ROTTERDAM -The kitsch pop songs of the Eurovision Song Contest battle for votes on Saturday as the world's most popular live music event is reprised in the Netherlands after skipping a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"We are happy that this event is possible, in a moment like this, after a tough year like this," said Victoria de Angelis of Italian group Maneskin.
Twenty six nations will compete in Saturday night's final, which should send "a message of hope for the rest of Europe", she said. Her band's glam rock song "Zitti E Buoni" is tipped as one of the favourites.
"I think it's between France and Italy. France is so warm, a woman stepping out of the shadows and into the light," Eurovision blogger William Lee Adams said of Barbara Pravi's classic song "Voila".
Italy's song is a more raucous "punch in the face", said Adams, who runs Wiwi bloggs.
"After this past year where we've been trapped at home I think a lot of people want that feeling of being at a party and that's what they're giving," the blogger said.
Other countries tipped as potential winners are Malta, with an up-tempo dance floor track "Je me casse", Lithuania's The Roop with the retro-pop song "Discoteque" and Iceland with their song "10 years".
A limited audience of 3,500 will be admitted to a concert venue in the city of Rotterdam to watch the performances after undergoing stringent testing for COVID-19.
Hours before the show, fans queued outside the venue in the wind and rain to get their coronavirus test out of the way.
"I'm just happy to be here, I'm happy to see a show on stage. It's just the excitement," Danish Eurovision fan Tore Peters-Munch, 43, said as he waited in line.
Despite the precautions, several COVID-19 infections were reported during rehearsals and the semi-finals.
Icelandic band Dadi og Gagnamagnid will not be able to perform live during the finals, after a band member tested positive for COVID-19. The organisation will instead broadcast a back-up, pre-recorded performance.
Due to travel restrictions, most Eurovision fans outside the Netherlands will have to watch from home. Many are reaching out to friends and online communities to celebrate the event, known for its flamboyant costumes and theatrics.
The Netherlands is hosting the 65th edition of the event, which draws a television audience of about 200 million, after Dutch singer-songwriter Duncan Laurence won the 2019 contest in Tel Aviv with the song "Arcade".
Laurence's performance this year was cancelled after he tested positive for the virus.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg additional reporting by Bart Bieseman and Johnny Cotton;Editing by Helen Popper and Ros Russell)