Joy and bemusement as far-flung Australia is granted entry into Eurovision song contest

SYDNEY (AFP) - It may be far from Europe, but Australia has been granted entry into the Eurovision song contest, sparking joy from fans and bemusement from those questioning the antipodean entry.

The kitsch pop contest has a cult following, with millions of viewers voting for their favourite performers. Last year's winner was "bearded lady" Conchita Wurst, an Austrian diva with a lush black beard and never-ending eyelashes.

Eurovision acknowledged the strange new choice of competitor with the first line of its media release headed "Australia to compete in the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest", adding: "Yes, you read that right!"

"It's a daring and at the same time incredibly exciting move," said Jon Ola Sand, the executive supervisor of the contest on behalf of the European Broadcasting Union.

"It is our way of saying; let's celebrate this party together!"

Australia's Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) confirmed that the country had been invited to send an artist to compete in this year's contest in Vienna, prompting excited outpourings on Twitter about an entry from Down Under.

"We are very excited to have secured this historic opportunity for Australia to be represented on the world's biggest stage at the 60th anniversary of the Eurovision Song Contest," said SBS managing director Michael Ebeid.

"SBS has been broadcasting Eurovision for over 30 years and we have seen how Australians' love of the song contest has grown during those years."

The act to represent Australia has not yet been selected but suggestions have ranged from pop singer Kylie Minogue to rock band AC/DC to retired Test cricketer Brett Lee.

For this year's contest, Australia has been fast-tracked to the grand final in May, SBS's Eurovision co-host Julia Zemiro said in a video, adding that Australia's song and artist would be revealed "very shortly".

"Will we have beginner's luck and make it to the top 10?" she asked.

"That's all up to the viewers. And yes, Australia, this year for the first time your vote officially counts. It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it."

Australians have graced the Eurovision stage before, notably with Olivia Newton-John who represented Britain in 1974 but ultimately lost to Swedish mega group Abba.

And Jessica Mauboy performed as the interval act at a Eurovision semi-final in Denmark last year, but was not part of the competition.

The move to expand the contest outside Europe prompted bemusement, confusion and pride Down Under.

An article on The Conversation website said Australia's inclusion in Eurovision's "unabashed and joyous celebration of musical kitsch can be seen as recognition of our growing national maturity and connectedness".

"It shows that we are moving away from a sense of being 'tucked away' in a remote corner of the globe, and are developing a greater ability to position ourselves in terms of our connectedness to, rather than remoteness from, other parts of the world," it said.

Scribes on Twitter were more blunt.

"How ridiculous. Geography anyone?" read one post.

"A wildcard into #Eurovision? No wonder other countries want to kick us out of the Asian Cup!" read another, referring to discontent among some Asian nations that Australia is part of the Asian Football Confederation.

Should Australia win the May contest, which attracts a global television audience of around 195 million people, and earn the right to host the spectacle next year SBS said it would co-host the 2016 event in a European city.