COPENHAGEN (AFP) - Bearded Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst won the Eurovision contest early on Sunday with the song "Rise Like a Phoenix", beating expectations that the eye-catching performance would be too controversial in socially conservative countries.
The 25-year-old performer, whose real name is Tom Neuwirth, took the Eurovision crown in Copenhagen with 290 points compared to 238 points for runner-up the Netherlands, in what Eurovision fans had anticipated would be a more closely fought race.
It was Austria's first Eurovision victory for 48 years.
"We are unity, and we are unstoppable," Ms Conchita said after winning the glitzy competition.
When asked what she would tell Russian President Vladimir Putin - who last year signed a law banning "gay propaganda" - Ms Wurst replied: "I don't know if he's watching, but if so, I've made clear, we're unstoppable."
The win was also a victory for all people who believe "in the future of peace and love and tolerance," said Ms Wurst after the live broadcast, where she cried in front of the cameras.
"I said to myself just this time please just let me be the one with the gold," she said.
The Eurovision winner secured most of her "douze points" top scores from western European countries including Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands.
However, she underlined that she also had fans in countries perceived as being more conservative.
'A GREAT PRESENCE'
"It doesn't depend on a country, there are people... also in eastern Europe who believe what I believe."
In fact for viewers in Russia, Ms Wurst was the third favourite in the text voting.
The Ukrainian entry came fourth in Russia while Russia's song was voted third best in neighbouring Ukraine.
Eurovision organisers explained that votes cast in the Crimea region, recently annexed by Russia from Ukraine, were counted as Ukrainian votes for technical reasons.
The bearded Austrian diva was among the top six picks in all participating countries expect in Estonia, where the transvestite came eighth.
Austria last won Eurovision back in 1966 with "Merci Cherie" by Udo Juergens, and news of the victory was well received by revellers in Vienna.
"It's just great that a guy can perform like a woman like this, he has such a great presence," said Ms Karin Springer, who had gone to a bar with friends to watch the event.
"It's been 48 years since Austria won the Eurovision so it's fantastic to get it back," she added.
Others emphasised the message of tolerance Eurovision was sending to its viewers.
"I think it's important that she won because she represents a different part of society that not everyone accepts," said Ms Fidan Aliyeva from Azerbaijan who recently finished her studies in Austria.
'IN EUROPE EVERYONE IS ACCEPTED'
"She proved that in Europe everyone is accepted," she added.
Since the contest was launched in 1956, voting has often been tied to politics and the 2014 event was no exception, with the audience jeering countries that awarded points to Russia.
Azerbaijan and Belarus both gave top marks to Russian entry "Shine" by the Tolmachevy Sisters.
Austria's colourful competitor didn't become one of the bookies' favourites until Thursday's semi-final, amid reports that the drag act had prompted shocked petitions in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.
Even in Austria, the leader of the right-wing FPOe party had called the act "ridiculous".
"I have very thick skin. It never ceases to amaze me just how much fuss is made over a little facial hair," Ms Wurst told AFP on Friday.
Danish public broadcaster DR had transformed a disused shipyard into a purpose-built arena for the event, creating a spectacular stage for a fraction of the price some previous host countries have spent.
The growing popularity of Eurovision, and a desire by some countries to use it as a national showcase, have led to soaring costs, and DR's 190 million kroner (25.5 million euros, S$43.8 million) budget was considered relatively modest.
Denmark last hosted Eurovision in 2001, when BBC commentator Terry Wogan courted controversy by dubbing the host couple "Dr Death and the tooth fairy", after mocking them for introducing every song in rhyming couplets.
This year's show came under fire from social media users who said the comedy segments failed to make them laugh.
"Ever wondered why Denmark exports gritty crime dramas and not comedy? Eurovision currently providing the answer," British journalist Tim Stanley wrote on Twitter.