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Copenhagen - Conchita Wurst, the diva with a beard who was crowned Eurovision Song Contest queen on Saturday, has shot to international fame thanks to her controversial stance as much as a powerful voice.
Glamourous with long dark locks but with equally distinctive facial hair, this Austrian drag queen captured hearts around Europe with a Shirley Bassey-like performance in Copenhagen and a humble demeanour.
But critics have also lashed out at what they perceive as an abomination, with voices in eastern Europe and Russia - which last year banned “gay propaganda” - calling for her to be removed from the contest.
This unwittingly played into the hands of Tom Neuwirth, the 25-year-old Austrian singer behind Conchita Wurst, who used the song contest to appeal for tolerance.
“I created this bearded lady to show the world that you can do whatever you want,” he said at a recent press conference in Copenhagen.
“If you're not hurting anyone you can do whatever you like with your life.”
On her website, Conchita Wurst describes her two personas as “two hearts beating in my chest.”
“They are two individual characters with their own individual stories, but with one essential message for tolerance and against discrimination.”
The name already says it all: Neuwirth said he chose it “because it doesn't matter where you come from and how you look” - the German expression “es ist wurst” means “it doesn't matter”.
Neuwirth, born on November 6, 1988 in Gmunden near Salzburg, has been well known in his native Austria since he took part in the talent show “Starmania” in 2006.
He came second to Nadine Beiler, Austria's 2011 Eurovision contest candidate, but already gave a glimpse of what was to come with a performance of Bassey's “Goldfinger.”
He then joined a short-lived boy band but it was as Conchita Wurst, an alter ego he created in 2011, that the fashion design graduate gained widespread notoriety.
In character, he took part in several talent shows and reality series and came second in auditions to select Austria's representative at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012.
Conchita Wurst has also been a favourite in the celebrity pages, causing surprisingly little outcry in conservative Austria.
Local media were quick to jump to her defence when Armenian Eurovision hopeful Aram MP3 quipped that Wurst's lifestyle was “not natural.”
A German-language Facebook page protested the decision to send her to Copenhagen and there has been some concern in the gay community that her hirsute drag persona could “scare” people coming to terms with their own sexuality.
But the diva with the dazzling smile, whose song “Rise like a Phoenix” has become an anthem against bigotry, has brushed off criticism.
“I am somebody who focuses mostly on the positive things in life. Negativity doesn't get me anywhere,” she said in a recent interview. - AFP