The 2009 Eurovision Song Contest, which kicked off at Moscow's Manezh exhibition center last night (May 10), could be the most lavish and expensive to date judging by the Russian broadcaster's plans for the event.

The official opening ceremony, in which Moscow's mayor Yuri Luzhkov took part, was followed by a show featuring previous Eurovision winners, such as Switzerland's Lys Assia, the first ever winner of a Eurovision Song Contest in 1956, as wells as Ukraine's winner Ruslana from 2004, Serbia's 2007 winner Maria Serifovic and Dima Bilan, whose victory last year brought the Eurovision Song Contest to Russia for the first time ever.

Russia's road to hosting Eurovision wasn't exactly rosy. In August 2008, a military conflict between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway republic of South Ossetia prompted several countries, including Latvia and Estonia, to demand a boycotting of the Moscow contest, although both are now taking part. .

In March, another controversy was stirred when Georgia's entry, Stephane & 3G, pulled out due to a dispute over the line "We Don't Wanna Put In" in the lyrics of its contest song, in which many saw an intended pun on the last name of Russia's prime minister, Vladimir Putin. The European Broadcasting Union, the contest's organizer, demanded that the lyrics - which allegedly contained a political message - should be changed, which Stephane & 3G didn't agree to.

Meanwhile, Russian organizer Channel One has not concealed its ambition to put out the most grandiose and expensive Eurovision show ever. The exact budget of Moscow's Eurovision won't be announced until the contest is over, but Russian media reported that €24 million ($32.6 million) has been spent to date. One of the main highlights will be a huge 1,500-square meter stage at the event's main venue, Olimpiysky. Eurovision executive director Svante Stockselius said, speaking on Echo Moscow FM station on May 10, that the next country to host the Eurovision song contest would have to look for "a new angle" to avoid undesirable comparisons with Moscow's large-scale event.

Semi-finals are scheduled to be held at Olimpiysky on May 12 and 14. Ten winners of each semi-final will be joined by the "Big Four" countries - France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom - and Russia as the host country at the final scheduled for May 16. For the first time this year, votes by a national professional jury - headed by pop-singer Filipp Kirkorov - will be combined with those cast by audiences via phone or SMS in the semi-finals.

According to odds from betting agencies, the front runners are Norway's Alexander Rybak, a 22-year old singer of Belarusian ancestry; Greece's biggest national star, Sakis Rouvas; Turkey's controversial singer Hadise, whose video for the contest song "Düm Tek Tek" was banned by some channels as "too sexy"; and Ukraine's Svetlana Loboda.

Tagged