Austria’s controversial choice in contestants for this year’s annual Eurovision Song Contest – the bearded drag queen known as Conchita Wurst – has upset several Eastern European competing countries, which have called for Wurst’s removal, reports Reuters.
Eurovision, which is known throughout Europe for its massive gay following, launched the careers not only of well-known musical acts such as ABBA and Celine Dion but also transgender Israeli singer Dana International, who took home the top honors at the contest in 1998.
However, countries with prevailing antigay attitudes, including Armenia, Belarus, and Russia, have launched online petitions to have Wurst either removed from the competition or edited out of the Eurovision television broadcasts in their homelands.
Wurst, whose real name is Tom Neuwirth, has even drawn criticism from other Eurovision contenders, including Armenian contestant Aram MP3, who said Wurst’s way of life was “not natural,” then backpedaled and claimed his comments were in jest.
However, Wurst remains focused on his goal and plans to stay true to his image, beard and all, when he performs his song entry, “Rise Like a Phoenix,” during the competition. “The beard is a statement to say that you can achieve anything, no matter who you are or how you look,” Wurst told Reuters in a recent interview.
The 25-year-old drag performer hopes simply being visible on the stage of one of the world’s oldest TV contests will also help inspire hope in LGBT people who are being oppressed in other countries around the world. “Being a teenager, a gay teenager, in such a small village is not that much fun. I am part of the gay community and most gays have a similar story to mine,” Wurst told Reuters.
Eurovision has scheduled the first of two semifinal dates for May 6 at the B&W Hallerne in Copenhagen.
Watch the music video for Conchita Wurst’s “Rise Like a Phoenix” below.