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This week, Europeans can forget about the debt crisis and politics for a moment, and throw themselves into rooting for their home country or favorite artist. Eurovision 2012 is under way, and about half a billion viewers are expected to tune in for the finale on Saturday.
The song contest started in the 1950s, and each country competing is represented by a single singing group or soloist. Because Azerbaijan won last year, Eurovision is being staged in its capital, Baku. William Lee Adams is a writer for Time magazine and editor-in-chief of Wiwibloggs, a site dedicated to covering the Eurovision contest. From Baku, he introduced Morning Edition host Renee Montagne to three of the finalists in the multinational competition.
"Greece takes Eurovision incredibly seriously," says Adams. "And they typically bring the exact same song. It's kind of cheesy. It has an ethno-Greek background. It's upbeat and danceable, and that's what this year's contestant, Eleftheria Eleftheriou, brings."
Ukraine's contestant is half-Congolese, which has caused some controversy. After Gaitana won that country's national final, a right-wing politician was quoted as saying she wasn't "an organic representative of the country." But the country embraced her, says Adams. Her song is called "Be My Guest."
Representing Russia this year is a group of six grandmothers. Their song, "Party for Everybody," tells the story of the babushkas welcoming their grandchildren home. "This song itself is kind of appalling, but Eurovision isn't about the best song," he says. "It's about the best act. And this one comes with attitude and spunk and spirit, and the belief that you can keep on moving no matter how old you are."