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Eurovision, the World's Biggest Song Competition, Invades Chicago

The Worst, or Is It the Best, of Eurovision
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LINCOLN SQUARE — If you've never seen or heard of Eurovision — the global song contest that culminates in Copenhagen on Saturday — here's all you need to know: Ukraine's entry features a man dressed like a waiter performing acrobatics inside a human-sized hamster wheel.

What does that have to do with singing? Nothing. And that's Eurovision in a nutshell.

Good people of Chicago, your time has come to witness this event in all its "American Idol"-meets-acid trip glory: DANK Haus German American Cultural Center, 4740 N. Western Ave., will host a free viewing party, 2-6 p.m., Saturday.

Listen to Patty Wetli discuss the event on DNAinfo Radio:

To help pass the time between acts — there are 26 finalists — DANK will have snacks and beverages available for purchase, including champagne and a beer/grapefruit concoction that "you can justify to have in the afternoon," said Doerthe Erdbeer, DANK Haus administrative director.

Though Eurovision, much like soccer, has failed to win a widespread audience in the U.S., most Americans are familiar with the contest, even if they don't know it.

ABBA's "Waterloo" captured the Eurovision crown in 1974, vaulting the Swedish foursome to worldwide fame.

Eurovision also gets the credit, or blame, for launching the career of Celine Dion, who sang for Switzerland in 1988.

A quick Eurovision cheat sheet for newbies: As many as 43 countries compete for the Eurovision title, which debuted in 1956 and is open to all members of the European Broadcasting Union. The finals routinely draw more than 100 million viewers.

Portugal is essentially the Cubs of the Eurovision league, having failed to even make the top five in nearly 50 years.

The winner is decided by an incomprehensible point-tallying system that prohibits people from voting for a country's song from within that country. To skirt that rule, obsessive German fans have been known to hop a ferry to Denmark where they can legally dial in votes for Deutschland, according to Erdbeer.

Pandering to the popular vote is one reason the performances tend to look like Tim Burton productions. Bizarre sells, as does English, which has become the language of choice in recent years.

"It's not how I remember it," said Erdbeer, a native of northern Germany, who was disappointed to note that "even the German entry was singing in English."

For years, Erdbeer, a longtime devotee of the contest, has wanted to introduce Chicagoans to the cult of Eurovision. 

"I love singing, I love all the different countries, all the glitter," she said. "This year we decided to just do it."

With Eurovision only available in the U.S. via Internet streaming, DANK tested its Web connection during Tuesday's semifinals. Erdbeer said she was so focused on making sure the technology was in working order, she didn't have a chance to rate the performances.

This year's contest appears to be wide open. Ireland, the all-time Eurovision champ with seven victories, failed to make the finals for the first time since 2009. The French are singing in French, which may prove to be their downfall. And San Marino, population 30,000, is going to have tough time stuffing the ballot box.

To Portugal we can only say, there's always next year.