Sergey Lazarev representing Russia, Eurovision.jpg
Photograph: EPA/MAJA SUSLIN SWEDEN OUT

Belgium, represented by Laura Tesoro, opened the grand finale of the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday where acts from 26 countries in Europe and beyond are vying to win.

Russia's Sergey Lazarev, considered one of the favourites, starts in the second half of the field. Lazerev uses a dazzling, high-tech LED wall on stage for his entry You Are The Only One.

Other top contenders include French singer Amir (Haddad), performing J'ai Cherche, and Ukraine's Jamala, who will sing the mournful lament 1944. Jamala's song has generated controversy with its reference to the year that Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin ordered the mass deportation of ethnic minority Tartars from Crimea to Central Asia.

The show at Stockholm's Globe arena opened with all 26 acts walking on stage as their national flags were displayed on the LED wall.

The Eurovision finale line-up includes Australia, represented by female singer Dami Im. Should she win with her Sound Of Silence, Australia would co-host the event in Europe, according to the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which runs the event.

The EBU said Australia's inclusion in the contest for the second time is in recognition of a strong fan base and a 30-year history of broadcasting the glitzy competition, which is Europe's largest television event.

Entries from France, Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain automatically qualified for the final as major funders of the EBU, and host Sweden secured a direct spot after winning the contest last year through Mans Zelmerlow.

Zelmerlow is co-host of Saturday's show with comedian Petra Mede.

Twenty other entries qualified during two semi-finals this week.

Acts from Armenia, Austria, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands and Sweden are tipped to finish among the top 10.

The show, which will feature an interval performance by US pop star Justin Timberlake, is expected to attract millions of television viewers across Europe, China and the United States.

Points are awarded by 42 national juries and voting by viewers. The show's rules prevent voters from choosing their country's entry.

This year, the votes will be split and announced in two parts, beginning with the result of the jury vote.

The televoting points - where viewers vote by calling a designated number, sending a text or using a dedicated app - will be combined and provided as one score for the top 10 entries that the show hosts will announce.

Each entry can win a maximum of 24 points - 12 from the jury and 12 from viewers.

Saturday's show is the 61st edition of the contest, which has seen the likes of ABBA and Celine Dion launch their international careers.

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