Hello Stockholm, this is Estonia calling: don't vote for us

Eurovision song contest hosts Kattis Ahlstroem and Anders Lundin practiced all week to say a few words of welcome in 22 different languages.

If they get it wrong during Europe's biggest song contest Saturday night in the Globe Arena, Stockholm, a lot of people will notice.

Approximately 100 million people are expected to follow the three-hour televised pop music extravaganza in 33 countries in Europe alone, as well as Japan and Australia.

"We are getting help from everywhere. I ask every taxi driver who is not from Sweden where he is from and how you pronounce the words in his language," Ahlstroem was quoted as saying by the Swedish news agency TT.

Since its inception in 1956, the Eurovision contest has grown to become one of Europe's most popular music events with entries that go by names such as "Wadde hadde dudde da?" by German personality Stefan Raab and "Kada Zaspu Andeli" or "When The Angels Fall Asleep" by Croatia's Goran Karan.

Estonia's 18-year-old newcomer Ines, known in her small country as their version of Britney Spears, has local authorities both excited and concerned about the high hopes pinned on her song, "Once In A Lifetime."

Government spokesman Priit Poiklik said TV executives in the former Soviet republic were nervous about the prospect of having to foot the $10m bill - roughly equivalent to their annual budget - to stage the contest next year if Ines wins.

"They're a little afraid. They would get in trouble if they had to organize it themselves," he said. "Given the publicity this would bring to Estonia, I think the government would do what it could to find the money."

UK entry Nicki French, 34, goes into the annual competition of camp and kitsch as the fifth most fancied act, performing Don't Play That Song Again.

Contest organizers in Sweden were doing their best to avoid any technical surprises by taping Friday's dress rehearsal, when the 24 participants will perform in full costume and before an audience.

The audience is crucial in the modern, high-tech contest as it also makes up the jury. The viewers, except in Russia and Romania, are invited to participate in selecting the winner by telephone voting. To even out the odds for participants from small nations, it will be impossible to vote for the country where a phone call is registered.

The first Eurovision contest was held in 1956. Sweden is playing host to the show for the fourth time after Swede Charlotte Nilsson won last year in Israel by singing "Take Me To Your Heaven" while dressed in a 1970s-style pink-and-beige pantsuit. Sweden's first win was in 1974, when "Waterloo" brought Abba international fame.

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